Welcome to Basel
Basel is over two thousand years old- and standing behind the Cathedral, looking over the wide, green rush of the Rhine, any visitor can see the same Jura mountains that the city’s founders knew. Beneath its sleek, 21st century guise, it is a place full of old beliefs and customs, where streets stretch back to Medieval times, and architecture is like layers of paint; the 19th century overlaying the 18th, the modern only a fresh coat on top of the old and weathered. It is the smallest canton in Switzerland, just one city and two villages, where up in the hills, Border Stones still mark the ancient edges of the city.
The Munster (cathedral) dominates the skyline, above a square where doors still open in sections to allow horses and their coaches through, and the streets of the old town are named after the pepper and spices that used to be traded here. Basel is full of fountains in every courtyard, each with its different carved different symbol, and in the cellars of the old buildings are tiny theatres, where bands rehearse for the annual carnival. It’s a university city, with ten thousand students, and a working town with huge, glossy pharmaceutical companies perched just across the Rhine- but it’s also a portal to the past; its squares peaceful and timeless as a vintage postcard.
Timbered, painted houses, green vines covering the walls and the constant splash of water- or the chime of ice in winter- make Basel's Old Town utterly charming. Alongside its glossy stores- for Basel is a wealthy place, despite its innate socialism- there are little independent shops, cosy, wood-lined bars and chic restaurants concealed under the ancient city walls. Close to the mountains, and at the edge of the Rhine, this is a peaceful Swiss city whose charms unspool slowly. It's both a cultural centre, host to huge, high-profile conferences in buildings which showcase the best of modern architecture, and a cauldron of history to be explored.
CAFE DES ARTS
Basel carnival is a huge , traditional celebration, lasting for three days of the week following Ash Wednesday. It's well worth going, but expect prices to be higher, and book far in advance to be sure of a hotel room.
Basel hosts hundreds of conferences and international fairs a year. Check in advance whether your visit is likely to coincide with annual events such as Art Basel, to avoid high prices and huge crowds thronging the city.
It's a good idea to get a Basel card, which allows free zoo entry and a city tour, and discounted entry into the city's many museums. These are available from www.basel.com for only CHF 20 for 24 hours.
Basel is a sophisticated city, so certain polite behaviours are expected- such as not talking on your mobile in restaurants or other quiet spaces.
Service is almost always included in the bill. However, for particularly good service, customers may want to round it up to the nearest round figure.
Take comfortable shoes for walking- there is an astonishing number of galleries and museums, and lots of cobbles. The right shoes are essential.
Basel is near the Jura mountains, and snow is likely from December to February, so pack accordingly. In Summer the temperature is warm, between 70 and 80F.
The ideal time for sightseeing is spring or Autumn, with temperatures in the 50s.
Getting to Basel is simple- it's located at the meeting point of France, Germany and Switzerland, with excellent links by road and rail.
Getting around the city is equally easy. Very usefully, all hotels give guests a free transport pass, the Mobility Pass, which is valid on local transport throughout their stay.
There is a big network of green trams criss-crossing the city. Trams are operated by
Basler Verkehrs-Betriebe (BVB). They are regular, efficient, and run until past midnight.
Without a pass, buy a ticket from the machine on the platform. Tickets are not always checked, but there is a fine of 100 CHF for being unable to produce one when asked.
Basel is the only place where it's possible to take a tram across another country's border- Tram 10 will take you to Leymen, in France.
Buses are also green, run every few minutes, and run on a similar ticketing system to trams. Download a map here .
If you're not staying in a hotel, tickets for buses and trams cost 1.80 CHF for up to 4 stops, 2.60 in the central zone, and 8.00 for a day pass.
Taxis in Switzerland are not cheap, but they are safe. However, with public transport free for hotel guests, and Basel such a compact city; unless you have huge bags, they may be unnecessary.
A trip from the city centre to the train station costs around 20 CHF, and there are ranks at the station and in the town centre.
Again, Basel is so well served by public transport that unless driving is necessary, it's better to park on the edge of the city centre and get around on foot or by tram and bus.
If driving is crucial, there are car parks between the SBB station and the pedestrianised zone, costing from 1.50 CHF an hour. Big and accessible 24/7 is Centralbahnparking near the SBB Station.
The shores of the Rhine are linked by ferries. This old-fashioned and idiosyncratic system uses hydraulic pulleys to ensure that while the current carries the boat across the river, there is no danger of it drifting off course. Four ferries run, each situated between two bridges.
A ferryman transporting passengers may be centuries old, but it still works. It's 1.60 CHF to cross one way.
Basel is easy to cycle around, with plenty of dedicated bike lanes. Helmets are not compulsory, but lights and bells are. There is a bike rental store at the SBB train station.