Basel is Switzerland’s little secret. Located where the Swiss, French and German borders meet, Basel is a mecca for architects.
One week before the world lockdown, I was gifted with the last chance to travel – not that anybody knew then what was coming, or the time it was going last. This week, Switzerland announced the opening up of museums and some business giving the rest of us Europeans a bit of hope.
Basel Tourismus and my friend Philipp Heer organised a short trip to this delightful area of Switzerland, where I could discover – for the first time – Basel’s many charms and architectural gems. A bit smaller than Zürich, Basel is more walkable, making it easier to connect the dots of an itinerary. Traditionally, the city has had an ancient kind of allure – Medieval Gates, grand cathedrals and historical palaces – but nowadays, contemporary architecture can be found everywhere. Herzog & de Meuron have consistently been building since the 90’s and one can find early (and stunning) examples by this firm across the entire city.
Today I decided to bring your attention to some gorgeous places of Basel so if you’re planning to visit the good old Basle (the once-preferred English spelling), I hope you go to these sights to delight your eyes. Needless to say is that if you love architecture, you’ll likely love all of these too.
So here are my top 10 prettiest and most photogenic places to visit in town.
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1. Basler Münster
Together with the Mittlere Brücke, the Basler Münster (Cathedral) is probably the most famous landmark in Basel. The former episcopal church – Basel Minster – was built between the years 1019 and 1500 in the Romantic and Gothic styles. The crypt, the chancel, the tomb of Erasmus of Rotterdam, the Gallus gate and the two cloisters are witness to a fascinating tale of construction over a period of several centuries. The piazza in which the Cathedral stands is today a popular meeting place and is often used for concerts and events. It is also a personal favourite to sketch!
Location: Münsterpl. 9, 4051 Basel (Google)
2. Messe Basel
Messe Basel, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, has become an icon of the city. The concentration of exhibition halls around the Messeplatz (Exhibition Square) is also an important urban planning matter for the development of the surrounding Kleinbasel neighbourhood, aimed at regaining outlying exhibition spaces on the present Deutsche Bahn (German Railways) area for apartments, offices and small businesses while simultaneously upgrading the Messeplatz as a focal point in Kleinbasel. The Messeplatz is a pedestrian and cyclist precinct so you can take your time to snap a photo.
Location: Messepl. 10, 4005 Basel (Google)
3. Werkraum Warteck
Werkraum Warteck Brewery was originally built in 1891 and later extended by Suter & Burckhardt in 1933. As part of the recent conversion in 2013, a series of public spaces have been created over a total of nine floors. A metal staircase (designed by Stefan Eisele and Fabian Nichele), erected outside the building, provides access for the broader public. The lighting was not only to be designed to guarantee a feeling of safety after dark, but also to render the staircase the focus of attention in the space. The converted Warteck building now offers space for a variety of creative cultural activities and attracts large numbers of visitors, guests and young artists.
Location: Burgweg 7, 4058 Basel (Google)
4. Sankt Alban-Tal
St. Alban quarter, an intensely romantic, quiet district shrouded in myth and mystery. With its millstream and riverside setting, traditional handicrafts and former industrial complexes interspersed with old timber-framed buildings and modern architecture, the mediaeval paper mill and Museum of Contemporary Arts, St. Alban is a fascinating mix of old and new. Don’t miss St. AlbanTor (St.Alban’s Gate), dating back to ca. 1400. The old gateway to the city still has its large wooden door and the heavy paling that was let down in times of danger to bar the entrance to the city.
Location: St. Alban-Tal4052 Basel (Google)
Hermann Baur was the designer of the General Trade School, now the Basel College of Art and Design and the Industrial Trade School. This good-looking structure was completed in 1961. The Maurer Halle is one of the four buildings grouped around a courtyard with a Hans Arp sculpture and its vaulted ceiling is spectacular: The walls of the Art College are raw concrete both exterior and interior. The General Trade School is one of Basel’s best pieces of late 1950s architecture.
Location: Vogelsangstrasse 154058 Basel (Google)
6. Kunstmuseum Basel
The Kunstmuseum Basel’s new building redefines a prominent location in the heart of the Basel. The new and enlarged museum consists of two buildings that together form a unified presence in the urban space. They are in direct communication with each other across the street that runs between them. The new building’s roofline is leveled with that of the existing structure, so it meets its counterpart on an equal footing; its entrance looks out toward the main building’s arcades, which conversely enjoy an excellent view of its striking façade. The new building’s distinctive inverted corner is a symbolic response to the old Kunstmuseum’s no less distinctive projecting corner.
Location: St. Alban-Graben 16, 4051 Basel (Google)
The Spalentor (Gate of Spalen) is the most magnificent and impressive of the three city gates still remaining from the city fortifications dating from 1400. Its square main tower, flanked on each side by two round towers, would have been seen long before arriving at the gates of the city. The façade facing away from the city is also decorated with three figures dating back to the 15th century – the Madonna and two prophets. The first city wall here was completed around 1080 under bishop Burkhard von Fenis. A newer wall was constructed around 1230, which is known as the Inner Wall.
Location: Spalenvorstadt, 4056 Basel (Google)
8. The Rhine River Bank & Kleinbasel
Kleinbasel is a good example of the way public perception can change. What used to be referred to disparagingly as «das mindere Basel» («lesser Basel») is today a very popular district. Its cheap rents have enabled small independent businesses to set up shop, and the result is a range of eateries and boutiques that knock the socks off some of the tourist traps in better known central Basel. In summer, residents line the south-facing riverbank to soak up the sun.
Location: Kleinbasel, 4057 Basel (Google)
9. University of Basel Botanical Garden
The botanical gardens of the University of Basel have on display a wide variety of specimens from the plant kingdom and is a veritable oasis in the heart of the city. They are open all year round and boast picturesque grounds and four greenhouses. You will not only have the chance to see the famous collections of cacti and orchids, but the tropical house also whisks you away to the magical world of the rainforest. A colonial-style domed structure which was designed in 1897 is an iconic feature of the gardens.
Location: Spalengraben 8, 4051 Basel (Google)
10. Spalenberg & Marktplatz
The market square is dominated by the impressive City Hall, the seat of government of the Canton of Basel-Stadt. During the week, the market on the square sells fresh vegetables, fruit and flowers. Additionally, the Spalenberg district in the Old Town – with its historic alleyways and beautifully adorned houses – is packed with seductive boutiques, attractive galleries and irresistible delicatessens.
Location: Marktpl.4001 Basel (Google)
Though technically not located in Basel, the Goetheanum is a sight near Basel you don’t want to miss. Located in Dornach, a little municipality near Basel, the first Goetheanum (completed in 1925), was burnt down by an unknown detractor. The one you see today was finished in 1928. The exposed concrete (still quite rare in the 20’s), huge and strange interior spaces, the curves and lack of any decoration are some of the features that make this building so impressive. Rudolf Steiner’s architecture is characterized by liberation from traditional architectural constraints, especially through the departure from the right-angle as a basis for the building plan.
Location: Rüttiweg 45, 4143 Dornach (Google)
Check these and other beautiful locations on the map below or download the Free Architecture Guide of Basel.