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The Emerald Experience > River and city guides > City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Basel

City Guide: The Best Things to See and Do in Basel

Switzerland’s stunning medley of old world charm and modern wonder.

With the highest number of museums per capita in Switzerland, Basel is the connoisseur’s choice for culture. Many world-famous museums make up the 40 sites of heritage and history within Basel, celebrating the city’s monumental contribution to global culture and the art world

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A beautiful old town meets vibrant modern architecture within a city not afraid to embrace the new and the revolutionary whilst maintaining a strong interest in years past. Hugely influential architects such as Herzog & De Meuron, Mario Botta, and Richard Meier continue to shape this progressive city.

But that is not to suggest Basel provides a purely industrial backdrop for those cruising down the River Rhine – the city has attained a reputation of being a green city of great repute, thanks to its large number of parks and the large Botanical Gardens.  

From humble beginnings, Basel was one of a number of settlements along the Rhine, in close proximity to Basel who’s first mention on record came in 374AD. Unfortunately, the city endured a troubled start to life, when it was completely destroyed by the Magyars in 917AD.

The city was slowly rebuilt, with the cathedral of Basel (locally known as the Münster) constructed in 1019, and the Bridge over the Rhine built in 1225-1226.

Basel joined the Swiss Confederation as its 11th canton at the start of the 16th century. It was the first canton which had to be asked to join the confederation, thanks to its strategic position and great affluence. This affluence continues today, with Basel retaining one of Switzerland’s most dynamic economies, proving just as popular with global banks as visiting guests.

Must-See Sights

The charming city of Basel gives you total freedom to do as much or as little as possible, and here we have listed five of our favourite sights that the city has to offer.

Old Town

Beautifully preserved, the pretty Old Town region of Basel boasts 15th century buildings everywhere you look. With narrow, winding streets emerging into stunning open squares; the copacetic Old Town is best explored on foot – more than manageable thanks to Basel’s small footprint.

A large number of shops, cafes and restaurants are dotted throughout the Old Town, perfect for those looking for an authentic slice of Switzerland. 

Basler Muenster

Basler Muenster (or Basel Minster for anglicised tongues) is an immediately recognisable feat of turn-of-the-millennium architecture. The two slim towers and red sandstone exterior provide a striking proposition for those visiting Basel for the first time.

The minster was originally a Catholic cathedral, but now serves as a Reformed Protestant church after a mini revolution in the city.  


Formerly a city gate for Basel, Spalentor (or the Gate of Spalen) is one of the best preserved structures of the ancient city walls. The ornate turrets and spired roof creates a purposefully grandiose first impression – perfect for its current purpose as a luxury hotel.

Vitra Design Museum

Confusingly located just over the border in Germany; the Vitra Design Museum remains, in spirit and in practice, a part of Basel’s thriving culture. Founded in 1989, the museum has developed a reputation as one of the world’s greatest collections of furniture, interior design and architecture.

The museum is housed in a striking building, the first built by Frank O. Gehry in Europe, proving to be an attraction in its own right. 

Basel Paper Mill Museum

Although a paper mill may not be the first place you’d pinpoint on a map as a ‘must-visit’ destination, the Basel Paper Mill Museum provides a unique and interesting insight into the production of paper, and its vast history. 

Located on a site where paper production has been in full swing for more than 500 years, the museum offers a range of traditional and interactive exhibitions. Perhaps the most enjoyable feature is the chance to produce your own paper during your visit.

Fast Facts

Here are a few nuggets of info to give you a quick insight into Basel, its people and its heritage. 

  • The population of Basel is 174,793 people
  • The language of Basel is a local dialect known as Baslerdytsch 
  • Basel is the warmest city of Switzerland
  • In 1471, a chicken was burned at the stake as a ‘devil in disguise’ when it was found guilty of laying a brightly coloured egg in Basel
  • Basel is divided into 19 quarters (ignoring the maths)
  • Basel is home to Switzerland’s only cargo port – conveniently found atop the River Rhine
  • The 1356 Basel earthquake is the largest to have ever occurred in Central Europe
  • FC Basel is Switzerland’s second most successful football team with 17 Swiss Super League titles
  • The first book on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica, was published in Basel
  • And the psychedelic drug, LSD, was first created in the city

So if you’re keen to visit Basel you can find out more at our Rhine River Cruise page.

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