Every year, when possible, we head somewhere different for New Year and last year we decided on Basel, Switzerland. Having never visited Switzerland before we were excited to see what Basel had to offer. Armed with our winter woollies, we jumped on a plane, ready to hit the ground running and enjoy every second of our five-day city break over the New Year period. The first thing we noticed was how close Basel is to both the German and French borders, in fact, as soon as you walk through passport control there are signs on the wall pointing one way ‘to France’ and the other ‘to Switzerland’. Therefore, the influence runs through the city.
We followed the ‘to Switzerland’ sign and headed to the bus pick up point. Having done my research I’d found out that a Basel Card is handled to everyone when they check into their hotel free of charge which entitles you to free wifi, 50% off many of the city’s attractions and free transport. Therefore we simply opted for a couple of single bus tickets which cost CHF 3.80 (approx £2.85) and used our card on the return journey. The journey to the main train station took around 20 minutes. We had opted for a central hotel on Barfüssergasse, which took us an additional 15 minutes on foot to reach. Once we had checked in and dropped our bags off we were ready to explore. I’m glad that we had five days to explore as we were able to take our time which was welcome after a very hectic Christmas. Here are the things we loved and think you will too.
Admire the Altstadt
The Altstadt (Old Town) of Basel is lovely to wander around and discover on foot. Even though we visited in December we were blessed with dry weather and blue skies for the majority of our trip. Yes it was cold and we couldn’t venture far without our winter woollies but once wrapped up we were happy to explore for hours on end. The old town has many beautiful streets, many of which are cobblestoned with intricately designed and colourfully decorated buildings. The best views of Grossbasel (the older part of the city) and the Altstadt is from across the river on the Kleinbasel (newer) side of the city.
Marvel at the Munster
In the heart of the Altstadt is the Munster (minster) which is one of, if not, the main landmark in the city and dominates the skyline. Built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles, it has a red sandstone façade and colourful roof tiles. Yes, it’s easy to marvel at it from afar, however, you only get to see how stunning it is up close. Originally it was a Catholic church, however, is now a reformed protestant church. Entrance into Basel Munster is free and we spent around 40 minutes or so wandering around it and admiring both the architecture and the views over the Rhine below that it offers.
Make time for the Museums
Basel is bursting with museums, around 40 to be exact and even though we were only in the city for four days we managed to visit a couple. The first was the Kunstmuseum which is home to a number of permanent and temporary exhibitions showcasing the largest collection of art in Switzerland. The other was the Tinguely Museum, another art museum and a stop on the Basel sightseeing bus tour. Tinguely was a Swiss painter and sculpture who designed, amongst other things the city’s largest water fountain – the Fontaine du carnival, located almost opposite the Tourist Information Centre and a must see.
Get on board a boat
The Rhine runs between Grossbasel and Kleinbasel. Of course there are bridges; in fact, there are 5 that join the sides which we walked over a lot. However, a more enjoyable way of crossing the water was on one of 4 boats that run it every 15 minutes or so, they basically shuttle backwards and forwards across the Rhine. The 4 ferries (Wilde Maa, Leu, Vogel Gryff and Ueli) cross the river without a motor but simply by using the current. The Basel Card I mentioned we received from our hotel when we checked in, entitled us to 1 trip with subsequent trips costing CHF 1.60 (approx. £1.20) which was well worth it.
Wander the city walls
We had passed the city walls on the Basel sightseeing bus tour but we missed the stop. Therefore, we returned the next day. The first wall of the city was built in 1080 with A newer wall, the ‘inner wall’ was built around 1230, with an ‘outer wall’ added in 1398, along with six city gates – Gate of Spalen, Gate of Saint Alban, Gate of Saint John, Gate of Ashes and Gate of Steinen. Then in 1859 all but one section of the wall and three of the gates were demolished. During our visit to the wall, we had the area to ourselves, as it is just a little walk (around 10 mins) from the Altstadt, I think many people simply don’t make the journey.
Go through the gate
When history and architecture collide beautifully they produce amazing buildings and structures which stand the test of time and the Gate of Spalen is certainly one of them. One of the three remaining gates in the city of Basel, we never visited the other two unfortunately, it is considered to be one of the most spectacular gates in Switzerland. It dates back to 1400 however still looks amazing and somewhere you must visit when in the city. We wandered through the Botanical Gardens at the university which in summer I imagine look beautiful, to the gate and then through it admiring the intricate details and figures on it as we did.
Regard the Rathaus
The Town Hall (Rathaus) in Basel which is the seat of the Basel government and its parliament is stunning. Its red facade is the focal point of Marktplatz where it stands. The Rathaus is over 500 years old yet still looks like it’s just being built. It has beautiful, intricate and colourful designs on it. Open Monday and Friday (check out the website for specific times) and closed over weekends. It’s also free to visit, which is always great, especially in a city like Basel where other things, such as food and drink are quite expensive. As we visited over New Year it was not open therefore we only got to see it from the market square.
Pop to the Paper Mill
Even though the Paper Mill, also known as the Swiss Museum for Paper, is technically a museum it is a very specialist museum and one worthy of a visit. It is located up near the remainder of the city walls and again is a stop on the Basel Sightseeing bus, meaning you can visit both easily. As the name suggests the museum is dedicated to papermaking and printing, with over four floors showing you through its history, you need to allocate a couple of hours. Again don’t forget to check out the website for opening times and such, as with some museums in Basel, they do not open until later in the day and are actually closed on certain days.
Check out the churches
Churches are our thing and if there are any to see in a city you can guarantee, that Mr ESLT and I will be there. Therefore, when we were wandering the city centre streets and came across the Elisabethenkirche, we had to pop in and check it out for ourselves. It is a 19th-century neo-Gothic church which was completed in 1864. Normally when we visit churches, it gives us the opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of the street or area outside, however as it was Christmas time and obviously a popular spot to visit anyway, it was jam-packed with people from around the world both worshipping and wandering around it.
Munch lunch at the Markthalle
Basel Markthalle, which is located close to the Basel SBB railway station and is perfect for visiting to grab something or a range of somethings to eat during your stay in the city. The domed building is home to numerous stalls all selling tempting fresh produce at what I consider to be reasonable prices. Depending on the time and day, depends on what’s on offer. We found there to be stalls offering the usual fare from market halls together with actual restaurants that offer sit down meals together with a children’s market area. Therefore there is something for everyone regardless of what they fancy and whatever their budget is.
Oh and don’t forget to behold the Basilisks!
Basilisks, are legendary reptiles reputed to be a serpent king who can cause death with a single look or touch and the legend states that the only way to kill a basilisk is to show itself its reflection in a mirror. They can be found all over the city as they play an important part in Basel’s history and the residents of the city are very proud of them. From fountains and bridges to lampposts the beasts watch over the city and its inhabitants. A number of places and things across the city also bear the name Basilisk including hotels, taxis and even a beer.
We had a great time in Basel and we found that there was more than enough to do an see during our visit, we had initially worried that five days was a long time to fill in a relevantly small city but we need not have worried. It was also nice to be in Basel for New Year and having the opportunity to watch the fireworks. We watched them from the Munster (with some shop bought booze – don’t judge, everyone was doing it) over the Rhine and they were fabulous, although be warned if you are visiting specifically for New Year’s eve the fireworks aren’t set off until 12.30am, not midnight as we had assumed they would be. Basel surprised us and even though apparently not typically swiss it has whet our appetite to explore more of Switzerland as soon as possible.