Basel: Switzerland ’s secret cultural gem on the Rhine

Basel, Switzerland is of the great cultural centers of Europe

Basel's historic Muenster overlooks the Rhine River (wikipedia)

BASEL, Switzerland, Sept. 5 2015 – When you think of the great cultural centers of Europe, cities that first come to mind might be Paris, Rome and London. Most Americans probably wouldn’t even consider Basel, Switzerland, but they should.

Basel has long thrived as an artistic hub and one of the finest cultural destinations in Europe. Now American travelers are beginning to discover what Europeans have known for centuries.

Basel is a cultural hub in Switzerland (wikipedia)
Basel is a cultural hub in Switzerland (Wikipedia)

Situated at the confluence of Switzerland, Germany and France along the banks of the Rhine River, Basel is the gateway to the Upper Rhine Valley, a region that is rapidly growing in popularity.

Basel’s cultural heritage is deep and rich. Swiss democracy traces its roots more than 700 years to the 13th century, when three cantons unified to become the Confœderatio Helvetica (Latin) or Swiss Confederation.

This strong democratic heritage eventually led Basel to open the first public art museum in the world and later become the first city in the world ever to hold a public referendum for the purchase of art.

The arches of Basel's cathedral are a gateway to a rich cultural experience (Taylor)
The arches of Basel’s cathedral are a gateway to a rich cultural experience (Taylor)

Today, with more than 40 first-rate museums, there are statistically more high-quality museums in Basel than in any other city its size in the world.

Hans Hobein the Younger's family (wikipedia)
Hans Holbein the Younger’s family (Wikipedia)

Basel’s Kunstmuseum (Fine Arts Museum) often surprises visitors with the depth of its collections, which include Holbein, Hodler, Picasso, Giacometti, Monet and Klee, to mention a few artistic masters.

Among other exhibitions throughout the city visitors will find a doll museum, a toy museum, a printing museum, a contemporary art museum, the Jean Tinguely Museum and the Ernst Beyeler Foundation.

Native son Ernst Beyeler, who died in 2010, became world famous as a collector and was instrumental in beginning an International Arts Fair in Basel nearly half a century ago. The fair is now acclaimed as one of the best in Europe.

Beyeler’s own museum, for which took years for him to find the ideal location, features 20th century works from his private collection plus traveling exhibitions.

The Ernst Beyeler Foundation features modern art at its finest (wikipedia)
The Ernst Beyeler Foundation features modern art at its finest (Wikipedia)

Jean Tinguely’s Museum, filled with all manner of whimsical gadgets and contraptions made from scrap metal, is a delight. Tinguely was also a Baseler, and his museum was designed by world-renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta.

The whimsical Jean Tinguely Fountain in Basel is a favorite with everyone (wikipdedia)
The whimsical Jean Tinguely Fountain in Basel is a favorite with everyone (Wikipedia)

You can view Tinguely’s work at his fountain in the center of Basel. The nonsensical machines are captivating and, in winter when the water freezes, they become amusing little ice sculptures.

A ferry will take you across the Rhine (
A ferry will take you across the Rhine (

If you visit Basel in winter for the Christmas Market, the local tourist office can arrange a fondu dinner on a boat on the Rhine for up to 12 participants.

The first hour costs $165 while the second, and any hours beyond, are $110. Fondue, bread and wine will cost approximately $45 per person, so a two-hour outing for 10 runs about $72.50 each.

Don’t miss Johann Wanner’s Christmashouse shops, featuring every Christmas decoration imaginable. Wanner is the world’s largest manufacturer of handmade Christmas decorations, and his year-round collection includes Faberge eggs, cuckoo clocks, miniature figurines, ceramics and wreaths.

Johann Warner owns two Christmas stores in Basel (Taylor)
Johann Warner owns two Christmas stores in Basel (Taylor)

Stay at the Art Hotel Teufelhof (Devil’s House). This delightful three-star gem was the fulfillment of a dream in 1989 by Monica and Dominique Thommy-Kneschaurek. Hotel Teufelhof even has its own theater for the performing arts.

Art Hotel Der Teufelhof (wikipdeida)
Art Hotel Teufelhof (Wikipdeida)

Each room in this quaint nine-room hideaway is created by a different artist, who is allowed a maximum of one month to complete his or her room design. Rooms are redone roughly every two years.

Rates range from $195 to $705 for a double or from $165 to $630 for a single. All rooms are non-smoking rooms and include breakfast buffet, VAT, taxes and service charge.

Basel is easily reached in an hour by train from Zurich, and if you don’t believe that Baselers are cultural devotees, just wait five minutes and you will quickly discover how passionate they are.

About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.

He is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.

Read more of Travels with Peabod and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.