Of course you can walk across the bridges to cross the river ... but a fun thing and not to miss are the funny little ferries.
They operate daily from morning till evening. In the evenings sometimes readings and similar events take place on the ferries.
St. Alban (called "Wilde Maa"), cathedral ("Leu"), Klingenthal ("Vogel Gryff"), St. Johann ("Ueli")
Fare is 1.20 SFr.
Basel is a hub for transportation. Major railway routes (as well as motorways) from North to South Europe go through Basel.
The city has 3 railway stations. The Central (and most important) railway station is operated by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), located south of the old town. Right next to this so called Bahnhof SBB you find the French railway station (Bahnhof SNCF), from where the trains to France (Mulhouse) leave. The German Railways (DB) operate the so called Badischer Bahnhof on the right bank (Kleinbasel).
Regional trains go from Basel to the surrounding German and French as well as of course Swiss areas. International trains connect Basel with big cities in Europe (Paris, Amsterdam, Milan etc.). They all go through the central railway station SBB.
The public transportation network in Basel and surrounding is very sufficient. Trams and Buses take you to almost every place.
A short trip ticket (max. four stops) is 1.80 SFr. and a one-hour ticket is 2.80 SFr. Holders of Swiss Half Fare Cards (like me) get a reduction: 1.20 / 1.80 SFr. How nice :-)
A day ticket for the city is 8 SFr.
At each stop you find ticket machines where you can buy the tickets. Some of them, e.g. at the railway stations, also accept Euro coins. If you are going on a tram/bus without a valid ticket you will be fined 80 SFr. (if caught).
Tram and Bus
In Basel the public transportation system is really excellent.
With Tram (the green trains) and bus you can go everywhere and they drive regularly and quite often: if you miss one, the next one will come in 6 to 8 minutes, normally
Just go and buy a day-card at one of the green billet-machines (8 swiss francs) and you can drive back and forth the whole day.
You find plans on every station and on the Internet. Or ask the people. The Basler knows his Tram lines.
The picture shows two Basilisks (sort of Dragons) holding the sign of Basel, a Bishop-pole. This is the old sign of the BVB - the Basel Verkehrs Betriebe (Basels Traffic)
Unfortunately (I think) they did change that sign on the trams to a newer one, sort of a modern version of the Bishop-pole only - and I think it looks like a snail.
Therefore I put the old one here.
Oh, BTW. The green of the trams must be Basels most precious paint. You better not try to scratch it - this is very expensive.
Next to the green trams there are yellow ones as well, they belong to the BLT and drive out of the town into Baselland.
(If you want to see how often these trams come by, here is a website with a cam on the Claraplatz: http://www.innobit.ch/index.php?fileidentifier=ct_webcam.php )
- Budget Travel
The Ferries (Faehren in german), are the small boats that cross the Rhine between the different bridges.
They don't have a motor, but the river itself drives them.
It is not only a touristic attraction, but a very comfortable and nice way to cross the Rhine and see something of the city-skyline.
The Ferries exist since the 19th century and are called after local folklore: Wild Maa (at St.Alban), Leu (at the Munster), Vogel Gryff (Klingental) and the Uelis (St. Johann).
The money they earn with the Ferries goes into the Kunsthalle (Hall of Art).
The picture shows the Munster-Ferry. In the background is the Messe-Tower, quite new, too.
Be there on Christmas and some Ferry Man have decorated their Ferries - you wouldn't believe it!
Also you can actually rent a Ferry and have dinner (Fondue) on the evening in the ferry on the Rhine. That is an experiment not many people can make., though.
- Romantic Travel and Honeymoons
Bicycle station at Basel SBB
1. Bicycle station at Basel SBB
2. One of the four ramps leading into the bicycle station
Like most major Swiss railroad stations, "Basel SBB" has a large and very well-organized bicycle station where you can park your bike safely for a small fee, and also get it repaired if the need should arise.
They also have bicycles for rent here. The one I rented here was in excellent condition, and I was very satisfied even though the rental was more expensive than it would have been in neighboring France or Germany.
Unfortunately Basel does not yet have a free bicycle lending service like the ones in Bern (Bern rollt) or Geneva (Genève roule) or seven other Swiss cities.
GPS 47°32'54.40" North; 7°35'12.40" East
Traffic signs and bicycle lanes
1. Large signs clearly showing the position of the bicycle lanes (click to enlarge)
2. Bicycle lane between automobile lanes, not to the right of right-turning cars
3. Signs for cyclists and pedestrians at the main station Basel SBB
4. Sign for pedestrians in the Elisabethenstrasse
Switzerland in general and Basel in particular have made a lot of progress in recent years in putting up informative traffic signs for cyclists and pedestrians, not only cars.
Even on the large signs above the street, as on the first photo, there are signs clearly showing where the bicycle lanes are, so nobody will be in any doubt.
In the second photo the bicycle lane has been placed between two automobile lanes, to avoid the problem of right-turning cars or trucks running colliding with cyclists who are going straight ahead. This I think is often a better solution than having cycling lanes on the far right, no matter what, as is often the case in other cities.
Trams aka streetcars
1. Tram number 8 at Barfüsserplatz
2. Tram number 11 at the main station Basel SBB
3. Tram number 10 by the theater
In the 1950s the automobile lobbies mounted a huge and quite bitter campaign intended to ban the tram lines from Basel, so they wouldn't get in the way of cars. In 1955 there was a referendum in which a majority of the voters fortunately agreed to retain the trams and keep on financing them, so Basel was spared the fate of being a tram-free city.
Eleven tram lines still exist today in Basel. Typically a tram comes on each line every seven and a half minutes, i.e. eight trams per hour.
The large green tram in the first photo belongs to the BVB, which is the public transport company that is wholly owned by the Canton Basel-Stadt (Basel City). This line, number 8, is currently being extended across the border into Germany, so that this will be an international tram line starting in 2012.
The smaller yellow trams in the second and third photos belong to the Baselland Transport AG (BLT), which as the name implies is the transport organization of the Canton Basel-Land.
Trains to Basel
1. Inside the main station Basel SBB
2. A French TGV train at Basel SBB
Basel has three railroad stations, run by the Swiss, German and French railroad systems, but the main station in the center of the city is of course the Swiss one, called "Basel SBB".
SBB is the German abbreviation for Swiss Federal Railway.
If you are arriving from the north, i.e. from Germany, the train will stop first at a station called "Basel Badischer Bahnhof", but that's not the one you want if you are going to the city center. Be patient and stay on the train a few more minutes until you get to "Basel SBB".
Basel is served once or twice an hour by the InterCityExpress (ICE) trains from Germany, and several times daily by the TGV trains from France.
A direct TGV train now takes just over three and a half hours to go from Basel to Paris by way of Strasbourg.
GPS 47°32'54.40" North; 7°35'12.40" East
Travelling with passes
There are a selection of travel passes that can be used to travel Switzerland.
Instead of a rental car, which seem to be increasing in price at a fast pace, this time i relied on public transport with plans to travel long distance i was planning to rely on the train network.
Using the website www.swisstravelsystem.com i was able to check out train timetables to get from Basel to my planned destination Sant Gallen and down to Luzern for the Golden panoramic route down to Montreux, Lausanne and the hot air balloon festival at Chateau D'oex and back to Basel with any options in between!
I chose the swiss pass which is £117 or 265 swiss francs for 4 days - the next option is 8 days - or with similar benefits the Swiss Flexi pass which gives 4 days in 5.
The Swiss Pass encompasses travel and museum visits for pretty much everywhere in and around Switzerland.
Actually its best to buy it in advance in your own country so that you can use it to travel away from the airport! and its excellent in that you can use it for local transport as well and as a museum pass for over 400 museums around Switz.
It is also gives you 50% off THE big trips such as Titlis, Pilatus and Jungfraujoch trips.
PS - i found these websites EXCELLENT!!! especially for timetables and so helpful for plotting travel itineraries and stopoffs from main routes etc!! very excellent! and very user friendly.
- Budget Travel
- Road Trip
Basel's old town is built on hills. Steep hills, that is. You'll definitely notice when dragging your luggage from the tram stop to the hotel. I was more than glad to find the elevator at Petersgasse (thanks to my resident friend) which saved me some sweat. It is located in the courtyard of the police headquarter at Spiegelgasse and takes you up to Petersgasse - an elevation difference of maybe 15 m. Best thing is that it is free and open 24/7 :-)
- Budget Travel
St Alban Ferry
1. The St Alban Ferry
2. European Union flag on the St Alban Ferry
This is one of four passenger ferries that cross the Rhine between "Kleinbasel" (Small Basel) on the right bank and "Grossbasel" (Big Basel or just plain Basel) on the left.
All four of these ferry boats work the same way. The boat has no motor, but hangs on a cable and is driven by the river current only. Depending on the way the ferryman steers the rudder, the ferry moves one way or the other, so it can cross back and forth.
The prices on all the Basel ferries are 1.60 Swiss Franks for adults, 0.80 for children, buggies, bicycles and dogs. (And seagulls, in case you have one with you.)
Since Switzerland is not a member of the European Union (EU), it is a bit of a mystery why there is an EU flag flying on the ferry boat. (Perhaps a political statement?)
GPS 47°33'22.27" North; 7°36'6.88" East
An excellent idea and value for the Basel visitor is the Mobility Ticket that comes automatically with the stay in a hotel or B&B in the city. It is valid for unlimited travel on any public transportation in the zones 10, 11, 13 of the public tranportation network TNW. This means you can use any train, tram or bus within Basel, to/from the airport, north to Riehen or south to Ettingen during your stay in Basel.
I was amazed you can even ride free upon arrival to your hotel - all you need is the confirmed reservation from the hotel.
- Budget Travel
Three days after I took this photo, the last remaining trolleybus line in Basel was discontinued.
The trolleybuses on this line, number 31, are being replaced by buses powered by natural gas, which also cause little pollution in comparison with diesel buses.
Trolleybuses, which run on rubber tires but get their electric power from a pair of overhead wires, are still used quite extensively in several other Swiss cities, including Bern, Geneva and Zürich.
An advantage of trolleybuses is that since they have rubber tires they get better traction than trams do when going up hills.
Twentieth century roads and bridges
1. Ugly bridge near the station
2. Another ugly bridge
Though Basel is in general an attractive city, it is marred in places by ugly roads and bridges that were built during the Dark Ages of Automotive Excess in the twentieth century.
Since these are made of steel and concrete they are unlikely to fall down of their own accord (though this has happened in other countries) and I'm sure it will take decades for anyone to risk the ire of the automotive lobbies and make the expensive decision to demolish these structures.
As I have mentioned before, this sort of thing always reminds me of a snippet of dialogue from an old Billy Wilder film called Sabrina, from the year 1958:
"After all, this is the 20th century, Father."
"Twentieth century? Why, I could pick a century out of a hat, blindfolded, and come up with a better one."