Admittedly, a city with just under 200,000 inhabitants is not exactly a metropolis, but please don't be misled. Basel is a city with a wealth of places of interest and has plenty to offer tourists. It's not for nothing that Basel is considered the cultural capital of Switzerland. With its eventful history, ancient and modern buildings and a jam-packed cultural calendar, Basel is the perfect destination for sightseeing, entertainment and relaxation.
A wander through the old town is not to be missed on any city break in Basel. You will find one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe, making it easy to step back in time to past eras when strolling through the picturesque narrow streets. The fact that modern buildings can also be found dotted here and there between the half-timbered houses, some of which are 600 years old, does not lessen the charm. The historical places of interest are just a stone's throw from each other and testify to Basel's importance in past centuries.
The two slender towers of Basel's Minster can be seen from afar, making them a characteristic landmark of the city. The construction of the Minster has an impressive history, spanning almost 500 years from 1019 to its completion in 1500. The Minster was consecrated as an episcopal church and was even the site of a papal election in 1440. During the Reformation, the Minster became the main place of worship of the evangelical reformed church in Basel in 1529. The towers offer impressive panoramic views of Basel and the surrounding area.
The "Pfalz" belongs to the Minster and can be found right behind the cathedral. It is a raised terrace right on the Rhine and affords great views of the river which plays such a vital role in the city.
City Hall with its red sandstone façade was completed in 1514 and has been used ever since as a meeting place for the city parliament as well as a city administration building. The crenellations with the colourful coats of arms of all the cantons in the Confederation of the time date from this period. At the beginning of the 20th century, City Hall was extended to include the characteristic tower and an extra wing, but the style of the old building was retained. Right in front of City Hall is Marktplatz (market square), which is still full of hustle and bustle today. Traders from the surrounding region offer fresh produce here and invite you to taste and enjoy their wares in the historical setting of the old town.
Mittlere Rheinbrücke (middle Rhine bridge), as it is officially named, is Basel's oldest bridge over the Rhine. It was built at the beginning of the 13th century and, up until 1879, was the only way of crossing the Rhine within the city.
The Spalentor gate is the most attractive of the three remaining city gates from the 14th-century city wall. The medieval fortifications were torn down at the end of the 19th century to create space for the growing population.
In recent times, Basel has made a name for itself as a city of art in particular. This is not least due to the world-famous Art Basel International Art Show which has been held here every year in June since 1970. When strolling through galleries, museums and, of course, Basel's streets, you will find works of art from all periods and in all styles – from well-known classics and modern art through to street art.
Founded in 1661, Kunstmuseum Basel was one of the first art museums in the world to open its collection up to the public. There you can view important works by artists from seven centuries, including famous names such as Holbein, Cranach, Rubens, Rembrandt, Cézanne, van Gogh, Monet, Renoir, Füssli, Böcklin, Munch, Kokoschka, Dalí, Ernst, Beuys and Baselitz.
This museum is dedicated solely to works by the Swiss artist Jean Tinguely. As well as his sculptures and kinetic artworks, the exhibition features sketches, letters and photographs by the artist.
The museum displays the impressive art collection of Hildy and Ernst Beyeler. It includes important modern classics and contemporary art from the 20th century by the likes of Degas, Monet, van Gogh, Kandinsky, Matisse, Giacometti, Picasso, Miró, Klee, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Rothko.
The internationally renowned museum of industrial design is located in Weil am Rhein rather than in Basel itself. But the fact that it is linked to the Fondation Beyeler via the Rehberger-Weg trail, however, makes it even more worth a visit. On the five-kilometre walk, which features 24 sculptures or installations by the German artist Tobias Rehberger, the path is the goal.
The best thing about sightseeing in Basel is that you don't just have to visit the museums to discover the city's varied offering of culture and art. You will encounter art and history at every turn – whether sculptures and art installations in public places, impressive buildings by renowned architects or imaginative and critical street art on the walls of the houses. The best way to find these sights is to simply stroll around the streets.
And even if you don't have enough time to explore Basel on a private walk, there are countless ways to discover the different sides of the city with organized bus or boat rides, signposted architectural trails or walks along the Rhine promenade. That way, even just a single day in Basel will be a very special experience.