24 hours in Basel: One Day in Switzerland’s 3rd Largest City

We started our 2-week Switzerland train adventure in the city of Basel. Situated at the border with Germany, it was my first experience with Switzerland and I loved Basel. We only had 24 hours in Basel and I tried to make the most of our time.

If you’re visiting Switzerland and not sure if you should include Basel into your travel plans, then here are some great inspirational ideas on things to do in Basel in 24 hours. Or if you’re heading to Basel but have little time, (like I did), then this itinerary will help you make the most of your one day in Basel.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.

Basel Switzerland

Basel is the 3rd biggest city in Switzerland. After Zürich and Geneva, the city of Basel is one of the best places to live in the world! Wow. Edged on the border with Germany and France, the city of Basel is cut into 2 sides by the Rhine River.

The earliest settlements started in the 5th century BCE but nowadays, the city is known for its outstanding university (the oldest in Switzerland) and the big pharmaceutical companies that adorn the faraway skyline of the city.

As a tourist, the main city center is the most interesting, and that part of Basel feels like a cute communal courtyard. It doesn’t feel like a big city and the main sights are within walking distance. Especially, if you only have one day in Basel, I’d recommend exploring the center.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Strolling through town
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Always look up!
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
The main church of Basel

24 hours in Basel

We arrived in Basel around 4-ish in the afternoon. We’d traveled all day on the train from the Netherlands and finally arrived in Switzerland. We walked to our hotel and after dumping our bags, we immediately set out to explore the town. As we arrived in the late afternoon, some sights were already closed but the city was vibrant with smells, sounds and new sights to explore.

The historic center of Basel

We met with a tour guide from the Basel Tourist office who took us on the tram to the Old Town. If you stay at a registered hotel in Basel, you get free transport in Basel for the duration of your stay. Perfect!

Any Basel itinerary should include the old town and we admired the ruby red town hall. Our guide told us about the underground rivers in Basel and the layout of the medieval city. Did you know that the ancient suburbs of Basel, are actually right in the center today?

You can visit the interior of the town hall. But by the time we got there, it was already closed.

After the town hall, we crossed some hidden courtyards, navigated through the narrow streets, walked some stairs and visited the smallest museum of Basel. Super cute and tiny Hoosesagg museum is nothing like you’ve ever seen before! Go and discover it.

Book your Basel walking tour here.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
The bright red town hall of Basel.
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Details of the town hall

Gothic church of Basel (Basel Münster)

After crossing all those super cute streets, our guide pointed out that actually, the whole of Europe could look like Basel, if it wasn’t for the World Wars that took place. This really struck a chord with me. Of course, I knew Switzerland was neutral in the World Wars but I never realized what that actually meant for life in Switzerland at the time. It was crazy to see a town like Basel, seemingly untouched, just miles from the border with Germany. It was one of the things that surprised me the most about my visit to Switzerland.

After all the tiny streets, space opened up to us and we reached the wide-open space of the Münsterplatz (square of the church) with the beautiful church standing fiercely at the head of it. The tiles reminded me a little of the main cathedral in Vienna and the Mattheus Church in Budapest, which made for a colorful surprise.

We didn’t go in the church, but it must be really beautiful and I learned that famous Dutch university master, Erasmus was buried here. What an odd little factoid! We didn’t go in, but we did walk around the church. Of course, we had to take in the amazing views of the city and the Rhine River, as the church is the highest part of Basel. This incredible view is one of the things to do in Basel, that you cannot miss!

After we took enough pictures, we found an almost hidden passageway, that led into the old and charming cloister hall. After Rome and Portugal, I’m a real sucker for monastery gardens and cloister halls. I loved this rare find.

Love photography? Find the most photogenic spots in Basel with a Tour here.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Lovely Muster square
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Behind the church, you’ll have amazing views

Eat fondue in Basel

Of course, when you visit Switzerland, you have to try their fondue. Ok, I have to admit, Basel is not the fondue capital of Switzerland but as it was our first night in Switzerland, I wanted to try it.

We searched for a typical Swiss “stuebli’ to eat. A Swiss restaurant with local specialties. We picked Elsbethen Stübli and of course, they had fondue (and raclette) on the menu. We ordered a portion for 2 and before we knew it, a smoldering hot pan of gooey cheese was in front of us.

Surprisingly, we managed to snatch a picture before we both dipped our bread in with our fondue forks. The next hour, all we did was go “nommmnommmnommm” with cries of “owhmygoshhhhh how delicious is this!” in between. A fondue is a must try in Switzerland and Basel is no exception.

Sample the best food from Basel on this self-guided food tour.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
I’m crackers about cheese
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Lovely view of Basel

Drink the night away

After all that walking and eating cheese, we got a bit thirsty. What is better than to try some (Swiss) wine where the locals go? We got a tip to try the Consum Bar and loved it. They serve delicious foods and wine by the glass. With over 100 wines on their list, I’m sure you can find something to your liking.

Whether or not you go to a bar or just stroll along the Rhine and enjoy a store bought drink, this area is the place to be when the sun dips behind the city and the buzzing nightlife is washing up on the banks of the Rhine.

Enjoy the Rhine River in Basel

As we had so little time in Basel, we didn’t have enough time to experience all the cool and hip things that are going on in Basel. What a shame! Everything looked so amazing. From open-air art exhibitions to former church turned cafe. Basel is also home to like a million museums and modern art exhibitions.

One of the most exciting things I’ve learned about Basel is that you can actually swim in the river! How cool is that? Even in September, there were some people still swimming in the river. The trick is to get in the water and let the river drift you away!

But wait? What about your stuff? Where do you leave your phone when you go swimming in the Rhine river? Well, actually, the Basel tourism office came up with an ingenious way to transport your precious stuff waterproof! They invented a waterproof, floating balloon in the shape of a colorful little fish that can carry all your valuables while you dip your toes in the river!

Rather stay dry and cross the river, instead of just cruising along with the stream? Their ferry boat is both ingenious and super sustainable. No heavy diesel fumes to take you across the Rhine. No, their boats use a simple line and the current of the river. Old school but it still works!

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Amazing panoramic view of the Rhine River from behind the church

Roman Ruins of Augusta Raurica outside Basel

The main reason for including one day in Basel in our itinerary, was because I wanted to visit the Roman ruins of Augusta Raurica, just outside of Basel. Known for the biggest Roman theater north of the Alps, I just had to see it.

And Augusta Raurica didn’t disappoint. We took the train from Basel main station and got off at Kaiseraugst train station. Then we followed the signs and before we knew it, we arrived at the visitor center and museum. As it turns out, Augusta Raurica is a collection of Roman ruins, situated right in the village. There is no gate and surprise, surprise: no entry fee.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
The amazing ruins of the theather

We visited the Roman Theater and the amphitheater and then returned to visit the main forum and underground wells. It was really nice to walk in a village and discover some ruins here and there. Because it was free, it’s a popular day trip and one of the things to do in Basel, especially with kids!

They host all kinds of events, like the Roman festival in August. This is your chance to see the Roman era come to life. Dotted across the site, you’ll find little viewing boxes on sticks that show you the surrounding area and the modern day ruins, in ancient times. I thought this was a real treat.

I’d say, you can see the main sights in 2-3 hours if you take your time. Add an extra hour for the museum.

Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
Taking in the views of the Roman ruins
Basel, Switzerland's 3rd largest city deserves at least one day of your time. Read some great inspirational ideas what to do with 24 hours in Basel.
I guess only in Switzerland: ruins among the cows.

Where to stay in Basel?

When you only have one day in a city like Basel, you have to base yourself super conveniently to not lose time in transit. We stayed at the Rheinfelderhof in Klein Basel. This hotel and restaurant is located right on the main shopping street and tram lines. Close to the exhibition and trade center and the Rhine river, we felt we could go everywhere. The room was spacious and the breakfast was outstanding. I’d definitely recommend it as a value for money hotel in Basel.

If you’re looking for a more budget option, and don’t mind sharing, check out the Basel Youth Hostel, Basel Backpack or the Basel YMCA Hostel.

If you have a bit more cash to burn and you’re looking for unique, swanky and luxurious rooms with Rhine River views, then try the East-West Riverside Hotel Basel. Looking for a bit more style and designer elements, then the Hotel D – Design Hotel might be perfect for you.

More than one day in Basel

If you have more than 24 hours in Basel, well done! There are so many museums to explore, you can walk along the Rhine river or take a day trip to explore nearby German Freiburg or Colmar in France. Swiss capital Bern and biggest city Zürich are not far away either.

One day in Basel Switzerland

As it turned out, one day in Basel was absolutely not enough. I got a small glimpse of the city and fell head over heels in love with it. I think the #loveBasel is very appropriate. Although we only had 24 hours in Basel, it gave me a taste of the city and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.

Hidden things to do in Basel

The people of Basel are very proud of their city and are more than happy to share their hidden things to do in Basel and secret selfie spots with you. If you have little time in Basel, what better way than to have a local show you around? But if you don’t have any friends in the area, you can book a tour with a local and find the best-hidden spots of Basel.

Helpful tips and tools for your Switzerland trip

  • It’s a good idea to have travel insurance in case something goes wrong during your trip to Switzerland. You can purchase travel insurance from World Nomads here.
  • Fodor’s Essential Switzerland Guidebook is a good guide for information and practical travel tips. Purchase your copy here.
  • Travel in style and hang this super cool Swiss Flag luggage tag on your bag. Check out these cool designs!

Do you only have one day in Basel? I hope I was able to show you what I loved so much about the city and convince you to visit. Have you been to Basel? Or planning to go? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below or share this with your friends.

Sun set view of the Rhine River flowing through Basel. You'll see the famous Basel bridge and the old houses along the river shore. Text overlay saying: 24 hours in Basel Switzerland. Probe around the Globe.
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