I live in Switzerland and have had the luxury of experiencing its culture and tasting many delicious chocolates (maybe a few too many...).
Basel is not a typical tourist destination, but there is a large range of attractions that you can visit in the city and even nearby due to the city's great transportation networks. From castles to cocoa, there is something for everyone in Basel.
Origins of the City
Traces of the first settlement found are believed to be from around the 5th century BC. The remains of a 2nd century BC village of the Raurici (a Celtic tribe) was also found northwest of the old city; it looks identical to the town of Arialbinnum mentioned on the Tabula Peutingeriana (a map illustrating the road network from the Roman Empire). This settlement was abandoned in the 1st century BC, as they migrated to the site of the Basel Minster, probably as a result of the Roman invasion of Gaul (France).
How Basel Got Its Name
Basel came from the Roman-era toponym "Basilia." The first mention of Basilia was recorded to be in the 3rd century. The term is believed to have been derived from the Greek word "Basilius," which was the term for King or Emperor.
Others like to believe that Basel's name derived from the mythical creature, the Basilisk. The Basilisk is a mythical creature from European bestiaries and legends. The Basilisk was a serpent-like king, who could turn people to stone with a gaze (a bit like Medusa).
Around Basel, the Swiss representation of the Basilisk can be seen on the various fountains throughout the city, holding the Basel Stadt Shield.
Current Facts and Figures
- Basel is the third largest city in Switzerland, spanning over 37 square kilometres with a population of about 170,000.
- The language spoken there is a dialect of Swiss German.
- The local currency is Swiss Francs (CHF).
- 33% of the residents are from a foreign nationality (non-Swiss).
- The Basel Bahnhof (train station) is the world’s first international railway station.
Basel is home to a whopping 40 museums. Below are some museums located in Basel and some that are a bit farther away but definitely worth the visit.
The art museum of Basel has a total of 3 venues within walking distance of each other. The museum showcases conservative modernism, contemporary art and a variety of changing exhibitions. There is a focus on Swiss art, however, includes artworks from Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gough, Piet Mondrian, Andy Warhol and a variety of other artists.
This museum is interactive, as you learn about the history of paper and words as they evolved. You are able to make your own parchment of paper during the tour and spend some time learning calligraphy.
Tinguely Museum (Art)
This museum contains the paintings and sculptors of the Swiss artist Tinguely, as well as information about the artist himself. He is most well known for his kinetic sculptures, such as those of the Tinguely Fountain (in the image above). The fountain was built out of pieces of the old theatre he worked out after it was burnt down.
Beyeler Foundation Museum (Art)
This museum owns and exhibits the art collection of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler. Originally a private collection of modern classics, the collectors created a museum so that the public could also enjoy the art. This museum houses 200 artworks including 23 of Picassos' artworks, 3 of Van Gogh's masterpieces and even a Jackson Pollock.
Spielzeug Welten Museum
A special place for little ones and teddy bear lovers, the name translates to "Toy World Museum" and showcases a variety of older toys and teddy bears in a creative manner. The museum displays over 6,000 exhibits and is the largest museum of it's kind in Europe.
View glassmakers at work in the factor and have a go at glass blowing yourself! For the littler members of the family, there is a marble tower for them to explore.
This factory is not in Basel but rather located close to Lucerne. Regardless I recommend it, especially for artisans or people who enjoy unique glass wear.
Technorama is classified as a museum, but it is more like an interactive science workshop for everyone to learn and have fun. There are special workshops that can be booked beforehand and a variety of shows that run throughout the day.
Although it is not located in Basel but in Zürich, it is definitely worth to spend a day there.
Castles and Ruins
Although there are no remains in the heart of the Basel city, you can still enjoy the older architecture or travel a little bit to see some ancient ruins or stunning castles!
The remains of an ancient Roman civilisation, and believed to be the northern stronghold of the Roman Empire. The sites are scattered around, with the most impressive being the amphitheatre which still has the majority of it remaining.
If your visit is in August, make sure to look out for the Roman Festival or "Römerfest." A day where these ruins come to life with mini-workshops, dressed up people and some re-enactments; including a gladiator battle (no gore) and a chariot race.
This castle dates back to around the year 1000 and is believed to be Switzerland's oldest castle. There is a large range of history that can be learnt at both the castle and in the local town. It is a small castle (about 250 meters in diameter), but a very cute one.
One of the most famous in Switzerland, and a heritage site of national importance, this castle is located in Gruyère close to Fribourg. The castle can be explored freely with an information guide or can be toured using a multimedia guide. The castle holds some history and is home to 3 capes of the Order of the Golden Fleece.
Special Fun for the Whole Family
There are 59 recreational grounds in Basel alone, making it the perfect place to go with little kids (especially if playgrounds are a must!). These activities generally take a bit more time to get there but do spice things up.
Basel has many different Escape rooms with a variety of difficulties, intensities and challenges. Can you use your wit and problem-solving skills to steal from a museum, solve the mystery of a curse or escape prison?
There are different types of escape rooms for kids and adults, from 2 to 6 people per group. An overview of them can be found here at the World of Escape. When booking the escape room, make sure to check the location as they are spread out across the city!
If you have little ones, a day here is a must! Despite Basel's size, it is home to Switzerland's oldest and largest zoo. In 2012 it was recorded that the zoo was home to 480 different species and a total of 6,000 animals.
Not really solely a family option, but definitely suitable for the little ones as well! You will be able to learn about the history of Swiss chocolate making, tour the factory and last but not least, eat (and purchase) chocolate.
Unfortunately, neither chocolate factories are located in Basel however Frey is not far away, and Cailler can be visited as part of a day trip with the Gruyères Castle or the Cheese factory in the area.
The final destination on this list is the farthest away from Basel, however, it captures the essence of Europe and there are busses to and from Basel. Europa Park is the second most popular theme park in Europe following Disneyland Paris and has something for all groups.
For the daredevils, there are the rollercoasters and rides and for those who are less daring there are always shows on in the evening. For the shows be sure to look and book them beforehand.
Switzerland's Cultural Hub
Basel is a cultural hub that supports the curiosity of visitors. There are more activities in and around Basel, but these are my top picks of what I enjoy and might be a bit different than where you come from. I hope that you enjoy your trip to Basel!
If you have any questions regarding Basel and it's surroundings, please do not hesitate to contact me!
© 2019 Monique K-G
Noble Transfer on September 15, 2020:
An impressive and exciting article about Basel I must say. In fact, Basel is one of my favorite destinations to visit in Switzerland. You have covered from popular museums to Chocolate Factories. Thanks for sharing!!!
Monique K-G (author) from Switzerland on May 07, 2019:
Hi Lorna, I am glad that you enjoyed it :)
Lorna Lamon on May 07, 2019:
Hi Monique, This is a great article with lots of interesting facts and great pictures. Basel sounds like a really great place to visit. Thank you for sharing.