Oh Basel

IMG_2894 (1).jpg

I am typing this on my flight from Basel to London and let me confess - I am already having withdrawal symptoms. I loved Basel. For years Switzerland has been on the bucket list and I finally got a chance to tick it off the list. Before we get into the fun bits, lets clear the air. Yes! everything you have heard about Switzerland being expensive is true but don’t let that discourage you; with a little bit of planning ahead, you can visit Basel / Switzerland without breaking the bank. Before you board your flight, keep in mind that Switzerland does not use the Euro; they use the Swiss Franc which is about a one to one with the British pound.


Getting there. British Airways offers direct flights from London Heathrow to Basel daily. Flight is under two hours so why not. When you arrive, make sure to take the exit for Switzerland and not the one to Germany or France. Look for Bus 50 outside the arrival gate; that bus will take you to Basel SBB (the main train station) and from here you can hop the tram or bus to the city or take a train to other parts of Europe or Switzerland.


Where to stay in Basel, Switzerland. I recommend staying at a hotel - any safe neighborhood that works with your budget is fine because hotels provide a free travel card for the duration of your stay. With the travel card, you can get on the bus, tram and other transportation modes within Basel for free. The card also offers a free two-hour bus tour; discounts for tours and museums. I found a great deal on Expedia for Hotel Wettstein. I loved staying here; it was not quite the city center, but with the free transport I could get most places in under twenty minutes. The hotel is less than a five-minute walk to the tram station; great restaurants within walking distance and the service was incredible. Also, the mini bar is free. You read that correctly - FREE. The only downside, my room did not have air conditioning but I had a standing fan which worked great. I also had a room not facing the street so I could leave my window open. All in all, I did not find the lack of air conditioning to be a burden.


What to do in Basel, Switzerland. Basel has got something for everyone - architecture; art; culture; food; entertainment. Everything! The things I will recommend for your itinerary. Take a tour of the old town, the tickets cost 10 CF and it was very informative. You can get tickets from the tourism office or online. The meetup spot is by the fountains at Theaterplatz. The Tinguely (Fasnacht) fountain in Theaterplatz is a must see. Trust me, this is not like any fountain you have seen. If you explore the old town on your own, don’t miss the Basler Munster (cathedral); the Rathhus (Town Hall) with its impressive facade cannot be missed - make sure to go inside - it is beautiful. Take a walk along St. Alban riverbank which offers great views of the old city walls and one of the three historic gates to the city and Rheinsprung street. There is also a free street with both high end and high street shopping.


Cross the river Rhine by taking a walk on Mottler Brucke - an impressive bridge with great views of the city. You can also cross the Rhine on the Basel ferries which are only powered by the flow of the river. Away from old town, visit two of Basel’s old city gates - Spalentor and St. Alban-Tor. My favorite part of Basel is the fact that you can be in three countries at the same time - do not miss the Tri-border point - this is where France, Germany, and Switzerland converge. Even more impressive you can take a stroll across the Weil am Rhein bridge from Basel (Switzerland) and be in Germany / France in under ten minutes.


Basel is the perfect hub because of its proximity to other parts of Europe and Switzerland. The Alsace region of France - Colmar is under an hour by train from Basel SBB; You are also under two hours from other Swiss cities - Lucerne; Zurich and Bern. The black forest in Germany is also less than two hours from Basel (are your bags packed, yet).

Basel is known for a lot of things including - Basel carnival and Art Basel. It is estimated that Basel has about one museum per kilometer and a half - everything from the paper mill museum to Foundation Beyeler (the most visited museum in Basel). On to another art form - architecture - Basel has some stunning architecture - some of my favorites were the stairs at the former Warteck brewery; Messe Basel (aka window to heaven) and Bis by Mario Botta.


Where / What to eat in Basel, Switzerland. Because Switzerland is quite expensive in comparison to London and other European cities, I did not eat out as much as I usually do. I did manage one meal out daily and quite enjoyed everywhere I ate. Possibly the best Pasta I ever ate was at Hotel Restaurant Resslirytti right next door to the hotel I was staying in - Hotel Wettstein. Brunch at Les garecons Basel was incredible - if you like the Mediterranean - I recommend the Mediterranean breakfast - delicious. Save some of your money for Schiesser tea room across from Rathus. This tea room has been around since 1870 churning our incredible dessert. For about 12 Swiss francs per person, you can get a great dessert and tea or coffee. You are in Switzerland so you have got to try Swiss chocolate and there are a lot of shops around the old town to buy from or even the supermarkets. There is also the Basel gingerbread delicacy of Läckerli  - I really enjoyed the ones from Schiesser tea room.




Let me start by saying - I am not one to advocate a rush trip; I don’t think a rush trip gives a great sense of a city; but every now and again an opportunity presents itself that cannot be passed up. I was in Basel recently (more on that later) and realized I was only an hour from Zurich. I just had to go visit even if it was for a day. A few tips for you - be careful when planning a trip to Zurich on a Sunday as a lot of the stores (and restaurants) were closed. I gather this is something that is common in European cities. Another tip, if you are traveling from another part of Switzerland (Basel, Bern , Lucerne etc) - get your train ticket in advance online or via app. I paid about 25 swiss francs more than the prices online by buying my ticket at the train station and the day of my trip. That is the other thing to note, while Switzerland is part of the EU, it retains its own currency (Swiss Franc) so plan accordingly if you are heading to Zurich.


The central train station is Zurich HB and will likely be your stop if you are traveling from another part of Switzerland. Zurich HB is located at the end of the famous Bahnhofstrasse. The easiest way I can describe Bahnofstrasse is the Zurich version of Av. des Champs-Eysees but significantly more expensive. It was once ranked the most expensive street for retail in Europe. It is lined with high end and high street retail shops; hotels and restaurants including the Hiltl Dachterrasse - a great vegetarian and vegan restaurant with an incredible selection of cocktails; coffees and teas. It is one of the oldest vegan restaurants in the world. You can find this rooftop terrace above PKZ women store. Other great food options for Zurich - Bubbles and Rolli Steakhouse - the later was highly recommended and one of the motivations for going to Zurich, but they are closed on Sundays (insert heartbreak emoji). Bubbles is a great brunch spot run by an incredibly sweet lady who makes out of this world desserts.


Before you start down Bahnofstrasse, just around the corner from the train station is the Swiss National museum. It cost ten francs to get in and the museum is housed in an architecture space that is incredibly modern on one end and looks like a castle on another end. Somehow it works.


Don’t miss old town, you can get to Old town by taking one of the side roads from Bahnofstrasse. There is quite a bit to see this way. On the day I visited, there was a motor cycle event happening. There must have been over 500 motorcycles lining the street. It was pretty cool. While in Old town, keep an eye for some of the historic church buildings some of which have existed since the 1700; each one with its unique architectural style. The four main ones to keep an eye out for - GrossMunster ; St. Peter’s ; Fraumunster and Predigerkirche. GrossMunster is impressive - the 12th century cathedral is in the Romansque style. You can climb up to the steeple for amazing views. Again, if you are visiting on Sunday - you may not be able to visit the interiors of these churches.


Make sure to hike through old town to get to Lindenhof hill and the public square offers a stunning view of the city. It also used to be the site of the imperial palace. Explore the areas around the hill and the churches - a lovely wander around Altstadt (Old town) never hurt anyone.


Football fans - do not miss the FIFA world football museum. The stairs light up with some historic football moments so keep an eye out for that beaut. Finally Lake Zurich - if possible, pack yourself a little picnic and relax and feast to your heart’s content. There were two things I really wanted to do but did not have the time - Felsenegg and Uetliberg. Uetliberg is a moutain just half hour by train from Zurich HB and supposedly offers a panoramic view of the city and Lake Zurich. Felsenegg is another mountain summit with access to hiking trails; a restaurant with views of Sihl valley and Lake Zurich. It is also less than a 100 feet from Pluto’s mound.


Getting around - I bought a day pass for the tram which came in quite handy as the best brunch spots seemed to be away from city center and when you have just a few hours, it helps not to log miles on foot. If you considering a trip, I think a weekend is perfect to have a Zurich getaway that is not rushed and you get to see all the main attractions. If you have any Zurich recommendations, please share in the comments.