Hello everyone and welcome to the Meet the Locals series on Lost in Switzerland.
Remember Andrea from the last episode? We became friends when us urban planners teamed up with the landscape architects for a project. What I failed to mention was that, in addition to Andrea and me, there were two more people on our team. One of them was Yannic from Basel. And for this episode, he agreed to let me pick his brain about Switzerland’s third biggest city.
Thanks so much Yannic for taking the time to answer a few questions about Basel. First up, please tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do and what have you been up to lately?
You’re very welcome. I’m 32 years old and I work in Basel as a traffic planner. I used to be blonde and have blue eyes. 🙂
But jokes aside. I grew up in the wider area of Basel and, like you, spent three years studying urban planning in Rapperswil. After graduating, I moved back to Basel. Most of my friends are still here and it’s the area I’ve always felt most connected to.
I currently live in the southern part of Basel with my wife. For us, it’s the ideal location. On one hand, we enjoy the perks of living close to a big city. Well, big in Swiss terms, anyway. And on the other hand, we love being close to nature. Only a few minutes from home, we get this great view over the foothills of the Jura mountains.
I had no idea you used to be blonde. I only know you with, well, no hair. Funny how you think you know someone… 🙂 Can you tell us your favourite spots in Basel?
Apart from the touristy spots like the cathedral, the river ferry and the Märtplatz (market square), I love spending time by the River Rhine in Kleinbasel. I especially like visiting the ever changing harbour. There’s always something new to discover and I enjoy watching the big cargo ships leaving for Rotterdam.
(Note Seraina: The River Rhine splits the old town of Basel into two parts. Kleinbasel is the smaller, sunnier part north of the Rhine while the bigger part, Grossbasel, lies south of the river.)
For the typical postcard feeling, I like heading to the Pfalz in Grossbasel. It’s a small park right next to the cathedral and is hugely popular among tourists for good reason. The view over the Rhine and Kleinbasel are spectacular. The benches under the trees make for a good spot to have your take away lunch or just stretch your legs for a minute.
Pretty much next to the Pfalz, you'll find the garden of the old university. It's just as great a place to visit as the Pfalz, but way less touristy.
Only a 15 minute walk away lies the botanical garden of the university. It’s free to get in and is perfect for plant lovers. A lot of it is indoors which makes it an excellent bad weather destination.
My absolute favourite spot is outside of Basel, though. It’s the city of Rheinfelden, which lies about 17 km from Basel in the Canton of Aargau. Its beautiful old town, the city park and the vicinity to the Rhine make it a fantastic (half-)day trip from Basel.
Working in Basel, you probably go out for lunch a lot. Can you recommend any good restaurants with affordable lunch menus?
That depends on your definition of "affordable". For most travellers, what we find cheap might still be expensive. But I do have a few tips.
One of my favourites is the Oase Restaurant right next to Basel main station. It comes with a great rooftop terrace and the food is excellent. Expect to pay between 14 and 19 CHF for lunch.
The Youth Hostel Basel is another place with good value for money. On weekdays, their lunch menu for 17.50 CHF includes soup, salad, main, dessert and mineral water. You don’t have to be a HI member to eat there but technically, they charge you 7 CHF extra if you don’t have a membership card. I’ve never been asked to show mine, though.
(Note Seraina: Becoming a HI member in Switzerland costs 33 CHF a year. It’s valid in all HI hostels across the globe. In case you registered your membership in another country already, it’ll be valid in Switzerland, too.)
I also recommend the Pizzeria Centro at Barfüsserplatz. The daily menu choices range between 15 and 20 CHF. This might also be more than backpackers are willing to pay, but the food is amazing.
The most budget friendly way to fill your stomach would be to grab a bite from one of the countless take away places and find a cozy place along the river. Or, as I mentioned earlier, head to one of the benches at the Pfalz to have your lunch.
Speaking of food, is there a bar, café or restaurant that you and your wife love going to?
The Werk8 in the area of Gundeldingen is one of our favourite bars. We love the over-all atmosphere inside as well as outside.
The Markthalle is another fantastic place to go for both food and drinks. In my opinion, they have the best cocktail and whisky bar. And hungry people will be happy about all the different market stalls catering to every taste.
Now you’ve made me hungry 🙂 But enough with the food. If you had one day in Basel but only very little money, how would you spend that day?
I think view points are indispensable if you’re on a budget. I recommend checking out the water tower at Bruderholz. It costs 1 CHF to climb the 36 meters and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic view over Basel and its wider area.
(Note Seraina: The tower is easily accessible by public transport. Catch tram No. 15 or 16 and get off at Bruderholz. This ride is included in the free Basel Card, which you’ll receive upon check in at your hotel or hostel in the city. Find more information about the Basel Card here.)
The Elisabethenkirche (church) is a little more central than the water tower and also offers a great view over the city. For 3 CHF, you can climb the tower between 10.30 am and 5 pm from Monday till Saturday.
Also, don’t miss out on a refreshing swim in the Rhine on a warm and sunny day. It’s similar to what Andrea recommended doing in Bern. One possible way to go about this is to get in at the Tinguely museum and float all the way downstream into the city. Either bring your own bag to carry your clothes or rent a dry-bag (we call them Wickelfisch) for 20 CHF.
Along the way, you’ll come past so-called buvettes where you can take a break, lie in the sun for a bit and buy a snack before you continue your floating journey.
Another budget activity is joining one of the many free walking tours. Visit this website for more information.
On a completely different note, I know you guys in Basel are crazy about Fasnacht (carnival). Can you briefly explain what this is all about?
To be honest, I’m not too crazy about Fasnacht but since I live and work here, there’s no way escaping what we call "the three best days of the year".
The so-called Morgestraich forms the opening to the Fasnacht. Each year, on Monday after Ash Wednesday (usually late February / early March), the procedure starts at 4:00 am sharp.
For that, the whole city has to be completely dark. Every store and every household needs to turn their lights off. There’s even a committee that goes around covering lamps and windows that are still lit up. Delinquents will be publicly shamed in the newspapers and on Instagram. As you can see, we’re serious about this. 🙂
At 4:00 am, every Clique (group of whistle and drum players) carries their lanterns, which they create and decorate weeks before the Fasnacht, through the city and demonstrate them to thousands of spectators.
It’s definitely worth being a part of if you ever get the chance. That goes for you too, Seraina 🙂
Once the Morgenstraich is over, the Cliques place their lanterns on the Münsterplatz in front of the cathedral until Wednesday morning.
For the rest of the Fasnacht, spending some time strolling through the alleys is great. You’ll come by lots of musicians and there are heaps of Cliquenkeller (bars) to grab a drink.
Ok, maybe next year I’ll take a trip to Basel during Fasnacht. I'm just not sure about the whole 4:00 am thing, though 🙂 Do you have any other tips for us?
- If you’re on a tight budget but still don’t want to miss out on shopping, Basel is conveniently located on the border to Germany and France. Both countries are cheaper than Switzerland and easily accessible by public transport.
- For people from Basel, our local soccer club, the FCB, is like a religion. If you’re into soccer, I recommend watching a game either at the stadium or a sports bar in the city. It gets especially heated when we play against Zurich or Bern, our main rivals.
- For Jazz-lovers, August is a great time to visit Basel, when the annual festival «Em Bebbi sy Jazz» takes place. It’s one night with free open-air concerts throughout the city.
- Another great festival with free concerts and entertainment is the Jugendkulturfestival, which is happening in September every other year. It lasts two days and will next take place on 6th and 7th September 2019.
One final question. What’s your number one tip to save money in Switzerland for travellers?
Drink water from the tap and buy your food at the supermarket.
Funny how that one keeps popping up. But it’s actually my number one tip as well. Yannic, thank you so much for your valuable insights. I’m sure this has been helpful for people planning to visit Basel. And I‘ve just put Rheinfelden on my list. So thanks for that tip 🙂