Switzerland is definitely a country with hidden treasures, and the city of Basel is one of them. It is a city in northwestern Switzerland on the river Rhine. Basel is Switzerland’s third-most-populous city (after Zürich and Geneva) with about 200,000 inhabitants. The official language of Basel is German, but the main spoken language is the local Basel German dialect. Basel is considered the cultural capital of Switzerland thanks to its famous museums, foundations and institutions. The city itself was seat in the 11th century and since then, Basel has shined by its cultural aura across Switzerland, Europe and even the world.
Basel has often been the site of peace negotiations and other international meetings. The Treaty of Basel (1499) ended the Swabian War. Two years later, Basel joined the Swiss Confederation. The Peace of Basel in 1795 between the French Republic and Prussia and Spain ended the First Coalition against France during the French Revolutionary Wars. In more recent times, the World Zionist Organization held its first congress in Basel from 29 August through 31 August 1897. Because of the Balkan Wars, the (Socialist) Second International held an extraordinary congress at Basel in 1912. In 1989, the Basel Convention was opened for signature to prevent hazardous waste from wealthy to developing nations for disposal.
As a world capital, Basel is also the city of Art-Basel. In the 1970s, Basel gallerists Ernst Beyeler, Trudl Bruckner and Balz Hilt create an international art fair that proves to be a success from the start. More than 16,000 visitors attend the inaugural show to see 90 galleries and 30 publishers from 10 countries. Since then, Art-Basel extended to Miami and Hong-Kong to become one of the biggest events in contemporary art in the world.
Why Should You Visit Basel?
Basel is an amazing city to visit. Under a calm and well-organized city lives tremendous energy. There is always something happening in Basel. From the historical city-centre to more modern areas, everything is done to welcome visitors. If you are staying in a hotel in Basel, you obtain a free public transport card allowing you to take all public transports for free during your stay. The same card offers a -50% discount to many museum entrances, including the Zoo.
No matter if you are spending some good time with family, friends or lover, you will always find something interesting to do. The city is easy to access as you can get there by car, by train, fast train and there is also an airport quite well served. You can easily walk around the city and public transportation is perfect. The city has also implemented a clever service of electric-scooters that you can rent and leave wherever you want after usage.
3 Top Cultural Institutions to Visit In Basel
If you love culture, arts and history, you will be deeply in love with Basel. Even if you are just “culture-curious” you will also find a great interest in this city. Since the 17th century, Basel shines in the world of arts and became a strong player into the preservation of knowledge and the generosity of sharing art with the large public. Here are my top 3 cultural institutions you need to visit when you are in Basel.
The Kunstmuseum Basel houses the largest and most significant public art collection in Switzerland and is a heritage site of national significance. Its collection is distinguished by an impressively wide historical span, from the early 15th century up to the immediate present. Its various areas of emphasis give it international standing as one of the most significant museums of its kind. Its large collection allows the public to rediscover art history from the Renaissance to nowadays.
- Renaissance: Konrad Witz, Hans Baldung (called Grien), Martin Schongauer, Lucas Cranach the Elder and Mathias Grünewald.
- 17th & 18th Century: Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Jan Brueghel the Elder
- 19th Century: Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cézanne, and the paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Switzerland’s Arnold Böcklin and Ferdinand Hodler.
- 20th Century: the focus is on works of Cubism with Pablo Picasso, Braque and Juan Gris. Expressionism is represented by such figures as Edvard Munch, Franz Marc, Oskar Kokoschka and Emil Nolde. The collection also includes works from Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism and American art since 1950. Further highlights are the unique compilations of works from Pablo Picasso, Fernand Léger, Paul Klee, Alberto Giacometti and Marc Chagall.
Currently, you can visit an exciting exhibition about Swiss artist Sophie Taeuber-Arp (1889–1943). She was a pioneer of abstraction. With an air of playful ease, her interdisciplinary creations dismantled longstanding barriers between art and life. Later in the year (fall), you cannot miss the Camille Pissarro exhibition called “The Studio of modernism“. The comprehensive fall exhibition at the Kunstmuseum Basel offers an overview of Pissarro’s output and focuses on his collaborative relationships with his contemporaries. As a friend and mentor, Pissarro was in close contact with artists of several generations, including Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, Edgar Degas, and Mary Cassatt. His sustained exchanges of ideas with his colleagues may be regarded as a vital catalyst for seminal developments in the painting of the second half of the nineteenth century.
St. Alban-Graben 8
In 1952, Ernst Beyeler and his wife Hildy renamed their antiquarian bookshop at Bäumleingasse 9 in Basel “Galerie Beyeler,” thus laying the foundation for a unique career. This led to the establishment of the Fondation Beyeler in 1982 and culminated in the opening of the Fondation Beyeler in 1997, now one of the world’s most important and beautiful art museums. Collector couple Ernst and Hildy Beyeler assembled a collection of fine works of classical modernism over fifty years, parallel to their work as successful gallery owners. The collection was converted into a foundation in 1982 and exhibited in its entirety for the first time in 1989. The collection includes approximately 400 paintings and sculptures and gives a personal view of classical modernism based above all on quality.
The permanent collection is an impressive journey into modern art with worldwide references like Francis Bacon, Georges Braque, Paul Cézanne, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, Max Ernst, Albert Giacometti, Jenny Holzer, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, Joan Miro, Piet Mondrian, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Mark Rothko, Henri Rousseau, Vincent Van Gogh, Andy Warhol and many more. It is by far the most impressive permanent collection in Switzerland and probably in Europe.
Currently, you can attend an impressive exhibition by Olafur Eliasson called LIFE. Anyone visiting the Fondation Beyeler in the next months can walk into the building at any time of day, for the exhibition is open day and night, and no doors or windows are keeping the world out. The landscape surrounding the building spills into the interior, flooding the gallery spaces with a brackish, artificially green pond in which a variety of plants thrive.
Next fall, The Fondation Beyeler will be presenting one of the most important exhibitions ever devoted to Francisco de Goya (1746–1828) outside of Spain. Goya was one of the last major court artists and the first pioneer of modern art. He was both a painter of great portraits and an inventor of mysterious, personal pictorial worlds. It is precisely in these seemingly unresolvable contradictions that we discover the magical fascination of Goya’s art. The exhibition succeeds in bringing together over seventy paintings and selecting masterful drawings and prints that invite viewers on a journey into the beautiful and the incomprehensible.
Comics, graphic novels, comics reports, cartoons, satirical drawings or animated movies have one thing in common: They are all drawings that tell us a story. The Cartoonmuseum Basel is the only museum and centre of excellence in Switzerland devoted exclusively to the art of narrative drawing. Its mission is to collect individual works, curate exhibitions and share knowledge about the genre. The museum contributes to the debate about the art of narrative drawing and about the social and political issues it addresses. The museum grew out of its substantial collection of over 10’000 original drawings by renowned national and international artists. Today, the museum’s focus lies on carefully curated exhibitions displaying the works of a single artist or illustrating a specific theme.
Every exhibition is curated professionally and geared towards an international audience. The Cartoonmuseum Basel documents promote, teaches and challenges the art of narrative drawing. Their exhibitions focus on the artistic aspects of drawing and the creative process leading to a picture or story. Visitors can explore different styles, traditions and artistic positions. All works are embedded in their historical or social context. The exhibitions cover a broad range of topics: from classical to contemporary works, from thematic exhibitions to monographic retrospectives. Related genres such as free drawing, illustration or animation are also within the scope of the museum. These contemporary genres attract younger artists and audiences.
The current exhibition is called BIG CITY LIFE. Based on Frans Masereel’s famous woodcuts, impressive testimonies to the human condition in the city during the interwar period, the exhibition “Big City Life” at Cartoonmuseum Basel presents originals comics artists – works that are either set in the city or are about it. Focusing on the diversity of form and content in contemporary auteur comics, the exhibition selected renowned artists from Europe and the USA.
This summer’s next interesting exhibition is about British cartoonist, comics artist and children’s book author Posy Simmonds (b. 1945). She has attracted attention internationally with the three graphic novels Gemma Bovery (1999), Tamara Drewe (2007) and Cassandra Darke (2018), and with their headstrong titular female characters. She fascinates with precise psychological portraits, mocks the shortcomings of the middle class and cultural scene, caricatures staidness, and criticises social developments. Cartoonmuseum Basel presents Switzerland’s first retrospective on this major British artist, with original drawings from all graphic novels, her children’s books and illustrations and cartoons for newspapers and magazines, plus unpublished preliminary work.
St. Alban–Vorstadt 28
CH– 4052 Basel
Where To Stay in Basel?
Basel offers a multitude of accommodations for all budgets and tastes. Most of the hotels are well placed in the city’s heart, allowing easy access from the main railway station and airport. Here are my top 3 addresses you might want to check when planning a stay in the Swiss city.
Hotel Les Trois Rois
The Hotel Les Trois Rois is one of the oldest city hotels in Europe – founded in 1681 as an inn for gentlemen, rebuilt in 1844 as a Grand Hotel – receives guests from all over the world. The guestbook of the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois reads like a who’s who of world history. Empress Michiko of Japan, James Joyce and Pablo Picasso: were all guests for a while at this hotel. Well located, you will find the ambience of this Grand Hotel a must while staying in Basel. Kids are more than welcome and will enjoy special treatment by the friendly and professional team. 101 rooms and suites are at the disposal of the guests. They combine history with the latest comfort. From the junior rooms through to the luxurious Suite Les Trois Rois in the art deco style: you will be completely comfortable in any one of the elegantly furnished guest rooms.
Hotel Les Trois Rois
ART HOUSE Basel
Here you will meet urban art and architecture that are sure to spark animated conversations. ART HOUSE Basel is a hotel with a cosmopolitan flair for globetrotters who desire flexibility while offering high-quality designs and a unique experience. The hotel’s contemporary architecture and urban street art style focused on functionality and flexibility were conceived by Diener & Diener and the Italian designer Andrea Caputo. The Art House Basel hosts 33 designer rooms and suites, the PRIVATE ROOFTOP BAR Mirador (which can be booked for private gatherings or MICE-Location), a music room as well as our Restaurant Souvenir.
ART HOUSE Basel
GAIA HOTEL Basel
The Geyer family has been running formerly known as the Hotel St. Gotthard in Basel, since 1929; from October 1st 2015, it has been called the GAIA HOTEL. 86 charming rooms, a historic breakfast room, and two meeting rooms shine in warm colours and are decorated with local and international art objects from the family collection.
Sustainability in every area is fundamental for this beautiful hotel. The GAIA hotel is aiming to become a zero-waste hotel. They are working towards this with numerous initiatives like environmental-friendly cleaning, zero waste strategy, Stale bread goes to nourish the Basel Zoo elephants, used coffee grounds are used to grow mushrooms in Basel, etc. The Gaia Hotel has the Bio-Hotel label guaranteeing a high-standard for sustainability.
Gaia Hotel Basel
Where to Eat And To Drink?
There are many options to get a good meal in Basel. You can enjoy different international food as well traditional Swiss. Even during the pandemics, the Food Market placed different food stands to help you with your meals. Here are 4 interesting addresses to visit for a snack, a drink or a full meal.
The Brötli Bar
This is a place that every Basel fan knows. The Brötli Bar, literally the “small bread bar”, is what we could call the Swiss Tapas bar. With a tremendous variety of Swiss specialities, pizzeria and a unique choice of canapés Swiss style, the Brötli bar is the perfect place for a snack, a quick lunch, an afternoon hunger or a quick diner. All products are fresh, generally coming from the surroundings and carefully handcrafted to your palate’s pleasure. It is open every day from 11:00 AM to midnight.
The Brötli Bar
CH- 4001 Basel
The Bar Rouge – Messe tower
High above the roofs of Basel, near the sky, with a spectacular view over the exiting city life and the beautiful landscape, there is Bar Rouge at 105 meters high. In the evenings, the bar lounge tempts you with tasty snacks and delicious drinks, and at night Bar Rouge is one of the fanciest clubs in the city. At this location, art and culture meet and create a breathtaking atmosphere. For business events, delicious aperitif, an unforgettable birthday party or an exciting party night with friends, Bar Rouge fulfil your wishes and organize the perfect event for you.
Consum Bar – Winebar
The bar with salumi and cheese specialities and over 100 wines can be found in the heart of the old town of Kleinbasel on Rheingasse. The extensive offerings and lively atmosphere make the Consum an uncomplicated meeting point. Whether it’s the fresh lunch at noon, sweet temptations in the afternoon or a convivial aperitif in the evening – Consum will spoil you. As a joyful storyteller, Max Hehl lends his Italianità to the Consum and recommends you the most convenient wine he has got in the cellar for you. Are you curious about his favourite combination of wine and platter speciality? Ask him personally and he will serve you his personal highlights.
The Volta Bräu – BreewPub
High-quality and homemade. That’s the philosophy of the Volta Bräu. All the beers and signature drinks can be perfectly paired with items from their mouth-watering menu – such as the legendary pulled pork sandwich. The freshest craft beer in town is brewed in an industrial space located at Voltaplatz in Basel. They brew Volta Bräu beer after traditional methods and with a strong passion. The brewpub combines an urban feel-good atmosphere with the attraction of the brewery – the Volta Bräu home-brewed beers are tapped and served directly at the bar. The selection reflects the love for beer and the desire for variety and change.
Other Basel Hidden Treasures To be Discovered
Basel, Switzerland, is a place of exciting contrasts. It is a city with historical buildings next to modern architecture where a young and dynamic art scene exists alongside world-renowned museums.
Basel has a true Cosmopolitan ambience and yet lively traditions are pretty much alive. You just have to experience Basel for yourself. Here are three amazing experiences you do not want to miss.
The Basel Carnival
The Basel Carnival is inscribed in 2017 on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Beginning on the Monday following Ash Wednesday and lasting exactly 72 hours, Basel Carnival is the largest carnival in Switzerland. Two parades take place on Monday and Wednesday, bringing together 11,000 costumed carnivalists in parades of fife and drum cliques, floats and carriages. Tuesday is dedicated to children, with concerts and lantern exhibitions, while other events also punctuate the festival. The carnival can be compared to a huge satirical magazine where all visual or rhetorical means are used to make fun of flaws and blunders. Around 20,000 people of any age, social status, origin and political persuasion actively participate in the festival, which attracts around 200,000 Swiss and foreign visitors.
The Basel Zoo
Basel Zoo introduces visitors to the beauty of nature and offers an opportunity to kick back and relax in a natural park landscape. Animals and nature are the priority, with architecture, technology and logistics in the background. Zoo Basel is Switzerland’s oldest (1874) and largest zoo (by a total number of animals). With over 1.8 million visitors per year, it is the most visited tourist attraction in Switzerland with an entrance fee.
Zoo Basel was ranked as one of the fifteen best zoos globally by Forbes Traveler in 2008 and 2009 as the seventh-best in Europe by Anthony Sheridan from the Zoological Society of London. The zoo had the first Indian rhinoceros birth in a zoo, as well as the first greater flamingo hatch. It has had repeated breeding success with animals, including cheetahs (18 births), okapi (22), pygmy hippopotamuses (53), and flamingos (over 400 hatches). Every Somali wild ass (a donkey) in zoos worldwide is related to the population in Basel, where this species’ zoological breeding program was started.
The Basel Cathedral
The original cathedral was built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles. The late Romanesque building, destroyed by the 1356 Basel earthquake, was rebuilt by Johannes Gmünd, who was at the same time employed for building the Freiburg Münster. Ulrich von Ensingen, architect of the towers at the Ulm Minster and the Strasbourg Cathedral, extended the building from 1421. Hans von Nußdorf completed the southern tower in 1500.
Two towers bestride the main front, which points to the west. The northern tower is called Georgsturm (64.2 m), and the southern tower is called Martinsturm (62.7 m). The towers are named after Georg and Martin, saints of the knights. Corresponding equestrian sculptures portray copies of both saints next to the main entrance upon high pilasters below the particular towers. The statue of Holy Martin originated from the year 1340; today, the archetype can be found in the Klingentalmuseum. A mechanical clock and a sundial are located above the archetype. Remarkably, the sundial of the Basler Münster shows the “wrong time” due to the Basler Zeit. Below the Georgsturm, a monumental picture (1372) can be found, which shows knight Georg fighting against a tiny dragon.
As you could read, Basel offers a diversity of choices to spend a great long weekend/week of holidays. Do not hesitate to check the city official website to learn more about the city point of interests and events: https://www.basel.com
Information sourced by the author for luxuryactivist.com. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available. Images are for illustration purposes only. Featured Image by Albrecht Fietz from Pixabay