Basel Cruise Port

Port of Basel: An Overview

Basel, which lies in the northwest region of Switzerland, near its French and German borders, is a delightful city with a rich history, intriguing medieval quarter, fabulous art galleries and stunning architecture. It also boasts a lively social scene, much of which focuses around the city's most important asset, the meandering Rhine River.

The mighty river first becomes navigable at Basel, which makes the city the nearest thing landlocked Switzerland has to a seaport, and residents really make the most of it. The river banks are lined with restaurants and hotels (which charge extra for a river-view room).

Many residents use little tow-lined ferries rather than bridges to travel between Grossbasel (Big Basel, home to the medieval Old Town) on the south bank and Kleinbasel (Little Basel, center of the city's lively social scene) on the north bank.

Basel is an important turnaround port for Rhine riverboats, many of which run between there and Amsterdam on weekly rotations. Because it's an embarkation and debarkation port, many river cruise passengers spend at least a day in Basel , which is no hardship, considering it's not only a fascinating city, but also a gateway to Alsace and Germany's Black Forest region.

Hanging Around

There's nothing much near the boat dock, just suburban streets. The best bet is to go to the tram station (an easy few minutes' walk away) and head for central Basel. Residents are very friendly and will help with directions.

Don't Miss

Fondation Beyeler: This museum houses a glorious collection of 20th century art -- including works by Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Bacon.. This is a sight to behold. Tram 6 stops right outside -- and it's open on Mondays, too! (Baselstrasse 101 CH-4125 Riehen; +41 (0)61 645 97 00; open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Sunday, except10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday; CHF 25 adults, CH6 to CHF20 children, concessions)

Munster: Take a stroll around Basel's Romanesque church that was built between the 12th and 15th centuries. The former Episcopal building contains a wonderfully spooky Gothic cloister, as well as the tomb of Erasmus, the Renaissance humanist, theologian and reformer, who died in Basel in 1536. The square surrounding this former cathedral is home to pleasant restaurants and is often used for outdoor events, including Basel's annual film festival, while the Pfaltz (a leafy area behind the church) is a popular picnic spot that offers spectacular views across the Rhine to Kleinbasel and (on a clear day) the Black Forest and the Vosges. Street musicians, including an excellent harpist, often perform there, so people get to enjoy music with their lunch. Tram routes 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 15 and 16, to Barfusserplatz or 2 and 15 to Kunstmuseum bring you there. (Rittergasse 3, CH-4051; open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 11:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays and bank holidays; free, though donations are welcome)

Rathaus: A look at Basel's beautiful City Hall reveals a stunning example of Renaissance architecture. Built between 1509 and 1514, it's located at the heart of Old Town, and you can't miss its red and gold exterior and distinctive tower. Its main courtyard (yes, walk right in!) is impressive, with historic frescoes and a statue of Munatius Plancus, who founded the first Roman settlement in the Basel region. Basel Tourism offers regular free tours of the building, particularly on Saturdays, but schedules vary (check at the tourist office) The Rathaus is at Marktplatz, served by tram routes 6, 8, 11, 14, 15, 16. (9 CH-4001; +41 (0)61 267 86 54; open 7 a.m. to noon and 1:30 to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday; free entry).

Ferry (Fahrimaa) ride: Four little ferry boats -- secured and pulled soundlessly by tow line across the Rhine's powerful currents -- zip back and forth between Big Basel and Little Basel, and you'll see one near each of the river's bridges. Traditionally, you summon them by ringing a bell at the landing stage, but it's just as effective, if less fun, to wait until the boatman spots you. Return fare is about CHF3.5 (roughly 2 euros). A ride on one of these little boats is a great experience and is a nice "fix" if you've disembarked at Basel and are missing life on your riverboat.

Tinguely Fountain: Watch the whirrs (and the world) go by at this delightful edifice designed by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, whose work also inspired a museum (see below). Wacky robotic components push the fountain's gushing waters in summer. In winters, with temperatures cold enough to freeze it, the fountain becomes a fabulous ice sculpture. It's certainly a favorite spot for Basel residents and another place they come to enjoy lunch. (Steinenberg 7 4051, in the city center, tram routes 3, 6, 8, 11, 14, 15 and 16 to Barfusserplatz)

Tinguely Museum: If you love the fountain, go inside this museum celebrates the iron sculptor Jean Tinguely's offbeat work more extensively than his fountain. The museum also showcases the work of his contemporaries and other modern artists. (Paul Sacher-Anlage 1, CH-4002; +41 (0)61 681 93 20; open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday; CHF18 adults, CHF12 children, concessions)

Basel Zoo: Talk to the animals at this delightful stretch of green parkland near Basel's city center. Highlights include a vivarium containing critters that live underwater and a redesigned lion enclosure and monkey house. (Binningerstrasse 40, CH-4054; +41 (0)61 295 35 35; open 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in winter, to 6 p.m. in spring and autumn and to 6:30 p.m. in July and August; CHF 18 adults, CHF 16 seniors, CHF 12 younger than 25, CHF7 younger than 16 and CHF39 for a family ticket)

Kunstmuseum Basel: The world's largest collection of artworks by the Holbein family houses fine Renaissance artworks and more pieces by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Picasso. Tram No. 2 stops right outside. (St. Alban-Graben 16 CH-4010; +41 (0)61 206 62 62; CHF12 adults, CHF5 children, first Sunday of every month is a "Happy Day," with free admission)

Getting Around

From the Airport: The EuroAirport Basel is located 15 minutes away from central Basel (by taxi). Alternatively -- if you're traveling light -- you can take a tram to the German railway station Badischer Bahnhof and pick up Bus No. 50 to the airport.

Every traveler staying in a hotel in Basel receives a free Mobility Ticket when they check in. This is valid for 30 days and allows free use of Basel's excellent public transportation system; it also extends into the city (zones 10, 11, 13 and 15, including the airport).

If you're staying in Basel before your river cruise, print out the hotel reservation confirmation and take it with you because you'll also qualify for free transport from the airport to your hotel if you show it to the bus or tram driver.

By Tram: Basel is immensely -- and rightly -- proud of its transportation system, and tourist offices and hotels are very efficient at advising which particular trams you need to take to get to various parts of the city. Residents also are very helpful, and most speak English, at least to some extent.

By Taxi: Basel prides itself on being an eco-friendly city, so extensive use of taxis is somewhat frowned upon and correspondingly expensive. A taxi from the city center to the EuroAirport costs about CHF 40, while a cab to the Swiss or German railway stations (SBB Bahnhof or Badischer Bahnhof/BBF) would cost about CHF 20. And that's without surcharges for trips in the evening or on Sundays.

Taxi services include 33er Taxi AG (+41 61 333 33 33) and Taxiphon Genossenschaft (+41 61 444 44 44).

By Car: All the major car rental companies -- including Hertz, Avis and EuropCar -- are represented in Basel.

By Rail: If you want to go traveling before or after your cruise, Basel offers good rail links throughout Switzerland (including to Geneva and Zurich). It also has fast links to destinations in France and Germany. Paris is about five hours away, Frankfurt just under four, Brussels about seven and Berlin nearly a 10-hour trip. You can zip over to lovely Strasbourg in only 90 minutes.

Lunching

Considering its location in Switzerland's Dreilandereck (Three Countries' Corner), it's hardly surprising that Basel offers a great range of cuisine from Europe and further afield, alongside traditional Swiss specialities, cheese and chocolate (and, of course, the ingenious fondue sets that were designed to make the most of both).

Basel specialities include Cakech, a tasty flour-based soup traditionally served during the city's Lenten Carnival period (Fasnacht), with cheese and onion tart.

Even tastier options include Fire Bread -- a French take on pizza, with a deliciously light, crisp base and a variety of toppings -- and Zurcher Geschnetzeltes, thin strips of veal in a creamy mushroom sauce, usually served with another Swiss specialty, rosti potatoes.

Sweet tooth? Pick up a bag of Massmogge, colorful long sweets filled with a chocolate and hazelnut mixture. You'll find them in shops year-round, but the greatest varieties are sold during Basel's Autumn Fair (Basler Herbstmesse), which takes place at the end of October.

As for restaurants, you'll be spoiled for choice. Stroll along the Rhine riverbanks at lunchtime, check out the menus and simply take your pick (although be prepared for sticker stock; the U.S. dollar does not fare well against the Swiss franc).

Italian Dishes: Restaurant Schmaler Wurf dishes up steaming bowls of aromatic soup and offers a good range of fresh antipasti and homemade pasta, including a knockout potato gnocchi in tomato sauce. (Rheingasse 10, 4058; +41 (0)61 683 33 25; open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday)

Asian Fare: Lily's Stomach Supply might be a slightly odd name for a restaurant (or perhaps it loses something in translation), but the freshly prepared food is tasty and affordable, and recipes are drawn from across Asia. A garden terrace is open during the summer months. (Rebgasse 1 CH-4058; +41 (0)61 683 11 11; open 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday)

Traditional Swiss: Restaurant Walliser offers classic fondues, Wiener schnitzel prepared at the table and specialities from the Valais region, including a platter of dry-cured meat, bacon, cheese shavings and Huus wurscht (house sausage). (Kanne Gerbergasse 50, CH-4051; +41 (0)61 261 70 17; open 11:30 a.m. to midnight Monday to Saturday, closed Sundays and public holidays, hot meals served 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 10:45 p.m.)

For a Splurge: Restaurant Stucki is an architect-designed modern restaurant with a varied cuisine that has earned it a Michelin star. (Bruderholzallee 42, 4059; +41 (0)61 361 82 22; open noon to 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday, closed Sunday and Monday, except during Basel Carnival and fairs)

Where You're Docked

The landing stage for riverboat passengers is between Johanniterbrucke and Dreirosenbrucke, out in the suburbs. You cannot walk there from town.

Watch Out For

Most of the shops are closed Sundays. Main shopping hours in Basel are 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays, though big department stores tend to stay open later, until 8 p.m., and Thursday is late-night shopping day, when most city stores are open until 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.

If you are in the city on a Monday and love art and culture, you might be disappointed because nearly all the city's galleries and museums are closed on that day. A notable exception is the Fondation Beyeler and Basel Munster.

Currency & Best Way to Get Money

The currency in Switzerland is Swiss francs. For exchange rates, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com.

Major credit cards are accepted in most hotels, restaurants and shops. Some taxis also accept credit cards, but it is worth changing some money if you plan to spend time in the city. Euros are not widely accepted, and even where they are, you could lose out badly on the exchange rate. ATM machines are located throughout Basel -- in banks and main post offices.

Language

The official language of Basel is Swiss-German, but both French and English are widely spoken. In different parts of the country, you'll also hear people speaking German, French, Italian and Romansh.

Best Souvenir

Swiss chocolate is obviously a big hit with visitors -- and because much of it features Alpine scenery, it's a good pictorial memento of your trip as well as a tasty one. You'll find plenty of chocolate in tourist shops, but if you're counting your Swiss francs, you can stock up at a supermarket; the packaging may not be quite as pretty, but it tastes just as good.

But the real taste of Basel is Basler Lackerli, a deliciously crisp, waferish gingerbread baked with honey, nuts and spices, which was devised in the Middle Ages and is now a must-have in every Basel cookie tin. In fact, it's so popular, shops abound that sell just Lackerli.

One such is the Lackerli Huus, which has locations throughout the city (at Gerbergasse 57, Falkenstrasse 34, Greifengasse 2, Bahnhof SBB/Passerelle and Stucki-Shopping 4051 Basel).

Best Cocktail

Ueli beer is a fresh-tasting tipple. It's brewed in Basel at Fischerstube Microbrewery in the Old Town of Little Basel and has a restaurant attached from which you can watch the brewers at work. It also has an atmospheric, 15th century vaulted cellar -- the Antoniterkeller -- which somehow makes the beer taste even more authentic. (Rheingasse 45, 4058; +41(0)61 692 92 00)

For More Information

On the Web: Basel Tourism

Cruise Critic Message Boards: River Cruise Ports

IndependentTraveler.com: Europe Travel Guide

--By Maria Harding, Cruise Critic contributor

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