48 Hours In Basel

With easyJet about to switch its flights from Zurich to Basel, Switzerland's second city will become more accessible from next month. Simon Calder brings you the best things to do on a short break


WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

Switzerland's second city is about to become easier to reach, with many more flights from the UK. Visitors to this hub of western Europe will discover a city whose origins go back 2,000 years, and which is full of art and surprises.

BEAM DOWN

Swiss (0845 601 0956, www.swiss.com) flies to EuroAirport, the official name for Basel's airport, from Birmingham, Heathrow and London City; easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyJet.com) flies there from Liverpool and Stansted. For travel next weekend (out Friday 1 October, back Monday 4 October), the lowest Stansted-Basel fare is £141 return; from Liverpool, it is only £81, though fares on both routes will increase sharply nearer departure. From the end of next month, easyJet is to switch its Luton-Zurich flights to serve Basel instead, while British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) begins flying from Heathrow.

Basel airport is 7km north-west of the city in France, near Mulhouse, and is connected to Switzerland proper by a land corridor. Make sure you take the right exit from the baggage reclaim so that you end up on the Swiss side, rather than in France. Bus 50 runs between the airport and Basel's main railway station every half an hour, for a fare of Sfr3.60 (£1.60), which also covers connecting bus or tram services to elsewhere in the city. You should not have to pay on the way back: the journey is covered by the Mobility Card, a free pass given to every guest of a Basel hotel for the duration of their stay.

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Basel is at the northern border of Switzerland, bisected by the Rhine, and on the doorstep of both France and Germany - you could walk to either country in about an hour. The original settlement occupied a patch of high ground on the left bank of the Rhine. This expanded over the centuries to form Grossbasel, while the St Alban quarter developed upstream. Across the river lies Kleine Basel, now the commercial centre. The two halves of the city have been connected by the Mittler Brücke ("Middle Bridge") since 1226ad.

A small city information office is located in the railway station; it opens 8.30am-6.30pm from Monday to Friday, 9am-2pm at weekends. The main tourist office (00 41 61 268 6868, www.baseltourismus.ch) is difficult to find in the Stadtcasino building on Barfüsserplatz. It opens 8.30am-6.30pm from Monday to Friday, 10am-5pm on Saturdays and 10am-4pm on Sundays.

CHECK IN

Basel can lay claim to Europe's oldest hotel, the five-star Drei Könige, but the hotel is currently being modernised. The next best bet is Der Teufelhof "Culture and Guest House" at Leonhardsgraben 47-49 (00 41 61 261 1010, www.teufelhof.com). It has two wings: rooms on the "art hotel" side have individual designs and start at Sfr290 (£130) with breakfast. Rooms in the "gallery hotel" are simpler and cheaper: Sfr255 (£115). Cheaper specials are sometimes available online.

The location of the Stadthof, at Gerbergasse 84 (00 41 61 261 8711), cannot be faulted, and at Sfr125 (£55) the rates are good, but that includes neither an ensuite bathroom nor breakfast.

If you want to be close to the station, head for the four-star St Gotthard - directly opposite the east end of the station at Centralbahnstrasse 13 (00 41 61 225 1313; www.st-gotthard.ch). It shares, with a branch of McDonald's, a Jugendstil building. A double room costs Sfr175 (£80), including breakfast (not at McDonald's). Basel has a good youth hostel at St Alban Kirchrain 10 (00 41 61 272 05 72) with dorm beds for Sfr30.50 (£14).

TAKE A VIEW

Behind the cloisters of Basel's grand cathedral, the Münster, you find a viewing platform that commands a tremendous view of the Rhine. Looking out from here, you can see the river flowing north, the pines of the Black Forest straight ahead, and the Vosges range to your left.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Every morning except Sundays, from 8am to lunchtime, a fruit, flower and vegetable market takes place on Marktplatz. On Saturdays from 8am to 4pm a fleamarket takes over Petersplatz. The main retail drag is Freie Strasse, but more unusual shops can be found along Schneidergasse. Normal shopping hours are 8am-6.30pm (9pm on Thursdays, 5pm on Saturday); most shops close on Sundays.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

The branch of McDonald's opposite the station is worth visiting for its well-preserved Jugendstil interior. You can choose from four different salads for under Sfr10 (£4.50).

TAKE A HIKE

A two-hour guided tour leaves from the tourist office at 2.30pm sharp each day except Sunday (Sfr15/£7). It will take you into corners of the city that most tourists miss, and provides an excellent introduction to Basel. Alternatively, take a wander along one of the original Roman streets. Start at the red sandstone Münster. It opens 10am-5pm from Monday to Friday, 10am-4pm on Saturdays and noon-7pm on Sundays. From the Münster, turn left and go down the Ritterstrasse. Cross the main road to St Alban-Vorstadt, bear left along Mühlenberg down to the St Alban district around the church with 13th-century origins.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

If you can reach Basel in the next eight days, you'll catch the end of the Tutankhamun exhibition in the Antikenmuseum at St Alban-Graben 5 (00 41 61 271 2202; www.antikenmuseumbasel.ch); it runs to 3 October, daily except Monday, admission Sfr7 (£3). When that exhibition returns to Cairo, Basel will still be a cultural powerhouse. Rodin's Five Burghers of Calais welcome you to the Kunstmuseum at St Alban-Graben 16 (00 41 61 205 6262; www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch), which is packed with works by Holbein, Picasso and Chagall. It opens 10am-5pm daily except Monday, admission free.

AN APERITIF

Unternehmen Mitte at Gerbergasse 30 (00 41 61 263 36 63; www.mitte.ch) is a vast place , occupying a former bank, that functions as an art gallery as well as a bar. Over in Kleinbasel, the long tables at the Fischerstube microbrewery at Rheingasse 45 (00 41 61 692 6635) promise a convivial start to the evening; you could stay on and sample the three-course Beer Menu.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

Rollerhof at Münsterplatz 20 (00 41 61 263 04 84; www.rollerhof.ch; closed Sunday) is a former silk merchant's mansion that is now a fancy restaurant and part of the Culture Museum.

SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH

Barfüsserkirche, the church of the barefoot friars, is the exquisite home to Basel History Museum (00 41 61 205 8600; www.historischesmuseumbasel.ch), which tells the tale of the city and the upper Rhine. It opens 10am-5pm daily except Tuesday, Sfr7 (£3).

OUT TO BRUNCH

Basel is quiet on Sunday mornings. The Brasserie Baslerstab on Marktplatz, opposite the Rathaus, serves good, fresh food from 8.30am. Try a Malibu Salad with avocado and mango for Sfr17.50 (£7.50).

TAKE A RIDE

An ingenious form of public transport, dating back to Roman times, allows small boats to cross the Rhine powered by the river current using cables suspended between the banks and a crafty system of ropes and rudders. One ferry departs from directly below the Münster, another from St Alban. The craft run 11am-5pm during winter weekends, and from Monday to Friday in good weather. The five-minute trip costs Sfr1.20 (£0.55) each way.

A WALK IN THE PARK

The St Alban ferry drops you close to a bronze model of the city, designed for both sighted and sight-impaired visitors. Walk upstream along the leafy riverbank and into Solitude Park, where you find the fascinating Tinguely museum (00 41 61 681 93 20; www.tinguely.ch). Jean Tinguely was a genius who turned scrap metal into extraordinary kinetic art. It opens 11am-7pm daily except Monday, admission Sfr10 (£4.50).

WRITE A POSTCARD

If the courtyard of the 16th-century Rathaus (town hall) on Marktplatz is open, scribble beneath the frescoes and the statue of Lucius Munatius Plancus, who founded Basel in 44bc.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

A free museum called Plug In at St Alban-Rheinweg 54 (00 41 61 283 6050; www.iplugin.org) is a fascinating space that looks and feels like a Sixties commune. Its opening hours are limited - 2-6pm from Wednesday to Saturday, plus 8-10pm on Wednesdays only.

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