Planning on living in Basel? This overview of the city’s neighborhoods and what they have to offer expats will help you decide where to live.
If you are planning on moving to Basel, one of your biggest challenges will be deciding where to live. The first thing you will need to do is figure out the city’s 19 neighborhoods and explore what they have to offer in terms of housing, transport, job opportunities, and of course, entertainment. Getting a feel for these different areas before you relocate will naturally make living in Basel a lot more enjoyable.
So, to help you get started, this guide provides an overview of what living in Basel is like and explains how to find a home in the city. From which neighborhoods to prioritize – and which to avoid – and how to go about finding a place to live, it will have you settled into your new Basel home in no time. It includes the following information:
- An overview of living in Basel
- Wettstein and Kleinbasel
- Where to find accommodation in Basel
- Neighborhoods to avoid in Basel
- Tips on choosing a neighborhood in Basel
An overview of living in Basel
Living in Basel, where the borders of Switzerland, France, and Germany meet, has given residents of the city a taste for the finer things in life. Because of its unique geographic location in Switzerland’s north, residents here are used to a high quality of life. As such, you can expect to enjoy attending excellent arts and cultural events, an array of dining experiences – from Michelin-starred European restaurants to small, family-owned Vietnamese eateries – parks and open spaces, and plenty of amenities.
Located on the Rhine River, Switzerland’s third-largest city is split into two and consists of 19 different districts, each of which offers a different experience of living in Basel. On the southern side lies the romantic Altstadt (Old Town), which is home to numerous shops and a traditional daily market situated in front of the historic Rathaus (City Hall).
The surrounding inner-city districts are lively locations that offer a great selection of restaurants, shops, and so much more. Across the river, the formerly industrial districts are popular with younger residents and offer a very multicultural, multifaceted experience.
Wherever you end up, though, living in Basel is sure to be a delightful experience. In fact, living in Basel is so good that the 2019 Mercer study ranked it as one of the top ten cities in the world for quality of life. There are plenty of expats in the city, too, meaning that new arrivals should quickly acclimatize to living in Basel. And, although Swiss-German is the main language here, many residents also speak English which is highly convenient if you haven’t yet tackled the local language.
A short history of Basel
The history of Basel stretches back to the 2nd century BC, when there was a settlement in the area called Basel-Gasfabrik. Since then, the city has passed through many hands. First, it came under Frankish rule in the 6th century, before it became part of the Archdiocese of Besançon in the 8th century. Later, it was incorporated into the Holy Roman Empire, before becoming the Prince-Bishopric of Basel in the 11th century. It was not until 1501, however, that Basel joined the Swiss Confederation.
A couple of interesting facts about Basel. Switzerland’s first zoo – Basel Zoo – opened in the city in 1874 and remains one of the city’s premier attractions. In 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hoffmann also created the drug LSD at Basel’s Sandoz Laboratories. Learn more surprising facts about Switzerland.
During the Renaissance, Basel became a major hub for commercial and cultural endeavors. Since then, however, it has become a leading center for chemicals and pharmaceuticals. In fact, these days, the city is known for housing the headquarters of famous pharmaceutical companies such as Novartis, Roche, and Bayer. In addition, the city is also popular with European financial establishments like the Baloise Group and Allianz.
Basel has always had a bustling trade industry and port thanks to its location on the Rhine River. The city also boasts great air and rail links, which is why companies like DHL have bases there. Its location and connections are also the reason why Basel is a popular destination for exhibitions and conventions such as Art Basel and the Longines CSI Basel.
These days, people living in Basel benefit from its powerhouse economic performance. In fact, the city performs so well that it continually reports growth rates that are far above Switzerland’s average.
Cultural life and entertainment in Basel
Living in Basel means you will have access to a range of exciting art and cultural events. As such, you can expect a calendar of annual festivals and numerous theatre offerings ranging from ballet and plays to operas and concerts. Furthermore, one of the most important cultural events on the Basel calendar has religious ties. Celebrated after Ash Friday, Fastnacht sees numerous street processions and traditional regional music descend upon the city. It is, in fact, the equivalent of Venice and Brazil’s carnival.
With more than 40 museums covering an area of almost 37 square kilometers, Basel is also the art and architecture capital of Switzerland. Most museums are also located in the Altstadt, making it easy to explore these cultural delights. And although they are located across the river from each other, you will want to check out the Kunstmuseum Basel and the Fondation Beyeler. The former features the oldest art collection in Basel, while the latter houses an impressive collection of work within a stunning building designed by architect Renzo Piano.
The city is also home to Universität Basel, the country’s oldest center of higher education. As a result, living in Basel can be a lot of fun, with more than 12,000 full-time university students calling the city home and adding to its youthful and buzzing atmosphere. Basel also has a very multicultural vibe owing to the fact that over 30% of its population – which is nearly 190,000 – are non-Swiss citizens.
Located in the inner southwest of Basel, Bachletten is a popular residential neighborhood and an attractive option for expats. The area combines great cafés and restaurants with popular tourist attractions, all of which are just a stone’s throw from the city center.
Because it is one of Basel’s top residential areas, many expats living in Basel end up in Bachletten. That said, there are usually plenty of visitors here, too, owing to the neighborhood’s inner-city location and numerous attractions. Although some parts are quiet, other areas can be much louder and busier. The area around Laupenring, for instance, is a major thoroughfare that cuts across the neighborhood and can be a bit noisy. Nevertheless, there are several parks and open spaces in the area, including the Gartenbad Bachgraben where locals and visitors flock to enjoy the pool and a round or two of mini-golf.
Bachletten has plenty of facilities and attractions, which is why many people living in Basel base themselves here. In fact, many non-residents also come here to check out Basel Zoo and relax at Schützenmattpark. There are also several restaurants and cafés on the west side of the district, including Crescenda Gründungskurse, Sukho Thai, Pizzeria Dorenbach, and Schützenhaus. Families living in the area also have a choice of several public and private schools and kindergartens.
If you’re looking to enjoy inner-city living in Basel, then it doesn’t get much better than Bachletten. In fact, the area has easy access to Basel’s tram network, which can get you into the city center in a matter of minutes. If you prefer to travel under your own steam, however, then you can walk into the Altstadt in less than 30 minutes.
When it comes to accommodation, Bachletten has a little something for everyone. In fact, the district has surprisingly diverse accommodation options for expats who are considering living in Basel. As such, singles can rent a modest post-war studio apartment for just CHF500/month. However, the neighborhood also has plenty of regal villas in quieter areas which are perfect for expat families. For instance, you can expect to pay around CHF4,000/month for a five-bedroom property.
Work and business
As a primarily residential neighborhood, Bachletten is not the best place for expats looking for a job. That said, there are some businesses in the area that operate in the IT, engineering, and chemicals industries. As such, it might be possible to find jobs in Bachletten within these fields; although you would probably need to speak Swiss-German.
What this neighborhood is best for: Expat families and singles who want to enjoy everything that living in Basel has to offer.
Across the Rhine River from Basel’s Altstadt, Rihen is a sizeable neighborhood in the city’s northeast. The outer district boasts the highest quality of life in Switzerland, offering plenty of green space and family-friendly facilities. Another major claim to fame is that Swiss tennis superstar Roger Federer grew up here. Discover other famous Swiss people.
Another popular neighborhood among expats, Riehen has plenty going for it. For instance, a quarter of the area is dedicated to agriculture and a further 25% is given over to forested areas, meaning that there is plenty of outdoor space and nature to explore. In addition, there are man-made parks such as Sarasin Park and Berower Park. As such, the area is popular with those who love being near nature and enjoy a quieter life while still being close to the city center. Nearly 20% of the population is foreign-born too, and as such, many expats living in Basel end up here.
Reihen is home to a bit of everything which is perhaps what makes it so attractive to locals. As such, you will find plenty of supermarkets – including popular Swiss chain Migros – numerous hospitals and clinics, and a number of schools. A plethora of popular restaurants also make Reihen a top choice for foodies living in Basel. While you are there, be sure to enjoy a meal at Les Garcons, Cheval Blanc, La Serenissima, and Landgasthof Riehen. For visitors, there are a handful of hotels, as well as the famous Foundation Beyeler Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Museum Kultur & Spiel Riehen (a toy museum), and the Erlenmatt flea market.
As with most parts of Basel – and Switzerland in general – Riehen has good transport connections. As such, residents can hop on a train at the Riehen or Riehen Niederholz stations to get into the city center within minutes. Similarly, the Basel tram network runs through the district and up to the German border.
Living in Basel is not exactly cheap and Riehen is a solidly middle-class neighborhood, which is reflected in the cost of accommodation. Although you can rent elegant standalone villas for CHF6,500/month, these are the exception rather than the norm. On average, it will cost you CHF3,000 to CHF4,000 to rent a house in Riehen. An apartment, on the other hand, will set you back around CHF1,200 to CHF1,700.
Work and business
Agriculture is one of the primary industries in Riehen. As such, there are jobs in this particular industry to be had. However, the area is also home to companies that specialize in pharmaceuticals and metal construction. In addition, many contractors, IT companies, and business consultants are based here. Notably, having a grasp of Swiss-German will significantly boost your chances of landing a job in the area.
What this neighborhood is best for: Easy, breezy suburban living that offers easy access to the city center.
Located northeast of Basel’s Altstadt, the small but punchy neighborhood of Matthäus is a lively place to be. Although it has a history of being a slightly rough-and-tumble riverside quarter, the area is fast becoming one of Basel’s most exciting districts. And it doesn’t get more exciting than this when it comes to living in Basel.
Sitting alongside the Rhine River, the district of Matthäus is decidedly urban. There is plenty of infrastructure so residents enjoy a bustling pace of life. However, like the rest of Switzerland, the neighborhood is pretty safe and reasonably quiet at night. In addition, there is plenty of commercial action happening here compared to other parts of Basel. It is, however, not the best area for families, given the lack of green outdoor spaces. As a result, they often choose to settle in other districts in Basel.
There are a wealth of shops and restaurants around Matthäus and as such, you will always find something to tempt you to part with your hard-earned francs. That said, be sure to swing by Restaurant Union, an edgy space that is popular with young creatives for its burgers, poke bowls, and pre-gaming drinks. If that doesn’t appeal, though, there are plenty of other options. In fact, residents are spoiled for choice with Middle Eastern fare at Restaurant Ephesus, Thai at Chantaburi, pizza at Vito Klybeck, and more general European menus at La Fourchette, Lu Restaurant, and Restaurant Concordia. You will also find some schools in the area, including the SIS Swiss International School, as well as a public library, and the Matthäukirke church.
The main transport hub in Matthäus is Feldbergstrasse station. As such, you will find tram, bus, and train links from here. These will get you to other parts of the city quite easily. There are also bus and tram stops dotted throughout the area, although these are sparse compared to other parts of the city. Therefore, if you can walk it, you should.
While it might once have had more humble origins, Matthäus is definitely an up-and-coming district and local housing prices reflect this. As such, the lower end of accommodation here might include apartment rentals that begin at CHF1,200/month. However, there are much flashier family homes on the riverfront side of the neighborhood that rent from CHF3,000 to CHF6,500 per month. You could find cheaper areas for living in Basel – but would you want to?
Work and business
Matthäus is not the top choice for white-collar jobs, and certainly not for expats. If you want to live here, however, then do it because you love the area. Jobs here tend to be within the retail, service, and hospitality industries, so if that is what you are looking for, have at it. Otherwise, you will probably want to find work elsewhere.
What this neighborhood is best for: Single and coupled-up expats who want to enjoy the best of inner-city living – and can afford the rent.
Also called Gundeli, the inner-city district of Gundeldingen is next to the more upscale Bechletten. However, this very international quarter has a bit more life than its posher neighbor.
Because of its international nature, Gundeldingen is popular with foreign citizens living in Basel. As such, expats might feel a bit more welcome here than in other parts of the city. It also has a very residential feel, offering plenty of diverse shops and restaurants. Because of this mix, certain parts of the district are quiet while others are busier. Generally speaking, though, it is mostly quiet at night. Families love the Spielplatz Winkelriedplatz playground and the green Liesbergermatte park. Meanwhile, fitness fanatics tend to flock to the Pruntrutermatte park which houses the Outdoor Fitness UrbanFit athletic area.
Because of a well-developed commercial sector, you will find everything you need in Gundeldingen. As a result, the district makes living in Basel a breeze. A wealth of supermarkets cater to local residents and as such, you will find chains like Migros, Aldi, Denner Discount, and Coop Genossenschaft.
And be sure to stock up your home bar at Paul Ullrich AG, which specializes in wine and spirits. While you are there, you can also eat your way around the world. Start at Thai Square, head to Mum’s Kitchen for Vietnamese, then stop by Vito Gundeli Italian for pizza. But be sure to save time for Gundeldinger Feld, a converted factory that houses bars, restaurants, a climbing hall, and cultural events under one roof. Hinterhof, one of Basel’s biggest urban nightclubs, is also located here.
Basel’s main train station, Banhof Base SBB, is located in Gundeldinger. Because of this, local residents can easily access a range of transportation options. These will take them all over the city as well as to other parts of Switzerland and beyond. The local Flixbus station is also situated here, which means that you can easily hop on a bus to another European destination whenever you get bored of living in Basel.
Housing in Gundeldinger is as diverse as the district itself. Because of this, though, almost everyone will be able to find a comfortable home to meet their budget. Singles might opt for a cozy apartment that rents for CHF800 to CHF1,200/month. Families, however, might find that a large modern apartment or an elegant townhouse is a better option. Of course, rents for these are significantly more, reaching around CHF3,500 on the upper end of the scale. A word of warning: avoid choosing a place near the city’s ring road as this will be noisy, even at night.
Work and business
Gundeldinger is home to a number of different companies and industries, so it might be possible for expats to find work here. While international pharmaceutical company Bayer has a big presence here, several other industries are also represented in the area. White-collar types might find their new work-home in the MOH (Meret Oppenheim Hochhaus. The neighborhood landmark is a contemporary building that houses swish offices and apartments.
What this neighborhood is best for: Expats looking to live in a bustling, diverse area.
Wettstein and Kleinbasel
To say that Wettstein has undergone a renaissance is something of an understatement. Once upon a time, this neighborhood was dismissed as “das mindere Basel“, or “lesser Basel.” However, now, the district is a lively and popular spot with locals. Many expats living in Basel are also drawn to this riverside quarter, which is located in Kleinbasel’s Altstadt.
Ticino might be considered to be the Mediterranean heart of Switzerland, but Wittstein and Kleinbasel could be a close second. After all, the riverfront neighborhood gets plenty of sunlight and is also home to bustling squares and streets and plenty of alfresco cafés; much like the Mediterranean itself. Wittstein also has a reasonably diverse and creative feel, which is why locals and visitors love it. And with nearly 50% of the population being immigrants, expats are very welcome, too.
You’ll find a bit of everything in Wittstein, which is why it is a great choice for living in Basel. Because of the relatively cheaper commercial rents, the types of businesses here are very diverse. For instance, you will find great independent boutiques, exciting art galleries, and lots of restaurants and bars. In fact, Basel residents often flock here to eat at places like Restaurant Trio and Roter Bären and pick up bread and pastries from Bäckerie KULT. There are also several tourist attractions. Visitors particularly like Wittstein for the Museum Tinguely which pays homage to the works of Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely. Locals, meanwhile, are more likely to visit the Landgut Sandgrube open house and Kulture Reverenz art gallery.
There are plenty of essential amenities on offer for Wittstein locals, too, including several schools – such as the Bilingual Kids Academy (BKA) – and a library. And although there is no hospital in the district, there are several clinics that attend to everyday illnesses.
Being a reasonably small district, transport options are somewhat limited in Wittstein. That said, there are several buses in the area. In fact, you can hop on one and be in the Basel Altstadt in less than 15 minutes. And, just outside the area, Basel Bad (BF) station offers extensive train connections to other parts of the city – and Switzerland.
Expats in Wettstein might like to hunker down at the Wettstein Apartments, a collection of bright, modern flats that are a comfortable option for living in Basel. These also serve as a good short-term base while you are looking for more permanent accommodation. A studio apartment here starts from CHF1,870, while two-bedroom apartments range from CHF2,580.
Elsewhere in the district, you will find plenty of other options. If you are lucky, you may be able to snag a modern four-bedroom townhouse for about CHF3,500. At the lower end of the scale, however, you might find a slightly pricey studio for about CHF1,000.
Work and business
Because of its more robust economy, Wittstein is home to a range of different companies. In fact, top-tier pharmaceutical company Hoffman La-Roche has offices here. As such, the neighborhood may be a good choice for expats working and living in Basel. It could also be a good choice for those looking for a job.
What this neighborhood is best for: Lively inner-city living – as long as you can afford the high cost of living.
Where to find accommodation in Basel
While there are numerous accommodation options to choose from, finding your home base while living in Basel can be tricky. This is because many of the coveted properties were bought a long time ago and are retained within families. Every now and then, though, a swoon-worthy townhouse will come on the market. And when it does, pounce on it – because it won’t be there for long. On the plus side, however, there are plenty of rental apartments in Basel, and many of them are clean, modern, and have decent communal facilities.
Property agents can be a good place to start when it comes to finding accommodation in Basel. However, just be aware that they may try to push you towards certain districts that they think you might want. As such, be sure to ask to see other options before making a decision.
It’s also a good idea to search online for property. In fact, you might want to do this even before you start living in Basel. This is because you will be able to get a good idea of what styles of housing are available and how much you can expect to pay in different districts. Furthermore, you may even be able to organize a private deal and bypass agency fees for a rental property. If you want to explore your options, here are some websites to check out:
Although these sites are generally known to be quite reliable, scams do pop up every now and then. As such, make sure you pay attention during your property search and remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Neighborhoods to avoid in Basel
As with the rest of Switzerland, Basel is generally very safe and there is very little crime to worry about. Because of this, there are no bad neighborhoods per se and, therefore, none that are really off limits. That said, Claramatte Park, which is popular with families, has become a draw for the city’s less ‘savory’ residents; so avoid it at night to steer clear of drug deals and junkies. Generally speaking, though, choosing where to live will mainly come down to personal preference more than anything else.
Tips on choosing a neighborhood in Basel
- Research the different neighborhoods in advance. And, if you can, visit them during the day and night so you can see if you actually like them.
- Canvas any friends who have lived in Basel for an opinion on the most suitable neighborhoods to meet your needs.
- Social media is useful – try asking around on Basel-based expat groups on Facebook for discussions on the best neighborhoods for expats.
- Know what you are looking for in a neighborhood. Do you need a lot of schools and family-friendly facilities? Or do you want to be in the thick of things and surrounded by restaurants?
- If you have a job, consider what your commute could be like. Otherwise, you may want to see what job opportunities each potential neighborhood has to offer.
- Look into what types of housing are available in your shortlisted districts and whether this will meet the needs of you and your family.
- Check how expat-friendly the area is and if you prefer this or a more local district.