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What is life in Basel like? – A quick overview

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Statue at Aeschenplatz

This is a kinetic sculpture located at Aeschenplatz in Basel, Switzerland.

People and Language

Basel is located in Switzerland, where the French, German and Swiss borders meet. With about 180,000 residents, it’s the third largest city in Switzerland. The city is small and easy to navigate, with a rich cultural heritage. The population is multi-cultural, well-educated and tolerant, with a large expat population (about 30% of the population of Basel are expats) of all ages, coming from hundreds of different countries. While Switzerland has four official languages, the most common language spoken in Basel is Swiss German. However, it’s very simple to get around the city and communicate easily, if you speak English or French. The majority of the younger people (under 40) speak some English (although they are often hesitant to do so, for fear of speaking incorrectly). Many of the older Basel residents also speak English, but it is much more likely to encounter someone who only speaks Swiss-German the older they are.

 

Basel Restaurants and Nightlife

Basel has good dining opportunities, for a city of its size. There are numerous restaurants serving most common types of ethnic cuisine (Indian, Thai, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Spanish), in addition to numerous places serving traditional Swiss dishes. Eating out in Basel is rather expensive, especially if you order meat dishes. The portion sizes are often small, relative to other countries. Waitstaff do not expect tips for service, though it is customary to add a few percent (2-5 percent), if the service was friendly and efficient.  Bartenders do not generally receive tips.

Photo of Paddy's in Basel, Switzerland

Paddy’s is an Irish Bar officially, but it has a great mix of locals and expats, delicious food, and a wide assortment of tasty drinks.

The nightlife in Basel depends on your taste in fun. There are a variety of dance clubs and live music venues across the city. Many Basel residents also go to Zurich to look for more clubbing/concert options. There are numerous smaller cocktail bars, pubs and several places where expats tend to congregate, often based on their cultural background. Movies are easy to find in English, but subtitles are projected in two languages (German, French) obscuring much of the bottom 20% of the screen and can be very distracting. Many theaters will have an intermission halfway through the film, for bathroom breaks and getting snacks. As you can imagine, this can interrupt the general flow of the film.

For more sophisticated entertainment tastes, the Basel Symphony and Basel Chamber orchestras have regular performances. Basel’s music school often has excellent and reasonably priced concerts and recitals from students and visiting musicians.

 

Safety

Basel has relatively little crime, compared to many other cities, however there are some issues with crime being on the rise. In 2011 there was an 11 per cent increase in crime, with thefts and purse snatching being the most major issue, however violent crime also increased 8 per cent in the same year. As with anywhere else, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings and to be accompanied if it is late at night.

 

Finding Employment and Accommodation

There are numerous different industries and companies located in Basel, that are constantly looking for new talent. Basel is also an excellent place if you want to start your own business or go to school. Most people who live in Basel are renters, as opposed to homeowners. Apartments are easy to find, and affordable. While the cost of living in Basel is high, salaries are proportionally high. Easy access to shopping in Germany and France also makes it possible to reduce shopping expenses.

 

Buses in Basel, Switzerland

This is one of the many modern buses that run in Basel, Switzerland.

Transportation Within the City

Basel is serviced by a comprehensive and reliable public transport system of trams and buses. These run from relatively early in the morning (most lines start at 5-6 am) till about midnight. Single-trip and day tickets can only be purchased from machines at each tram or bus stop, with the cost depending on your destination/ or how long you plan to travel. These machines are somewhat intimidating, and take some time to figure out, so be sure to get to the tram stop a bit early! The machines operate in English, French, German and Italian and take both Swiss and EU coins (but no notes), and some credit/debit cards.

Monthly or yearly passes to all public transport can be purchased in the city center. Taxis are plentiful, though very expensive. Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, and can be easily rented or purchased. Cars can also be imported, but this is more complicated, and there is generally a tax and import duty to be paid. In order to drive in Basel, you’ll need a valid driving license from Switzerland or any EU/EEA country or a valid international driving license. Fuel in Basel is expensive and parking can be difficult to find, depending on where in the city you choose to go. Basel is very bicycle and pedestrian friendly, at all times of the year, and many Basel residents choose not to have a car at all, with no complaints.

 

Transport to other cities/countries

By Rail

The Swiss also have an extensive and extremely reliable train system that reaches most Swiss cities, towns and villages as well as providing access to many other major European city centers. High-speed trains go direct from Basel to Frankfurt, Paris and Milan in under 4 hours. Basel has two major train stations, the Basel SBB (Swiss Rail) and the Basel Badischer Bahnhof, which is operated by the German Rail (Deutsch Bahnhof-DB) . Train connections from other countries are often less reliable than Swiss trains, a factor that should be taken into account when travelling. Furthermore, inclement weather, fallen trees or occasional accidents on the train lines can disrupt service. This is much more common in the winter months.

By Air

Basel’s airport is close to the city center and remarkably easy to reach by either public transportation or driving. Flights out of Basel are somewhat limited, as the airport is small, but Zurich Airport, which is much larger, is about 1.5 hours away by train. Due to the size of the airport, going through security is generally quite fast, and the airport restaurant/ business lounge facilities are excellent. Low-cost carriers like EasyJet fly out of Basel airport, providing economical connections to much of Europe, but be sure to book early to get the best prices!