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Visiting Basel, Switzerland: experiencing efficient, Swiss streetcars

Updated on August 24, 2013
Flag of Switzerland
Flag of Switzerland | Source
Basel streetcar
Basel streetcar | Source
Two City 'Tango Trams' in Basel's Marktplatz
Two City 'Tango Trams' in Basel's Marktplatz | Source
Basel's streetcar network
Basel's streetcar network | Source

Quick transportation links for some amazing urban geography

Having arrived in Switzerland from Germany, I wanted to head for the Downtown area of Basel. 'All road leads to Rome', it is said traditionally. Well, in Switzerland's Basel, the version of this saying should be: 'all Basel streetcar routes lead to the Downtown area'. The Marktplatz (Market Place), on which the city hall, is the venue for a constant coming and going of many of the various, labyrinthine routes.

Thus it was that I crossed the historic Rhine River on one of the Swiss streetcars, noted for their efficiency and cleanliness.

I am reminded of Canada's Halton County Radial Railway and Streetcar Museum, in Milton, Ontario. This museum was Ontario's first electric railway museum. Unlike some Western countries which lacked the foresight to retain light electric streetcar and rail networks, the United States and Canada are countries, which, like the Swiss, have long realized the efficiency and cleanliness of electric streetcar facilities. I write very much as a lay person, but in Canada, the proximity of hydro-electric power has been one of the pressing factors for electric-powered conveyences. In Switzerland, sheer geographical limitations and the relative scarcity of flat land have also undoubtedly been a factor in the official favour in which energy- and space-efficient streetcars have been held.

In their wisdom, British officials abolished or phased out streetcars (called 'trams' in the United Kingdom) many years ago. But now things have come full circle there. What is billed as a new innovation, the light railroad, has been introduced to a number of British urban and suburban areas. Whereas the Swiss have used streetcars for many years and continue to improve their networks.

International scope of Basel's streetcar network

The Basel streetcar network is extensive. In addition to numerous streetcar stops in the Downtown area, the network extends to suburbs north of the Rhine and east and south of the city. It also runs to the German border; to its stop at Riehen-Grenze (Riehen-Border); and to the French border also; to its stop at St. Louis Grenze (St. Louis-Border). (1) Thus, in a somewhat surreal way — at least, to visitors from countries without such interesting geography — Basel's streetcars function as a kind of lynch-pin for the activities of people in three countries, while remaining a city transportation network.

Worth seeing

Marktplatz (Market Place), this busy hub of the City contains the City Hall (das Rathaus )

(Distances, below, given from the Marktplatz )

The Minster church (Basler Muenster ; distance: 0.5 kilometres), dating from the 11th to the 15th centuries, it is in a combination of styles: both Romanesque and Gothic. A noted feature is the grave of the great Renaissance scholar, Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam.

Riehen (distance: 5.8 kilometres) is a suburb of Basel situated north of the Rhine River, from Downtown area, accessible by streetcar. Its St. Martin's church has a Medieval tower. Riehen has a well-appointed Toy Museum (das Spielzeugmuseum ) and the grounds of the Wenkenpark are worth visiting.

Augst (distance: 11 kilometres) has a Roman museum and well preserved Roman ruins known as Augusta Rarica.


(1) Indeed, one of the streetcar stops is actually situated on French territory, in Leymen, over the border in the Bas-Rhin department of France — before it continues on further south-west, to Rodersdorf in Solothurn Canton.


How to get there: Air France, Delta and KLM , which have a code-sharing agreement, operate flights from New York to EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg, via stopovers. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information. Please refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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