Hello there, Basel
Known as the center of the pharma industry in Switzerland, the very cosmopolitan city of Basel is prosperously industrial and more of a metropolis, different from peaceful Bern and similar to Zurich in terms of buzz and activity. Its closeness to France and Germany brings a very special charm and amazement (you can switch between three countries in a matter of minutes!), while the monumental Art Basel has forever etched the city as a major art and architectural destination.
Let's unravel the unmissable art & culture spots in Basel, and other more mundane - but terribly fun - summer activities.
Best art museums in Basel
Basel houses some 40 or so museums, which is mind-blowing for such a small city. We can't resist a quick comparison so here are the numbers: the 171,000 Basel inhabitants now enjoy around 40 museums, whereas New York's 8 mil. people have to content themselves with only 83 museums.
The free BaselCard is a useful little thing to have, as you'll have a 50% discount on all Basel museums, including German-based VITRA Design Museum. Other great advantages of the card are: a 2-hour tour on the sightseeing bus or a walking tour of the old town. Find out more and get your free card here.
Here are our top picks for the best art museums in Basel:
Fondation Beyeler designed by Renzo Piano © Mark Niedermann
In 2022 the Fondation Beyeler celebrates its 25th anniversary. This art museum in Riehen near Basel is internationally renowned for its high-calibre exhibitions, its important collection of modern and contemporary art, as well as its ambitious programme of events. The museum building was designed by Renzo Piano in the idyllic setting of the park. It boasts a unique location in the heart of a local recreation area, looking out onto fields, pastures and vineyards close to the foothills of the Black Forest.
Temporary exhibition @Fondation Beyeler
Mondrian Evolution, 5 June – 9 October 2022
Piet Mondrian, Woods near Oele (1908), Kunstmuseum Den Haag (NL), Vermächtnis Salomon B. Slijper © 2021 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust
Marking the 150th anniversary of the artist’s birth, the Fondation Beyeler will devote an exhibition to the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian. As one of the most important artists of the avant-garde movement, Mondrian shaped the evolution of painting from figuration to abstraction. His early work was influenced not only by late 19th-century Dutch landscape painting but also by Symbolism and Cubism. It was only in the early 1920s that he began concentrating on a wholly non-representational pictorial vocabulary consisting solely of rectilinear arrangements of black lines on a white background and the three primary colours blue, red and yellow.
While the collection of the Fondation Beyeler focuses primarily on works from the later phases of Mondrian’s career, the exhibition will look at his development as an artist up to the 1920s and the stylistic genesis of his later work. Separate sections will deal with motifs such as windmills, dunes and seascapes, the farmstead reflected in water and plants in various states of abstraction. “Mondrian” is organised jointly by the Fondation Beyeler and K20, Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.
The impressive new building of Kunstmuseum Basel © Francesco Baj/ Switzerland Tourism
Kunstmuseum Basel, a.k.a the Fine Arts Museum, hosts the oldest public art collection in the world - made accessible to the public in the 17th century (1661 to be more precise). What is unique about this museum is the wide span of the works on display: you'll find 15th and 17th century artists next to iconic ones representing all major movements from the 18th century to present. The rich history of Kunstmuseum Basel is illustrated by the two old and new buildings, the original 17th century building, modeled after the Palazzo Ducale of Mantua and the new concrete building from 2008, which houses the temporary exhibitions. No wonder then, that London’s The Times named this museum the fifth best in the world in 2013.
Temporary exhibitions @Kunstmuseum Basel
Picasso – El Greco, 11.06.–25.09.2022
Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait, 1901, Musée national Picasso, Paris, Photo: RMN-Grand Palais/Mathieu Rabeau © Succession Picasso, 2022 ProLitteris, Zurich
In a large special exhibition, the Kunstmuseum illuminates the encounter of Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) with the old master El Greco (1541–1614), born Doménikos Theotokópoulos in Crete. Masterworks by both artists are juxtaposed in some forty pairings, tracing the course of one of the most fascinating dialogues in the history of art. Prestigious loans from across the globe are assembled around a core of Picasso masterworks from the museum’s own collection.
El Greco’s unmistakable painting style won him considerable fame in his day. Soon after his death, however, his work was largely forgotten. It was only around 1900 that an El Greco revival was launched, with Picasso serving on the front lines. His engagement with the Greek-Spanish master not only went far deeper than has previously been assumed but also lasted much longer. El Greco’s influence is just as palpable in Picasso’s works from the 1930s and 1940s as it is in the earlier Cubist paintings. Even at the end of his life, Picasso continued to reference El Greco. Not only does the show open up new perspectives on two towering artists of their times. It also offers fresh insight into their importance as a constellation for the development of avant-garde art in the twentieth century.
Museum Tinguely with a sculpture by Jean Tinguely in the Solitude Park (west side) © 2022 Museum Tinguely Basel; Stefan Schmidlin
The Tinguely museum in Basel designed by the clear-cut architect Mario Botta, houses the largest collection of Tinguely's kinetic sculptures and some very interesting temporary exhibitions. We also love the children's workshops.
This museum is simply different: discovery, laughter, and amazement all rolled into one, a place where the senses are set in motion and art comes to the viewer. An open house for all, it offers an interactive museum experience and stimulates children, grown-ups, and art experts alike to contemplate human creativity.
The moving Tinguely Fountain in the old town is a wonderful site, a tribute to the old town theater and facing the building of the new Theater Basel.
Tinguely Fountain in front of Theater Basel © Ingo Höhn
Temporary exhibition @Museum Tinguely
Territories of Waste, On the Return of the Repressed: 14 September 2022 – 8 January 2023
Hira Nabi, All That Perishes at the Edge of Land, 2019 (filmstill) Single-channel, digital © courtesy, Hira Nabi
Our entire ecosphere – the oceans, the air, our food, the soil, even the Antarctic – contains residues, particles and chemicals derived from our consumer culture. The extraction of raw materials leaves behind destroyed landscapes and toxic spoil. Waste is everywhere. The group show at Museum Tinguely brings together art that deals with this issue, both works by contemporary artists with their global, geopolitical and ecological perspective and works from the second half of the twentieth century that reflect the move towards a throwaway society and environmental destruction that emerged from the 1960s.
Theater Basel & Basel Tastemakers
“La traviata” at Theater Basel © Ingo Höhn
Theater Basel, founded in 1834, is a world-class performing arts company offering theater, opera, and dance. Generating new work as well as showcasing special productions, Theater Basel is a repertory company featuring performances in rotation throughout the year. Overseen by the enigmatic Benedikt von Peter (Intendant/Artistic Director of the Opera), Theater Basel is a vibrant and thriving cultural venue with much to offer. Since 2021, the foyer of Theater Basel is a public urban space: Anyone is welcome to sit together, read, relax, play, dance, work, have a coffee or just enjoy the atmosphere.
The Basel Tastemakers was formed in 2021 to provide a bridge for the ever-growing international community in Basel to experience the world-class programming on offer. Every few weeks a performance is curated for the Tastemakers. Events include a pre/post-show talk about the show, followed by a cocktail reception and get-together with fellow Tastemakers and special artistic guests.
Basel Street Art
Photo © Switzerland Tourism
Basel has a rich 'collection' of urban art with such artists as Invader or TIKA covering some central city spots. For a closer look and a map of the most interesting works, have a look here.
Where to stay in Basel
Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois
Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois as seen from the Rhine © Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois
Hospitality tradition since 1681 - experience the timeless elegance and charm of the Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois located on the banks of the Rhine River and offering all the modern conveniences to meet and exceed even the highest expectations of the discerning modern traveller.
The storied hotel boasts 101 rooms and suites which are a perfect blend of elegance, luxury and comfort and feature hand-selected, precious antique furnishings, priceless artworks and cutting-edge amenities. The hotel is also a gourmet Mecca - guests have a choice between the Restaurant Cheval Blanc (3 stars in the Michelin Guide, 19 GaultMillau points) with its exclusive waterside terrace or the French.
There's so much more to say about Basel's art and architecture spots, we're not nearly over, but hopefully it's a good start. For a closer look, have a look at the following:
Here is a curated list of the best museums in Basel, art and otherwise.
Here an excellent collection of tips and Basel art highlights organised as a 2 day art city tour.
Looking for more excellent tips on how to enjoy the best Basel has to offer? From tips on amazing places to visit, where to stay and where to enjoy a great coffee, click below.Tell me more about Basel
Main article photo credits: The ballet “Cow” at Theater Basel © Lucia Hunziker