Best Things to Do in Basel in One Day

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Basel is the farthest upriver that any of the Rhine River cruise ships can navigate, and to be honest, had it not been for the fact that our Rhine cruise began there, we may never have visited.

But unexpected travel delays have been known to happen, and so we planned one day in Basel beforehand so we could be sure we wouldn’t miss the boat.

Besides, what travel lover wouldn’t jump at the chance to explore a new city? Here’s our take on the best things to do in Basel and how to fit it all into just one day.

One day in Basel, sightseeing the highlights

Old town in Basel has historic houses and a tram line running through the street

It only takes an hour to get from Zurich to Basel by train, and there’s a huge city map in front of Basel’s train station. Still smarting from paying 17 Swiss francs for two small coffees and croissants in Zurich, we decided to walk there, wheeling our carry-ons behind us. We figured there was no point in risking another dent in our wallet just to have a taxi take us a few blocks.

If you’re looking for a hotel in Basel, I can recommend the Radison Blu. It’s an upscale, contemporary hotel in a good location. The friendly desk clerk gladly held our bags until check-in time so we could explore, and gave us a map of the city that had some walking routes around Basel’s old town.

The map is easy to follow, but there are no details at all about the attractions. Dan was mostly interested in photography so he was happy to just aimlessly walk around town with the map.

But honestly, if you want to know what you’re looking at, it’s worth booking a guided walking tour or buying a guidebook like this one. It’s a small investment, and there a lot of interesting things that simply aren’t on the map.

If you want a guided tour, the best value for money is this 2-hour walking tour through Basel Old Town. Always book tours in advance — the best ones fill up quickly.

Marktplatz – Basel’s town square

Clock and paintings on the exterior of the Rathaus in Basel.

Do you like history and architecture? We do. Medieval towns always have interesting architecture and quaint buildings that are fun to photograph. It’s fun to walk through winding narrow streets, discover interesting shops and elegant boutiques, and there’s always an interesting square or two.

Basel’s medieval old town center is fascinating. The most interesting town square has to be Marktplatz. This square dates back to 1260 as a grain market and shifted to a full market by the 15th century.

It’s impossible to miss the Rathaus, a beautifully renovated Renaissance palace that has been the town hall for over five centuries. It is also the seat of the cantonal government for Basel-Stadt.

Stadtmarkt

Assorted peppers and olives in buckets at a market in Basel's Marktplatz town square

Just as it has been since the 1500s, Marktplatz was chock full of stalls when we were there. You can’t miss it if you’re anywhere near the Rathaus.

Known as Stadtmarkt, you can find almost anything you might need for your weekly shopping. Judging from the (obviously local) shoppers who were chatting with the vendors, it’s probably the favorite place in town to pick up the freshest local produce.

Sausages and cheeses hanging in a market stall in Basel town square

Stalls had flowers, cheeses, jams, olives, meats, eggs, vegetables, fruits and street food on offer. We stopped at one of the stalls for lunch, where I had a small quiche and Dan enjoyed a meat-stuffed, croissant-like pastry.

We also bought a bottle of a tasty, fizzy apple drink called Apfelschorle. It’s like a 50/50 blend of apple juice and carbonated water. Verdict: America’s missing a treat.

ⓘ TIP: Basel’s Stadtmarkt is open from Tuesday to Saturday, beginning at 7 am. It closes at 2 pm Tues.-Thurs, and at 6 pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Elizabeth Church

Elisabethenkirche, also known as Elizabeth Church, with a tree in front of it.

Elizabeth church, or Elisabethkirche in German, is the best known neo-Gothic building in Switzerland. Almost 50,000 people a year visit this beautiful structure. It was built around 1857-1864 by a wealthy businessman named Christoph Merian.

This was the first church built after the Reformation and is now home of the first Swiss “OpenChurch.”

Tinguely Fountain

Tinguely Fountain has moveable sculptures in it. One of the best things to do in Basel Switzerland.

When the city tore down the old city theater in the late 1970s, a famous Swiss kinetic artist decided to use the vacant space to design a fountain that would commemorate it.

Jean Tinguely used black asphant to build a shallow fountain, then created a series of sculptures out of iron to look like mimes and other performers. The nine moving figures are powered by low voltage current and appear to be romping in the water, performing for passersby just like they once did on the stage that formerly stood in this spot.

Basel’s Rhine River waterfront

Boat on the Rhine river in Basel Switzerland, towing a waterskiier

The winding streets eventually took us downhill to the lower part of Old Town, where we got our first glimpse of the Rhine River. The clean water and warm weather invited plenty of swimmers and pleasure craft. We even saw a water skier or two.

We strolled across the bridge to the other side, where the vibrant riverfront was full of nice restaurants and shops. It was quite a festive atmosphere, what with all the street performers and people buying food and beers from vendors or sitting and chatting along the waterfront. Must be one of the locals’ favorite things to do in town.

We stopped to check out some of the menus as we passed. They were all multilingual with an incredible variety of options. I guess that’s no surprise, considering that three countries converge here.

ⓘ TIP: Detours with Daisey has written a useful guide to Where to eat (and drink!) in Basel.

Tour Basel by tram

A pedestrian street in Basel.

One of the perks of staying in Basel is that all hotel guests get a free pass for local trams and buses. This worked out well, because wandering through all those hilly streets gave us a workout.

So, when our feet got tired we took the desk clerk’s suggestion to see the city from the tram, and hopped on the suggested 15/16 tram line. No matter where it took us, we saw crowds of people enjoying the museums, shopping and restaurants.

There’s no lack of things to do in Basel, that’s for sure.

Nightlife in Basel, Switzerland

Night on the Rhine River in Basel Switzerland. People gather along the water to listen to a concert. Full moon in the sky.

Our tram returned to our starting point just as night set in. After a wonderful dinner and with the moon in full glow, we decided to explore the riverfront further.

it seems that there’s no end to Basel’s nightlife scene. Crowds lined the riverfront area where a band played on a platform that was anchored in the river.

Seeing Basel lit up at night is a memorable – and colorful – experience.

6 fun things to know about Basel, Switzerland

  1. Fun fact: English speakers often pronounce Basel’s name incorrectly. Say BAA-zl, like the noise a sheep makes. Don’t call it BAY-zil (like the herb) or Ba-ZEL.
  2. Basel’s history dates back 2000 years, to Celtic and Roman times. No doubt they found its location perfect, tucked securely between the Swiss Jura, Germany’s Black Forest, and the Vosges in Alsace.
  3. Basel really came into its own in 1460, when a university was founded there. It thus became a center of learning and book printing, and many of Europe’s greatest minds came to Basel, including Paracelsus and Erasmus. (Actually, Erasmus is still there, honorably buried in the town’s münster.)
  4. The city’s oldest annual trade fair has been held every year since 1471. Coincidentally, for you history buffs, that’s only a few years before Erasmus moved there from Rotterdam.
  5. It’s also quite the cultural hub. Not only does it have world class museums to visit, it’s also renowned throughout Europe for its music and jazz festivals and small music clubs.
  6. Basel is also a hub for the world’s pharmaceutical and chemical industries.

Things to do in Basel as we saw it

Picturesque Basel is really underrated as a tourist destination. It’s a multicultural city with a good atmosphere, quaint buildings, and a good economy. Plus, it’s a good jumping-off point for visiting France and Germany, because both countries are only a few kilometers away.

Truth be told, we preferred it to Zurich.

I hope you have more than one day to spend here. There are so many more things to do in Basel than anyone could fit into such a short time. This video will help you find more highlights.

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Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages inspired her to create As We Saw It, where she documents her trips, shares practical itineraries, and offers insider tips. She’s passionate about helping fellow travelers save time, money, and hassle, and loves to discover new places to explore.

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6 thoughts on “Best Things to Do in Basel in One Day”

  1. Oh gosh! OK, I had an opportunity visit Basel several times but I always thought that “it can wait”, probably there’s nothing special.
    You have no idea how much you made me to regret it! Now my ex-boyfriend lives there and there’s no way I can visit him (or no way if my current boyfriend finds out about that. 😉 )

    • Haha, Isabella, maybe you can talk your current boyfriend into taking you there. You don’t need to tell him that your ex-boyfriend lives there and our lips are sealed. 🙂

  2. Your post brings back memories of a short stay in Lucerne, parts of which reminded us of The Sound of Music. Also remember a walking tour through Old Town Geneva, but saw nothing like the street markets at the Marktplatz here in your colorful photographs. Quiche Lorraine and fresh sausages . . . something tells me you may have had the better tour!

    • Lucerne is beautiful, isn’t it? We really liked it a lot. We didn’t make it over to Geneva but it is definitely on our list, though not with the pork products. 🙂

  3. I enjoyed reading your post about Basel. We only visited Zurich in Switzerland and we were stunned by their prices too. But then Europe is like that almost everywhere, so… Basel seems very picturesque indeed. Beautiful pictures!

    • Switzerland is beautiful, for sure. We had a great time there despite the prices. If you ever return I’d like to recommend Lucerne and nearby Mount Pilatus. We day tripped over there from Zurich and spent the entire day gawking at the stunning views.

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