Located on the banks of the Rhine, where France, Germany, and Switzerland come together, Basel is an enthralling melting pot of all three European gems combined. All throughout the year, the city is brimming with enlightened travelers keen to experience every cultural delight this charming city has to offer.
From spectacular art galleries that guard amazing masterpieces to impressive opera houses that host remarkable performances, Basel is guaranteed to satisfy all your artistic cravings. But it’s not all about music, art, and culture.
Whatever type of vacation you’re seeking, you’ll never be stuck for what to do in Basel. Whether you want to lose yourself in winding medieval streets that lead to whimsical squares, relax in sprawling parks where you can surround yourself with nature, or check out quirky museums that are fun for all ages, Basel is an excellent place for a city break.
With so many fun things to see and do, you may not know where to begin. To help you out, we’ve put together a list of the absolute best things to do in Basel. Add these cool activities and attractions to your Basel bucket list, and you’re guaranteed to have an incredible time discovering one of the most fascinating and culturally-rich cities in the world.
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15 Fun and Unique Things to do in Basel
1. Check Out the Urban Artwork
While you’re exploring on your first day, one of the most fun things to do in Basel is to seek out the amazing street art. While the city has a remarkable history that goes back hundreds of years, modern artists have brought the place into the 21st century with colorful, thought-provoking urban artwork.
If you’re feeling a little out of your depth, you can sign up for a guided street art tour. There are loads of different tours to choose from, each of which will take you past everything from giant pieces of street art that seem too big to have been made by humans to tiny ones you’d easily miss if you didn’t know what you were looking for.
But if you’re comfortable exploring on your own and discovering new places, you can simply wander around and spot the impressive artwork yourself. You’ll find eye-catching pieces all over the place. But to give you a strong start, we suggest checking out the Lällekönig (Tongue King) which you’ll find looking from Grossbasel on the left side of the river toward Klein Basel on the right side of the river.
2. Unleash Your Inner Art Lover at the Museum of Art
Known in Switzerland as Kunstmuseum Basel, the Museum of Art is where you’ll discover some of the best sights in Basel. Although it may not look like much from the outside, this art gallery is home to the finest collection of paintings in all of Switzerland. Take a look around, and you’ll discover countless pieces from famous old masters as well as modern artists.
The first floor of the museum is dedicated to centuries-old Dutch and French paintings. Some of the most remarkable pieces include portraits by Hans Holbein the Younger, Heilsspiegelaltar (Mirror of Salvation Altar) by Konrad Witz, and Rembrandt’s David with Goliath’s Head.
Head to the second floor, and you’ll discover an equally spectacular collection of art created by surrealists, expressionists, and impressionists from the 19th and 20th centuries. Even if you don’t consider yourself to be an art lover, you’re sure to recognize some of the pieces here. Famous works by Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso, and Dalí are just a small example of the masterpieces you’ll spot.
3. Party for Free at the FLOSS Music Festival
One of the coolest things to do in Basel in the summer is to attend the FLOSS music festival. Held each year at the end of August, this open-air music festival sees bands from all over the world come together to perform on a floating stage on the Rhine.
The lineup changes every year, but it’s always spectacular. As well as a number of famous bands and up-and-coming groups from Switzerland, the festival welcomes several successful international artists, all keen to be a part of the biggest summer closing party in Basel.
Around 50,000 music lovers attend the free music festival each year and gather close to the Mittlere Brücke, where they can spot the stage gently bobbing up and down on the water. So you never have to leave early if you don’t want to, the festival also includes all kinds of pop-up restaurants and food trucks selling delicious local and international food and drinks.
4. Take in the Sights of Old Town
For some of the best Basel sightseeing opportunities, head for the oldest part of the city. The section of Basel between the Rhine and the old city gate at Spalentor dates back hundreds of years and is almost too beautiful to be true. Here you’ll find everything you’d expect to see in a fairytale book, from towering medieval churches and cobblestone streets to colorful water fountains and traditional houses with wooden beams.
It’s easy to forget what year it is and feel like you’ve stepped back in time here. If you want a modern refresher, check out the fountain by Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely. This uber-contemporary fountain is surrounded by stately historic houses and looks whimsically out of place.
We suggest you simply wander around wherever your feet take you. But if you’d prefer a more solid itinerary, start at Marktplatz and walk west along Spalenberg. Take a detour and walk along Leonhardsberg and Spalenberg, Heuberg when you come across them. These streets were once where ancient artisans lived and still look stunning today.
5. Warm Up with Basler Mehlsuppe
If you’re planning your trip for winter, one of the must-do things in Basel is to order a great big bowl of basler mehlsuppe. This simple soup may contain just a handful of ingredients, but it tastes amazing and is just the thing to warm you up when it’s cold outside.
Basler mehlsuppe gets its rich brown color by toasting flour with butter. Just like all the best regional dishes, different chefs have different ways of making basler mehlsuppe. But they usually all involve turning the toasted flour base into a tasty broth that’s topped with grated cheese just before serving. The cheese melts into the broth creating a super comforting and hearty dish.
The best place to get basler mehlsuppe is from any of the food stands that pop up for Basel’s annual Fasnacht celebration. But if you’re visiting at a different time of year, we suggest ordering a bowl from Taverne Johann. This upmarket restaurant dishes up all kinds of local cuisine, including a healthier, lightened-up version of the classic soup.
6. Stand in Three Countries at Once at Dreiländereck
It’s not every day you can stand in three countries at once, so take advantage while you can! One of the most unique things to do in Basel, standing at a very specific point in Dreiländereck allows you to be in France, Germany, and Switzerland – all at the same time.
There’s a striking modern monument that shows where the intersection is, making it easy to spot. It looks almost like a rocket ship, but it’s actually a tripoint, with one side representing each of the countries. Located right by the river, the monument makes a fantastic backdrop for a cool selfie.
The area around the monument is a wonderful place to take a relaxing walk. Despite being so unique, the monument and surrounding area are rarely crowded, giving you plenty of opportunities to soak up the peaceful atmosphere and snap great pics that aren’t full of people.
7. Visit the Oldest and Biggest Zoo in Switzerland
No matter how old you are, one of the best things to do in Basel is to spend the day at the Basel Zoo. The biggest and oldest zoo in Switzerland, Basel Zoo is commonly referred to as Zolli by locals and regularly appears on the list of the best zoos in the world.
The spectacular family-friendly attraction began in 1874 with a collection of 510 European animals. While that was considered quite remarkable at the time, the zoo has expanded considerably and now includes exotic species from all over the world, with more being introduced all the time.
As you walk around, you’ll discover all kinds of mesmerizing creatures, from tiny seahorses and unusual white-faced sakis to huge elephants and friendly penguins. There are plenty of opportunities available if you want to get up close with the animals. You can join a behind-the-scenes tour to find out exactly what it takes to run a zoo or even have a go at being a zoo keeper for the day yourself.
8. Take a Relaxing Ride Down the Rhine
When you need a break from all the hectic Basel activities, take it easy and float down the Rhine – literally! If you visit the city in summer, you’ll see many locals swimming and floating down the river among the boats. While this unusual activity is completely safe, it’s best to only do it if you’re a strong swimmer. If a boat or ferry comes your way, you’ll need to get out of its path quickly.
The current will gently float you downstream, so don’t plan on getting out at the same spot you got in. If there’s been a lot of rain recently, the water will be pretty high, and swimming won’t be recommended. But take a look at the conditions, the number of people in the water, and make the decision yourself.
Unless you’re traveling very lightly, it’s likely you’ll have some personal belongings on you. To keep your stuff safe, we suggest buying one of the blue waterproof bags that you’ll see the locals swimming with. They’re called Wickelfisch and will keep your belongings safe and dry while in the water.
Even if you decide not to take a dip, it’s still great fun watching the locals.
9. Admire the Quirky Tinguely Fountain
Basel is filled with all kinds of cool artwork, and Tinguely Fountain is definitely one of them. Created by innovative Swiss artist Jean Tinguely in 1977, this one-of-a-kind fountain has since become a popular Basel landmark that instantly stands out from the centuries-old architecture that surrounds it.
This unique fountain is made up of a large, shallow pool that holds 10 large iron figures. It’s tricky to determine exactly what the figures are, as they tend to change depending on the angle you look at them from. Wherever you’re standing, it looks like the figures are interacting and playing with each other as water jets spray into the air and squirt between them.
What makes Tinguely Fountain so special is where the materials came from. The quirky structures are made from metal that was rescued from the old theater that once stood in its place.
10. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Hefegugelhopf
When you need a break from all the things to see in Basel, stop by a cafe or a bakery and order yourself a slice of hefegugelhopf. This sweet treat is a yeasted, fluted cake that’s baked in a bundt tin, giving it a hole in the middle. It has a wonderfully light and airy texture with a slightly sweet taste that always leaves you wanting more.
Cafes and bakeries decorate their hefegugelhopf in different ways. Some places top them with whole or sliced almonds before sprinkling over a generous amount of powdered sugar. Others fill it with juicy raisins and leave the outside of the cake plain.
Hefegugelhopf tastes more like a sweet loaf than a typical American bundt cake, making it the perfect thing to nibble in the afternoon with a coffee. It’s so popular that you’ll find it available in practically every cafe and bakery throughout Basel. We suggest ordering a slice from Confiserie Schiesser. This traditional Swiss bakery has been dishing up the sweet treat since the 1800s.
11. Explore the Centuries-Old Basler Münster
Basler Münster is one of the top Basel attractions, and for good reason, too. This religious building is perched on top of Münsterhügel (Minster Hill), and can easily be recognized, thanks to its decorative roof and towering spires. It sits in the elegant 18th-century Münsterplatz square, which was formerly the site of an important Roman fort.
The eye-catching minster was created out of red sandstone brought over from the French Vosges mountains between the 9th and 13th centuries. A terrible earthquake in 1356 damaged a lot of the minster, and it was rebuilt in a Gothic style shortly after.
Although a lot of the church you can see today is from the time it was restored, some of the original structure still remains. The St. Gallus doorway is one of the most impressive parts of the church. Get up close, and you’ll be able to see the incredibly detailed Romanesque stone carvings. It’s one of the oldest figured doorways in Europe!
12. Watch Gladiators Battle at the Roman Festival
If you enjoy dressing up, one of the top things to do in Basel is to attend the Roman Festival. Held each summer in Augusta Raurica on the outskirts of Basel, Römerfest is the biggest and most exciting Roman festival in Switzerland.
The festival gets bigger and bigger each year, with around 30,000 people expected to attend the next edition. Expect to see people dressed in all kinds of authentic Roman outfits, some of which are cute and some of which are shockingly realistic.
Basel’s Roman Festival is an excellent place to bring the kids. There are loads of family-friendly workshops that aim to teach the skills young people learned way back in Roman times. By the end of the day, your little ones could learn how to make metal tools or beautiful mosaics.
If you really want to feel part of the festival, dress for it. You’ll find loads of costume shops in the local area selling all kinds of cool Roman outfits leading up to the festival.
13. Spend a Relaxing Day at Tierpark Lange Erlen
Looking for something a little more laid-back? Spend a chilled-out day at Tierpark Lange Erlen. One of the best things to do in Basel when you need a break from the city’s endless historic attractions, museums, and galleries, a few hours at Tierpark Lange Erlen will leave you feeling refreshed and ready for another day of sightseeing.
This beautiful green space is teeming with all kinds of interesting local wildlife roaming free. Take a walk around and see how many wild boar, lynx, and deer you can spot. Although the animals are used to human visitors, they’re still wary, so you don’t have to worry about any danger.
The park is home to a number of ponds where you find herons, ducks, and swans fishing and swimming. At certain times of the year, you’ll also find dazzling peacocks strutting through the grounds. With so much wildlife, Tierpark Lange Erlen is a great place to visit if zoos aren’t your thing.
14. Relive Your Childhood at the Toy Museum
If the weather takes a turn for the worse, one of the best things to do in Basel is to head for the Toy Museum. A magical place, however old or young you are, this whimsical museum is home to more than 6,000 unique toys. From stuffed animals and hand-painted dolls to detailed store models and stunning carousels, there’s absolutely loads to see here.
Most people find the dollhouses to be the most outstanding part of the museum. But we found the miniature rooms and stores to be exceptional, too. These newly-commissioned works of art are unbelievably ornate and detailed. You could easily spend hours just staring at them.
Make sure you check out the nativity section of the museum. This festive area is open throughout the year and is dedicated to the type of holiday scenes you’d expect to find in Naples, Italy, centuries ago. With more than 2,500 individual examples, Basel’s Toy Museum is also said to be home to the world’s largest collection of teddy bears.
15. Eat the Rainbow with Mässmogge
Love candy? Then you won’t be able to resist mässmogge. They may look like brightly colored sea slugs, but these hard candies taste amazing and are the perfect thing to satisfy every sweet tooth.
Mässmogge is a traditional Swiss candy that’s been made in Basel for generations. The sweet and hard candy shell guards a smooth and creamy hazelnut filling. It sounds a little unusual if you’ve never tried anything like it before. But after your first one, you’ll be hunting for your next. They can be a bit tough on your teeth, so make sure you break them up instead of trying to chew them.
Because of their beautiful colors, mässmogge make a great present for friends and family back home. That’s if you can manage not to eat them yourself! You’ll find mässmogge available from grocery stores and candy stores throughout the city. But we found some of the best from Confiserie Schiesser at Marktplatz.
There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Basel. What’s your favorite thing to do in Basel?
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