Basel is a fantastic city where France, Germany, and Switzerland meet on the banks of the River Rhine.
It's a great place to visit throughout the year as there's always something going on, but it's a special place for lovers of art and museums as it is a place that's full of culture.
If it's old buildings you love, then there are plenty here, as well as medieval streets and squares where it's great just to take your time and grab some great pictures.
You may not know where to begin, as there's much to do. We have compiled a list of the best things to do in Basel.
The Kunstmuseum Basel is the place to go in Basel if you love art. If you want to be frugal, try to time your visit on the first Sunday of each month, and you will get in for free, so put this on your list of free things to do in Basel.
You'll find beautiful pieces by famous artists like Renoir and Monet.
One of the main highlights is Ferdinand Hodler’s ‘View into Infinity,' a famous painting of five women in blue robes.
The museum is vast, so it might be hard to see everything in one visit, but it's well worth the time.
You'll enjoy the 15th and 16th-century collections on levels 1 and 2 if you're into older art.
Overall, it will take you about two hours to explore these floors.
There's a lovely courtyard outside where you can get a coffee or something to eat. The museum is easy to find and walking there is a good option.
2. Basel Minster
Originally a Catholic church, Basel Minster transitioned to a Reformed Protestant church and stands tall as a landmark on both sides of the Rhine River.
Dating back to the 12th century and largely completed by 1225, the Minster showcases exquisite features like its graceful double towers, colorful roof tiles, and intricate stone craftsmanship.
The Minster's crypt adds an atmospheric touch, featuring frescoes of ghostly figures and serving as the final resting place of individuals like Erasmus of Rotterdam.
You can enjoy the cloisters and, for a small fee, walk up to the top of the East Tower, where you will get fantastic city views.
3. Basler Papiermühle
If you are after unique things to do in Basel, the Papiermühle could be a good choice as it offers a journey through the history of paper making, writing, and printing.
You can get hands-on with the attractions here and participate in interactive activities such as coloring, seal paper, and experimenting with watermarks and marbling techniques.
If you don’t want to wander around on your own, you can opt for one of the guided tours, which will give you even more in-depth information about the museum's exhibits and the paper-making process.
It's an educational experience for adults and children that the whole family will enjoy.
There is a cozy restaurant nearby, perfect for a coffee break during or after the museum visit.
This “cruise” on the Rhein is fun but budget-friendly and a great way to enjoy a scenic and quick journey across the river.
The ferry ride is only short, but it is highly recommended by people who have been on it and find it a charming addition to their Basel holiday.
It's important to note that the ferry only accepts cash payments in Swiss Francs, so it's best to come prepared. Credit card transactions can take a while, and you might not miss out on the experience due to payment delays. Put this down on your list of unique things to do in Basel.
5. The Town Hall
The Town hall is one of the most impressive buildings and should be near the top of your list of things to do in Basel and it can be found on the Marktplatz.
Known locally as the “Rat Haus,” it is famous for its frescoes, especially in the courtyard area, where they are well-preserved. These frescoes depict various tales of heroism and historical events.
Another exciting feature of the Town Hall is its multicolored tiled roof and a tower with a stunning turret, which stands out in the city's skyline.
Visitors can explore this beautiful building on Saturdays, with English tours available at 16:30 for a small fee of 5 CHF per person, which is very affordable.
6. The Old Town
We love a good old town here at the Frugal Expat, and Basel’s is right up there with the best of them. It's a beautiful city to wander and beautifully built above the river.
Several stand-out attractions in the old town are The Historical Museum in the Barfüsserkirch and Marktplatz, another gorgeous space dominated by the grand Town Hall, resplendent with a red façade.
You will also find many lovely cafes and restaurants dotted throughout, which are excellent for sitting outside and enjoying being in stunning surroundings.
7. Zoo Basel
The city's Zoo is the best thing to do with kids in Basel.
The zoo has many species, including big cats like snow leopards and cheetahs, impressive primates like the silverback gorilla, and larger mammals like rhinoceroses and hippopotamuses.
Basel Zoo tries hard to make the enclosures as authentic as possible, providing the animals with comfortable indoor and outdoor areas. This commitment to creating natural animal environments is evident throughout the zoo.
As well as the animal collection, the zoo also has clean and well-maintained facilities, which visitors consistently praise.
8. Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel
This is one of the unique things to do in Basel, and houses a collection of dollhouses, dolls, and teddy bears, and there are many fun interactive aspects of the museum.
It is an outstanding collection of ‘small world' displays in intricate detail.
Basel’s Toy Museum is home to over 2500 teddy bears, which people believe is the most extensive collection anywhere in the world.
Allow yourself a good 3 hours to muse your way through this museum.
9. Museum Tinguely
This museum is all about the wild ideas of Jean Tinguely, and the best part is a lot of the art moves. You can push buttons and watch these crazy machines start moving, which makes it a fun place, especially if you have kids.
The museum sits right by the river in a fantastic-looking building. It is regularly rated as one of the best museums in Basel because it’s different from regular art places – it’s interactive and fascinating.
He makes a lot of his art from discarded junk, which is made to show us how much waste we are producing as a species and how we should look after the planet more.
If you’re around Basel, definitely give it a go.
10. Tinguely Fountain
This fountain in Basel is a captivating masterpiece of kinetic art and was created by renowned Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, whose Museum we just mentioned above.
Its collection of whimsical, mechanical sculptures come to life, splashing and whirring in choreographed chaos. Each piece is a testament to Tinguely's creativity and skill, celebrating the joy of movement and sound.
There are ten figures in total, and nobody knows what they are. Every angle you look at them makes them look different, but part of the fun is interpreting what you think they are.
This spot can get busy, especially if a guided tour is taking place, so if you want to get some good photographs, you might have to wait for them to leave.
11. Merian Garten
People often say this is one of the most beautiful parks they have ever visited, and it's one of the most underrated attractions in the city. It's one of the best outdoor things to do in Basel.
If you are staying in Basel but feel like you need to escape to relax and unwind, this is the place to head to.
They have the most impressive displays of Irises, peonies, and fuchsias on the grounds, where strategically placed seating allows you to sit and enjoy being there. There are numerous walks to enjoy, children's play areas, and refreshments are available at the Merian House Cafeteria/Restaurant.
To get here, jump on a train from Basel Central Station to Dreispitz station (takes about 5 minutes) and then take a 5-6 minute walk to the garden. Or you can take tram numbers 10 (direction Dornach) or 11 (direction Aesch) and get off at Dreispitz.
12. Pharmaziemuseum Universitat Basel
This is a place you won’t find in any other city as it's a museum about the history of pharmacy.
For older visitors, this will be a trip down memory lane as there are a lot of old-fashioned pharmacy remedies, some of which are natural and some made by pharmaceutical companies.
There is also the apotekengarten (pharmacist's garden) just upstairs from the entrance to the museum, and if you ask the staff to unlock it, you can have a quick look around.
Audio guides are available in English, but locating the numbers next to exhibits can take time and effort.
If you have the Basel Card, the admission will be halved.
13. Spalen Gate
The Gate of Spalen, or Spalentor, is one of the three remaining city gates of the ancient city walls of Basel and is regarded as one of the most well-preserved and impressive gates in Switzerland.
We have put these on the list as it is a bit different, but many people comment that they “are just gates.” While that is true, if you are at this gate, you should make a slight detour to check it out, as it is pretty impressive. We think it's one of the more unique things to do in Basel.
From outside, it looks like you can climb to the top of them, but all you can do is walk around them and take pictures.
There are two other gates in the city to check out, but they are not quite as big as this one back in the 1800s. There were more than 3, but these had to be knocked down when they made the city bigger.
14. Botanischer Garten der Universität
At first glance, this might look like quite a small attraction, but once you are there, you will realize it's split into all different sections. There is an alpine section, a cactus house, a Victorian lily pond house, and regular gardens.
This garden is a true oasis in the city of Basel, is part of the university, and is used daily by students and lecturers. It would be a great place to come and have some thinking time between lectures.
If you are after things to do in Basel when it's raining, this should be on your list, as you can still feel outside. It's not the best place for children; it's more suited to couples.
Basel is often overlooked when people visit Switzerland, with most heading to Geneva or Zurich. After reading this article, we hope you realize there's so much more to Basel than you first thought.
As usual, please let us know in the comments below if you have any comments or questions about our choices of the best things to do in Basel.
I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.