BASEL, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - Got 48 hours to spare in Basel? Offering far more than just a set of financial regulations, the city on the edge of the world’s oldest democracy offers a perfect juxtaposition of modern cultural pizzazz and historical grandeur. Reuters correspondents with local knowledge help you get the most out of a visit.
6 p.m. Basel’s quirky flair is often eclipsed by the stern bureaucracy of the banking world. Spend the evening sipping cocktails and people-watching at Cafe des Arts on the edge of the Barfuesserplatz — or “barefoot square” — which dates back to 1100, and you will soon understand why Switzerland’s leading economic region is so loved by tourists and locals alike.
Recline in a deck chair, in the shadow of the 1298-erected Barfuesserkirche, and strike up a conversation with the friendly waiter or the gaggle of gossiping folk on the next table, embracing the end of another strenuous working week.
8 p.m. Touching on France and Germany, Basel is inspired by a plethora of different cultures, religions and nationalities, also reflected in the city’s varied cuisine. On the opposite side of Barfuesserplatz, Lebanese restaurant Aladin (www.aladinbasel.ch) serves a huge variety of falafel, hummus, kebabs and grilled meats, as well as countless meze, salads, soups and sauces. Bag yourself a seat by the floor-to-ceiling windows and watch the world go by while savoring the delights from another world.
10 p.m. Basel’s music academy dates back to 1867, when philanthropist Johann Jakob Schaeublin-Voegtlin founded the school as the first conservatory in German-speaking Switzerland. Today Basel’s musical offerings range from rock to classical over rap, ska and hip-hop. The Bird’s Eye Jazz club (www.birdseye.ch), housed in the gym of a former prison, regularly plays host to the finest of local, national and international talent. Ticket prices of 12 swiss francs ($13) are unlikely to break the bank, so go along for one or two sets and let the soulful tunes lure you into the weekend.
10 a.m. There is no better way to experience local charm than by climbing the Spalenberg hill and delving into the colourful frenzy of bargain-hunters and vendors that gather every Saturday on the 1277-constructed Petersplatz square at the city’s biggest flea market. While haggling for everything from antique silver to vinyl, take a minute to admire St. Peter’s church — in which the mathematician Johann II Bernoulli is buried — that overlooks the square and dates back to 1529.
12 p.m. A comfortable 15 minute walk down the hill, past the region’s biggest hospital and across the Mittlere Bruecke, or “middle bridge,” you will find the charming Zum Schmale Wurf (www.schmalewurf.ch) — or “small throw” — bistro, separated from the Rhine river only by a crowded promenade. Enjoy a warming bouillabaisse or a hefty portion of homemade pasta infused with garlic and olive oil. In summer, watch the local swimmers brave the chilly water of the river and street artists fighting for the attention and pocket change of strolling shoppers.
2 p.m. After lunch, continue walking upstream, pass below the arches of the Wettstein bridge and carry on past the Italian embassy until you get to the Solitueden Park — an oasis of green amid the grey office blocks of a pharmaceutical giant.
Beyond the park you may choose to pay a visit to the Tinguely Museum (www.tinguely.ch), which contains a permanent exhibition of the works of the eccentric Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). The building was designed by architect Mario Botta.
From here you can either take the bus back into the center of town, or walk across the Schwarzwaelder Bruecke — “Blackforest bridge” — and stroll back into town past the old paper mill and through the historic St. Alban quarter.
4 p.m. An ideal way to enjoy a taste of the rich and famous lifestyle, is by indulging in an afternoon treat in the tea room of one of Switzerland’s oldest and finest hotels, Les Trois Rois (www.lestroisrois.com), just a stone’s throw away from Schifflaende tram stop. While sipping hot chocolate or coffee, served with locally made confectionery, admire the Belle Epoque-style interior of the room — a pastiche of Rome’s Sistine chapel. Suspended over the Rhine, so much so that it feels like you are on a moored boat, the room makes you feel like time has stood still.
6 p.m. From Schifflaende catch a tram to Theater and muse at the futuristic black asphalt contraptions shoveling, squirting and mixing the water of the Tinguely fountain. On the other side of the 19cm-deep pool, the recently refurbished Restaurant Kunsthalle (www.kunsthallebasel.ch) offers classy dining with a distinct Swiss edge to it. Try the Zurich-style Schnitzel or the calvados pork fillet for a special culinary experience, followed by a generous portion of mousse au chocolat or tarte maison.
10 a.m. After breakfast, a brisk walk up Augustinergasse — past the old mathematical institute and the mayor of the city’s office — promises to clear the cobwebs away from the night before. The red-stone Muenster, constructed between 1019 and 1500, is a symbol of Basel and a must-see for any visitor. Exit onto the main porch to be met by a perfect panorama of the city — a spectrum ranging from the green fields of the countryside to the colossal chimney’s of the city’s pharmaceutical empire.
12 p.m. Cross the square and settle down to a lunch of traditional Swiss food with a Mediterranean flair in the shady courtyard of the Restaurant Zum Isaak (www.zum-isaak.ch).
2 p.m. The Kunstmuseum (www.kunstmuseumbasel.ch/), nestled behind the bustling banking quarter, houses an impressive collection of art from a huge range of periods and regions. Though frequently packed with art-lover and tourists at weekends, the museum is the perfect place to lap up five centuries of art in just a couple of hours. The soft contours of the Renaissance collection, presented on the top floor, stand in stark contrast to gaudy masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Mark Rothko and Joan Miro. The museum also houses an excellent collection of local art.
4 p.m. As Sunday afternoon draws to an end, treat yourself to coffee or a steaming latte amongst a melange of university students, young families, back-packers and dowdy locals, at Unternehmen Mitte (www.mitte.ch). The large hall, curved around a marble space which is used as a playground on some days and a dance floor on others, is warmed by a wood-burning fire in winter. In summer and spring, the French windows are opened sending a pleasant breeze through the whole hall. If you prefer reading the Sunday papers in a quieter environment, move to one of the two smaller rooms that flank the hall — “fumare” and “non fumare” were originally designed for smokers and those wishing to escape the fumes respectively, before a canton-wide ban came into effect on April 1 2010.