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