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Art Basel essential guide

Breeze through the world's oldest contemporary art fair with our handy festival guide to the art events happening and Basel city guide tips.

Swiss Tourism

Nicknamed ‘the art world Olympics,’ this art fair brings together the best and brightest names in the business. This year, Art Basel is shaping to be even more of a global event than its predecessors, with a host of unique international collections on display. And like every year, this one has loads of great places to see, plus plentiful wining and dining opportunities.

Art Basel events

1

Art Basel 2015 highlights

Entering into its 46th year, Art Basel remains the dean of all art fairs dedicated to modern and contemporary art and the annual meeting place for anyone in the art world who wants to be seen. 

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By: Michele Laird

Top restaurants near Art Basel

1

Restaurant Union

There’s something of a beer hall about Restaurant Union, but for a younger and edgier crowd. Diners sit side by side along wooden benches, resulting in an informal atmosphere and a buzz of chatter. 

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
2

Brasserie Volkshaus

Recommended

While the name might lead you to expect a traditional beer hall, Volkshaus Basel is a design attraction in its own right and far from folksy. Star Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have created a dining space that is filled with light and clean lines, while retaining nods to classic brasserie interiors.

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
3

Acqua

Recommended

One of Basel’s trendiest nightspots, this lounge bar and Italian restaurant makes the most of its setting in a renovated waterworks. 

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Vorstädte (Suburbs)
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4

Restaurant Hirscheneck

Recommended

A bar, restaurant, music venue and club in one, Hirscheneck is a venerable and eye-opening Basel institution, run since 1979 by a highly politicised collective for arty alternative types as well as the LGBT patrons who are its core clientele. 

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
5

Das Schiff

Recommended

Anchored on the edge of the River Rhine, Schiff is a cultural centre with a restaurant and bar that extends over three decks. 

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Kleinhüningen
6

Aroma

Recommended

Regarded as one of the best Italians in Basel, Aroma is an upmarket trattoria that offers a romantic atmosphere and excellent Italian cuisine. 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
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7

Manger & Boire

As the name suggests, this cosy pub-restaurant is dedicated to the finer things in life and celebrating time to enjoy them. 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
8

Der Teufelhof

Recommended

A cosy and unusual hotel, restaurant and cultural venue, Der Teufelhof manages to excel at wearing various different hats. Created from two historic townhouses, the interiors offer plenty of quirky and unexpected spaces for activities including wine tasting, theatre and cabaret performances, and fine dining. The kitchen embraces 'fancy food' with gusto, serving up dishes that are pleasing to the eye and exciting to the palate; foodies with a proper appetite will also appreciate that it doesn’t skimp on the portion sizes. A substantial wine list with over 450 choices makes it a good venue if you want try something new or impress your date, but the inviting surroundings take the edge off any pretension. Upstairs, 33 rooms form the hotel side of the business – these offer accommodation with plenty of character, although the plain white furnishings and sloping ceilings in some rooms might not be to everyone’s taste. Free wifi is available throughout the building.

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
9

Grace Restaurant & Lounge

With its large glass façade, Grace looks like the kind of establishment that would command high prices. However, the restaurant’s Mediterranean-influenced menu is refreshingly modest.

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
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Top bars near Art Basel

1

Balz Klub

The Balz Klub in the middle of Gross Basel is a bar and music venue that exudes a warm and friendly vibe by combining different styles of music to attract a mixed clientele. Its Thursday night sessions are renowned as a place to get the weekend started with the help of a student-friendly party night. Fridays and Saturdays are more grown up, with various genres on offer and a mixture of local acts and distinguished international guests. Balz also hosts a stand-up comedy night on the first Wednesday of every month to keep things interesting.

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Basel
2

Acqua

Recommended

One of Basel’s trendiest nightspots, this lounge bar and Italian restaurant makes the most of its setting in a renovated waterworks. 

Read more
Vorstädte (Suburbs)
3

Der Teufelhof

Recommended

A cosy and unusual hotel, restaurant and cultural venue, Der Teufelhof manages to excel at wearing various different hats. Created from two historic townhouses, the interiors offer plenty of quirky and unexpected spaces for activities including wine tasting, theatre and cabaret performances, and fine dining. The kitchen embraces 'fancy food' with gusto, serving up dishes that are pleasing to the eye and exciting to the palate; foodies with a proper appetite will also appreciate that it doesn’t skimp on the portion sizes. A substantial wine list with over 450 choices makes it a good venue if you want try something new or impress your date, but the inviting surroundings take the edge off any pretension. Upstairs, 33 rooms form the hotel side of the business – these offer accommodation with plenty of character, although the plain white furnishings and sloping ceilings in some rooms might not be to everyone’s taste. Free wifi is available throughout the building.

Read more
Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
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4

Consum

A stylish locale that peddles wine, salami and cheese as its produce of choice, Consum is a favourite on the Basel bar scene. Situated in the heart of Klein Basel, the large windows invite you to peer in on your way past and the clever combination of cosy sofas for gossiping plus high tables for bar hoppers allows it to cater to different classes of drinker. If you’re new to Swiss gastronomy, this would be a low-effort place to start, thanks to the broad selection of artisanal tapas plates source from small-scale local producers. The wine menu features Swiss vintages too, although the wine list is extensive and regularly updated to include wines and ports from around the world.

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
5

The Bird's Eye Jazz Club

Show up at Bird’s Eye on one of five evenings during the week and you’ll be treated to an intimate jazz concert, likely featuring a renowned artist. The cosy low-lit setting allows the musicians to connect with the audience, with many performers descending from the stage to mingle and joke to hugely entertaining effect. Bird’s Eye doesn’t only focus on established performers, but also showcases new talent. Meanwhile, regarded as one of Europe’s finest jazz clubs, it boasts great acoustics. You can turn up any time during the evening, even after the concert has started, but booking is recommended. During concerts the staff serve drinks and light snacks. 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
6

Das Schiff

Recommended

Anchored on the edge of the River Rhine, Schiff is a cultural centre with a restaurant and bar that extends over three decks. 

Read more
Kleinhüningen
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Top nightlife near Art Basel

1

Restaurant Hirscheneck

Recommended

A bar, restaurant, music venue and club in one, Hirscheneck is a venerable and eye-opening Basel institution, run since 1979 by a highly politicised collective for arty alternative types as well as the LGBT patrons who are its core clientele. Dining, which is mainly on vegetarian and vegan fare with a few organic meat dishes thrown in, takes place at long canteen tables, and generally comes with a side order of philosophical or left-leaning political discourse with your neighbours – a refreshing change in this most buttoned-down of burgs. Then there’s the nightlife, whose wildly varied scope includes punk and thrash bands, world music DJ sets, comedy shows, lesbian and transgender discos and good old-fashioned homo dance parties. Recently reopened after an extensive renovation, it’s a ballsy, brainy and beautiful mould-breaker.

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
2

Nordstern Technoclub

People like to refer to it as a behemoth on Basel’s club scene, and there doesn’t seem to be too much competition if this is your style of nightlife. A gigantic technoclub, Nordstern specialises in bringing techno to the discerning masses. Even without the music, it’s an immensely cool industrial space that emerged from the underground workings of a power plant. Clubbing at Nordstern is carefully managed to try to help guests enjoy a transcendent experience – expect sound that has a profound physical effect and crowds of fellow clubbers dancing gleefully to an illustrious roll call of international artists late, late into the night. A strict door policy for over 20s only applies and is rigorously enforced.

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St. Johann
3

Hinterhof

While the location might not seem too promising, stranded in no man’s land between Basel-Land and Basel-Stadt, it’s ideal for Hinterhof and its youthful and edgy clientele. An enormous party house, Hinterhof is a huge bar-and-dance complex housed in an old fruitmarket that has truly seen better days. Punters come here primarily for the music, which ranges from big name international artists, to eclectic art projects and to local club DJs playing to a loyal following. The urban setting feels miles away from quaint and historic downtown Basel, with a landscape of carparks and train tracks visible from the roof terrace. If you don’t think you’re cool enough for a warehouse rave, you can sit up here insteads, enjoy one of the decently-priced cocktails and watch the sun go down.

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Gundeldingen
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4

SUD

Making good use of the spacious former Warteck brewery building, this cocktail bar, music venue and cultural centre has a wide range of events, from concerts and theatre to DJ nights and LGBT club queerPlanet and even poetry slams. With palm trees and a disco ball, it’s a cheerful sort of place, particularly during happy hour. It also serves delicious tapas and a decent Sunday brunch.

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
5

Kuppel

One of Basel’s most popular clubs, this place has a diverse line-up of party nights, DJs and live music covering a wide range of genres. Whether you’re into techno, salsa, reggae or disco – and much else in between – you’ll find a night for you here. As well as live gigs from local and national musicians, Kuppel also hosts cabaret and stand-up comedy nights. The atmosphere is friendly and cosy, and for a Swiss club it’s pretty reasonably priced.

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Vorstädte (Suburbs)

Top things to do near Art Basel

1

Vitra Design Museum

A tad cheeky, perhaps, to claim the fabulous Vitra Design Museum for Basel as it lies just over the border in the German town of Weil am Rhein. But no art lover visits the city without making the peasy 30-minute city bus pilgrimage, and with good reason. 

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Basel-Stadt
2

Xocolatl

It’s not hard to find high quality chocolate in Switzerland, but Basel’s Xocolatl sets a new standard. Operating under the Aztec term for chocolate, the enchanting boutique overflows with intriguing bars, pralines, drinks and spreads from around the world – most with a cocoa content of around 70 per cent. From Chocolat Bonnat to Domori and Zotter, all the brands stocked work with carefully chosen small suppliers and producers. The real treat is the homemade hot chocolate prepared by owner Maren Gnädinger, which you can take a seat to enjoy. Tucked away close to the Rhine, you might not stumble across Xocolatl – but once you have, you won’t forget it in a hurry. (Please note that the shop is moving on 12th May. Check the website for details.) 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
3

Kunstmuseum

The planet’s largest collection of paintings by the Holbein family is the centrepiece of Basel’s most venerable art archive, and works from 1400-1600 and the 19th-21st centuries its broader main attractions. 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
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4

Fondation Beyeler

Although it numbers fewer than 250 works, the permanent collection at the superb Fondation Beyeler feels like an essential edit of modern art’s masterpieces, in a setting that’s both serene and gloriously eccentric – in a suitably understated Swiss way, naturally. 

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Riehen
5

Basel Zoo

Known affectionately to locals as Zolli, Basel Zoo is something of a landmark. It opened in 1874, making it Switzerland’s oldest zoo. It is also home to some 600 species, including meerkats, snow leopards, gorillas, spider monkeys, giraffes, penguins and parrots. The penguin walks that take place outside the Vivarium during the winter are not to be missed. Visitors themselves enjoy taking a walk there in the summer, when the zoo’s grounds look really pretty. The zoo is currently constructing a huge marine aquarium, Ozeanium, which is scheduled to open in 2020.

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
6

Rhine river cruises

The mighty Rhine river is the heart of Basel, so why not enjoy a cruise as you glide along the picturesque Swiss scenery and treat yourself to some onboard entertainment. Cruises vary in duration and distance according to operators, but one popular option is a two hour tour of the town and harbour, passing through the old town, Basel Minister, and ending up at Basel harbour. There is also a two and a half hour cruise between Basel to Rheinfelden. 

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Basel
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7

Museum Tinguely

Kinetic sculptor Jean Tinguely is one of those artists you either love or hate. But Tinguely sceptics have been known to unknit their brows, smile and even laugh out loud in Basel’s temple to its favourite cog-bothering, wheel-wrangling, rotor-repurposing son. Trained at Basel’s arts and crafts school between 1941 and 1944, Tinguely went on to hone a discipline he called ‘méta-mécaniques’, first as part of the Parisian avant-garde of the 1950s and 1960s, building fantastical installations from mechanical components and unwieldy chunks of industrial detritus. Self-destruction was the intrinsic mission of many works, such as 'Homage To New York', which blew itself up for an invited audience in the garden of New York’s MOMA in 1960. But most were ruggedly built to last, and it’s the sheer scale of this museum’s collection that makes it irresistible, even to non-believers. The central hall alone houses 20 huge machine-sculptures in a handsome, hangar-like structure purpose-built next to the Rhine by Ticino architect Mario Botta, and the work on show also includes drawings, historic exhibition posters, catalogues and photographs. An imaginative programme of temporary exhibitions ups the offer further still.

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Kleinbasel
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Cute cafes around Basel

1

Café Frühling

True to its name, you get the sense that it’s always springtime at Café Frühling. 

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
2

Chez Velo

Recommended

At first glance a bike shop, ChezVelo is actually also a café renowned among locals for its cosy and unusual setting. 

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St. Johann
3

La Fourchette

Opened in 2014, La Fourchette is the go-to address for straight-up French-inspired cuisine. 

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Altstadt Kleinbasel (central Kleinbasel)
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4

Del Mundo

Recommended

A busy and popular espresso bar, Del Mundo offers a taste of Brooklyn-style coffee in downtown Basel. 

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Gundeldingen
5

Hamabama

Hamabama looks like your ‘five-a-day’ times ten, with its bright décor and array of fruit and vegetables arranged on the counter. 

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Altstadt Grossbasel (central Grossbasel)
6

Zum Kuss

This self-proclaimed cafe and culture bar offers lunches, coffees, evening cocktails and Sunday brunches. 

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Grossbasel
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