The inside guide to Basel, Switzerland’s cultural powerhouse

Back in the centre near the station, the elegantly revived 1920s Markthalle offers hungry lunchtime crowds the world on a plate under its huge domed roof. Expect cheese and wood-fired bread, street-food stands dish up everything from Ethiopian tibs to Venezuelan arepas (maize patties) and Italian gelato. Grab a regional beer from HausBAR

The Rhine is Basel’s backdrop and lifeblood and jumping in for a swim is something of a rite of passage. At the tourist office on Barfüsserplatz, get yourself a Wickelfisch, a fish-shaped waterproof bag to keep your kit dry, then head to Kleinbasel’s riverbank, strip to your bathers and go with the flow, splashing past the city landmarks as you float downstream. If you prefer to stay above water, you can rend standup paddleboards by the hour or hook onto a tour with Birs73. Part of the fun is washing up at a riverside bar, or buvette, for drinks, snacks and socialising.

Speaking of drinks, this is an excellent city for a pre-dinner aperitif. Try lavishly muralled Grenzwert for craft beers, antipasti and a chilled courtyard garden. Or, as the evening wears on, the moodily lit, boho-flavoured Renée Bar entices with good vibes, gigs and DJ sets.   

Dinner? You’re spoilt for choice. With a terrace right by the river, retro-hip Ufer7 pairs Basel brews and Swiss wines with its own spin on regional dishes like Pizokel (stubby buckwheat dumplings) with speck, Savoy cabbage, raclette cheese and onions. Or for a dash of contemporary decadence, book ahead at Michelin-starred Roots, where chef Pascal Steffen delights with daring, ingredient-led tasting menus that seem deceptively simple on paper. Dishes include poulard, fig and mushroom, or duck, pumpkin and quince.     

The highlights of Basel, according to local Philipp Brogli

Philipp is the founder and owner of Artstübli, Basel’s leading exhibition, exchange and project space for urban art and culture. 

1. Kulturbeiz 113

Climb 113 steps to the top of this restaurant and you’ll be rewarded with a view over the city’s rooftops from the beautiful terrace. Or take the elevator if you prefer not to climb. The food is young, unconventional and prepared with the freshest ingredients, and there are often cultural events in the evenings. 

2. Holzpark Klybeck

The temporary-use island of Klybeck is crammed with many small, colourful studios, bars, food pop-ups and workshops, and hosts theatrical, musical and other cultural events. They’re creating a versatile new cultural space in the form of a rare and nostalgic lightship from the 1950s. 

3. Artstübli Gallery

In Basel’s historic market hall, my gallery has been a platform for showcasing the many contemporary facets of urban art and culture — from graffiti to street art — with events, exhibitions and on-theme books.

4. Angels’ Share

Located in Kleinbasel’s ‘Bermuda-Triangle’ nightlife district, this relaxed, intimate bar is a real find. Besides cocktails, the bar offers an exquisite whiskey and rum assortment. On the small, monthly changing cocktail-menu there are classics and signatures, such as Angels’ Fizz (gin, lemon, egg white and soda). 

5. Urban Art Tour Basel

Basel has a huge collection of art, with many exciting discoveries in public spaces. I organize multi-lingual urban art and graffiti tours, guided by artists and experts of the scene. I recommend seeking out the 25 ‘Space Invaders’ that have been dotted all over the city by the anonymous French street artist Invader. 

Published in the Jul/Aug 2021 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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