Basel is regarded as the cultural capital of Switzerland. The city on the river Rhine offers 40 museums on various topics such as art, history, science and design, as well as a wide variety of cultural attractions. We’ve picked the most interesting cultural highlights of Basel.
A ferry across the Rhine in front of the Basel Minster and the „Travelling Helvetia“ sitting on the Central Rhine Bridge
A Walk Along the Rhine
The city of Basel is divided into Grossbasel on the south-west side of the Rhine and Kleinbasel on the opposite bank of the river. If you start at Museum Tinguely on the right side of the Rhine, you can walk on the Schaffhauserrheinweg towards Wettstein Bridge and enjoy the beautiful view. From there the Oberer Rheinweg takes you to the Central Rhine Bridge where you’ll find the monument of Helvetia.
Helvetia appeared for the first time in the 17th century as a human image of Switzerland. With the founding of the Swiss federal state in 1848, Helvetia gained importance as a „mother of the nation“ and was used to create a close bond between the Swiss population and its homeland. In the course of this, Helvetia was depicted on coins, stamps, postcards and immortalized in the form of statues. The monument in Basel is one of the most famous Helvetia statues in Switzerland. It’s the „Travelling Helvetia“, sitting and waiting with her coat, shield, spear and suitcase.
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The Fondation Beyeler was designed by architect Renzo Piano
Modern and Contemporary Art at Fondation Beyeler
Fondation Beyeler is one of the most important Swiss art museums. The museum is located in Riehen just outside of Basel. The Beyeler collection contains around 320 works of classical modernism and contemporary art. It was started by the gallery owner Ernst Beyeler and his wife Hildy. The museum designed by architect Renzo Piano was opened in October 1997.
In the changing exhibitions of the museum, works by Monet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Picasso, Miró, Klee and Warhol are shown. The Fondation Beyeler also regularly presents large special exhibitions devoted to contemporary artists. To provide more room for cultural events and art education, the museum is planning an extension. The „Museum in the New Park“ by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor also should enable the Fondation Beyeler to present its constantly growing collection of modern and contemporary art and to present it permanently. The museum extension will be constructed on the previously private land of the Iselin-Weber Park, which adjoins the Fondation Beyeler.
The Basel Minster, built between 1019 and 1500 in Romanesque and Gothic styles, and the signs of Holbein and Paracelsus Citywalks
Explore the Cultural Highlights of Basel
The best way to discover the Old Town of Basel is by enjoying one of five citywalks. Each walk is named after a famous personality from Basel. The tours lead to the most famous museums and the most beautiful squares of the city. They also offer fascinating views from the hills of Basel as well as interesting insights into the history of the city.
- The first tour is named after humanist Erasmus von Rotterdam (1466–1536). The tour takes you to the Basel Minster, to the marketplace and to the busy shopping mile of the city.
- The second tour is named after art historian Jacob Christoph Burckhardt (1818-1897). The tour takes you to Barfüsser church and to the square in front of the theatre. Here you can find the famous Tinguely fountain with its amusing machine sculptures.
- The third tour is named after the writer Thomas Platter (1499-1582). The tour leads through the picturesque lanes of the former commercial district of Basel and to the Spalentor from the 14th century, one of the most beautiful city gates of Switzerland.
- The fourth tour is named after the philosopher and mystic Paracelsus (1493-1541). This tour is dedicated to the two valleys of the river Birsig. It also takes you to the Pharmacy Museum Basel, where the paraphernalia of Paracelsus are on display.
- The fifth tour is named after the painter Hans Holbein (1497-1543). The tour takes you to the Cartoonmuseum as well as to the Kunstmuseum Basel.
The Basel reading society was founded in 1787. Today, it is open to members, subscribers and visitors
One of the Most Beautiful Libraries of Basel
Founded on October 26, 1787, the Allgemeine Lesegesellschaft is a place of reading and leisure in the heart of the city of Basel. The library provides its users with access to books, newspapers and magazines. But it also offers a space for lively discussions and contemplative hours. The Basel reading society was one of countless societies that emerged in eighteenth-century Europe. Initially, it was open exclusively to men from the Basler Bürgerschaft. Only wealthy people could afford to join the reading society. Of course, this has changed today. The beautiful reading rooms are open to members, subscribers and visitors. If you love books, don’t miss the chance to visit.
The Kunstmuseum Basel houses the largest public art collection in Switzerland
The largest Public Art Collection in Switzerland
The Kunstmuseum Basel not only houses the largest public art collection in Switzerland, it also holds the largest collection of works by the Holbein family. The collection holds paintings of the 17th and 18th centuries of the Flemish and Dutch schools, as well as German and Dutch still life paintings. Key works from the 19th century include Monet, Gauguin and Cézanne, as well as van Gogh and Böcklin. In the 20th century, the focus is on works of Cubism and Expressionism with woks from Picasso, Munch, and Nolde. The collection also includes works from Constructivism, Dadaism and Surrealism. The Kunstmuseum Basel also has a significant collection of contemporary art, including Beuys, Warhol, Baselitz, Penck, and Roni Horn.
The Kunstmuseum’s main building was designed and constructed between 1931 and 1936 by the architects Paul Bonatz und Rudolf Christ. In 2013 the museum received an extension building by architects Christ & Gantenbein. The new building, faced with concrete bricks, was inaugurated in April 2016. The historic museum building now houses art from the 15th century to 1950, with later works in the extension. The upper floor of the new building houses temporary exhibitions.
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The 500-year-old Town Hall, locally known as „Roothuus“
A unique Landmark of the City of Basel
The Basel Town Hall is a magnificent building that was constantly modified and expanded throughout history, according to the respective requirements and aesthetic ideas. The representative architecture, the colorful murals and sculptures, as well as the artful interior design of late Gothic, Renaissance and modern times make the Town Hall a unique landmark of the city of Basel. The 500-year-old Town Hall houses the meetings of the Cantonal Parliament as well as the Cantonal Government of the canton of Basel-Stadt.
The Basel Town Hall is locally known as „Roothuus“. In the local Basel-German dialect the term both means „council house“ but also sounds like „red house“. It’s a pun with reference to the red sandstone facade of the building. The Town Hall can be visited with a guided tour. You can register for this at Basel Tourism. For visually impaired and blind people special tours are offered.
The Museum der Kulturen Basel has more than 300,000 objects and 50,000 historical photographs in its collection
The Largest Ethnological Museum in Switzerland
The Museum der Kulturen is a traditional Ethnological Museum on Münsterplatz in Basel. It is considered the largest ethnological museum in Switzerland. The museum has more than 300,000 objects and 50,000 historical photographs in its collection, including objects from Europe, Africa, Asia, North, Central and South America and Oceania.
The Museum of Cultures has its origins in the 1840s, when the city of Basel founded its Museum of Natural History and Ethnography to house artifacts and artworks collected by merchants and travelers. In 1849, the museum moved into a building located on the Münster hill at the heart of Basel, on the site of a former Augustinian monastery. In 1904 the museum created a separate ethnology department, and in 1917 the ethnographic collection became an independent institution. Over time the museum shifted its focus to the promotion of intercultural dialog, leading to its official renaming in 1996 as the Museum of Cultures.
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland is the first Jewish Museum in German-speaking countries after the war
Discover the Jewish Heritage of Switzerland
The Jewish Museum of Switzerland was opened in 1966 as the first Jewish Museum in a German-speaking country after the war. The collection of the museum contains historic and modern objects of various origins that offer visitors interesting insights. The Jewish Museum concentrates on Jewish everyday life as well as on Jewish history. The exhibition also shows testimonies from the time of the Second World War.
The Judaica collection originally came from the former Basel Museum of Folklore. The museum collection then was extended by objects from Basel and the Upper Rhine region, from the two Jewish villages Endingen and Lengnau, as well as from other parts of Switzerland, Europe, North Africa and Israel. The current collection focuses on ceremonial objects made of silver, textiles from the 17th to the 20th century and documents on the cultural history of the Jewish life in Switzerland. With the collection of contemporary art, the museum also focuses on modern Judaica, everyday objects and art objects.
Pictures: Angelika Schoder – Basel, 2017 & 2018