As one of the largest cities in Switzerland, Basel is a popular destination among tourists in the Alpine country. But it’s an expensive place, just like virtually everywhere else in Switzerland, so you’ve got the right idea if you’re looking for free attractions in Basel. And you don’t have to look elsewhere, because this detailed guide covers all the top landmarks and things to do.
From the best historic landmarks to the popular botanical gardens with free entrance – Basel offers a surprisingly large number of attractions you can visit without spending any money. And because it’s the cultural capital of Switzerland, many of its art museums can be toured for free on specific days. So, let’s dive into all the best free things to do in Basel!
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Take Advantage of the Basel Guest Card
The Basel Guest Card is available to all tourists who stay in an eligible accommodation in the city. If your hotel or apartment is registered with the Basel Tourism Board, you will receive the guest card in an email.
Benefits of the Basel Guest Card include free public transport (trams, trains, and buses) and Wi-Fi access, as well as discounts for city attractions with a paid entrance. Tickets for the museums, zoo, and even the theater are half the price with the Basel Guest Card, so make sure you pick this up if you want to visit some of the city’s paid attractions.
Walking Tour of Basel Old Town
A tour of the old town is the first thing to do in any new city. As soon as you unpack and leave your hotel, head to the old town of Basel to start exploring.
Guided tours are available for tourists and they’re even discounted with the Basel guest card. But you can easily do a self-guided tour and cover all the top attractions in the city. See the city gates, the city squares, and the Basel Minster, and don’t forget to cross the bridge to Altstad Kleinbasel, and walk along the riverfront promenade.
In December, the Christmas market stalls are set up on Bafusserplatz and Munsterplatz. The city has one of the best Christmas markets in Switzerland, and visiting the squares is one of the best free things to do in Basel in winter.
Visit Basel Minster
Basel Minster is the most important religious building in the city. It used to be a Catholic Cathedral, but today it is a Reformed Protestant church. Access to the church is free of charge, and anyone can just walk in to see the interior. The stained glass windows are noteworthy, as well as the expansive courtyard.
In the summer months, the crossing crypt is also accessible for free. It’s run by the Archaeological Soil Research Basel-Stadt and offers some interesting information on the items uncovered during excavations at the site of the church.
One thing to note is that climbing the cathedral’s towers isn’t a free activity. There’s a fee of 7 CHF to admire the view from the top. If you ask me, I think it’s worth the money because it’s one of the best views in Basel.
See the Tinguely Fountain
Stand in front of a fountain and watch the sculptures inside dance. It’s one of the most unusual things to do in Basel, but it’s fun and free! The Tinguely Fountain is situated next to the Basel Theater and it represents an homage to the old Basel Theater Company.
The fountain is lined with black concrete and it features mechanical sculptures of theater equipment, which look as if they’re playing around in the water. It’s a fascinating landmark and a must-see for all lovers of theater and art.
If you want to see even more of Jean Tinguely’s works, head to Museum Tinguely. The entrance to the museum is free on Thursdays after 6 PM.
Stroll Down Rheinpromenade
Strolling down a waterfront promenade is always a great experience in a new city. Basel is no exception because the promenade along the north bank of the Rhine River offers wonderful views of both sides of Basel’s Old Town.
I recommend walking down the promenade right after you’ve crossed the Middle Bridge. To your left will be the colorful houses of Altstadt Kleinbasel, while a view of Altstadt Grossbasel and the River Rhine with its bridges stretches on your right.
Along the way, you’ll come across plenty of places where you can go for a swim if you like.
Discover Tropical Plants at the University of Basel Botanical Garden
Situated just outside the Basel Old Town, near the Spalentor city gate, the University of Basel Botanical Garden is one of the best places you can visit for free. It’s open every day from 9 AM until 5 PM, and easily accessible by trams and buses.
The centerpiece of the 16th-century botanical garden is the Victorian-era greenhouse. It houses all the plants that don’t stand a chance in the harsh climate of northern Switzerland, so cacti, palm trees, and even agave trees, among many others.
It’s a small garden, but you could easily spend an hour here walking around and discovering all the wonderful trees and flowers. This is one of the best-hidden gems in Basel, and a place everyone who comes to the city should visit at least once.
See the Painted Facade of Basel Rathaus
The Basel City Hall sits at the center of Marktplatz attracting looks from the passerbys. It’s the most prominent building on the square thanks to its bright red facade adorned with paintings. Anyone can walk into the courtyard of the Rathaus for free, and see even more gorgeous paintings.
But you can’t go inside the building, at least not for free. The building is used by government officials, and guided tours in English (and other languages) take place only on Saturdays. They have a fee of 5 CHF, which is practically free for Switzerland, and allow entrance into the various government rooms.
Be In Three Places At The Same Time At Dreiländereck
Dreiländereck is a monument marking the convergence of borders between Switzerland, France, and Germany. Just standing here is a fascinating experience because you’re simultaneously looking at three different countries. And if you unnaturally contort your body, you can technically be in three countries at the same time.
It’s an experience to cross off your bucket list, and the beautiful cityscape is a sight for sore eyes. Dreiländereck is a bit far away from the Basel city center, but it’s easily accessible by (free) public transport. You can take a tram to Kleinhüningen, and from there, it’s only a 15-minute walk to the iconic monument.
Cross Mittlere Brücke
The River Rhine splits Basel Old Town in two. Altstadt Kleinbasel is on the north bank, Altstadt Grossbasel is on the south bank, and several bridges allow for easy passage from one part to the other. The most famous of those bridges is Mittlere Brücke, a historic 13th-century bridge with a charming chapel in the middle.
Walking along the bridge and admiring the scenic views is one of the most romantic free things to do in Basel for couples. In theory, it takes only three minutes to cross the bridge on foot. But in reality, it takes at least ten minutes because the views along the way are so mesmerizing.
This is also a great spot for photographs in Basel. Whether you like to take photos of cityscapes or are looking for Instaworthy backgrounds, Mittlere Brücke is a destination you cannot miss.
It’s even more special after dark when all the street lights turn on and you can see their reflections in the river. Walking down the bridge and snapping photographs is one of my favorite free things to do in Basel at night.
Visit Merian Gärten
Merian Gärten is one of the best attractions outside of Basel’s historic center. It’s only 25 minutes by tram from the old town of Basel, and you can use public transport for free thanks to the Basel guest card.
The public park is a vast green space that features botanical gardens and an 18th-century villa. Access to the botanical gardens is free of charge and offers the opportunity to see some beautiful and unique flowers. With more than a dozen different spaces in the botanical gardens, attractions here range from a Rhododendron Valley to an English garden.
The park also boasts an apiary and Europe’s largest collection of bearded Irises. Merian Gärten is best experienced in the spring, but thanks to a wide variety of plants in the garden, there’s something interesting to see here any time of the year.
Swimming in the Rhine
Going for a swim in the Rhine is practically a rite of passage in Basel. The locals do it so often that they’ve invented Wickelfisch – a waterproof swim bag that can keep all your other belongings dry while you’re in the water.
When the temperatures rise in Basel, it’s tradition for the locals to go swimming in the Rhine after work. Many will even swim instead of walking home or taking the bus because it’s often faster. So, if you’re traveling to Basel in the summer, make sure to pack a swimsuit and jump in the river to feel like a local.
One thing to note is that this activity is suitable only for confident and experienced swimmers because of the strong river currents.
Old City Gates
The historic center of Basel is encircled by ancient city walls. Once upon a time, the city had both an Inner Wall and an Outer Wall, both of which were constructed in the Middle Ages. But in the 19th century, the Inner Wall was entirely demolished, and only a few pieces of the Outer Wall are still visible in the city today.
The Saplentor gate is a remnant of the Outer Wall and a top historic landmark in the city of Basel. The 15th-century gateway is one of only three remaining city gates and by far the most famous of them all. It’s close to the University of Basel and directly accessible by public transport.
St-Alban City Gate is another remnant of the medieval wall, situated on the northeastern edge of Basel’s historical center. And finally, the Gate of Saint John marks the northwestern edge of Basel’s old city walls.
Free Museums in Basel
As the home of Art Basel, it’s no surprise that the Swiss city has some of the best art museums in the country. And what’s even better is that many of its museums can be visited free of charge. Free museum Sunday is a thing in the city – on the first Sunday of every month, anyone can visit the museums for free.
The Historical Museum Basel, Kunstmuseum, and the Natural History Museum are all free to visit on the first Sunday of the month. Many other museums have free entrance on specific days, usually in the afternoon. Visit Basel’s official website for a detailed list of the museums that can be visited for free.
Map of Basel Attractions
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Basel famous for?
Basel is most famous for its thriving art scene. It’s the home of Art Basel, and with too many art museums to count, it’s no surprise that the city is dubbed the cultural capital of Switzerland.
Is one day enough in Basel?
One day can be enough in Basel if you do a speedrun of the best landmarks in the city. But if you want to truly have fun in the city and enjoy yourself, it’s best to stay in the city for 2-3 days.
What to do alone in Basel?
Museum visits, old town tours, and swimming in the Rhine are the top things to do alone in Basel. The city is fun for everyone, and solo travelers are no exception.
Is Basel worth visiting?
Yes, Basel is worth visiting. The Swiss city boasts beautiful architecture, river views, and the best art museums in the country, many of which can be visited for free.