Back in November I was psyched to finally set foot in a new country, Switzerland! I was flying in and out of Basel Airport for my trip to Colmar, France and chose to spend one night in Basel to explore the city. Needless to say, I’d heard how expensive Switzerland is, but apart from that I knew very little about the country, and even less about Basel. For this trip I just wanted to relax and therefore didn’t plan a lot in advance (which I normally do). Well, turns out that was my first mistake when visiting Basel. I didn’t have a great time in Basel, but I blame my own planning more than I blame the city. Learning from my mistakes, I’ve listed the things you should do before visiting Basel.
Pick the Right Day of The Week
I went to Basel over the weekend in November. Spot the first mistake? I arrived on Saturday night and then planned to spend the entire Sunday in the city before my flight at 10pm. Living in Manchester has definitely made me more chilled and I kind of forgot that there are places that basically shut down on Sundays (much like my home in Sweden). I had a great time at Museum Tinguely during the day but in the evening I really struggled to find something to do and found that a lot of restaurants were shut. So if you want to ensure Basel gets the attention it deserves, visit on a weekday (but not Monday, as some museums are closed). Alternatively, for a weekend trip, make sure you plan your activities and food places in advance.
Perhaps another obvious one, but if you want traditional Swiss food on a weekend night, make sure you book a table. I walked past McDonalds on my first night and scoffed to myself. There was no way I would be that person, I was here for the real deal. For the next 1,5 hour I went into multiple restaurants which were all fully booked. One manager even laughed when I asked if they had an available table. In the end, I spent my first night indulging in some highly local McDonalds fare. Ironically, the following night I couldn’t find an open restaurant and ended up in McDonalds again. In the end, I had almost no Swiss food. For someone who considers food the highlight of most trips, that was really disappointing. If you plan to visit, research any restaurants you want to try for local food and make sure you book a table. Can’t believe I missed out on cheese fondue.
Bring Enough Money to Basel
It sounds like a cliché to say that Switzerland is expensive but even as a Scandinavian I found it pricey. For an evening and full day in Basel I brought 120 CHF, about £90 in cash. By the time I got to my last meal I only had about 10 CHF left. Below is what my Basel budget was spent on (admittedly I bought a lot of gorgeous Swiss chocolate but when in Rome etc.):
Food (2 meals in McDonalds and 2 snacks from the Christmas market): 43 CHF / £32.50
Souvenirs from the Christmas market: 16.50 CHF / £12.50
Museum Tinguely: 18 CHF / £13.60
Snacks and water from the supermarket: 14.80 CHF / £11.20
Hot chocolate and small cake in a café: 12 CHF / £9.10
Chocolate (about 7 pralines): 8 CHF / £6.05
Utilise Public Transport
Basel has a wide range of attractions but some of them, e.g. Museum Tinguely are quite far apart. I chose to walk everywhere as I had no clue how the public transport system worked, which was unnecessary in hindsight. To give you an idea of distances, it took me about 25 minutes to walk from Mittlere Brücke to Museum Tinguely. It’s a beautiful walk along the Rhine river, but after your visit I’d recommend getting the bus back into town. Between Basel SBB train station and Basel Münster (famous cathedral) it took about 16 minutes.
If you’re staying at a hotel in Basel you’re likely to receive a complimentary transport pass for the duration of your stay. The pass allows free use of public transport, including the airport shuttle bus (number 50). I finally used the tram just before heading home and it was so simple to use with frequent departure times. From memory, the tram between the Town Hall and Basel SBB train station departed every 8 minutes.
Don’t Miss Out on The Street Art in Basel
Basel is famous for incredible art and high profile art events, such as Art Basel. What I didn’t expect, however, was the amount of amazing street art in Basel! Definitely check out art museums such as the famous Kunstmuseum or Museum Tinguely but don’t miss the bold art pieces decorating the city. On Rheinsprung there was a piece of a farmer and on Rosshofgasse there was a gorgeous illustration channeling Gulliver’s Travels. The best I saw, however, was outside the restaurant L’Unique on Gerbergässlein. Opposite this rock n’ roll themed pub/restaurant is a wall of music icons, such as David Bowie, Beatles and Queen. These are only the ones I stumbled upon, but I’ve since seen that Basel’s tourist website shares the address of more pieces here. For you winter travellers out there, keep in mind that Basel gets dark early in winter. If you want to snap good photos of the art, make sure you do it early in the day.
As mentioned, I didn’t particularly enjoy my visit to Basel but I also came highly unprepared and got unlucky with rainy and grey weather. I didn’t check opening hours, what restaurants I wanted to try or bring enough clothes. Frankly, it’s much harder to enjoy a place when you’re wet and cold, especially if you insist on walking everywhere. In some places that improvised way of travelling works fine (Colmar was no problem) but Basel is not that kind of place. Which is fine, just come prepared and know what things you should and should not do in Basel. Personally, I’d like to go back to Switzerland and give Basel a second chance. In summer.