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Basel Travel Guide

About Basel

Rooted on the banks of the Rhine at the meeting point of France, Germany and Switzerland, Basel lays claim to one of the choicest crossroad locations in Europe. The city is customarily overshadowed by the likes of Zurich and Geneva, but a youthful, trend-conscious vibe and some handsome modern architecture make it more than worthy of a few days of exploration.

The success of annual art fair Art Basel – usually held in June – has helped bolster the city's reputation in recent decades. Much of the action happens at the Kunstmuseum Basel, which houses Switzerland's largest public art collection in a vast neo-Palladian building that dates from 1936. Works by Hans Holbein, Auguste Rodin (including the famous Burghers of Calais), and Lucas Cranach line its walls, as do pieces by Marc Chagall, Pablo Picasso and Edouard Manet. Other galleries include Mitart, which showcases the work of contemporary artists, and the Ludwig Collection of sculpture, drawn from ancient Greece and Rome.

Comprehensive though the choice of galleries is, there's plenty more art to be found outside their walls. Sculptures are dotted around the city, as are classical and modern fountains, along with buildings designed by some of the most famous names in contemporary architecture, including Renzo Piano, Richard Meier and Frank Gehry. The period features aren't half bad either, with the cobbled streets and colourful facades of the historic old town proving enchanting.

Finest of all of these is the Rathaus (city hall) which has dominated the Marktplatz for more than 500 years and has an elaborate tower which has now been pressed into service as a viewing platform. From the top, you can see most of the city spread out below, straddling the icy blue waters of the Rhine.

The river, once the source of nearly all the wealth that flowed into Basel, remains a key part of city life. In the summer, Basel's inhabitants, whether students or bankers, flock to the river's banks to sunbathe, stroll or simply relax in the sunshine. Many jump in for a bracing dip, while every August, thousands of swimmers hop in for the annual Rheinschwimmen and simply float downstream.

In recent times, the city's most famous son is tennis maestro Roger Federer, and each October sees Basel host an international indoor men's competition that routinely draws some of the biggest players on the circuit. Federer himself, who was once a ball boy at the tournament, has won on seven occasions (and counting).