Basel and Geneva are among Switzerland’s liveliest, busiest cities, full of restaurants, hotels, and tourists from around the world. Geneva is the second-largest city in the country, with Basel following closely behind as the third-largest. If you were to decide which city to visit in Switzerland, which would you choose? Would you pick the French-speaking city of Geneva? Or the German-speaking city of Basel right near the French and German borders? Which is better, Basel or Geneva? Is one a better city than the other?
Here we look at the differences between Basel and Geneva, so you can decide which one you’d like to visit during your next visit to Switzerland if you have time for just one.
Overview: Basel vs. Geneva
The key differences are as follows:
|Population: approx. 170,000
|Population: approx. 580,000
|Switzerland’s third-most populous city
|Switzerland’s second-most populous city
|Elevation: 245 m
|Elevation: 375 m
|Area: 23.91 km²
|Area: 15.93 km²
|Highlights: Considered the cultural capital of Switzerland, Fondation Beyeler, Art Basel, Basel Zoo, Carnival Festival, Basel Minster
|Highlights: United Nations, Jet d’Eau, St. Pierre Cathedral, Ariana Museum
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
|Location: Northwest Switzerland, near France and Germany
|Location: South-western Switzerland
|Language: German, Swiss-German (dialect)
Cities: Basel vs. Geneva
The city of Basel, located close to France and Germany and with excellent weather all year round, is known for its vibrant lifestyle and contrasting cultural traditions. Old and new are juxtaposed throughout Basel’s cosmopolitan landscape. It is located on the Rhine River.
Basel is also known as Switzerland’s cultural capital. It has more than 40 museums, including the Kunstmuseum, the Fondation Beyeler, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. Additionally, it hosts Art Basel, an international art fair that attracts thousands of artists, art collectors, and art enthusiasts from Europe, the US, and Asia.
Basel is not just a cultural city. The city is also home to some world-renowned institutions, such as the University of Basel, the Bank of International Settlements, and FC Basel. A number of the world’s top pharma companies are based in Basel, including Roche, Novartis, the Lonza Group, and Actelion.
During the months of February and March, Basel hosts its annual Carnival festival. It is the country’s largest carnival, which was inscribed in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2017. Starting with the Morgestraich, it lasts exactly 72 hours. Locals call it the three most beautiful days (die drey scheenschte Dääg).
Additionally, Basel is ranked as the tenth most livable city in the world, according to Mercer.
Geneva is a global city with international organizations like the United Nations and Red Cross. Also, it’s a major financial center, ranking fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. Geneva is the second most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part.
Places to Visit: Basel vs. Geneva
Places to Visit in Basel
- Art Basel – It may only happen for a few days per year, but Art Basel is still a must-visit for art lovers. The show brings together the international world of art with most of the leading art galleries displaying thousands of artists’ works.
- Fondation Beyeler – Switzerland’s most visited art museum, Fondation Beyeler was founded by Swiss collectors and philanthropists Ernst and Hildy Beyeler. Basel-born art collector Ernst Beyeler created the foundation with his wife to showcase the private collection he accumulated over his career, valued at US$1.85 billion at his death. Located in Reihen, it is a 25-minute tram ride from the city center of Basel, Switzerland.
- Jean Tinguely Museum – The Museum Tinguely is an art museum in Basel, Switzerland that exhibits the works of Swiss painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely. Designed by Ticinese architect Mario Botta, the museum was opened in 1996 in Solitude Park by the Rhine. The museum displays sculptures, letter drawings, documents, exhibition posters, catalogs, and photographs. Visitors can view the exhibits to gain a comprehensive view of all phases of Jean Tinguely’s career.
- Basel Zoo – Switzerland’s oldest zoo (or Zolli as locals call it) is located in Basel. It is a nice, somewhat compact, zoo in Basel, Switzerland. Basel Zoo contains 7,554 animals from 543 different species. The Zoo attracts more than a million visitors each year in spite of its relatively modest size. It is the perfect family getaway in Basel.
- Basel Minster – In the heart of Basel’s old town, you can find this beautiful terracotta-colored medieval cathedral. Climb the tower for a spectacular view of the city and the Rhine River.
- Rhine River – The Rhine River is also excellent for swimming if the weather allows. In order to make the swim even easier, some swimmers bring along floating bags. Ferryboats cross the Rhine in four different locations. If you would like to travel further, you can take a lock cruise to Rheinfelden, a local town close by.
- Basel Carnival – Basel Carnival (or Basler Fasnacht) is the largest carnival in Switzerland. It takes place annually from February to March. Since 2017, it has been listed as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO. A 72-hour period begins with the Morgestraich.
Places to Visit in Geneva
While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:
- Visit St. Pierre Cathedral – built from 1160 to 1252, this beautiful cathedral was built and used by John Calvin, one of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation. It is regarded as one of Geneva’s most important landmarks.
- Get to know Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. Not only will you find Saint Peter’s Cathedral, but also the Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, The Treille Promenade, and more.
- It is indeed possible to stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise on the boat, or simply stroll nearby. Visit one of Geneva’s landmarks – the water jet called Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
- Explore the museums – Like Bern, Geneva also has its fair share of museums. Maison Tavel stands out as an example of medieval civil architecture. There is also the Ariana Museum, which has ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics. Alternatively, if you are interested in learning more about watches, there is a Patek Philippe Museum. For those who want to explore a bit further, or for those with young children, there is the Aquatis Aquarium-Vivarium in Lausanne.
- Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.
- Discover the United Nations Building – The Palace of Nations is definitely worth a visit if you want to discover one of the most important diplomatic centers in the world. Tours are available upon request. The nearby Ariana Park is also worth a visit.
Find out what else there is to do in Geneva on GetYourGuide.com.
Hotels: Basel vs. Geneva
In terms of hotels, Geneva has more options than Basel. However, I don’t think this should be the deciding factor. Although Geneva has more options, Basel doesn’t lack hotel options for any budget.
Hotels in Basel
- Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (5-star) – Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois is one of Europe’s oldest city hotels. Ideally located within the Old Town of Basel, the hotel offers fantastic views of the Rhine. This elegant hotel has excellent service, an exquisite dining experience, and well-appointed amenities.
- Hotel Märthof Basel (4-star) – Hotel Märthof Basel, located in the heart of Basel near Marktplatz, is one of the best hotels in town. Featuring beautiful rooms, a 24-hour front desk, a business center, a spa center, and a terrace, you won’t regret booking here.
- GAIA Hotel (4-star) – GAIA Hotel is a family-run hotel located right across from Basel Main Train Station, only a 10-minute walk from the historic city center.
- Mövenpick Hotel Basel (4-star) – Located near Basel Train Station, this contemporary hotel offers captivating vistas of Basel. Guests are afforded complimentary city transport passes, a delightful breakfast selection, and immaculate rooms, making for a truly gratifying stay experience.
- Motel One (3-star hotel) – Right at Barfüsser Platz, Motel One Basel is a contemporary hotel with fashionable interiors and unbeatable prices.
Hotels in Geneva
- Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
- Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté. There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
- Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
- citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too.
- Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms.
- MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva.
Basel or Geneva: Which City is Better to Visit?
Even though I recommend Switzerland for its mountains and the Alps rather than cities, there are some people who want to visit major cities. If you’re wondering whether Basel or Geneva is a better city to visit, I think either one will be ok for you, no matter what your preferences are.
Both cities are lively and international, with plenty of restaurants and museums to explore. Both cities have waterfront areas, with Basel on the Rhine River and Geneva on Lake Geneva. Geneva will have a fast, efficient, and business-like feel due to its importance as a financial and international diplomacy center. There are many international and pharmaceutical companies located in Basel, along with a university, so it will be a mix of young and old residents as well as tourists arriving from the Rhine River cruise.
For couples and visitors looking to be in a city and yet be close to relaxing places, Geneva will be a better choice than Basel. It boasts a lovely, relaxing setting on Lake Geneva, close to Vevey and Montreux, as well as spectacular views of the Swiss Alps. The Lavaux Wine Terraces, for example, is also a good place to visit while in Geneva. Moreover, if you plan to visit the Valais region afterward, Geneva will be a better choice.
For visitors to Switzerland who are interested in art and culture, Basel will be a better choice than Geneva.
Advantages of Basel
- Basel is more convenient to visit if you are coming from Basel EuroAirport or embarking or disembarking from a Rhine River Cruise. If you are coming from Zurich Airport, Basel is closer than Geneva.
- Basel is ideal for those who want to visit nearby Alsace in France or Southern Germany. It is a convenient hub if you want to visit these other two countries and go further northwest to Luxembourg, Belgium, and Netherlands.
- Art lovers will enjoy Basel more than Geneva. It has a thriving arts and culture scene. Fondation Beyeler and Art Basel are both fantastic destinations for those who love art.
- Basel has a nice juxtaposition of old and new, medieval buildings and modern exhibitions, making it attractive to many travelers.
Advantages of Geneva
- Compared to Basel, Geneva’s airport is bigger and better connected. It offers a wide range of flights to different European destinations such as Lisbon, Paris, Rome, Münich, Frankfurt, London, Brussels, Venice, Amsterdam, Newark, and more.
- Ideal for an international group looking to visit museums and restaurants. Geneva is a compact city with more cosmopolitan things to do. It has a diverse population and a vibrant mix of cultures.
- Geneva is slightly more scenic in terms of panorama because you have a combination of lake and higher Swiss Alps. Basel is a bit further away from the Swiss Alps compared to Geneva. It is also ideal for couples looking to relax. Montreux is a well-known spa resort and the Lavaux Vineyards are always pleasant to visit.
- Ideal for those who will proceed to Valais later (Zermatt, Saas-Fee, Crans-Montana, Grimentz-Zinal).
- Geneva has better luxury hotels, not only in the city but also close by (Lausanne, Montreux, Vevey).
Summary: Basel vs. Geneva
Basel and Geneva are both great places to visit, but which one you choose is up to you. They both have plenty to do, places to see, and restaurants to dine at. You can also ride boats, explore historic old towns, visit churches, and discover museums and parks. So what would my recommendation be?
Although I like art and Basel, I would recommend Geneva this time around. I think that there are more things to do and discover in Geneva, and it is also closer to other equally interesting and beautiful places along Lake Geneva such as Montreux, Lausanne, and Vevey.
To whom would I recommend Basel? Art enthusiasts and those who want to hit up Germany and France, or maybe even Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, might find Basel to be a convenient choice. Basel is also a great city for families with young children since Zoo Basel makes a great family getaway. Also, check out Basel Carnival if you are interested in traditional festivals.
I hope we were able to assist you in making your decision. No matter what you decide, we hope you enjoy your stay in Switzerland.
Related Posts: Train Travel
- Geneva to Basel Train: All You Need To Know
- Zurich to Basel Train: All You Need To Know
- Zurich to Geneva Train: All You Need to Know
Related Posts: Basel
- How to Spend 1 Day in Basel, Switzerland
- 10 Best Day Trips from Basel
- 8 Beautiful Towns Near Basel, Switzerland
- Zoo Basel – An Honest Review
- Art Basel – The Most Influential Art Fair in the World
- Fondation Beyeler – Among Switzerland’s Most Visited Museums
Related Posts: Geneva
- How to Spend 1 Day in Geneva, Switzerland
- 10 Best Day Trips from Geneva
- Discover St. Pierre Cathedral in Geneva, Switzerland
- Musée Ariana, Geneva: 8 Things That Make You Love It
- A Quick Guide to Jet d’Eau: Geneva’s Iconic Water Fountain
- 8 Best Things to Do in Geneva on a Rainy Day
- 9 Beautiful Towns Near Geneva, Switzerland
- Closest Mountains To Geneva in Switzerland
- 12 Most Beautiful Lakes Near Geneva
- 8 Best Places on Lake Geneva
- When Is the Best Time to Visit Geneva, Switzerland?
- Geneva Botanical Garden: One of Switzerland’s Most Beautiful Gardens
Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.