Do I need to hire a car in Basel? Basel is perhaps served by the most multinational airport in the world — not only can you arrive in either Switzerland or France (Mulhouse); the airport also markets itself as serving the city of Freiburg in Germany. This makes it tricky to offer advice about whether or not to pick up a hire car, as you might be driving in any one of these three countries, or indeed in a combination of them. At least they all drive on the right!
Do I need a car in Basel? Introduction
One city, 3 countries….
Naturally for the city of Basel itself, it goes without saying that as with any other Swiss city, public transport is excellent, although unlike Geneva or Zürich, there is no direct rail link from Basel airport to the Central Station. The city of Freiburg has a long-standing reputation as being one of Germany’s greenest cities, and again the public transport is excellent. Public transport is also perfectly reasonable in the French city of Mulhouse, although it is less good for exploring the areas around it.
Once outside the cities, what are your best options?
Why rent a car in Basel?
Reasons why you might need to hire a car in Basel
- Variable public transport — Basel is a very important hub on the Swiss rail network, and there are three routes going into south-west Germany. However, only one of the German routes is a mainline, and there is only one line going into France, although this is the line to Mulhouse, which is served by the French TGV, albeit at a slower pace than when it is on a dedicated high speed line.
- Cost — unless booked in advance (but you can only do this up to 15 days before the date of travel), Swiss trains can be ridiculously expensive, so booking a seemingly cheap flight to Basel instead of Zürich, and then taking the train into eastern Switzerland might be a false economy. Although car hire in Switzerland isn’t that cheap either, for a group of three or four, picking up a rental car at Basel airport might well be far cheaper than taking the train.
- Not that great — it is easy to justify the high cost of train travel in Switzerland when the views are so superb, but apart from the route to Neuchâtel mentioned below, the train routes around Basel are nothing like as special as they are heading south from Zürich or Bern. If it is cheaper to drive, then you might as well do so.
- Vosges – go for a drive in the Ballons des Vosges Natural Park, just beyond Mulhouse.
Why not? Visiting Basel without a car
Visiting Basel without a car
- Cost — even if you have a choice of arriving in two countries, neither France nor Switzerland, nor Basel in particular are good value for car hire.
- Swiss rail passes — a number of different rail passes are available in Switzerland, usually giving unlimited travel on a set number of days. If you take advantage of this option, it doesn’t matter that Basel is further away from some alpine destinations than Zürich.
- Swiss transfer ticket — another option for long-distance train travel within Switzerland is to take advantage of the Swiss transfer ticket, which gives halfprice travel to anywhere in Switzerland on the same day that your flight arrives (or departs on the way out). Basel is a good airport to use for the Bernese Oberland, or for continuing through the Lotchberg Base Tunnel and on to the world-famous resort of Zermatt, which sits under the iconic Matterhorn.
- Swiss trains — Swiss trains are famous for good reason, and this needs no introduction — see our Zürich and Bern pages for more information.
- Neuchâtel — the lake and city of Neuchâtel are one of the most underrated places to visit in the Swiss Lowlands — the view from the city across the lake with the Alps behind is superb. Take the train from Basel to Moutier, then to the bilingual city of Biel / Bienne via Sonceboz, and then towards Geneva via Neuchâtel, and you can enjoy outstanding scenery for virtually the whole journey.
- Vitra — whether you are appreciative of good design or great architecture, the Vitra design Museum, designed by deconstructivist architect Zaha Hadid, is in nearby Weil-am-Rhein (Germany).
Conclusion– if you started with the natural assumption that there would be no point in hiring a car in Basel, then there are plenty of reasons to think again. Whereas it should be categorically clear that a hire car in either Zürich or Bern is a bad idea, it is much less clear-cut in Basel. Therefore, relative to Swiss expectations, a hire car is certainly worth looking at.
Verdict — yes