Carnival festivities completely take over the Swiss city of Basel for three days every February
The Basel Carnival (or Basel Fasnacht) completely takes over the city from 4am on Monday 15th February until 4am on Thursday 18th, providing a thrilling time for locals and tourists alike. For almost 700 years this three day extravaganza has started on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, commencing with the ‘Morgenstreich’. At 4am all the city lights are extinguished and thousands of drummers and flute players begin the opening notes to the marching music entitled, not coincidentally, ‘Morgenstreich’. This procession of 200 illuminated canvas lanterns is watched by thousands of spectators (even at that hour of the morning!) as the sun slowly rises above the picturesque city centre.
The following days bring more colourful and vibrant processions of masked and costumed carnival participants, floats, horse-drawn carriages and the mischievous ‘Waggis’ character who distributes oranges, yellow mimosa, throws ‘Räppli’ (confetti) and invites spectators to become part of the show. The Basel Carnival is brought to a close by a cacophony of sound, as brass band musicians fill the streets to perform the ‘Gugge’ concert.
The Basel Carnival is a little known elsewhere in Europe and even in the rest of Switzerland but it is a truly unique experience and one that is well worth sampling.
At other times of year Basel is also well worth a visit. The city can offer museums galore, a scenic setting on the River Rhine and an attractive Old Town. . Its medieval old town centres around the Marktplatz, dominated by the 16th-century red-sandstone Town Hall. Its 12th-century Gothic cathedral has city views, and contains the tomb of the 16th-century Dutch scholar, Erasmus. The city’s university houses some of Erasmus’ works.
Basel is also the closest Switzerland comes to having a seaport; the Rhine is navigable for reasonable sized ships from this point until it reaches the North Sea in Holland. It follows a gentle bend through the city making it quite a feature, with parts of the city lying on both sides of the river.