I didn’t know quite what to expect when we decided to road trip it to Basel, Switzerland. I knew nothing about the city except that it had a charming name. Basel. Like, “Basel” from The Great Mouse Detective. You remember the Disney movie, don’t you? Or Basel, on Austin Powers? Anyway, that’s beside the point.
First, the drive from Milan to Basel is worth mentioning. The entire drive was incredibly scenic, passing by very mountainous and forested areas, and driving through the famous and wealthy Lake Como, in Italy. If you have a car and are already in the area, I would recommend completing this drive; you won’t be disappointed.
As we drove into the city, I knew I would fall in love with it immediately. The streets were cobblestoned, the buildings were incredibly charming, and cyclists and other active people were walking and jogging on the streets. Furthermore, musicians with their instruments were everywhere, as the Basel music academy was located in the old city center near our hotel.
We were fortunate to stay right in the heart of Basel in a square called Barfüsserplatz in the old town. Upon our arrival at our hotel, we were greeted by welcoming and friendly staff members who immediately made us feel welcome in their city, offering us complimentary water, coffee, and snacks, and giving us complimentary transportation passes we could use on all public transport in the city. We stayed at a hotel called “Der Teufelhof Basel” (say that 10 times fast). It was in an old, large (but very well kept) building with spiral staircases, and it had two restaurants offering local cuisines. The hotel was also unique because it offered regular rooms and “art” rooms, uniquely decorated by local artists. Of course, we splurged and decided to stay in one of these nifty art rooms.
One of the hotel staff members helped us lug our massive (and heavy) suite case up three flights of stairs, realized we had gone up one flight too high, carried our bag down another flight of stairs, then smiled like it was no trouble at all, insisting he was grateful for his job, as he didn’t need to invest in a local gym membership.
Before entering our room, he prefaced our entrance by stating, “This is my favorite of all of the art rooms. It’s the real art room. If you are not a fan, we are happy to move you. Art can be perceived in many different ways.”
Unsure of what to expect, we entered our room and my jaw dropped. This room was a masterpiece, of sorts. It looked completely industrial and somewhat dirty. There were splatters of paint on the floor, a ladder in the corner, an industrial light, shelves and shelves of random art supplies, and a lady working on a painting. Wait…. What? Did you just read that right?
Yes. Well, except for the fact that it was all a work of art painted on the walls. Our room was literally a replica of the artist’s work shop. It was incredibly realistic. So-much-so that at first glance, one would believe he or she was standing in a messy, well-used art workroom. It was the coolest hotel I’ve ever stayed in (Ok, minus the Harry Potter-themed hotel room in London)!
After marveling at our room for a few minutes, we decided to hit the road and see what Basel had to offer. We walked a mere block before walking straight into an autumn festival. Throughout the winding, cobblestone streets, vendors upon vendors were set up selling everything from candy and pastries, to beer and gluhwein (i.e., spiced, hot, delicious red wine), to crafts, to jewelry, and so-forth. There were people of all ages in attendance enjoying themselves. The children were having a grand old time making themselves sick off of the candy and riding the merry-go-round (Ok, ok. We may have done this, too). We just loved walking around, taking in the scenery, enjoying some gluhwein, and taking pictures.
After enjoying ourselves at the autumn fair, we continued on our way to explore other areas of town. We started by walking across the Mittlere brücke bridge, across the Rhine River, and to an area called Altstadt Kleinbasel. Whilst looking for a way to cross the bridge on our maps (neither of us are good at directions), a local middle-aged couple stopped and asked us if we needed help, as we were clearly directionally challenged (they didn’t say that part, though). They were very kind and pointed us in the right direction. These two people were very representative of the Basel locals: very approachable and kind.
As we crossed the bridge, we noticed that we were following a lot of other people, all heading in a seemingly focused direction. Low and behold, the autumn fair was taking place all over the city! We hadn’t even seen the biggest portion of it, even though our experience was many blocks and platz long. Kasernenplatz and Messeplatz were the platz where the real festival was, complete with roller coasters, Ferris wheels, concession stands, and other daring rides. Because it was getting dark and we were getting hungry, we decided to venture along the river instead of partaking in more autumn festivities.
People of all ages were sitting along the river, chatting with friends, enjoying the views, sipping on coffees, or having a bite to eat. With mild weather, plenty of places to sit along the Rhine, and excellent views of the Basel Munster, a Reformed Protestant church built between 1019 and 1500 in Romaneque and Gothic styles, it was a great day to relax along the river.
At this point, I was getting hangry, as my appetite is immense and my love for food often requires me to eat immediately. With some urgency, we walked across the Wettsteinbrücke Bridge to Munsterplatz in search of some good eats. After finagling our way through even more autumn festivities, we found plenty of restaurants. Our only problem was that there were almost too many to choose from. In our state of hunger and astonishment with restaurant choices, we decided we needed to make a wise decision and consider our options whilst enjoying a nice, cold, pint of beer at Mr. Pickwick’s Pub.
This place was great. Although not remarkably “Swiss”, Mr. Pickwick’s had a wonderful selection of Irish, Scottish, and English ales to choose from. The English pub had great outside seating, right along Steinenvorstadt, a street full of great restaurants and bars. There were also many seats inside for eating and drinking, and plenty of T.V.s for watching football (yes, soccer) matches.
Phew. Now we have a ravenous and hangry Cammy and a patient and slightly buzzed Ryan. We settled on a great looking restaurant that was famous for their fondue. Fondue is surprisingly very popular and famous in Basel with everything from cheese to champagne fondues. This is a must-do while in Basel. Sadly, however, the restaurant we were in search of was closed on Sundays (insert sad, hangry face); therefore, we decided to try out a restaurant we had looked at in passing that was quite delicious. The name of the restaurant was “Braunermutz” and it was quite enjoyable. Ryan enjoyed a chicken cordon-blue while I enjoyed bratwursts. Unfortunately, I was so hungry-angry that I forgot to take a picture of my food! I assure you, those sausages did not last long and neither did the half plate full of French fries that I unapologetically devoured.
Upon completion of our platefuls of traditional Basel cuisine, Ryan and I decided to retire to our art work room to sleep. We were exhausted and fully enjoyed ourselves in Basel. A lot was accomplished, all within approximately five hours of wandering and eating. After turning out the lights, realizing the “paint splatters” on the floor were also glow-in-the-dark, and marveling at this realization like six-year-olds, we hit the hay and did not stir until the next morning.
To end our stay in Basel with a cherry on top, our hotel provided us with a delicious hot and cold breakfast, complete with bacon (yes, REAL bacon! (You will understand this if you’ve traveled or lived in Europe for a good length of time)), eggs, coffee, various breads and preserves, cheeses, pastries, cold cuts, yogurt, and fruit.
My favorite things about Basel were:
- the authenticity of the city; I couldn’t spot any other obvious tourists but ourselves.
- the beautiful views of the city from the Rhine River.
- the autumn festivities
- our hotel room/work of art
Read about our favorite local spots before planning your trip.
Be sure to read about Basel’s local cuisine before choosing your meal!