Exploring the heart of Basel – the mighty Rhine River

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The Rhine River is the soul of Basel and the heartbeat of Switzerland.

While many cities in Europe have a dominant monument that makes the place instantly recognizable, usually a historic building, an impressive cathedral or picturesque square, the defining landmark of Basel very much is the Rhine River.

Straddling this historical waterway, the city of Basel has grown over centuries into a powerful trading hub, though most of us tourists will stay right around the stunning historical quarter in the city center, around the mighty Rhine.

rhine river basel

You don’t have to spend long in Basel to realize the Rhine influences the city’s life and culture in many ways, even in modern-day Switzerland. No matter where I wandered I found myself drawn back to its banks, whether to dip my does in the clean water to sitting and having a drink while whiling away the hours.

Hey, I was on holiday!

My first morning in Basel this June, I was exceptionally jet-lagged from flying over from New Zealand, and found myself alert and wide awake at the stupidly early hour of 4:30am! WTF?!


Tossing and turning and unable to drift back to sleep, I dragged myself out of bed at the very hip design hotel Nomad, and decided to go for a wander.

After all, is there anything more glorious than having a busy city all to yourself during an early summer sunrise? Oh wait, yes there is. Sleeping.

Oh well. I suppose I should be grateful the one time I’m ever a morning person is when I’m jetlagged.

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

And once my initial annoyance at being away at such an ungodly hour dissipated, I quickly fell in love with Basel. Honestly, this city was such a delightful surprise, and I heartily recommend doing an early morning walk when it’s totally quiet.

I’m pretty sure that walk is what made me fall in love with Basel, and by the end I was contemplating if I could return this summer for a month, rent a charming house on the Rhine with colorful shutters (pale green please), and write my memoirs. Who’s with me?

Once the sun came up, muted through thin clouds on the horizon, it bathed the river in the most beautiful shade of red gold I could have ever imagined as I walked along its shores. Looking around me, I realized I had this spectacle all to myself. Ok, maybe I should try and wake up earlier from now on. Maybe. We’ll see. Nah.

‘There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,’ said my mother. ‘Put yourself in the way of beauty.’ Cheryl Strayed

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

375 kilometers long, the Rhine is the longest river in Switzerland, snaking its way through the storybook landscapes before making one grand final appearance in Basel before disappearing down into Germany.

Basel is tucked away in northern Switzerland, right on the border with France and Germany, and holds a special place in my heart as one of the very first places I ever traveled to in 2008 when I moved to Spain for the first time. Right before the holidays I embarked on my very first solo backpacking trip, with a train pass up western Germany, visiting all the Christmas markets and partaking of all the glühwein.

I didn’t spent too much time in Basel before heading up to Germany, so it meant a lot to me to return back to my roots in the very place where I first properly fell in love with travel. Ah sweet nostalgia.

So fucking glad my days of sleeping in 16 bed hostel dorm rooms are long over.

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

On my first day in Basel after getting lost wandering around the adorable cobbled streets, I made my way back to the one landmark I could easily get my bearings from – the Rhine.

Unseasonably hot and humid in June, the air felt heavy and thick and I was already sweating through my clothes, an unusual experience for me in Switzerland with its cool mountain breezes and normally dry air. Rain was on its way.

It seemed like the whole city was out sitting on the steps next to the river or at and buvettes – a quintessentially Swiss open-air bar/cafe thingy that opens up in fine weather.

I quickly noticed people swimming in the river, at which I gagged a little bit to myself – gross! Who swims in urban city rivers? But then I remembered I was in Switzerland, a place so clean it makes Germany look dirty.

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

As it turns out, swimming in the Rhine is a classic Basel past time, with buoys marking the way.

I also realized they were actually just lazily floating downstream, usually with a colorful floating device behind them. What is this invention?

Pestering a nearby local, I found out they are truly Basel creation: the Wickelfisch! A floating waterproof swim bag that you can put all your clothes and things into and attach to you while you float down the Rhine. Honestly, the Swiss do really think of everything!

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

Crossing my way back over to the other side of the Rhine using one of the handful of old traditional ferries, for less than two Swiss francs you can be towed across the river in a little wooden ferry just by the current, no motor. Classic!

From here I checked into my most exciting experience of all: staying in a traditional fisherman’s hut right on the Rhine, one of Switzerland’s creative pop-up hotels this summer.

All along the Rhine River, you will notice little wooden cabins on stilts, sitting over the water with a complex looking sail device hanging off the roof. These are traditional fishing huts, most of which are privately owned, and people fish the river via the sail-like gallows netting.

More info here about staying in the fishing hut in Basel.

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

For this summer, one of these classic huts has been done up for a bit of urban glamping and now you have the chance to stay in one too. Without power or running water, you have the chance to fall asleep listening to the Rhine River, a truly unique experience.

Watching a fiery sunset from the windows as locals drifted by on the opposite side of the river, I could feel myself slipping completely and utterly into the charm of Basel.

Cozy and cute, I wasn’t sure how my insomnia was going to handle this experience, only to find myself lulled quickly into a deep sleep by the sounds of the river and rain on the roof. I had all kinds of plans for sunrise the next day only to not be able drag myself out of bed til about 10!

Basel, you won me over with your magnificent river and charming town. I definitely will be back!

Have you been to Basel? Would you be down for some urban glamping? Share!

rhine river basel

rhine river basel

rhine river basel
Many thanks to My Switzerland for hosting me in Basel – like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own – like you could expect less from me!

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