Basel is Back—The Most Important Week in Art

If you're going to Art Basel this year, be sure to take time to explore the Swiss city. A guide of what to see, eat, and drink outside the fair.

by Evan Rail
Jun 7 2017, 2:15pm

The world's premier art event officially kicks off June 15, presenting the works of over 4,000 artists in the Swiss city. But beyond the fair itself, Basel is a chill destination. The city is at the meeting point of Switzerland, Germany and France, offering plenty of Old World charm—and plenty of cool things to see and do outside the sprawling Messe fairgrounds. Check out the 22 site-specific artworks in and around the Münsterplatz in the city center, visit excellent museums and arts foundations in three different countries, then take in the world-class architecture and Michelin-starred eateries before exploring the nightlife in the city's trendy Kleinbasel district.

If you're feeling social:

Les Trois Rois

Blumenrain 8,

Make sure to grab a drink on the terrace and pick up the fair gossip. If you're looking to enjoy more than a cocktail (or two), this grand hotel is home to several excellent bars and restaurants, including Cheval Blanc, which holds three Michelin stars and a remarkable 19 Gault-Millau points. Chef Peter Knogl updates classic French haute cuisine with modern Asian and Mediterranean influences, serving exquisite meals complemented by top-shelf Continental service and commanding views over the Rhine.

And here's what to see:

Vitra Design Museum

Charles-Eames-Straße 2, Weil am Rhein;

Just over the border in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the Vitra campus houses unique buildings by some of the greatest names in architecture, from Frank Gehry's Design Museum to Zaha Hadid's Fire Station, with a geodesic dome by Buckminster Fuller for special events. The archives of Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson and Alexander Girard, among other greats, are open to researchers upon request.

Beyeler Foundation

Baselstrasse 101, Riehen;

Legendary dealers Hildy and Ernst Beyeler ensconced their personal collection in this Renzo Piano building in the neighboring municipality of Riehen in 1997. Easily accessible by public transportation or a rental bicycle from Basel proper, the Beyeler Foundation offers 300 classic modern and contemporary artworks, as well as temporary exhibitions and large-scale sculptures by Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly. On view this month are two stellar shows that shouldn't be missed: one featuring Wolfgang Tillmans and the other Tino Sehgal.

Barragan Foundation

Klünenfeldstrasse 20, Birsfelden;

The complete archives of Mexico's greatest architect, Pritzker winner Luis Barragán, including drawings, sketches, blueprints, various texts and manuscripts, housed in the nearby burg of Birsfelden with support from Vitra. Due to ongoing archival work, access to the archives is restricted, and professionals and academics are asked to submit research requests to the foundation well in advance.

Of course, you need to eat too:

Fondation Fernet-Branca

2, rue du Ballon, Saint-Louis;

In the nearby French town of Saint Louis, this 1,500-square-meter (aka 16,000-square-foot) exhibition space for contemporary art is housed in a beautiful former distillery from 1909. The current show, "La Terre la plus contraire – Les femmes du Prix Marcel Duchamp" by Indian artist Manish Nai runs from June 10 until October 8.


Viaduktstrasse 10;

During the day, this 1929 market hall's dozens of food stands offer sweet and savory recipes from five continents, including Ethiopian injera flatbreads, Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, Argentine empanadas and Kurdish lamacun and pide. Concerts, events, and the in-house cocktail bar Hinz & Kunz ( transform the space into a popular evening venue.

Werk 8

Dornacherstrasse 192;

In 2015, the team that transformed 5 Signori restaurant into a local favorite opened this youthful new cafe in a former warehouse space a couple of blocks away, offering fresh pastas, salads and from-scratch baked goods paired with a cool wine list. Excellent tapenades and other small snacks, as well as mixology cocktails created with unusual ingredients, including a house-made popcorn infusion.


Stänzlergasse 4;

Opened in partnership with Europe's oldest vegetarian restaurant, Zurich's Haus Hiltl, Tibits now has a handful of locations across Switzerland, as well as two meat-free eateries in London. Housed in the former Kino Hollywood, the restaurant sells fresh salads, juices and global vegan and vegetarian specialties, including palak paneer, veggie pad thai and tandoori cauliflower, all priced by weight.

Zum Bierjohann

Elsässerstrasse 17;

This intimate craft beer bar in the St. Johann neighborhood northwest of Basel's Old Town offers around 18 taps of high-grade hop bombs, as well as soft drinks, cocktails, wine and a list of some 250 bottled brews. Look out for rare lagers and ales you're unlikely to ever see back home from such names as Braukollektiv, Hanscraft, Kehrwieder and Camba Bavaria.

Roter Bären

Ochsengasse 17;

Forget appetizers versus mains: in the heart of Basel's red light district, this stylish, year-old restaurant serves all dishes at the same size, allowing guests to mix and match according to taste. Menus change frequently based on seasonal availability and include pike-perch, char and other fresh fish, while sauces, soups and accompaniments bring unusual combinations, like almond gazpacho and seaweed mayonnaise.


Schützengraben 62;

Named after Italy's boot heel, Apulia ranked as one of the city's best new restaurants of 2016, quickly winning over fans with such traditional southern Italian specialties as baked caciocavallo cheese, insalata di polpo, salt-encrusted sea bass and orecchiette with rapini. Excellent wines and service make this a must-visit, easy accessible near the Spalentor city gate.


Lichtstrasse 9;

Housed in a new building by local heroes HHF Architects, this relaxing restaurant close to the Novartis campus and across from Voltamatte park offers its own dry-aged beef steaks, as well as excellent modern Swiss and European fare, including a beloved cheese fondue. While brick walls and industrial lamps create an airy atmosphere, perfect for lingering over a bottle from the varied, well-chosen wine list.


Rheingasse 19;

Located in the heart of trendy Kleinbasel on tiny Rheingasse street, this intimate bar offers rare salumi, hams and other cured meats from Italy, raw-milk cheeses from Switzerland and hand-picked olives from Spain, as well as over 100 wines from around Europe. Open for lunch as well as afternoon and evening apéros, and fortunately fitted with tall windows for watching the funky Kleinbasel neighborhood promenade.

Veranda Pellicano

Birskopfweglein 7;

Located right where the Birs river hits the Rhine, just east of the Schwarzwaldbrücke bridge, the sprawling Birsköpfli ("Birs Head") park offers riverside bathing, fresh air and plenty of grassy relaxation. Furthering the Mediterranean atmosphere, this popular Italian-inspired restaurant serves antipasti, arancini and house-made gelati.


Westquaistrasse 75;

One of the city's favorite warm-weather venues, this "oasis" on the Rhine harbor offers an unexpected beach-bar atmosphere, complete with palm trees, sand, dance music and fruit cocktails. Located next to the 1957 Dreiländereck pylon by Wilhelm Münger that marks the meeting point of Switzerland, France and Germany.

A frequent contributor to the New York Times travel section, Evan Rail has been visiting Switzerland regularly since 1994, when he got a summer job in a supermarket in the northern Swiss canton of Aargau. He lives in Prague.

Art Basel