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.