What the internet won’t tell you about Basel and Lucerne
After falling for a cheap flight offer to again an expensive country, I found myself researching travel bloggers and guides for any info that could help me make the trip worth every coin (Switzerland is expensive, we know that). I learned about mountains, valleys, trips, lakes and trains… But the reviews did not talk about any city or practical info.
My plan was a weekend in two Swiss cities, in the middle of a humid, snowless January with no time for hiking. Was there really nothing interesting to see in Basel and Lucerne?
What the internet won’t tell you about Basel and Lucerne
Both cities offers to tourists the chance to use the Basel City Card and Visitor Card Lucerne. They allow you to use public transport within the city freely, act as a discount voucher to the majority of museums, sightseeing, tours and even theaters. Depending on the attraction you pick, you have around 50% discount to use in one of those. But how to get it? As long as you the travel taxes upon arriving, you should receive the city card for free. Be sure to check the amount of days the card is valid for you.
In Europe usually such cards don’t include the bus/train to the airport, in Basel they do. If the hotel or BnB doesn’t email you the card (rare situation) you will receive it only upon arrival, this means you will still have to pay for the first ticket to the city. Since the card in Basel can be assigned on line in certain circumstances, I would suggest to ask your host for more info. Spare where you can, in Switzerland you’ll have plenty of opportunities to go bankrupt 😉
One more thing about the transport. Trams have a different routes depending on hours and if going from stop A to Z or Z to A. If you expect to stay in the city center you will be fine but be carefull when getting near the German side of the city, it’s quite a walk when missing a stop.
About the prices, in a study from 2016 Norway was ranked the most expensive country in Europe and the second most expensive country after Japan. I was lucky to spend a weekend in Norway in 2017 an the prices were as high as expected. Not bothering to check if the chart changed (I mean, who searches on purpose for that kind of stuff when going on a relax trip) I was caught off guard. Right now Switzerland is the most expensive european country! I realized it when I lurked to restaurant menus. For a pizza in Jamie Olivier’s Oslo Restaurant back in 2017 you would have to pay around 17 euros. In Switzerland you need to pay an average of 23 euros for a pizza! (A kind reminder that in the city of origin of pizza, a Margherita costs 4 euros).
Talking about food, once you’ve tried a traditional dish in a local restaurant, I recommend to eat at Migros for the sake of your wallet and taste buds. The chain is quite popular in Switzerland and offers a variety of tasty sandwiches, panini, pizzas, sweets, cakes and tortillas. Just be sure the one you spotted is not selling flowers or is not a bank (yes Migros is also a bank). It’s a Swiss retail company so you won’t feel guilty about eating at a non local shop.
When booking your stay, use a site that compares rates or gives additional discounts. Choosing between an AirBnb and a hotel is not difficult as they cost almost all the same. Remember you can save a lot staying at a place that offers free breakfast. To compare the rates I recommend TRVL and eventually HRS (you can compare the cheapest option with breakfast here or book directly Ibis Styles which has a fair rate for Basel*).
Evenings and weekends in the city
Coming from a country where a good amount of shops, restaurants and recreation facilities stay opened until 22 every evening, it was a bit confusing to find people in Basel only in some restaurant and nowhere else. When searching what to do during these days, I found honestly no info apart from the classic “go to this and that pub”, well, thanks.
Luckily there are still some available activities. If you fancy the classic tour immersion, you can visit one of the museums (open all week) or visit the Dreiländerpunkt Pylône des Trois Frontiéres which is practically the point from which you will see Germany, France and Switzerland at once. You can obviously also walk around the town to admire S. Elisabeth Church, the colorful town hall and the Cathedral. The last one is located near the Munsterplatz from which there is an enchanting view in the evening over the river Ren and the city lights.
If you want to join the locals in the weekend, go to Papa Joe’s restaurant, visited regularly by the players of FC Basel. You will surely notice it once you look at the walls. A less traditional but cool restaurant is Union Diner, however you need to come before 8 pm or prepare to wait as that’s the most crowded hour.
Swiss are super precise, rigoristic, harsh people? Wrong. The facilities are well organized but as a tourist you won’t se stereotypes coming to life. People continuously cross the road with red light, there aren’t always stripes on the crossroads and drivers reverse on crossroads careless of the trams all around them. A mess but funny sight.
Another stereotype describes Switzerland as an incredibly rich country. Banks are open on Sundays, expensive shops have a lot of customers, merchants and waiters will gift you a despising look if you decline ordering an expensive meal or buying the most pricey product of the line (yep that’s a sad true).
Trains to Lucerne
Basel is a modern city, resembling more Cracow than the stereotypical Swiss city. Wanting to some cozy buildings and typical architecture, we decided for a trip to Lucerne.
Be careful when buying ticket to reach other towns in Switzerland as buying a general open ticket may cost you a leg. For Lucerne, our 2 ways ticket was valid all day and both for regional and intercity trains however it costed us 77 euro per person. It is convenient if you are willing to pay for a spontaneous visit, without any planning or timetable, I have to admit that it was a huge plus.
If you prefer to pay a bit less and don’t mind a more organized touristic plan, you can ask if there are available reservation for specific connections that would help you save a bit.
Bonus: The Lucerne Path
Lucerne has a lot to offer and is one of the most energetic and touristic (in the good sense only) city in Switzerland. You can visit the monuments, important building, historical landmarks and scenic views in one day. If you have more time, give yourself a couple of days to get used to the Swiss architecture, take the opportunity to hike on Mt. Pilatus and other very close mountains, admire the Lake Lucerne (or Lake Lake of the Four Forested Settlements from the original German name) from a closer point.
If you are looking for an effective travel path to visit smoothly the city remarkable spots, you can use the official city guide with a 5 hour tour plan (we completed it in 3,30h despite getting sometimes off the track). You can check the map below, download it from Lucerne official tourism website or collect a free copy from on of the Tourist Information spots, for example in the main train station.
You can find more official brochures here. I hope this info will help you to have the best time in Switzerland!