Basel, Switzerland City Guide

by Stephanie

Today’s Basel, Switzerland City Guide comes from Dina Bonefacic-Mihaljek, a Basel resident and local architectural tour guide for the area. Dina leads locals and tourists on a walking tour of the city, giving talks on the local architecture, art history and culture of the region. Today, Dina takes us on a personal tour of this artistic Swiss city. Thanks, Dina, for sharing your wealth of knowledge about Basel! — Stephanie

Read the full guide after the jump . . .

Art, Architecture and Urban Development

Those interested in art will know that Basel is famous for its collection of some of the best works of the Northern Renaissance artists, as well as for its long tradition of private patronage of contemporary art. Basel boasts one of the first art collections ever opened to the public (the 16th century Amerbach collection, parts of which are included today in Basel’s Kunstmuseum), as well as the first European museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art (Museum für Gegenwartskunst in St. Alban-Tal). Over time, Basel has become home to almost 40 museums of various kinds. And every summer when hundreds of leading galleries from all over the world take part in the annual Art Basel fair, the city turns into an international hotspot, attracting numerous art connoisseurs.

Architecture fans who jet from Beijing to San Francisco to London to look at some of the iconic structures designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron need only visit Basel to experience dozens of Herzog and de Meuron buildings. Both architects were born and raised in Basel and have maintained their main office here, employing some 300 architects from all over the world. Another Basel-based office well established internationally is that of the Diener & Diener architects. A number of smaller up-and-coming offices have also contributed to the local architectural landscape, thus strengthening the perception of Basel as the architecture center of Switzerland. It should thus come as no surprise that the one and only Swiss Architecture Museum (SAM) is found right in Basel.

In addition to their architectural practice, Herzog and de Meuron also teach at the ETH Studio Basel and are actively engaged in discussions about the future development of their hometown. Basel is located right on the border of France and Germany, and although the city itself counts fewer than 200,000 inhabitants, its metropolitan region includes a large tri-national area with a population of almost 1.5 million. Characterized primarily by the river Rhine and surrounded by the Jura, Black Forest and Vosges mountains, this area needs to be developed to preserve its natural landscape yet allow further growth. Herzog and de Meuron, among others, suggest that the solution lies in the selective construction of high-rise buildings and the redevelopment of industrial sites located within central urban areas. As part of reaching out and making people aware of the issues that face Basel and its surroundings, an attractive and fun comic book titled Metrobasel — A Model of a European Metropolitan Region has been published. Get your own copy to learn more about Basel’s history, its urban development and ideas for the future.

A good opportunity to address a variety of urban development issues is currently being provided by the so-called International Building Exhibition, known under the German acronym IBA (Internationale BauAusstellung). More than just an exhibition, IBA Basel 2020 focuses on development and realization of projects that address the relationship between city and landscape within the whole of Basel’s tri-national area.

Check out the Basel Guide Google Map with all of the below listings!

Finding Your Way Around

Basel (Basel-Stadt)

The historic heart of Basel lies on the Münster Hill, an area that was first settled in the 1st century BC by the Celts, followed by the Romans and the Germanic Alemanni tribes. From the 8th century until the time of Reformation, this was also the seat of Basel’s bishops, who contributed greatly to the city’s development. The impressive building of the former cathedral, known as the Münster, is thus a good starting point for exploring Basel. From the top of one of its towers, one can get a good overview of how the city is laid out and can start to discern some interesting buildings and urban spaces.

Just below the Münster one can see the wide “knee” of the river Rhein as it makes a turn northward and continues to flow through the valley flanked by the French Vosges and the German Schwarzwald mountains. On the Rhine’s left bank, extending around the Münster Hill, lies the oldest part of Basel, densely built and marked by the spires of the St. Martin’s, St. Peter’s, St. Leonhard’s and Barfüsser churches. Looking southward on the river’s left bank one can see the historic St. Alban-Tal and its medieval defense tower, the St. Alban-Tor. Its counterpart, on the same river bank but on the north side, is the St. Johann-Tor, a medieval tower that marks the Basel Nord neighborhood, an area that has been gradually turning into a hip quarter, lying right next to the industrial area recognizable from afar by its tall chimneys. Across the river from the Münster Hill is Klein Basel, the part of the city that started to develop in the 13th century after the first bridge was built (Mittlere Brücke sits in its place now). These days Klein Basel is known for its large exhibition and trade fair center, the location of which can be easily spotted, for it is marked by what is currently Basel’s highest building: the 105 meter tall Messeturm.

Surrounding Areas (Basel-Land/Switzerland, Germany, France)

Because Basel is a rather small city and is well connected by public transportation to its metropolitan region, which includes the Basel-Land countryside as well as the nearby areas in France and Germany, it is not difficult to get from one place to another. In addition to contemporary and historic architecture in Basel itself, it is also worthwhile to visit the Goetheanum in Dornach as well as the nearby small town of Arlesheim. Design enthusiasts should head to Weil am Rhein in Germany and have a look at the Vitra Design Museum as well as at the company’s showroom, the Vitra Haus. While the closest places in Alsace offer enjoyable sights of rolling hills, vineyards and half-timbered houses, a two-hour car trip farther into France will get you to Ronchamp and its famous Chapelle de Notre Dame by Le Corbusier.

Believe it or not, in Basel and its surroundings it is possible to see architecture designed by more than ten Pritzker Prize (architects’ Nobel prize) winners! Quite a concentration of buildings designed by various star architects can be found in the aforementioned north of the city, on the Novartis campus, as well as on the grounds of the Vitra. Yet, even if you only stay within the city proper and walk through its historic neighborhoods, you are bound to discover numerous interesting sights — not only buildings and artworks, but also small shops, cafés and restaurants that reflect typical Basel, prosperous and well functioning, polished and traditional yet rough around the edges, tolerant and multicultural.



Münsterplatz lies at the heart of historic Basel and is the only city square characterized by its original, medieval layout. This well-proportioned urban space, dominated by the Münster and defined by house facades with 18th century baroque portals, provides a quiet oasis within the hectic life of the surrounding streets. A small grove of chestnut trees provides welcome shade, while a large terrace behind the Münster — the so-called Pfalz — allows for views of Klein Basel and the river Rheine.

Münster was originally a Catholic cathedral, and today it’s a reformed Protestant church, built from early 12th century to 1500, out of red sandstone. Features beautiful Romanesque stone carvings of the St. Gallus Portal, column capitals of the choir, cloister with tombs of notable Baslers; for more info see www.baslermuenster.ch.

Museum der Kulturen (Ethnology Museum) allows you to have a look at one recent project by Herzog & de Meuron right in the center of Basel. A facade of hanging plants and an extravagant, folded roof covered in dark green hexagonal tiles bring new life to Basel’s carefully preserved historic core. Münsterplatz 20 www.mkb.ch

Zum Isaak — A restaurant with a nice garden in the back, where you can peek at the life inside a typical Basel courtyard. Also, have a look at the mural in the entryway — it depicts some of the most important scenes from Basel’s past. Münsterplatz 16 www.zum-isaak.ch

Freie Strasse, located just down the hill from the Münsterplatz, is Basel’s main shopping street. Many of its historic buildings have been replaced by modernist structures, and over time, many of the smaller stores have been pushed out by larger chains, so that the street now offers a shopping experience similar to many other European cities. Smaller, independent stores that offer merchandise more typical of the minimalist yet high quality Swiss style can be found on Schneidergasse, Spalenberg or Nadelberg.

Schlüsselzunft — One of the few houses on Freie Strasse that has preserved its historic character; inside it also includes some touches of contemporary art. This former guild house is now a restaurant well worth a visit. Have a look at the historic tile-covered oven with its depictions of Basel’s history, as well as the mural by Basel’s contemporary artist Samuel Buri — it decorates the staircase leading to the medieval room with wood carvings. Freie Strasse 25 www.schluesselzunft.ch

Domus-Haus Buchhandlung is the place to go for books and magazines on architecture and design. On a side street just off Freie Strasse, in a 1950s modernist building. Pfluggässlein 3. +41 61 262 0490

Marktplatz — Basel’s main market square ever since medieval times, extended at the end of the 19th century when almost all historic houses, except for the Rathaus and the Geltenzunft (Renaissance building at Marktplatz 13), were torn down and replaced by structures in the historicist style popular at that time.

Rathaus or the City Hall is one of Basel’s most loved buildings. It consists of structures dating from the early 16th, 17th and the 20th centuries, all unified by the use of color (Basel’s dark red, also known as caput mortum) and murals. Have a look at its impressive courtyard. Marktplatz 9.

Confiserie Schiesser provides a wonderful place to have coffee and a piece of cake in a cozy 19th century atmosphere of the upper floor. Cakes and pralines can be purchased downstairs. Marktplatz 15 www.confiserie-schiesser.ch

Bookbinders — An international chain based in Sweden that offers well-designed quality products such as notebooks, photo albums, boxes, writing utensils and bags. Eisengasse 7 www.bookbindersdesign.com

Scriptorium — An exhibition space and a shop in a medieval house around the corner from the Marktplatz. Includes a selection of calligraphic items; calligraphy workshops are also offered, and letters can be written for you on request. Rheinsprung 2 www.kalligraphie.com

Läckerli Huus offers traditional hard spice biscuits made of honey, hazelnuts, candied peel and Kirsch, as well as decorative gifts and collectors’ tins. Gerbergasse 57/Falknerstrasse 34 (also in Klein Basel and at the main railway station) www.laeckerli-huus.ch

Schneidergasse, Spalenberg, Nadelberg and other narrow streets in the historic part of town close to the Marktplatz used to be inhabited by artisans, craftsmen, traders and small merchants. As is often the case in Basel, today’s street names refer to this historic fact and offer a good opportunity to practice some basic German: e.g., Schneider = tailor; Imber = ginger; Gasse = alley (can you figure out Glocke, Hut or Sattel?). Many of the houses in this area date from medieval times; their upper floors have been turned into attractive apartments while the downstairs floors are typically occupied by a variety of small shops. Continue along Spalenberg and further along Spalenvorstadt to reach the Spalentor, one of the only three medieval defense towers that were not demolished when the city started to expand in mid-19th century

Schweizer Heimatwerk offers high-quality Swiss products, traditional and modern, such as well-crafted decorative housewares, toys, clothing, watches and jewelry. Schneidergasse 2 www.heimatwerk.ch

Andreasplatz — A small square just off Schneidergasse, surrounded by houses with Romanesque details, enjoyable cafés (Café zum Roten Engel) and a nice children’s shop, Spielbrett.

Galerie Stampa — One of Basel’s well-established galleries, it displays changing exhibits of contemporary art and includes an impressive bookshop focused on art and architecture. On the upper floor at Spalenberg 2, www.stampa-galerie.ch.

Spalenhof — A complex of originally medieval buildings that houses two small theater spaces known for their interior that was reconstructed by Santiago Calatrava in the 1980s — a splendid combination of historic substance and modern technology. Spalenberg 12 www.fauteuil.ch/architektur/architektur.html

Löwenzorn — A traditional restaurant laid out across three medieval buildings, offering historic atmosphere and typical Basel fare. Gemsberg 2 www.loewenzorn.ch

This neighborhood offers numerous small shops with clothing that is typical for modern Swiss designers: functional and aesthetically pleasing, with simple and clear lines, yet sensuous and made of quality materials. Here is a small selection: kleinbasel Schneidergasse 24, ISSUE Grünpfahlgasse 8, süd-wind Gerbergässlein 18, Claudia Güdel Schnabelgasse 4

Selected European designer clothing is offered by Crista Bis (Kenzo, J. P. Gaultier, as well as Basel designer Helene Clément, known for her amazing coats). Schnabelgasse 3 and SET & SEKT Rümelinsplatz 5 (Acne and Maison Martin Margiela, interior design by young Basel creatives).

Heuberg is the narrow street that leads to the complex known as the Lohnhof. This area used to be within the inner ring of Basel’s 13th century defense walls, remnants of which can be seen in an archaeological display in the basement of the Teufelhof Hotel. The Lohnhof itself was originally an Augustinian monastery, turned into a city jail in the 17th century and renovated in 2000 into an attractive multi-use complex.

Gallerie Carzaniga is one of Basel’s best-known galleries, housed within two medieval buildings. It is well worth visiting, not only to see the art displayed there but also to experience its interior spaces as well as its beautiful sculpture garden. Gemsberg 8 www.carzaniga.ch

Teufelhof — A “cultural guesthouse” located between Heuberg and Leonhardsgraben. It includes two small hotels, two restaurants, a theater and an art gallery, as well as an archaeological display and a wine shop. For more info on the hotel, see the hotel section. Entrances both from Heuberg and from Leonhardsgraben 49 www.teufelhof.com

The Music Museum is where you can see — and listen to — all kinds of historical musical instruments and also explore a special section dedicated to Basel’s Fasnacht music. The spatial concept of this museum is unique, for it is housed within the renovated spaces of a former jail. Im Lohnhof 9 www.musikmuseum.ch

Centrepoint — A meeting place of Basel’s English-speaking community, located within the Lohnhof complex. This might be a good place to stop by for a chat or to get some more info about Basel. Im Lohnhof 8 www.centrepoint.ch

Au Violon — French brasserie in the historical Lohnhof complex, part of a former jailhouse. If coming from Barfüsserplatz, take the elevator built within a medieval tower. Im Lohnhof 4 www.au-violon.com

Barfüsserplatz is just a short walk down the hill. The place to see here is the former Franciscan church turned Historical Museum — a great place to visit and learn more about Basel’s past. www.hmb.ch

Zum Braunen Mutz — A traditional restaurant overlooking the square, recently renovated, with a beer hall on the ground floor and a more upscale restaurant upstairs. Barfüsserplatz 10 www.braunermutz.ch

Kohlmanns — Regional dishes, especially Alsatian Flammkuchen, in a pleasantly contemporary interior of subdued colors. Barfüsserplatz/Steinenberg 14 www.kohlmanns.ch

Kunsthalle — A short walk from the Barfüsserplatz, near the Theaterplatz, this neo-baroque building was constructed in mid-19th century so as to house exhibition spaces of the Basel Art Association. Interestingly, it was financed partially through the profitable operation of the Rhine ferries, the so-called Fähre. In the same building is the Swiss Architecture Museum. Around the corner, facing the Theaterplatz, is the Kunsthalle restaurant – an elegant and charming, artsy place. Within the same complex is also the Campari Bar – a popular place for an evening drink. Steinenberg 7.

Tinguely Brunnen is located on the square in front of the main theater. This fountain, created by Jean Tinguely, is probably the best known artwork in Basel. It consists of ten “characters” that keep moving and spouting water in various ways; each of them is composed of parts salvaged from an older theater that used to stand right in this place.

Bankverein — The name of today’s busy street-crossing refers to the fact that the offices of a 19 century consortium of Basel’s private banks were located here. Indeed, the UBS (Union Bank of Switzerland) – Europe’s largest bank and the successor of the original Bankverein still maintains its offices in the classicist building on the eastern corner of the intersection.

The Bankverein area is full of shops of various kinds, but is best known for its high-end furniture stores such as the modernist classic Wohnbedarf on Aeschenvorstadt, Domizil on Elisabethenstrasse, Scandinavian Boutique Danoise or the French Ligne Roset.

Kunstmuseum — Located just down the hill from the Münster and right next to St. Alban-Tal, this art museum is of worldly renown. Artists of the Upper Rhein Renaissance, impressionists and modernists are all on display here. A small restaurant and a bar are situated along one side of the inner courtyard that features works by Dan Flavin, Alexander Calder, Eduardo Chillida and others. St. Alban-Graben 16 www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch


The neighborhood of St. Alban-Tal has its roots in the late 11th century when Basel’s first monastery was established here. In medieval times, this area was busy with numerous mills; from the 15th to the 18th centuries, St. Alban-Tal was Switzerland’s most important paper making center; silk-ribbon manufacturing followed in the 19th century. An impressive project of historical reconstruction and revival of the whole district, supported by the Christoph Merian Foundation in the late 1970s and early 1980s, resulted in a residential neighborhood that strikes a perfect balance between romantic tranquility and cultural liveliness. A reconstructed medieval defense tower and one part of the 14th century fortification wall conjure the times long past, while a few modernist buildings, inserted within this picturesque setting, continue to provoke discussion on how new architecture could best be interpolated within historic fabric.

St. Alban-Vorstadt leads from the city center into St. Alban-Tal. This street is dotted with small shops, including several goldsmiths who you can see working in the back (e.g., www.stefanamacher.ch). The Cartoon Museum is well worth a visit: its premises include a centuries old house facing the street and a more recent addition of glass and steel (designed by Herzog & de Meuron) in the back. St. Alban-Vorstadt 28 www.cartoonmuseum.ch

Museum of Contemporary Art opened in 1980 as the first European museum dedicated exclusively to contemporary art. It is housed in a post-modernist building that includes a former paper mill and reinterprets its forms within a new structure. St. Alban-Rheinweg 60 www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/de/museum-fuer-gegenwartskunst Large-scale works of contemporary art that are not currently displayed here are stored in a remarkable building located in Münchenstein – the Schaulager – a hybrid between a storage space and a museum (designed by Herzog & de Meuron) – serves as a place where art is preserved, studied and also presented to the public during certain months. Both institutions are the result of private engagement, see Laurenz Foundation and Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation.

Paper Mill — Located in a restored complex of medieval buildings, with a reconstructed water wheel, this museum of paper, writing and printing encourages hands-on experience in paper making, printing and bookbinding. Includes a nice shop with various kinds of paper and writing utensils. St. Alban-Tal 37 www.papiermuseum.ch Right next to the museum complex is a pleasant restaurant cum Café Papiermühle.

Restaurants — A walk along the Rhine toward the Breite neighborhood will bring you to a bathing station that includes a restaurant open during the warmer part of the year – MS Veronica offers simple but fresh food and a great feeling of being right on the river. St. Alban-Rheinweg 195. For a fancier fare and a more upscale atmosphere, pay a visit to one of Basel’s oldest establishments – a restaurant located in a medieval house transplanted to St. Alban-Tal from another location where it had to give way to new construction – Zum Goldenen Sternen St. Alban-Rheinweg 70.

Walk through the narrow streets and listen to the sounds of water flowing through the old canals. Visit the small graveyard next to the St. Alban church and have a peek at the 12th century Romanesque arcade — the only preserved part of the medieval St. Alban monastery.

Take a Fähre to the other side of the river to visit Klein Basel.


Klein Basel lies on the right bank of the Rhine. Its name means literally “Little Basel” and refers to the fact that this part of town was established later than the so-called Gross Basel (larger and older part of the city, lying on the left bank of the Rhein). Through centuries, Klein Basel tended to welcome newcomers, especially immigrant workers. Still today, it is characterized by a rather large percentage of foreign population. This means that one can also find here many ethnic shops and a variety of restaurants. Small enclaves of artistic life make this part of town attractive to young people. For example, have a look at the area around Feldbergstrasse — for work by local artists visit Dock-Basel, for music records Plattfon, for fashion Basler Riviera or Marinsel.

Kaserne — A complex housed in the spaces of former military barracks, this is a popular spot for night life. Music performances, theater and contemporary dance all take place here. www.kaserne-basel.ch Restaurant and Bar – KaBar

Basel Messe — The fairgrounds are currently under transformation, with a large-scale new building by Herzog & de Meuron going up – it will span over the Messe Square and provide a new public space, the so-called City Lounge. Annual fairs that attract world-wide attention include BaselWorld (watches and jewelry) and SwissBau (construction fair). The most important, however, is Art Basel – it takes place every June and turns Basel into a metropole of international art collectors. During that time, a number of other art and design fairs also set camp in the city. Out of these, Design Miami/Basel has proven to be one of the most attractive for it offers a great opportunity to see what is new in the world of high design as well as to attend presentations and discussions featuring well-known designers..

Schule für Gestaltung — Basel School of Design has a reputation as an excellent institution whose innovative courses in graphic design and typography became prototypical of modernist design education already in the 1960s. Campus buildings designed by Hermann Baur, sculptures by Armin Hoffmann and Hans Arp. Vogelsangstrasse 15 www.fhnw.ch/hgk

Volkshaus — A brasserie and bar in an early 20th century building, recently renovated by Herzog & de Meuron, combines tradition and modernity. A beer garden and small concert hall are also on the premises. Rebgasse 12 http://volkshaus-basel.ch

A walk along the river on the Klein Basel side is always enjoyable; sitting on the river bank is a local pastime. From here, one can enjoy a view of Basel’s historic skyline crowned by the Münster. The stretch along Schaffhauser Rheinweg, lined with turn-of-the century villas, is particularly charming. In only a few minutes, one can reach the Warteck complex, a former brewery transformed into a multi-use facility, especially frequented during Art Basel when its spaces display art brought in by young galleries from all over the world (see Liste). Go up to the second floor for a meal at the Cantina Don Camillo or all the way to the top of the tower housing the Turm Stübli (open as a bar during Art Basel, it can be rented at other times for private events). 

Continue your walk along the Rhine to reach the Tinguely Museum. Along the way, you will see a large complex of modernist white buildings that all belong to the well-known pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche. Their house-architects today are Herzog & de Meuron whose most recent project for this company is now under construction – at 175 meters, the stepped high-rise of the Roche 1 office building will be the tallest buildings in Switzerland.

Tinguely Museum displays kinetic art by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. Situated in a building designed by Mario Botta, this museum makes a special gesture towards the river and protects the Solitude Park from the traffic of the nearby highway. Paul Sacher Anlage 2 www.tinguely.ch Several large-scale sculptures by Tinguely can also be seen in other places in Basel. They include the playful stage set of the Fasnacht founatin on the Theaterplatz and the grand Luminator exhibited now at the Euroairport.


Bahnhof SBB includes a whole complex of buildings, of which the oldest is the neo-baroque/Jugendstil main railway station. It is surrounded by modern architecture on both of its sides, the eastern part being particularly impressive upon arrival by train: an exemplary longitudinal composition of contemporary architecture and art lines the railway tracks that connect Basel with the rest of Switzerland. Spanning over the tracks and providing pedestrian access to the Gundeldingen neighborhood is a skyway that encloses a lively public space with shops and cafés.

East — Walk toward the east side of the Bahnhof or take a tram to the Peter Merian and Jakob Burckhardt Haus. While both were designed by Peter Zwimpfer, the facade of the first one (green glass) was developed together with the American minimalist artist Donald Judd, the second one (silvery waves) with the Austrian light artist Brigitte Kowanz. Used for office and university spaces, both of these modular buildings include courtyards that display large-scale art. Not all of the spaces are open to public, but those of the Jakob Burckhardt building are all visible from the north side. Standing on the south side, facing the railway tracks, one has a good view of one of Herzog & de Meuron’s iconic buildings – the central Stellwerk – the signal box that appears as a large sculpture wrapped in strips of copper. Another signal box and a train depot by the same architects can be seen in the distant background.

West — The glass facades of Herzog & de Meuron’s Elsässertor (Alsace Gate) building recall colors of the French flag, for this traditionally used to be the French part of the railway station (red on one side, blue on the other, white along the long middle). To experience some of the interior design, take a break in the TransBARent bar. From here, you have a good view of the white Euregio building by Richard Meier, the dark red UBS Training Center by Basel architects Diener& Diener, and the impressive dome of the 1929 Markthalle. Originally used as a wholesale produce market, this structure has been recently renovated and turned into a small shopping mall.

South — A walkway with shops and cafés connects the main railway station with the Gundeldingen neighborhood – its playful roofline recalls the hill shapes of the surrounding Jura mountains. Gundeldingen was developed in the late 19th century and is characterized by a rectilinear network of streets lined with buildings of various historicist styles. Because it is separated from Basel’s center by the railway tracks, it maintains a somewhat different feel. Many ethnic shops and restaurants make this area particularly dynamic. Further to the south, one reaches the Bruderholz slope and the wonderfully green Margarethen Hill – with its small church and a farm, it offers a piece of countryside right within the city.

Bon Vivant — Located in a former silk-ribbon factory, this restaurant offers only one menu choice based on chef Schürmann’s daily inspiration. Four big tables, Frank Gehry light fixtures and a collection of 1950s chairs create a welcoming atmosphere. Some tableware and chairs are also offered for sale. Zwingerstrasse 10 www.bon-vivant.ch

eoipso — In a large industrial building that is part of the “Gundeldinger Feld” complex that has been retrofitted for a multiplicity of uses in an eco-friendly way. Includes a bar and a lounge as well as a restaurant with a menu full of creative dishes. Great place to work, drink and eat. Library next door. Old machinery production site, great ambiance. Dornacherstrasse 192 www.eoipso.ch

North — a small park extends on the grounds of a former cemetery that had, in the 19th c., replaced a section of medieval defense trenches. Walking across the park and further along Elisabethenstrasse is the best way to get from the railway station into the city center.

Zum Kuss — A former mortuary, turned chapel, turned storage house, now functions as a combination of a small restaurant and a coffee shop, with comfortable seating outdoors. Functions as a bar in the evening. Zum Kuss Elisabethenstrasse 59.

Alkena — A clothing shop very Swiss in character, offers clothing made out of natural materials such as organic silk and cotton, shoes, and cosmetics by Dr.Hauschka. Alkena Elisabethenstrasse 28



The area in the northern part of Basel has until recently been known primarily as an industrial, workers’ neighborhood. Yet, as the pharmaceutical giant Novartis started to transform its former production facilities into a campus dedicated to science and research, and after a busy section of a highway was transferred under the ground, this whole area started to turn into a much more attractive neighborhood.

St. Johanns-Vorstadt — The road that connected walled-in medieval Basel with the surrounding countryside centuries ago appears today as an attractive street lined with historic houses the ground floors of which are taken over by clothing stores, flower shops, restaurants and architects’ offices. This street starts at the Totentanzplatz – a small square named after medieval murals of the Dance of Death (some segments of which can be seen today in the History Museum) and continues all the way to St. Johanns-Tor, an impressive defense tower that used to be part of the city’s 14th century walls (the other two towers that still exist today are the Spalentor and St. Alban-Tor). Right next to St. Johanns-Tor are the headquarters of Herzog&deMeuron.

Ackermannshof — A complex of buildings grouped around a small courtyard, with about 800 years of history, has been renovated recently so as to include a variety of functions – from a publishing house to a meeting place for philosophical discussions, from architecture students’ studios to a chamber orchestra’s rehearsal space. Includes a small but very good restaurant and a bar. St.Johanns-Vorstadt 19-21 www.ackermannshof.ch

Matrix — Design studio and a shop with high quality textiles, mainly screen-printed scarves with geometrical patterns and intricate details. St.Johanns-Vorstadt 38 http://www.matrixdesign.ch

Chez Donati — A well-established Italian restaurant facing the Rhein, in classical style, walls lined with paintings. St.Johanns-Vorstadt 48 www.lunchgate.ch/restaurants/chez-donati

Cargo Bar — By the river, one of the first bars in Basel that tried to integrate culture, be it in the form of concerts, video or art installations, popular with young people. St.Johanns-Rheinweg 46 http://www.cargobar.ch/cargobar/bar.html

Nordstern — A club located in a former industrial building, this place presents itself as a cultural hub of Basel’s creative minds and trendsetters. Dynamic underground scene. Voltastrasse 30 http://nordstern.com/nordstern/de/club.html

Spitalstrasse — Named after the cantonal hospital, this street features several good examples of Basel’s contemporary architecture – Herzog & de Meuron’s apothecary bottle-green Rossetti building, Silvia Gmür’s new Women’s Hospital, Morger&Dettli’s office building and the new Children’s Hospital with its changing, colorful facade.

Vogesenplatz — A new square, defined mainly by the sculptural apartment and commercial building by BuchnerBründler architects, an example of how this formerly run-down area is on its way to become gentrified.

Stellwerk — Part of a small 19the century railway station (Stellwerk = signal box), this building now houses artists and designers’ studios, and includes a shop with a variety of products produced in-house (clothing, furniture, etc.), as well as a newly opened hammam. www.stellwerkbasel.ch

Novartis Campus — On the site of the former St.Johann industrial complex, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis has been constructing its global headquarters as a “campus of knowledge and innovation”. Based on the master plan created by Italian architect V. M. Lampugnani, the whole area is to consist of office, laboratories and administration buildings designed by some of the world-known architects. SANAA, Frank Gehry, David Chipperfield, Fumihiko Maki and Tadao Ando have all built here. However, the campus is closed to the public and can be visited only on tours organized by the Basel tourist office, on selected Saturdays.


Originally a small fishermen’s village, this area developed into an industrial and transportation hub during the second part of the 19th century. Today, this is a neighborhood in transition – some of its industrial buildings have been converted into places of cultural exchange and creative work. Places of interest include Brasilea – an art center promoting Brasilian culture, the studio of two young yet accomplished furniture designers INCH Furniture, as well as a restaurant and a popular night club Das SCHIFF. A good view of the surrounding area can be had at the top of a silo Bernoulli-Silo. Close by is also the point where Switzerland, France and Germany come together – the Dreiländereck.



Riehen is part of the canton Basel-Stadt, a community that takes pride in being a “large green village.” It boasts a wonderful park — the Wenken Park, which includes both a French style baroque garden and a sprawling English style landscape within which one can find all the various pieces composing Richard Serra’s Vertical/Horizontal sculpture.

Fondation Beyeler — An art museum that houses the collection of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler, in a building designed by Renzo Piano. An impressive collection of classic modern art, combined with selected pieces of tribal African art; changing exhibitions devoted to various artists and themes. Beautiful building characterized by long porphyry walls and a lightweight glass roof, set in a park of the Berower villa. Baselstrasse 101, 4125 Riehen/Basel www.fondationbeyeler.ch

Spielzeug Museum — A museum displaying historic children’s toys and games, housed in a 17th century building that used to be the countryside house of Basel’s 17th century mayor and Switzerland’s first diplomat, J.R. Wettstein. Baselstrasse 34, 4125 Riehen/Basel www.spielzeugmuseumriehen.ch


Arlesheim is a pleasant small town located in the nearby canton of Basel-Land, easily reachable by public transport. In the center of the town is the rococo cathedral, the so-called Dom. It was constructed during the time of Counter-Reformation and devoted to Virgin Mary; its ornate decoration and its setting within a well-proportioned baroque square stand apart from other churches in the Basel area. A short walk up the hill brings you to Ermitage – the largest English style park in Switzerland, dating from the 18th century. At that time, it used to be a must for travelers from all over Europe who made a point of visiting all of its attractions – from the hut of the hermit (mechanical puppet) to the Chalet des Alpes, rustic temples, romantic grottos, waterfalls and ponds. Very enjoyable still today!


The whole area in and around Dornach (canton Solothurn) is known because of the anthroposophical movement, started by Rudolf Steiner at the beginning of the 20th century.

Goetheanum — A stately building that sits like a huge rock above Dornach, was one of the first concrete structures that made full use of this material’s sculptural possibilities. It houses the international headquarters of the Anthroposophical Society, as well as several performance halls and lecture spaces, a gallery and a bookstore. A collection of other houses designed in the same organic style surround the main building. www.goetheanum.org


Weil am Rhein is a small town in southwestern Germany, close to the border with Switzerland and France. It calls itself the town of chairs and the reason lies in the fact that it is home to the well-known designer furniture manufacturer Vitra.

Vitra — Although Vitra’s headquarters are in the nearby Swiss town Birsfelden, Vitra’s production facilities are all grouped on a campus in Weil am Rhein. After a big fire destroyed the original buildings in 1981, a number of architects were commissioned to design new production halls. Rolf Fehlbaum, the chairman of the Vitra, is well known for his passion for good quality design as well as for giving a chance to architects who until then were not well known in Europe. For example, Zaha Hadid’s first built structure was the firehouse she did for Vitra, while Frank Gehry’s first building in Europe was that of the Vitra Design Museum. Today, the Vitra campus also includes structures by Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, SANAA, as well as an impressive showroom building designed by Herzog & de Meuron. 

This is a great place to spend a whole day. Guided tours of the Vitra campus are offered every day, the Design Museum stages exhibitions on various topics, while the showroom, known as the VitraHaus, provides an amazing collection of rooms with delightful views of the surrounding countryside. Furnished with classics such as those designed by Charles and Ray Eames as well as by objects created by young designers from all over the world, this showhouse includes a small restaurant and a café.


Ronchamp — a small town located in France — can best be reached by car (a two hour ride from Basel) and is well worth a visit on account of Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut chapel. When already at the site, you can’t miss Renzo Piano’s small convent and visitor’s center, added only recently.


Youth Hostel in St. Alban-Tal — located in a former silk-ribbon factory that dates back to the 19th century. Renovated and extended a few years ago by two young Basel architects, this place is quite affordable. It features double rooms as well those with more beds, and welcomes guests regardless of their age. Situated right on an old water canal, and just a block away from the Rhine, in a pretty historical neighborhood, it is close to the Museum for Contemporary Art and the Paper Museum. St. Alban-Kirchrein 10 www.youthhostel.ch/basel

Teufelhof — An “art and culture” hotel, with rooms in two adjacent medieval buildings, right in the heart of Basel’s old town. Includes an archeological exhibit of 13th century medieval defense walls, a small theater, a wine shop and two restaurants. Teufelhof Art Hotel features rooms decorated by various artists, the other part of the hotel has simpler rooms with photographs of old Basel. Leonhardsgraben 47 – 49 www.teufelhof.com

Hotel Au Violon — Situated within the medieval Lohnhof complex. This hotel is laid out within one wing of a former prison and offers rather small and simple rooms, yet with great views of the surrounding city. Restaurant Au Violon. www.au-violon.com

Krafft — In Klein Basel, right on the river, with the view of Basel’s Münster Hill and its historic skyline. This hotel provides a mix of the late 19th century, 1950s retro-chic and contemporary design. Furniture and some architectural elements salvaged from various Swiss historic buildings slated for demolition. For Swiss standards, rooms are spacious and of varying designs. Hermann Hesse stayed here while writing Steppenwolf.

Grand Hotel Trois Rois — Basel’s most lavish hotel, this historical place is located on the site of Basel’s oldest inn and is known for its 19th century decor as much as for its illustrious guests. Right next to Schifflände – the docking place from which one can take a ship either up the stream all the way to Rheinfelden or downstream to the Dreiländer Eck (the meeting point of Switzerland, France and Germany). The Three Kings hotel includes an exclusive restaurant — Cheval Blanc (16 Gaullt Millot points) and a more affordable brasserie. If not within budget, one can still go for an afternoon tea or enjoy a cocktail at the Trois Rois award-winning bar and thus experience this hotel’s delightful Belle Epoque atmosphere. Blumenrein 8 www.lestroisrois.com

Basel is a great place to visit at any time of year. Yet, keep in mind that this city can appear quite differently during some of the special events, such as the immensely popular carnival — known locally as the Basler Fasnacht – that takes place between February and March, or during the BaselWorld or Art Basel fairs. If you plan to visit at any of these times, make sure to book far in advance. Another local tradition that has been going on for more than 500 years is the Herbstmesse – an autumn fair known for its enormous Ferris wheels, as well as for old-fashioned merry-go-rounds and small wooden stands offering games, traditional sweets and handicrafts. Toward the end of the year, the Weihnachstmarkt or Christmas market can be enjoyed on the Barfüsser square as well as in Klein Basel.

Notable Locals Today

  • Arthur Cohn film producer
  • Roger Federer tennis player
  • Rolf Fehlbaum Vitra chairman
  • Jacques Herzog architect
  • Pierre de Meuron architect

Notable Locals in the Past

  • Bernoulli family mathematicians
  • Jakob Burckhardt art historian
  • Erasmus humanist
  • Leonhard Euler mathematician
  • Urs Graf print maker
  • Albert Hofmann chemist, discoverer of LSD
  • Hans Holbein der Jüngere painter
  • Friedrich Nietzsche philosopher
  • Paracelsus scientist
  • Andreas Vesalius anatomist

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