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Blick auf Basel, Bild: emperorcosar / shutterstock

Basel – Zurich’s underrated little sister

Basel, Switzerland’s third-largest city, still ekes out a shadowy existence for tourism next to its big “sister” Zurich, which is not far away. However, this is completely unjustified, as Basel is one of the most beautiful and interesting historic cities in Central Europe. The oldest university town in Switzerland has one of the most intact historic city centres in Europe.

However, Basel is by no means just a historical open-air museum. Many modern buildings by internationally renowned architects cleverly complement the old building fabric of the city on the Rhine with contemporary flair. Basel is also a designated city of art and culture. With a good 40 museums, Basel has the highest density of museums in Switzerland. In addition, “Art Basel”, the world’s largest contemporary art fair, is located in the city.

The main sights in Basel

Basel’s Old Town

The old town of Basel is without doubt one of the best-preserved and most beautiful historic centres in Europe. The narrow alleys and hidden squares with their centuries-old buildings and over 300 fountains make a walk through Basel’s old town a journey back in time. Travellers interested in history can immerse themselves in the history and architecture of Basel on five marked tours of the old town. The tours are available both as an app and as a brochure at the Basel Tourism information points.

The Market Square and the Red Town Hall

red town hall
The Red Town Hall, Image: Leonid Andronov / shutterstock

A walk through Basel’s old town should start on the market square. The main eye-catcher on the square is the famous Red Town Hall, which with its red façade and playful murals is undoubtedly one of the most architecturally unusual town halls in Europe. The building is the seat of Basel’s city government and parliament. During a visit to the town hall, you get to see the historic council chamber, the beautifully decorated courtyard, the romantic arcades and the imposing tower. On weekdays, a market is still held on the market square, where fresh vegetables, fruits, meat, bread, flowers and many other products are offered. Gourmets can stock up on specialities from Basel and the whole of Switzerland at the market.

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The Basel Cathedral

Basel Cathedral
View of the Basel Cathedral, Image: trabantos / shutterstock

After the Red Town Hall, it is Basel’s second landmark and its spires can be seen from afar: the Basel Cathedral. Its red sandstone façade, its colourful roof tiles and its two slender towers make Basel Cathedral one of the most extraordinary and at the same time most beautiful churches in Switzerland. The construction history of the cathedral began in 1019, which is why the city of Basel is celebrating the 1000th anniversary of its cathedral this year.

However, the construction work was not completed until almost 500 years later. Accordingly, the architecture of the Basel Cathedral is a mixture of Romanesque and Gothic styles. The crypt, the choir, the cloisters and the tomb of the famous scholar Erasmus of Rotterdam are particularly worth seeing. Between Münster and the banks of the Rhine is the so-called “Pfalz”, a viewing terrace from which there is a beautiful view over the river with its bridges, the old town and the modern skyscrapers, such as the Roche and the Messeturm.

Basel’s museums

With almost 40 museums, Basel has the highest density of museums in Switzerland, putting even Zurich in the shade. The Fondation Beyeler, the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Museum der Kulturen and the Museum Jean Tinguely are among the most important art museums in Europe.

The Kunstmuseum Basel

Kunstmuseum Basel
The entrance to the art museum, Image: lauravr / shutterstock

With a collection of around 4,000 paintings, sculptures, installations and videos, as well as around 300,000 drawings and prints covering a period of seven centuries, the Kunstmuseum Basel represents the largest public art collection in Switzerland. The Kunstmuseum enjoys international fame above all because it owns the world’s largest collection of works by the famous Holbein family from the 15. and 16th century.

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The Fondation Beyeler

The Beyeler Collection goes back to the gallerist couple Hildy and Ernst Beyeler. The collection contains around 250 works by masters of classical modernism and contemporary art, including Cézanne, Dégas, Ernst, Giacometti, Kandinsky, Klee, Lichtenstein, Matisse, Miró, Monet, Picasso and Warhol. One focus of the exhibition is the works of the American painter of Abstract Expressionism Mark Rothko.

The Museum of Cultures

The Museum der Kulturen Basel is one of the most important ethnographic museums in Europe. The museum’s collection consists of more than 300,000 works of art as well as around 50,000 historical photographs. In order to give visitors a possible deep insight into the museum’s holdings, several special exhibitions with changing exhibits are shown annually in addition to the permanent exhibition.

Gardens and parks in Basel

Basel is an exceptionally green city. The botanical garden and the countless parks invite visitors to linger in the greenery. A walk along the promenade along the banks of the Rhine should also be on the agenda of a trip to Basel. Animal lovers and families with children will inevitably end up in the city’s famous zoo when visiting Basel. The zoo, which opened in 1874, is not only the oldest zoo in Switzerland, but also the largest and most species-rich zoo in the country with over 7,000 animals from more than 600 species.