By: Sandra Scott
The medieval Swiss town borders Germany and France. It features museums, beautiful Renaissance architecture, art galleries and much more
Sometimes when Americans travel to Europe they focus on the capital cities thus missing the charm and allure of the smaller cities.
Visitors will find such destinations more relaxing because they are not overrun with tourists and, while some accommodation may seem pricey, they are often less expensive than those in a capital city.
Such is the case with Basel, Switzerland.
Basel is a city on the Rhine in northwest of the country, close to its borders with France and Germany. Not far from the city there is a monument marking the spot where the three countries meet. It is home to the oldest university in Europe.
The medieval old town centers around Marktplatz, dominated by the 16th-century, red sandstone Rathsaus. The ornate red sandstone façade is covered in whimsical frescoes. It is now the seat of government. Nearby is the 12th-century Gothic cathedral with great city views. The cathedral contains the tomb of the 16th-century Dutch scholar Erasmus. The city’s university houses some of Erasmus’ works. Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus was a Dutch philosopher and Catholic theologian who is considered one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance.
The city is great for wandering around looking at the beautiful Renaissance architecture. Three of the city’s original seven gates are intact. In places there is even evidence of the old medieval wall, sometimes in the basement of restaurants and hotels.
The best way to familiarize oneself with the city is on the hop-on bus. A complete circuit takes about two hours but one can get on and off at any stop. One stop is at the ferry that crosses the Rhine River. Unique to most bus tours is the tablet that is located at each seat which shows the site being discussed in several languages. Every visitor gets a free Basel Card when they check into a hotel. The card allows free use of public transportation and surfing Guest Wi-Fi Basel plus half price at a variety of places including the sightseeing bus, some guided tours, and cruises.
The city is home to a plethora of museums. The unique Hoosesagg Museum is a tiny museum that features a different themed collection of miniatures each month on loan from collectors. Each collection has its own story. The Tinguely Museum is dedicated to Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, who died in 1991. He is best known for his professional obsession with machines, how they work, sound and move.
There are several of his creations on display in Tinguely Fountain right in the Basel city center. Built in 1977, the fountain consists of 10 machine statues made of iron. Since it is located in front of the city theater and where the old theater’s stage once was, the statues are inspired by that form of art. They are in constant movement, almost looking like the actors performing and interacting with each other. There are museums dedicated to cartoons, toys, architecture and, of course, several art museums. Given that Basel is home to several big name pharmaceuticals there is also a museum dedicated to pharmacies.
The Rhine River side is alluring and if the water calls to you, swimming in the Rhine is one of Basel’s most popular summe
rtime sports. Get a colorful Wickelfisch, a fish-shaped swim bag invented in Basel to keep your clothes dry while you float down the river.
Once a year the city hosts The Basel Rhine Swim, a public sporting event. The participants swim in or float on the Rhine River from the banks at the Munster down to the lower Rhine banks for up to 15 minutes. During their swim they are escorted and watched by watercraft and lifeguards. Private swimming is popular all summer. While summer is the popular time to visit, in November there is a great Christmas market.
Residents speak several languages and, in the tourist areas, English is common. The Swiss Franc is the official currency but Euros and credit cards area widely accepted and there are many ATMs.
Visitors only need a valid passport to visit.