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Guide to Basel, Switzerland

Basel, the city on the Rhine, has a Mediterranean climate and as many as 300 days of sunshine a year. As soon as temperatures allow, the people of Basel take to the outdoors, and their joie de vivre is clear to see.

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Not only the home to Viking Cruises European headquarters, Basel offers our guests and travelers an amazing city to explore. 

Basel is one of the lesser-known gems of European travel.  A medium-sized city, it’s located along the northwestern border of Switzerland, adjacent to France and Germany.  

Basel City Hall

This makes Basel, Switzerland an excellent destination and jumping-off point for those who are traveling across Europe, with several countries, cuisines, and destinations in easy reach.

It’s also a great destination in its own right, with many different sights to see and things to do.  

We’ll cover the history , briefly highlight the different attractions and things to do in Basel, and talk about transportation to and from (including via the Basel airport) in our travel guide below.

History

The Basel region itself has been inhabited since at least 5,000 BC.  In the last 7,000 years, it has grown, deteriorated, and grown again, as it has changed hands numerous times consistent with the overall fluid history of Europe.  

French, German, Roman, and other forces have claimed and reclaimed the area as part of their overall territorial campaigns, expansions, and wars.  

In more recent history over the last thousand years, however, the city’s allegiance has been largely stable, with only 1 major schism or change.  

For much of the Middle Ages, it was part of the Holy Roman Empire, until the early 16th century, when it became part of the Swiss Confederation, remaining a part of what is now modern-day Switzerland ever since.

Given the strategic location, at a confluence of French and German borders in the modern world, it’s no surprise that Basel has grown to be an important hub of economic and cultural activity, second only to Zurich within Switzerland.  

It accounts for around one-third of all of Switzerland’s GDP, has the highest GDP per capita, and is considered by many (including respected benchmarking firms like Mercer) as one of the top ten most livable cities in the world.

Attractions and Things to Do in Basel

There are numerous cultural, historical, and tourist attractions in and around Basel, that provide appeal to a range of different interests.  Some of the most popular places to see and things to do include:

  • The Basel Minster cathedral dates to the Roman Empire period. Its distinctive red sandstone structure has been rebuilt and renovated over the 800 or more years of its existence.  It paints a striking image along the skyline of Basel, and is considered a Swiss national heritage site.
  • Other examples of period architecture are found throughout the city, including the 16th century City Hall in the Market Square, numerous railway stations, schools, and other buildings that date back several hundred years in most cases. Architecture plays a big role in Basel’s appeal, with buildings by renowned architects from the last 100-200 years dotting the city.
  • Dozens of old monasteries and churches can be found throughout Basel, each with its own history, style, and sights to see.
  • As the unofficial “Cultural Capital of Switzerland,” Basel has dozens of museums, archives, collections, and galleries as well. Some of the most notable include the Art Museum of Basel (Kunstmuseum Basel), which holds the world’s oldest art collection accessible to the public; the Basel Music Museum; the Dollhouse Museum, home of the largest teddy bear collection in Europe, and many others featuring history, art, architecture, design, and more.
  • Basel boasts an active music scene, as home to Theater Basel (an opera house and stage), Sinfonieorchester Basel orchestra, and several other venues and collections, including the complete work archives of Igor Stravinsky at the Paul Sacher Foundation.
  • Numerous sports venues, including football, tennis, and Switzerland’s most popular sport, ice hockey, can also be found throughout the city.
  • The Zoo Basel is the oldest zoo in Switzerland, dating to 1874, and sees close to 2 million visitors a year.

Transportation and the Airport

Basel and the surrounding areas have a great transportation network.  It’s easy to get around if you’re a European resident, due to the schengen visa-free travel agreement.  Ferry boats, trams, and buses are a part of the public transportation scheme in Basel.  

There are also numerous roads connecting Switzerland to France and Germany.  Air transportation is readily available at the Basel airport – officially, the EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, which is located just over the border in France, and is less than 4 km from Basel.  

The airport serves the entire French/German/Swiss region with intra-European and international flights.  It is operated jointly by France and Switzerland, and sees some 2 million passengers pass through its doors each year.

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