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Nestled on the Swiss border along the river Rhine, Basel occupies a unique junction linking France and Germany, so it’s little wonder that the city is such a remarkable hub of culture. As a key trade and transport centre, it is renowned for also being the headquarters of pharmaceutical giants. However, it is a different kind of wealth that has captured the imagination of most holiday-makers. Home to the world-famous ART Basel festival which brings the international art world together, this city is rich in galleries, museums and iconic buildings.
It is said that Picasso was so touched by Basel’s love of art that he donated three of his works to its citizens. Their passion for artistic endeavours is reflected in the number of museums packed into this relatively small region — 40 at last count. Good news as this means you won’t need to walk far to visit all these attractions. There seems to be a museum in almost every corner you turn! Not all are dedicated to art either, and range from the quirky — Pants Pocket Museum (because most items displayed could fit in a pocket) and Teddy Bear Museum — to the more conventional — History Museum of Pharmacy (of course!) and Natural History Museum.
Basel’s medieval roots are evident throughout the city. Its romantic alleys and narrow streets lead to many historic marvels and fascinating architecture. Stroll down the enchanting Spalenberg with prettily adorned shophouses and boutiques, or discover antiques at the lively flea market of Petersplatz. From the curiously red Rathaus with its elaborately decorated inner courtyard right by bustling Marktplatz in Old Town, to Basel Cathedral with a terrace overlooking the Rhine river and its piazza where concerts and events are often held, it will seem as if you have stepped into another moment in time.
It’s not just a feast for the eyes as song and dance lies at the very heart of Basel. Fans of classical music will rejoice to hear that it is one of only a few cities to have two orchestras of global distinction — the Sinfonieorchester (symphony orchestra) and the Kammerorchester (chamber music orchestra). Basel’s repertoire also extends to other aspects of the performing arts. It has a vibrant theatre and opera scene with Tinguely Fountain taking centre stage in paying homage to the many spectacular productions on offer throughout the year.
Life along the banks of Basel’s major artery has an extraordinary flair to it no matter the season. Boasting a Mediterranean climate and as many as 300 days of sunshine a year, this city is ideal for outdoor festivities. Basler Fascnacht is one of the famed highlights of the year. A three-day riotous carnival devoted to the “most beautiful days”, it really goes to town with creative masks, dramatic costumes, and eye-popping lanterns, so you’ll want to get your camera ready for this extravaganza!
This springtime revelry is not the only merriment to look forward to. Switzerland is a country that really knows how to celebrate Christmas, and nowhere is that more true than in Basel, where the Freie Strasse (only a stone’s throw away from the river) illuminated with fairy lights and lined with Christmas trees becomes one of Europe’s longest display of decorations, turning shopping expeditions into magical sightseeing adventures.
Floating down the Rhine is a breathtaking experience, all the better to take in the multi-coloured buildings and charming skyline. But why not take the plunge (literally) and be a part of Basel’s joie de vivre by swimming in the clear waters of its majestic river? This is a popular pastime in the city as soon as the sun’s warmth hits the cobblestones, so grab yourself a Wickelfisch — an airtight bag used to carry clothes and keep them dry — and get your swimsuit on!
If bathing in the river is a little out of your depth, there are other delights to explore on the waterfront. Barbecues and buvettes (refreshment stalls) go hand-in-hand with the bathing houses of Basel. Enjoy alfresco dining at one of the many Michelin-Starred restaurants while admiring wonderful views of the Rhine, show off your BBQ skills at one of the public grills dotted about, or relax with an aperò platter and cocktail under the bright parasols by the river. And let’s not forget the treats that await in the marketplaces! Whether you’re savouring sumptuous melt-in-the-mouth Swiss chocolates, or other local specialities like the honey spice biscuit also known as Basler Leckerli, this city is a gourmet’s paradise!