Switzerland City Travel + Tourism Guide: Basel

Basel CathedralBasel

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Located in what the Germans refer to as the 'Dreilandereck', the place where three countries meet, Basel prides itself on its successful football team and its cultural wealth.

Baselers trace the history of their city back to the Roman settlement and fortifications of Augusta Raurica, but the area was settled by Celts long before that. After the Romans left the city gained importance because of its bridge over the River Rhine, completed in the 13th Century.

In the year 1356 Basel was hit by central Europe's biggest earthquake known to man. It destroyed much of the city, as many as 40 castles, and church towers for miles around. In 1460 the University was founded, now the oldest university in Switzerland. Basel joined the Swiss Confederation in 1501.

Nowadays the most exciting goings-on Basel concern architecture, galleries, and museums. The city claims with good reason to be the "art and architecture capital of Switzerland".

Basel is split by the Rhine river, which curves across the centre, flowing in a North Westerly direction. On the South Bank is Grossbasel (Greater Basel), and on the North is Kleinbasel (Little Basel). The Old Town, main railway station, and most of the museums and sights are all on the South side of the river in Grossbasel.

Sights

Rathaus, Basel.If you're going to be in Basel for a day or two, it might be worth your while investing in a Baselcard. The card gives you free entry to the permanent collections of most of the museums and the zoo, free ferry rides, and discounts on things like theatre tickets and car hire. There are 24, 48 and 72 hour versions, at adults/ children SFr: 20/10, 27/13.5, 35/17.5 each.

The Old Town is well preserved and consists of buildings from various eras. It's full of inviting cafes and interesting little chocolate shops, as well as a few trendy, fashionable shopping streets. It is very roughly triangular in shape, extending from Marktplatz to the North, down to Barfüsserplatz in the South, and bordered by the Rhine. It's largely pedestrianised and tram numbers 1 and 8 run to the Old Town from the SBB Station.

A few sights well worth fitting into your stroll around the Old Town include:

Rathausplatz – The Town Hall. Arguably one of the most colourful town halls around, this red walled Gothic and Renaissance creation features a clock tower and brightly painted murals. Some parts of the building are over 500 years old. It's on Marktplatz and is very difficult to miss.

Münster Cathedral - The Roman-Gothic Cathedral dates from the 11th century. On the outside is a statue of St George impaling a rather harmless looking dragon, inside various frescoes and tombs.

Jean Tinguely Fountain, Basel.Mittlere Brücke - The Middle Bridge over the Rhine. The original was built in 1226, what you see now was built in the early 20th Century. The bridge is bedecked with the flags of various Swiss cantons. If you care to cross over the bridge to the North bank, then take a stroll along the Rhine to the South East you are afforded very nice views of the Cathedral and jostling, jumbled buildings of the Old Town over the river.

Peterskirche is a Gothic church with medieval fescoes inside and the Spalentor is a large and elaborate city gate.

Jean Tinguely Fountain - The fountain involves various mechanical devices squirting water in various directions. It's quite interesting, and is well worth a look, even if only to wonder what it's all meant to mean. It's on Theatreplatz.

Museums and Galleries

Historisches Museum - The History Museum is very convenient for a quick peek if you're wandering around the Old Town. It's right on Barfüsserplatz in a converted church. Exhibits include relics of the area's patron saint, Saint Ursula.

Fondation Beyeler - The Beyelers (Ernst and Hildy) were a prodigious Swiss art collecting couple. Their collection was made available to the public, and contains around 200 works (including works by Picasso and Rothko) and changing exhibitions. Get tram no. 6 from Barfüsserplatz. 21 SFr for adults.

Kunstmuseum - The Museum of Fine Arts focuses on paintings and drawings of Upper Rhine artists, and is one of Basel's most highly regarded museums. Entry is 10 SFr for adults, and you can get there by tram 15 from Barfüsserplatz. There is a Museum of Contemporary Art here too which opens Tuesday- Sunday.

Museum Jean Tinguely - This museum is dedicated entirely to Jean Tinguely, the chap who designed the fountain in Theaterplatz. As you might expect, there is an interesting but confusing array of mechanised sculptures, largely in iron. The best way to get there is bus 31 which leaves from Claraplatz, which you will reach if you carry straight on over Mittlere Brücke. If you happen to be near the zoo, you can catch bus 36 from Margarethen.

Vitra Design Museum - The building is by Frank Gehry who is also responsible for Bilbao's Guggenheim. The museum itself showcases cutting edge furniture design and architecture and the surrounding factories (of Vitra, a furniture manufacturer) are designed by other acclaimed contemporary architects. Get bus no. 55 from Claraplatz to Vitra and allow about half an hour for the journey.

For information on Basel's 30+ other museums, including a Cartoon Museum, Sculpture Gallery, Music Museum, Antique Museum and Paper Mill, check out the Tourist Office website, www.baseltourismus.ch

Spalentor, Basel, Switzerland.

Spalentor Gate, Basel

Theatres

Basel has several theatres. If you can read German you could check out their websites to plan ahead, otherwise the best thing to do would be to telephone/ask in at the Tourist Office nearer the time. The main theatre is just opposite the Jean Tinguely fountain on Theaterplatz.

Other things to do in Basel

Augusta Raurica, Basel.Augusta Raurica - These are the best Roman ruins in Switzerland. There's a restored open air theatre and a couple of temples, and on the way from the station you'll pass an excavated Roman house. Entry to all of these things is free, but it's 5 SFr for the Roman Museum just across the road from the theatre.

Inside are, among other things, mock-ups of Roman ways of living. If you don't mind the odd school party, this wouldn't be a bad place for a picnic. To get here you need to take the train to Kaiseraugst, which costs 5 SFr, then follow the signs.

Basel Zoo is the biggest in Switzerland. Crocs, sea lions and apes will keep the little monkeys amused for hours. The entry ticket costs 16 SFr for adults with varying discounts for kids, youths, OAPs and families. Trams 10 and 17 go to the zoo from near the Theatre.

Swimming - Basel can get surprisingly hot in summer, so what better a way to cool of then hurling yourself into the Rhine? Be warned that the river moves fairly fast, so if you're not a confident swimmer, stay out. There are several places with steps down to the water's edge, and a sign indicates where it is safe to swim (blue is safe, orange isn't). You're never allowed to the centre of the river where the water flows fastest and you're liable to be cut up by a barge.

Scenic Tram - The Tourist Office operates tram tours around the city every Sunday. The circuit takes about one hour, but you're supposed to book (see the details of the Tourist Office, below). It costs 20SFr/ 10SFr for adults/children.

Ferries

View from the Rhine, Basel.A more interesting way to get around in Basel could be by ferry. During the summer months there are two services – one around the city and the port, a circuit which takes in St-Alban Tal, Huningue and Weil. The other heads away from the city South and East to Rheinfelden.

Meals are provided on some services, it varies according to which day you go on, and at which time. One possibility would be to follow up a boat cruise to Kaiseraugst with a look round the Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica. For a full price list and timetable, pick up a leaflet at the Tourist Office, or the booking office at the South end of Mittlere Brücke.

Festivals

January

Vogel Gryff is a traditional festival to drive the winter out of Kleinbasel. Three characters, a Wild Man, a Griffin and a Lion dance to the beat of drums, first on a raft on the river, then through the streets. The carnival traditionally involved a weapons inspection, and there are still plenty of military elements – cannons and uniformed soldiers- to be seen. Apparently if the Wild Man turns his back to Greater Basel, this amounts to a declaration of war by Kleinbasel.

April

Fasnacht is Basel's most important festival and one of Switzerland's finest. It begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday with Morgestraich, an elaborate costumed procession through the streets- at 4am, lit only by the lanterns they carry with them. The Basel piccolo is everywhere, and people set songs and political satire to music. More processions and revelry follow over the next few days, officially ending at 4am on Wednesday.

September

Basel City Marathon takes place in September – 2006 saw over 3000 starters.

October

The Davidoff Swiss Indoor Tennis Championship is held here every year and is one of Switzerland's premier sporting events. Swiss favourite Roger Federer has never won this event, but British favourite Tim Henman has won twice, once defeating Federer in the Final.

The Autumn fair takes place 14 days before St Martins day each year and sees fairground activities spring up all over the city. There are market stalls selling food, wine and traditional art, and a big trade fair.

Tourist Offices

The main tourist office is on Barfüsserplatz, just South West of the History Museum. It is due to move in 2007. The office is open every day. The tourist office operates the tram tour (see above) and guided tours around the Old Town at 15 SFr/ 7.50 SFr.
(Tel. +41 61 268 68 68) and www.baseltourismus.ch
There is another Tourist Office in the station which is also open every day, but which closes at 2pm at weekends.

Fountain Statue, Bern, Switzerland.

Schutzenbrunnen Fountain Statue, Old Town, Bern

Getting There

Air

Basel is served by Basel-Mulhouse airport. Easyjet and other airlines fly to and from various European cities. The airport is 5km outside the city, in France, so you have to make sure you follow the signs through to Swiss passport control, not French. You might notice you pick up your luggage before you go through passport control – because the alternative would be for the airline to have to sort all the luggage according to which country the person was going to.

There is a bus from right outside the airport to the railway station. Buses leave every 15 minutes for most of the day, it takes about 15minutes and costs 2.80 SFr.

Train

The main station (the SBB Bahnhof) links Basel with major Swiss cities, and also has services to France. North of the Rhine is a German railway station, (the Badischer Bahnhof), which links Basel to German cities. Trains to major German cities may stop at both of Basel's stations, but for smaller cities you have to go to the BBF.

Bus

There are postbuses to Basel from most of the other larger cities in Switzerland as well as bus connections to nearby France and Freiburg and Stuttgart in Germany.

Boat

Basel is landlocked Switzerland's most important port. Cargo ships run all the way down the Rhine to the sea. Certain companies operate cruises on the Rhine.

Getting Around

Basel has a very well integrated bus and tram service. If you book into a hotel or hostel in town you'll be given a mobility ticket, which allows you unlimited free travel on all city public transport, including to the airport. If you're not staying in the city, then tickets start at 1.80 SFr for a short hop, going up to 8 SFr for a day ticket.

Maps of the tram & bus system are obtainable from the Tourist Office.

Most of Basel's central sights are within reasonable walking distance of each other.

Car Hire

Car hire is available at the airports and in the major cities.

Accommodation

Featured Hotel

Ador Hotel - 3 Star Hotel next to the main train station in Bern.

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FCB logo.Football Teams

FC Basel (FCB) is one of Switzerland's most successful club teams. Founded in 1893, the team in red and blue stripes has been multiple winners of the Swiss Championship and Swiss Cup as well as being the first Swiss team to reach the last 16 of the Champions League in 2002. FCB play their home games at St. Jacob Park and can count on the support of tennis great and Basel native Roger Federer. Past and present players to represent FC Basel include Adrian Knup, Murat Yakin and ex-J-League star Koji Nakata.




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