Things to do
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.
A stroll in the Old Town is highly recommended to get to grips with Basel’s extensive and very well preserved historic heritage. While the winding cobbled streets are perhaps best explored without too much of a plan in mind, there are some sights you should make sure to include in your itinerary. The Mittlere Brücke has been an international trade route since at least the 14th century and has allowed traffic to cross the Rhine in comfort since it was first built in 1226. It’s one of the best places to appreciate the beauty of Basel on the river and the juxtaposition of new and old architecture, especially at sunset. The Spalentor - the imposing gateway to the walled city centre of yore - has survived intact from 1400 and gives some insight into Basel medieval era. Finally, the Rathaus in Marktplatz is the historic seat of power in Basel and remains home to the city council to this day; a long and fascinating history can be discovered on the guided tours that run twice every Saturday.
Whether you are local or in town for shopping, a meeting or an event, the Dampfbad in northern Basel’s St. Johann is the perfect retreat. Combining an oriental hammam with two steam rooms and a range of massages, it is an oasis of calm in muted beiges and greys. The recommended ritual includes a warming shower, 10 minutes in an aromatic 48 degrees steam room, a body scrub and a session in the 34 degrees relaxation pool, and can be repeated as many times as you like. Booking a massage as part of your visit is a luxurious addition. Thoughtful touches that enhance comfort include complimentary spiced tea, apples and eye masks in the rest room, natural Aesop toiletries in the showers and an endless supply of gold-threaded ‘Pestemals’ (Turkish bath towels) to protect your modesty. That’s right, you don’t have to be naked to enter – something of a rarity in Swiss steam rooms.
Anchored on the edge of the River Rhine, Schiff is a cultural centre with a restaurant and bar that extends over three decks. Schiff is known as a meeting place for creatives but its location makes it an ideal venue for anyone to enjoy views of Basel’s watery artery while wining and dining in chic surroundings. The main deck is home to a restaurant specialising in European cuisine and a bar/lounge with a hint of the South Seas. Menus read like modern upmarket gastro-pub fare, and are carefully prepared and presented. While the nautical theme might get a bit much (considering you’re clearly not actually on the high seas), the wooden decking of the terrace makes this place really come into its own in the summer when you can sit under the stars and enjoy late night Basel. Bon voyage.
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. Firmly Swiss with a touch of French, the menu aims for simple made special. Perennial Swiss favourites share the page with seasonal dishes including daily wild game specials in autumn. Desserts merit a mention thanks to creative flourishes with crème brulées, as does the cheese selection. In summer, the courtyard beer garden offers a shady nook to enjoy a cold beer. And meals from the Brasserie menu are also served here. It's possible to combine dinner or drinks with some live music at the Volkshaus, which regularly stages concerts by local bands and bigger names, as well as a popular 'Jazz Brunch' event in the brasserie on weekends.
One of Basel’s trendiest nightspots, this lounge bar and Italian restaurant makes the most of its setting in a renovated waterworks. The decor retains elements of its industrial past – steel grey walls, exposed pipes and brickwork – whilst being firmly contemporary at the same time. The low-lit main dining room, with its chandeliers and candles, will make anyone look good, while in summer the outdoor terrace is an inviting place to sit for lunch. The Osteria’s menu is split into three themes – for meat-lovers, fish fans and vegetarians – and includes classics such as wild ragu pasta and daily changing risottos, as well as larger mains. If you're here to drink rather than eat, visit the bar for a grappa by the fireplace or a cocktail and a spot of late-night dancing to its regular line-up of DJs.
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.
A busy and popular espresso bar, Del Mundo offers a taste of Brooklyn-style coffee in downtown Basel. While the menu is small, it’s perfectly formed for lunch or cappuccino hour, with ciabattas, soups and salads on the menu and home-made iced tea as an extra attraction in the summer. Unlike many cafes of this ilk, the service is warm and genuine and the interior does a good job of filling in between home and work as a nice place to hang out. The café itself is pretty small and its popularity means you are advised to get here early if you have your heart set on it for your lunchtime pick me up.
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.
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.
Hamabama looks like your ‘five-a-day’ times ten, with its bright décor and array of fruit and vegetables arranged on the counter. The juice bar strives to make healthy eating tasty and accessible for everyone, and to take one look at its appetising menu is to see this philosophy in action. Featured in the fresh juices, smoothies, power shots and salads is an A to Z of nutrient-rich produce, such as oranges, fennel, apples and wheatgrass. It is conveniently located, too. In the arcade just off central Gerbergasse, it is just the stop-off that flagging shoppers need.
Billed as a ‘theatre for young and old’, Basel’s well-known puppet theatre is exactly that, staging afternoon performances aimed at children and darker tales for adults during the evening. Performance styles vary wildly – if you thought puppetry was just Miss Piggy or Big Bird you’ll be thoroughly surprised by the cast of characters performing here, from life-size puppets to stringed creations and cute hand puppets. The repertoire is diverse too, including universally known tales such as Pinocchio along with Swiss German and international stories. Showing that puppetry isn’t just for kids, the adult programme tells such dark tales as Doctor Faustus in string-puppet form.
With a string of ‘best of’ awards to its name, Theater Basel can add that it is Switzerland’s largest multipurpose theatre company. It has three main stages and presents a broad programme including opera, theatre, ballet and productions for children. There is something for everyone, with both classical and contemporary works on the programme. Keep an eye on it, as the theatre frequently premieres new works.
Frustrated with what she perceived to be a lack of good clothing shops, Andrea Otto Knopp launched Riviera in Basel in 2006. She now does a service to the city's fashion portfolio by sourcing little known European designers who are too good to go undiscovered. Among this intriguing selection of clothes, accessories, bags and jewellery for men and women there are also established labels such as Surface to Air, Sessùn and Pop Copenhagen, as well as some one-off pieces. The shop should come with a warning, so we’re warning you: the well-cut pieces hanging from its rails are nothing short of irresistible thanks to their luxurious materials and modern and classic styles.
An upmarket department store, Globus is not unique to Basel but is probably the place to start if you’re on a shopping mission in the city, thanks to its location bang slap in the middle of the Freiestrasse shopping district. Shoppers can find an excellent range of high-quality goods, with high-class labels from the worlds of fashion, beauty and lifestyle brands in among the Globus own label products. Like many department stores in Switzerland, Globus also stocks a range of quality Swiss gifts as well as beautiful seasonal displays of confectionery. As a full service department store, it also has everything you might need to make your day go a little more smoothly, from personal shopping to grocery delivery. Taxfree shopping is available for non-Swiss residents, handy if you’re heading back over the border.
Although not to be confused with the area in Basel, label kleinbasel does share creative characteristics with its geographical namesake. Founded in 2001 by award-winning Basel designer Tanja Klein, the label stands for design and craftsmanship. Klein’s fascination with colour, fabrics and prints means window displays are tantalising. Meanwhile, if you part with cash to buy a piece, you can rest assured that it has been produced fairly using materials from Swiss and European suppliers. Still not convinced? A mark of the label’s popularity is its opening last year of a branch in Zurich’s Viadukt.
Confiserie Gilgen was founded in 1937 and still uses the same recipes. And they are recipes that seem to be working, Dough is made fresh daily in the medieval townhouse that is home to the bakery, and everything is handmade on the premises. It is little wonder its range of pastries, chocolates, truffles and traditional ‘Basler Läckerli’ (which are made across the city but vary in taste from bakery to bakery) have gained renown throughout Basel.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Located in what used to be Zurich's most beautiful cinema, Plaza club has a lot of charm and atmosphere and regularly hosts some of the best national and international house DJs. But their signature night is all about girls, not music. Their monthly burlesque show 'Oh la la Chérie' attracts a dolled and dressed up crowd and some of the best burlesque artists in Europe.