Astride the Rhine where Switzerland, France and Germany touch, Basel (Bâle in French) is a logical staging post en route north. Despite its pan-European location, the city has gained a reputation for insularity. Certainly, Basel feels like a working city; it’s neither as picturesque as Bern or Luzern, nor as vibrant as Zürich. Yet it’s a wealthy place and boasts first-rate museums and galleries, in addition to some superb contemporary architecture. It also holds a massive three-day carnival in February (fasnacht.ch), beginning at 4am on the Monday after Mardi Gras.
The River Rhine curves through the city, flowing from east to north. On the south/west bank (1km north of the main station) is the historic Old Town, centred on Barfüsserplatz. Across the river, on the north bank lies Kleinbasel, historically scorned by the city’s merchants as a working-class quarter. Nowadays, the steps down to the Rhine are a popular place to catch the sun.