Most people have a bucket list a mile long of exotic locations and they meticulously plan and sequentially tick them off. We have one too, but our destinations rarely end up being from the traditional bucket list locations, and even less frequently are the planned in advance! The biggest perk of living in Dubai and other “hub” cities is the freedom with which you can pack your bags and head off to pretty much any destination at the drop of a hat. For us, getaway planning is about opportunity and many of those opportunities come from work schedules. Hubby has to travel for work, I start checking calendars and if they match we just may end up in some off-the-beaten track locales like our trip to Lund a few years back. This time around, we ended up in the picturesque city of Basel.
Where exactly is Basel? Good question, that was the first things the boys asked and I will admit to having to consult Google maps for an exact location 🙂 Basel, is the third largest city in Switzerland and manages to span over 3 countries – Switzerland, Germany and France. Interestingly, their airport is actually in France and prior to the formation of the EU had a Swiss half and a French half, with a border control point in between! Had I known that fact before getting there, I would probably have made a point of seeing the airport, but we flew in to Zurich airport and traveled by train to Basel. This was surprisingly easy to do straight without pre-booking train tickets as there are quite frequent departures to Basel from the airport, the trick is to catch the direct one (they run hourly) and to get a children’s daily ticket which works out cheaper by a few CHF. The train tickets weren’t particularly cheap, but we did book last minute and didn’t combine it with a pass which would be more cost-effective simply because we had no itinerary in mind and wanted the flexibility.
Basel has some lovely hotels and you’ll probably not struggle to find one in your budget, we stayed at the Sorell Hotel Merian which we booked through Booking.com. It’s an affordable 4 star hotel with family rooms, delicious breakfast and public transport on its doorstep. It turned out to be even better than expected when we realised it was on the river bank, walking distance to Basel old town and the boys got lots of spoils in terms of toys and treats. We also each received a Basel Card on arrival which meant we got 50% discount on several attractions, free WiFi throughout the city and free use of the public transport!
We’ve spent the last few years traveling quite a bit with the boys, but for the most part it was a tag team effort with both parents present at any given time. This was the first trip where I knew going in, I’d be exploring with the boys as a “single parent” as it really was a full fledged work trip! Basel turned out to be just the right size for an introductory trip – just big enough to not get bored and small enough that places are relatively close together and if you do hop on the wrong tram, you can’t get hopelessly lost in a few minutes. While most of our activities were centered around the boys, we did include a few that would be of more interest to us parentals too!
Treasure Hunt with Basil
This was hands down the boys’ favourite activity of the entire trip and an excellent way to explore a new city! It’s a fun 90 minute treasure hunt through Basel on both sides of the Rhine river that teaches the littles about some of the city’s most famous landmarks while solving clues and puzzles and yes, there is actually a treasure at the end!
This was probably our most adventurous morning of the trip simply because its further out into the greater Basel and we may have gotten slightly lost (that free city WiFi does not reach to the outskirts and we were using old school maps to navigate!) Incidentally, there is a bus route that stops right outside the zoo entrance but we ended up enjoying the stroll through the suburbs.
The zoo is not massive, but it is a lovely outdoor space with some very interesting exhibits that allow you to get up close and personal with many of the animals including rhinos, penguins and a Gila monster (Joshua was very very excited about this).
Paper Mill museum
I loved that this was a hands on attraction and also had loads of geeky info and displays. It was a very good mix for parents and kids. I would recommend you go during the week as this is a popular attraction, especially if you’l like to grab a bite at the restaurant next door!
Natural History Museum
We’ve made a point of visiting the Natural History Museum in pretty much every city we’ve been to because we’re not-so-secretly a family of geeks who like all things science! The Basel version is smaller than a lot of the others we’ve been to, but kids enter free and for the gems and minerals exhibition alone it is well worth the visit. I’ll admit that I really enjoyed seeing the mammoth skeleton and while we were there, there was a special exhibition on about the ear and how it functions. The only downside, is that if you do not speak German, then either have your Google Translate app handy or an interpreter to help you along. Make sure to have some change on you for the lockers (1 CHF) as you cannot take in backpacks or hand bags.
An art museum is probably not the most traditional of kids activities, but we’d visited the Louvre Abu Dhabi with the boys before so I didn’t think it would be a complete train wreck and there was a Picasso exhibit on so we were willing to risk it! Lockers are on the ground floor and free of charge, but you will need to pay for special exhibitions separately. The art museum was great at creating points for discussion and debating what makes something art versus just a random pile of junk but we need a bit more practice as Liam (7) did quickly run out of patience and we had to resort to bribery to complete our blitz visit.
Parks, walks and toy stores
Basel is a very walking friendly town with lots of spaces cordoned off for pedestrians on both sides of the river and the banks of the Rhine make for beautiful afternoon strolls with a warm cup of coffee or ice cream treat. The boys loved talking to the swans and ducks paddling in the water and watching the locals play Bocce along the walkways. There are a variety of children’s parks to help them burn off some steam and if you’re keen to treat them we found the best toy store! Spielkiste has such a wide variety of toys and puzzles that you could easily spend either a fortune (or a lot of time exploring) in there. It even has an indoor slide for the kids and hopscotch outside to keep them busy.