Basel is buzzing right now. After being closed for more than a year, the landmark Kunstmuseum reopened in April with a spectacular new annexe to showcase one of the world’s most important art collections. The vibrant, eclectic dining scene has been crowned by Michelin, which has awarded a coveted three stars to a restaurant here for the first time. And from June 16 to 19, the razzamatazz of Art Basel hits town, with high-powered gallery owners and collectors from around the globe arriving for the world’s most important art fair.
Divided by the Rhine, the city neatly splits into two, with imposing Grossbasel perfect for luxury shopping, gourmet restaurants and museums; more bohemian Kleinbasel is a gold mine of hip diners, clubs and boutiques. It’s worth visiting during the city’s legendary carnival in February or Im Fluss, a floating music festival on the Rhine, in July and August.
A comfortable bed
The hottest new address is the Nomad (www.nomad.ch), with minimalist designer rooms. Guests can use a free folding bike, while Nomad's swish bar and restaurant have become the place for fashionable Bâlois to gather after work. Double rooms cost from 163.50 Swiss francs (Dh606), including taxes.
Another newcomer offering unique accommodation is Hotel au Violon (www.au-violon.com). Housed in an old prison, genuine cells have been enlarged and converted into comfortable rooms. There's an old-fashioned brasserie, and the hotel is part of a medieval courtyard that also houses the city's Music Museum and a jazz club. Doubles cost from 163.50 francs (Dh606), including taxes.
When it comes to a luxury stay, nothing compares with the palatial Les Trois Rois (www.lestroisrois.com), which has majestically overlooked the Rhine since 1681. Doubles cost from 518.50 francs (Dh1,923), including taxes.
Find your feet
Basel is as renowned for its cutting-edge architecture as its art museums. The Cezanne, Monet and Picasso masterpieces of the Fondation Beyeler (www.fondationbeyeler.ch) are housed in a dazzling Renzo Piano creation. The huge exhibition spaces necessary to showcase the surreal sculptures of Yves Tinguely in his eponymous museum (www.tinguely.ch) were created by Mario Botta. A short taxi ride across the German border takes you to the dramatic Vitra Design Museum (www.design-museum.de), Frank Gehry's first building in Europe. Back in town, escape the crowds to wander past the mansions and avant-garde art galleries of the elegant St Alban-Tal neighbourhood, Basel's Little Venice, where an old paper mill has been converted into a fascinating museum (www.papiermuseum.ch).
Meet the locals
Head for the Rhine’s Kleinbasel bank, where citizens promenade beneath the shady lime trees and organise picnics at lunchtime, with bigger crowds gathering to watch the sunset on the steps that go down to the water’s edge. The newest popular meeting spot for lunch or dinner is Markthalle on Steinentorberg, a cavernous market hall transformed into a cornucopia of exotic street-food stalls: Ethiopian, Afghan, Lebanese, Indian, Japanese.
Book a table
Basel's new three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Cheval Blanc (www.lestroisrois.com) is led by chef Peter Knogl, who prepares marvellously inventive dishes for the sumptuous dining room. Indulge in the 220-franc (Dh816) tasting menu to savour crispy red mullet with saffron and black ginger followed by tender suckling lamb.
In contrast, the laid-back Acero (www.eiscafe-acero.ch) is run by health-food enthusiasts, with a menu that changes daily, featuring organic salads, vegetarian quiches, mezze and homemade ice cream.
Volkshaus Basel (www.volkshaus-basel.ch) has a romantic turn-of-the-century dining room, fashionable bar and garden, as well a jazz club at night. Main dishes cost about 40 francs (Dh148) each, and the young chef creates inventive recipes such as chunky cod on a bed of warm cucumber and dill.
No foodie should miss dinner at Zum Gifthüttli (www.gifthuettli.ch), a cosy traditional tavern famous for veal cordon bleu and vegetarian dishes such as asparagus with creamy hollandaise sauce.
Indulging in Switzerland's irresistible chocolates is a must. Schiesser (www.confiserie-schiesser.ch) has been making delicious pralines since 1870, best tasted in its romantic art deco salon, while the funkier Xocalatl (www.xocolatl.ch) has a selection of chocolates from around the world.
For Swiss designers, wander up the hill behind Marktplatz and the iconic red Town Hall, where narrow streets are packed with boutiques such as Kleinbasel (www.kleinbasel.net), showcasing local fashion stylists; Erfolg (www. erfolg-label.ch), an Aladdin's cave of chic accessories; and the atelier of Claudia Hediger Schmuck (www.hediger-schmuck.ch), one of Basel's numerous artisan jewellers and goldsmiths.
The Spielzeug Welten (www.swmb.museum) enchants adults as much as children with the world's biggest collection of antique teddy bears.
What to avoid
Spending money on taxis. Trundling around on Basel’s ultra-efficient trams is the best way to discover the city.
Etihad (www.etihad.com) flies from Abu Dhabi to Zurich from Dh3,400 return, including taxes. Trains from Zurich Airport to Basel cost €24 (Dh99) and take 70 minutes.