Basel City Guide


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The paradox of Basel is never truly plumbed, even by locals. It is at once a small Swiss city with a medieval centre, and a world-class destination for art and architecture. Perhaps its ability to balance its apparent contradictions is down to its location on the banks of the storied Rhine, the great trading route that has helped Basel enjoy its status as a strategic European hub for more than 1,000 years. Poised between the German Black Forest, French Vosges and Swiss Jura mountains, Basel has a mild climate, great cuisine and a liberal and erudite tradition. Switzerland’s first university was founded here in 1459, with Erasmus and Friedrich Nietzsche among its many famous scholars; a few centuries later, its graphic design professors were some of the main proponents of the Swiss Style, the typographical movement that took over the world in the 1960s.

Basel has also been a centre for publishing, paper manufacture, textiles and, now, for global pharmaceutical companies, such as Novartis and Roche. The city certainly has its fair share of industrious burghers enjoying good salaries, restaurants full of ‘pharma’ execs, and achingly elegant residential districts. But prosperity needs not rhyme with apathy: Basel, an essential stop on the art world circuit, is also surprisingly adventurous: visit its industrial buildings turned into art hubs, discover its unsuspected love for street art, or simply follow the locals who like nothing more than swimming in the fast-flowing Rhine – you’ll come out refreshed, and with a new appreciation for this small gem of a Swiss city.

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