Having previously only ever passed through Basel, to catch an onward bus, tram or train, I had given this city little thought. Switzerland’s second largest city, with such great transport links – Basel SBB (Europe’s busiest international border train station), bus and tram stations conveniently located next to each other, it had seemed to me that people arrived in Basel only to be carried away from here.
Basel is RICH in history. Basel BSS train station has been here since 1854 and was rebuilt in the 1900s. Switzerland’s oldest University, founded in 1460, is also here. There is a medieval Old Town dating back to the 1500s complete with moat, alleys, houses, fountains and courtyards. This city has no less than SIX bridges connecting one side to the other.
When I found myself with three hours to spare in Basel I was determined to make even a small connection with this enormous city. Whilst sitting in a restaurant, looking for the wine list, I found, “A Journey Back in History”. This leaflet, published by Basel Culture Unlimited, detailed 5 walking tours to discover the Old Town. Each tour named after the town’s famous residents past, could be completed from 30 – 90 minutes. Excited by what I had just discovered, I downed my wine, dropped off my bags in a locker, bought a travel pass and headed out to discover the fascinating medieval Old Town.
Tram NO.8 towards Kleinhuningen takes you to Marktplatz where the walking tours begin. Marktplatz translates to Market Place. And, yes, there is a market here, selling local produce, on weekdays. The bright red Rathaus or Town Hall dominates the square. This 500 year old building is used for local government meetings in the Canton of Basel. The dramatic black arch gated entrance opens out into a magically colourful space. A tiny courtyard is surrounded by walls covered in frescoes restored from 1608-11 originals. Brightly coloured wooden doors lead to council chambers. A staircase guarded by a 1574 statue of Munatius Planks, founder of the town, carries you up to the mezzanine. All of it is simply magnificent.
Directly across the road, at the corner of Sattelgasse, a tiny street between two restaurants, is the starting point of the 5 walking tours. I began the Thomas Platter tour but the signs disappeared 5 mins into the walk and I found myself walking around in circles. However, I was happy that I had this guide, as without it I might have never discovered the Old Town at all.
So, I did what I always do – put away the guidebook and followed my senses. The Old Town is contained in such a way that it’s not possible to lose your way.
I found the Theater Fauteuil, an independent, local theatre – an absolute gem to discover. It’s miniature in size with an interesting schedule of German/Swiss German plays. In my opinion, worth visiting if you have an evening to spend in Basel.
There were medieval alleyways, houses, streets and fountains to be discovered at every little corner of this breath taking Old Town. Having attempted to re-start the walking tours three times, I had lost too much time and did not get to see many of it’s highlights. If you attempt to take the walking tours, try the Thomas Platter walk or simply see the University of Basel (founded 1460) which is the oldest university in Switzerland. The Hans Holbein walk, on the opposite side, should take you to the banks of the Rhine river which runs through Basel. You can also take a ferry across the Rhine from Grossbasel to Kleinbasel, provided you have time. As always, bear in mind that times stated on guide books are not exact but meant merely to guide you. “A Journey Back in History” is a free leaflet available at most restaurants and hotels around Basel BSS train station. It is well worth following as a rough guide (even if you can’t see everything). It highlights all the things you should definitely see; offering an incredible experience for the price of a tram ticket. Absolutely worth your time if you only have a short while to spare.
Whenever I find myself with a more than an hour to spare, whether in a little town or big city, I always try to connect with it. If travelling has taught me anything, it is that there is always more. Nothing is ever as it appears to be. Something interesting has always happened. It’s just waiting to be discovered.