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Seeing Basel with a big family
Our Big Family entering the gateway to Europe (Basel, Switzerland)
Basel in Switzerland is a great gateway to Europe for a traveling family, because... has easy access (even walkable access!) to your choice of three family-friend destination countries, and at times, some of the lowest airfare prices from the U.S. I had heard of Basel, but didn't even know where it was until I started researching for this particular trip. When I saw that I could get us to Basel for significantly less than the cost of any other destination in that part of Europe, Basel suddenly become very interesting as a potential gateway city. We ended up flying in to Basel (via London), then used trains to get around Europe.

We had a great experience there and highly recommend it as a jumping off point for your family's travels to Europe. Here are our 8 tips for visiting Basel with a big family...

#8: Consider Staying in Saint-Louis Grenze, France
If yours is a frugal family like ours, you may be wondering how to stay in the Basel area on the cheap. Switzerland is known for many things, but discount pricing on lodging isn't one of them. You're in luck, because Basel sits at the border of Switzerland, France, and Germany, giving you three countries from which to choose for nearby activities, lodging, restaurants, and groceries. From any of them, Basel itself is an easy trip by public transportation. Our big family's pick for lodging was a 2-bedroom, 1-bath apartment in Saint-Louis Grenze (pronounced more or less like Sahn Louie Grenz).

Where to stay in Basel, Switzerland with a big family
View from our Apartment Rental of the French Neighborhood
We liked Saint-Louis Grenze a lot. There was a nice, small supermarket with everything we needed, and two great bakeries with fresh croissants every morning. If, like us, you have a long-haul flight leaving early, you might consider the fact that the Basel airport (EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg) is actually in France, not Switzerland, and is located about a 20-minute cabride northeast from the border with Swizterland. This makes St-Louis Grenze a great choice.

The only thing to be aware of is that the Swiss recycling plant, Lottner AG Basel-Entsorgung, is right there on the Basel side (it was 150 feet, or 46 meters, from our balcony in France). So depending on where you stay, you might be close enough to see the (odorless) smokestacks pouring tons of white vapor/smoke into the sky. You could avoid that by going a little deeper into this small town in France, or there are numerous apartment rentals just to the east and to the west of the airport.

I didn't know the recycling center was there before booking our brief stay. It's not the sort of thing you'd expect an apartment owner to brag about, is it?  And 30 minutes of online searching today wasn't enough to find any information in English about what exactly that plant is emitting into the air (harmless vapor? something else?) so I'd welcome any comments from anyone who knows. In the meantime, if mystery emissions bother you, there's always Germany...

#7: Consider Staying in Weil am Rhein, Germany
Initially we had researched and booked an awesome barn-converted-to-loft-house stay in Weil am Rhein, which was going to be our first night in Europe. But then when France-sized thunderstorms got us grounded in London, we ended up having to cancel that plan and head straight on into deeper Switzerland on our second day, where we already had a prepaid stay arranged in the Alps. So we missed sleeping in Germany near Basel, but we did have a fantastic outing from the Basel area to Germany, later on in the trip, as described in the castle tip, below.

Weil am Rhein and the Haltingen area both have some good options for home rentals in Germany that are large enough for a big family, situated in a pretty area. A quick cab ride (or a walk) can get you to the nearest rail station for your further outings into Basel or elsewhere, which is about 20 minutes away.

#6: Use the World-Class Public Transpo
There are commuter rail lines, or trams, all over Basel, and even from Basel to St-Louis Grenze, France or into Weil am Rhein, Germany. The cost is minimal and the system is easy to figure out. We bought tickets from a kiosk before boarding, but then no one asked us for them. To figure out where to board, look for electronic signs that helpfully list destinations as well as how many minutes it will be until the next tram arrives.
The trams were clean and the rides were pleasant. This method of getting around will cost just a fraction of the price of a cab ride.

Walking tour of Basel, Switzerland with a big family
Plenty of Old Europe Charm is to be found in Basel, Switzerland

#5: Walk the Unter er Rheinweg
There's a charming, old-Europe riverside pedestrian area, called "Along the Rhine Way" (literally: "Under" or "Among," but I think "Along" works) that goes along the Rhine River. From here you can get great photographs of picturesque, waterfront Basel, which looks like that fantasy idea I had in my head of what old Europe looks like.

There are five bridges across the river, and although four of them look fairly pedestrian-friendly, the one with the most memorable, old-town look is Mittlere Brücke (Middle Bridge).  You could walk the bridge one way across the river, and catch a ferry on the way back, at Klingental Fähre "Vogel Gryff" or, on the other side, the Basel Schifflände ferry terminal.

#4: Wander Old Town
Take a self-guided walking wander about the area, and enjoy the beautiful architecture and highly walkable city streets. Some areas have mid- and high-end retail mixed in with residences and offices above the shops. There are pharmacies, shops selling toys and art supplies, pizza parlors, and ice cream shops. Here, and everywhere in Switzerland, be sure to bring your own water cups or bottles for walking tours. You can get free refills at the refreshing public water fountains placed conveniently throughout the city. This tactic saved us upwards of 60 Euros per day on buying water (a single-serving bottle of water in many places in Switzerland is priced at 5 Euros...times 6 least twice a adds up fast!). 

What is there to do in Basel with a big family
Window Shopping in Basel with a Big Family

On your walk, you might add stops at your pick of any of the unique museums the area has to offer, like the Basler Papiermühle (Basel Paper Mill, now a museum) or the Barfuesserkirche (Basel Historical Museum).

The Anatomisches Museum der Universität Basel (Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel) comes highly recommended also, but for us, traveling with small kids, seeing lots of skeletons and bones, along with cross-sections of internal organs and brains, just wasn't our idea of fun. You might instead want to take this next tip...

#3: Visit the Toy Museum
This museum at Barfusserplatz in Basel is totally worth the time to visit, especially if you're traveling with small children. We thought it was a little hard to find. Its name on the map and website is Spielzeug Welten Museum Basel, but the name on the sign in the street was "Puppenhaus Museum," meaning Dollhouse Museum. We were standing right in front of it and couldn't find it because it looked like a toy shop on the ground floor. The museum is upstairs. We have a full article on visiting Toy Museums in general in this link (and the part specifically about Basel's Toy Museum is near the bottom of that article).

#2: Check out the Old Gates (Briefly)
These three gates are very, very quick destinations for a big family - just something cool to see if you're walking by the area. After seeing some castles in Europe, the gates might not exactly blow your minds, but, it is interesting enough to stop and snap a pic, and maybe marvel at it for a moment, before moving on. They are not something I'd spend half an hour in a cab to go and find, but if you're picking a random spot from which to start your walking tour of Basel, the Gate of Spalen, also known as Spalentor, is the most impressive gate, and has immediate access to a cool, walkable area.

Things to do in Basel with a big family with small children
Spalentor, the old wall's gate tower in Basel
The gates invite you to use your imagination to picture the rest of the old wall.  In the year 1356, old Basel was destroyed by an earthquake. When the city was rebuilt, it was surrounded by a high city wall and moat. The wall that ringed the city had some 40+ towers, and 7 of them were gate towers like Spalentor, which was completed around 1474.

St. Johanns-Tor and St. Alban Tor can also be added to a relaxing walking tour, but distances between them are pretty far, so you might want to consider combining the walking with some of Basel's easy public transportation. We happened to see St. Johanns-Tor as well as Spalentor, since St. Johanns-Tor was on our way to our apartment.

Is it worth going to visit St. Johanns-Tor, Basel?
St. Johanns-Tor, Basel

#1: See a Medieval Castle
By far, our most memorable Basel-area activity was not actually in Basel. With a few minutes' cab ride from the Basel area, you can visit the 11th-century Rötteln Castle in nearby Lörrach, Germany. This was one of our big family's favorite activities in all of Europe. Time it right and you can also grab a delicious lunch for a fair price at the castle's delicious on-site cafe. If you're staying in France or Switzerland, even if you're not planning on seeing Germany, this side trip makes a great way to add a quick, easy stop and experience one new place as a half-day trip from anywhere in the Basel area.

You can read our full write-up about visiting this medieval castle here in this link.

Can you see Rötteln Castle with small children?
Our Big Family visiting Rötteln Castle in nearby Lörrach, Germany,
during a half-day trip from the St-Louis Grenze/Basel area

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