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What to See in Basel

Most of the "old town" attractions in Basel are in a walkable area between the Basel Zoo (just south of the Basel SBB train station) and the Rhine. Since most stores are closed on Sundays, it is a good day to plan to see one of the many museums, which are usually open.

Basel and surroundings have over 20 museums, and many of these have a free opening hour at the end of the day.

  • Münster and Pfalz. Walk up cobbled streets and alleys from Marktplatz or Mittlere Brücke to Münsterplatz (Cathedral square) to see Basel's Münster (cathedral), built 1019-1500 in Romanesque and Gothic style, and the medieval buildings lining the square. The Münster is open to the public. Its highlight is the Galluspforte (Gallus portal) on the western façade, considered the most important Romanesque sculptural work in Switzerland. The main (south) façade also features numerous figures (mostly Romanesque), including St. George slaying the Dragon. The inside has, among other things, a lectern most delicately carved out of sandstone (19th century), and a crypt with tombs of early bishops of Basel. For a few CHF, you can climb St. Martin's tower (completed 1500), at 62 meters the shorter of the two towers - the other tower is St. George's, 65 meters, completed in 1492, after the 1356 earthquake destroyed an earlier version. Enjoy spectacular views over the Rhine, the city and Alsace and Black Forest in the distance. However, you must be accompanied in order to be allowed entrance (jumping risk). Views from the Pfalz (plaza) north of the the Münster and overlooking the Rhine are some of the best Basel has to offer. This is a nice place to eat your picknick (bring it with you, there are not many options to buy anything up here, except ice cream and sodas).
  • Marktplatz (Market square). Fresh fruits and vegetables, breads and pastries, flowers are available each working day. Considerably more vendors on Saturday morning.
  • Rathaus (Town hall). Right on Marktplatz, this beautifully renovated Renaissance palace is still in official use, but you can enter the courtyard on your own, or join a guided tour organized by Basel Tourismus, which also offers tours of other sightseeing destinations, such as the Münster (see below).
  • The Gates to the Walled City. A (third) ring of fortifications around the whole old city was constructed after the great earthquake of 1356, to provide security for the then roughly 20,000 inhabitants of Basel. A number of these gates can still be seen at the perimeter of what used to be the medieval city: Spalentor (tram no. 3 from Barfüsserplatz in the city center, direction Burgfelden Grenze), St. Alban Tor, near Aeschenplatz (tram no. 3 direction Birsfelden), St. Johanns Tor, near the Rhine, tram No. 11 direction St. Louis Grenze).


Basel prides itself of a total of well over two dozen museums, covering a wide range of subjects, from art - emphasized below - and architecture to cartoons and even doll houses. Perhaps the most important ones are:

  • Kunstmuseum Basel, St. Alban-Graben 16, city center, +41 61 206 62 62. Basel's exquisite art museum houses an impressive permanent collection of 19th and 20th century works (including a whole room filled with masterpieces by Picasso), as well as an extensive collection of medieval and renaissance paintings from European artists (Hans Baldung Grien, Hans Holbein, among others). Under the same umbrella, but in a separate building, at St. Alban-Rheinweg 60 (10 minute walk from the main facility) is the Museum für Gegenwartskunst, which focuses - as the German name says - on contemporary art. Along with the Beyeler Foundation (see below), both collections are must-sees for art lovers. No photography.
  • Fondation Beyeler (take tram no. 6 towards Riehen Grenze to Fondation Beyeler stop). This elegant museum, located 15 minutes outside of Basel in the suburb of Riehen, was designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. It houses a world-class collection, assembled over half a century by Basel's pre-eminent art dealer Ernst Beyeler (see ArtBasel in the Other Events section). The names of its collection read like a Who-is-Who of the art world since the late 19th century. It is notable, among other things, for a permanent collection of works by color-field painter Mark Rothko and a vast nymphéas (water lily) painting by impressionist master Claude Monet. The Fondation usually also displays excellent temporary exhibitions. No photography indoors, photos allowed outdoors.
  • Museum Jean Tinguely, +41 61 681 93 20, Paul Sacher-Anlage 1, Tu-Su 11AM-5PM. A 15 minute walk east from Mittlere Brücke, following for the most part the promenade on the Kleinbasel bank of the Rhine, or take bus no. 36 . See some fantastic animated mechanical works at this museum dedicated to Swiss artist Jean Tinguely and other similar "kinetic" modern artists. Great for kids. The building was designed by Mario Botta, whose other museum buildings include the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. 10 CHF adults, free for children up to age 16. No photography. Tinguely was one of Basel's most beloved artists, and another of his poetic machine sculptures, the Fasnachtsbrunnen (Carnival Fountain) can be seen on the plaza in front of Restaurant Kunsthalle on Steinenberg (see Eat), next to a large metal sculpture by American artist Richard Serra.
  • Schaulager +41 61 335 32 32, Ruchfeldstrasse 19, Münchenstein/Basel (10 minute tram ride from the city center with no. 10). Designed by Basel's star architects Herzog & De Meuron, this extraordinary building houses the extensive back catalogue of the Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation's eminent modern and contemporary art collection. The Foundation, which is also a large benefactor of the Kunstmuseum and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst (Museum for Contemporary Art) was created by heirs to the fortune of the pharmaceutical multinational Hoffmann-La Roche (see Work). Schaulager literally means display-warehouse - and the building is indeed a hybrid between a storage space (cum art history research center) and a museum, with changing temporary exhibitions.
  • Kunsthalle Basel, Steinenberg 7, city center, +41 61 206 99 00, Tue–Fri 11am–6pm / Thu 11am–8.30pm / Sat/Sun 11am–5pm, is Basel's main non-commercial art space for changing contemporary art shows. Throughout the year, the Kunsthalle shows cutting edge international artists in meticulously curated shows.
  • Museum der Kulturen - Basel's ethnographic museum featuring exhibits from South America, Africa, East Asia and Oceania. The exhibits from the South Seas, Ancient America, Tibet and Bali are world-famous, as are its textiles.
  • Antikenmuseum Basel - Across the street from the Kunstmuseum there is one of Europe's largest collection of antiquities. It includes some Egyptian and Mesopotamian art, but its largest departments are those of Greek art.

Equally interesting are the contemporary art spaces near Basel, all reachable by public transport:

  • Kunsthaus Baselland, +41 (0)61 312 83 88, Tue, Thu–Sun 11am – 5pm, Wed 2–8pm, is in in the suburb of Muttenz, at St. Jakob-Strasse 170, 15 minutes by tram (no. 14 from Barfüsserplatz to stop Schänzli). The Kunsthaus features changing exhibitions of contemporary art, particularly the Regionale, an annual platform for young artists from the Three Countries' Corner (together with the Kunsthalle Basel). It also houses the BEWE Collection (donated by collectors Bruno and Elisabeth Weiss), which focuses on the oeuvre of two renowned Basel based modernist artist groups: Rot-Blau and Gruppe 33.
  • Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str. 1, Weil am Rhein, Germany, +49 7621 702 3200. No collection, only changing temporary exhibitions - see website. But worth the visit for any self-respecting architecture junkie: During a guided tour of the campus (Tuesday - Sunday, at 12 pm and 2 pm, 2 hours, call ahead), see Frank Gehry's first European building, and more structures by Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, Nicholas Grimshaw and Alvaro Siza. Bring your passport and take bus no. 55 from Basel's Badischer Bahnhof to the train station in Weil am Rhein, 20 minutes. From there schedule a 15-minute walk to the museum. - Or take a taxi from downtown Basel (15 minutes).
  • Fernet Branca Musée d'Art Contemporain 2, rue du Ballon, Saint-Louis, France, +33 3 89 69 10 77. Changing contemporary art exhibitions, see website for schedule. This latest addition to the array of museums of the Basel region is reachable by a 10 minute bus ride from Schifflände (near Mittlere Brücke). Bring your passport and get off at the "Carrefour" stop (another 3 minutes on foot to the museum).

Other Worthwhile Sights and Discoveries

  • Basel Zoo (second largest in Switzerland) with easy access by walking or tram from the central SBB station. For a zoo located in the center of a city it is big with great variety. Have lunch watching the elephants and take some time to see the monkeys solving problems for food in the Monkey House.
  • Rhine river. In warm weather, be sure to spend some time in the afternoon enjoying the sun by the Rhine, walking along the 2 mile/ 3 km promenade on the Kleinbasel board, or take a dip it if it's really hot, as many locals do (see Sports in the Do section, and Stay Safe). Walk over the bridges: they offer excellent vantage points to see river - and river bank - life. Even better - cross the Rhine by Faehri. See Getting Around, By Boat.
  • The world-class construction projects at Voltaplatz. The first is the building of a tunnel under the city streets for traffic entering and leaving France. This traffic has been using surface routes to the bridge over the Rhine for decades. The project has been causing chaos for years, further complicated by the unearthing of ancient ruins in the excavation. Not be be ignored is the nearby Novartis campus reconstruction project. This immense building project will totally renovate the look of the campus and integrate with the tunnel project to create a revitalized and attractive neighborhood and serene parkland along the Rhine River. The sheer number and size of the construction cranes in this area is awesome! And the entire area is accessible and transportation continues to flow every day in the midst of all this construction.
  • Chase The Third Man? While Carol Reed's classic post-war film noir actually takes place in Vienna, you can recreate its dark atmosphere by taking a guided tour of Basel's underground sewerage system (don't worry, this being Switzerland, it's not overly smelly). After entering a tunnel at Heuwaage, you follow the Birsig river underground to its estuary in the Rhine. The 1 1/4 hour tour ends at Restaurant Safran-Zunft in the city center, where you are taken up into the light again - and to tasty snacks. Because the tour requires a group to justify the somewhat high cost of CHF 250.- (per group, not person) you should either find like-minded folks or try to join an existing group. Contact the urban planning firm Lindenberg 3, +41 61 683 56 52, for details and reservation.

Modified: 2007-03-21 18:54:00+01
Source: http://wikitravel.org/en/Basel


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