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Swiss Carnival: 3 events (and cities) not to be missed

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Swiss Carnival: 3 events (and cities) not to be missed

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Carnival is one of the most popular events in Switzerland. Mixing sacred origins and profane traditions, it is an opportunity to celebrate the end of Winter and propitiate the arrival of Spring through scary masks and loud bands. Many carnival events are held every year in Switzerland's major cities, thanks to the hard and passionate work of citizens' committees and carnival guilds. After the forced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the events will return to take place regularly and without any restrictions in 2023. So here is a list and all the information about the three unmissable Swiss carnivals!

We love... the Swiss Carnival!

Carnival is a popular event that is deeply loved in Switzerland. Among sacred and profane, in many large cities and small towns, people celebrate by dancing to loud music and wearing bizarre masks. Indeed, the preparation of the masks is itself part of the event: there are many Swiss people who, in the months leading up to carnival, work hard to create their costumes, to be displayed proudly during the days of celebration. And there are also many music bands preparing to animate the town squares and streets during the carnival days.
We discovered Lucerne carnival in 2020 – just after our arrival in the city – and after the forced break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in 2023 all events in Switzerland will be able to take place regularly again without any restrictions. So here is a list and all the latest information on Switzerland’s three unmissable carnivals!

Lucerne

Let’s start with the carnival in our home town: Lucerne! Every year, the event turns the small, well-organised city into a crazy, noisy, playful place. The Carnival is the city’s biggest event and, not surprisingly, is regarded by the locals as a fifth season of the year, a time of its own. The Luzerner Fasnacht is a spontaneous and viral event, minimally planned because it is the result of a collective spirit of fun and celebration that revolves around a few official events. The absolute star of the celebration is the Fritschi family: Mr Fritschi, his wife the Fritschene, and their son Fritschikind. The origin of these folk figures is uncertain, but it is certainly very old. Today, the Fritschi family consists of masked human figures who lead town parades and interact with locals and tourists. The soundtrack of the event is provided by the Guggenmuusige, bands that, rigorously masked, play folk songs in loud and entertaining arrangements. They are the real soul of the carnival!
In 2023, Lucerne Carnival will start on Saturday 11th February with the traditional Fasnachtsmäärt, a strange combination of a weekly market and a folk festival. The celebration will then continue until 24th February, when it will end with the felling of the Guuggerbaum, the traditional tree decorated with carnival guild flags that stands on the Kornmarkt in front of the City Hall. Here are the other events not to be missed:
Fritschitagwache and Fritschiumzug, Thursday 16th February: the Shrove Thursday party (SchmuDo – Schmutzigen Donnerstag) opens the carnival festivities at sunrise. At 5 a.m., at Schweizerhofquai, the Fritschi family arrives to open a procession that, with music and noise, goes through the city centre. The parade will continue through the city from 1.45 pm.
Tagwache der Wey-Zunft and Der grosse Weyumzug, Monday 20th February: the second large procession, organised by the Wey guild, marks the beginning of the second half of the festivities. Again, the festivities begin in the city centre at sunrise (at 6 a.m.) and continue until the big parade at 1.45 p.m.
Monstercorso, Tuesday 21st February: the big night parade on Güdisdienstag – Shrove Tuesday – goes through the heart of the city from 7.30 p.m. and concludes the city carnival celebrations.
But if you really don’t want to miss anything of the Lucerne Carnival, go to your App Store and download the App “Die Vereinigte” – provided by the event organisers – which contains dates, info and up-to-date news (only in German) on all the events of the city’s ‘fifth season’!
Alternatively, you can find more information on the event’s official website (in German) or on the Lucerne Tourism website (in English).

– How to get to Lucerne? Find your train on the SBB website.
– Do you prefer to stay overnight in the city to enjoy the party atmosphere until late at night? Find your hotel on Booking.com.

Download for free our quick guide of Lucerne!

Download for free our quick guide of Lucerne!

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Basel

It only lasts three days – drei scheenschte Dääg (three most beautiful days), as the event is called in the city – but the Basel Carnival certainly has an international reputation and, since December 2017, has been included in the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list.
Compared to other events in Switzerland, Carnival here takes place a little later and traditionally begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday, when inhabitants and visitors gather at sunrise and wait for the famous phrase ‘Morgestraich vorwärts marsch‘ to be pronounced. This heralds the start of Carnival! For 2023, the event will take place from 27th February to 1st March 2023 and, for the first time after the forced break due to the covid pandemic, in its full form. You can therefore once again enjoy the city’s crazy and cheerful atmosphere through one of the other must-see events:
Morgestraich, Monday 27th February: this is the event that opens the festivities! At 4 a.m., the bells of St. Martin’s Church ring out and all the lights in the centre go out to allow citizens and visitors to admire the carnival guilds’ lanterns, on which ironic and allegorical subjects are painted, accompanied by thousands of masked drummers and pipers.
Cortège, afternoon of Monday 27th February and Wednesday 29th: this is the big parade in which all the carnival groups take part, accompanied by the music of pipers and drums.
Laternenausstellung (Lantern exhibition), from Monday 27th February: Münsterplatz comes to life and becomes even more fascinating when it gets dark! This is where the painted lanterns of the ‘cliques’ – the different groups participating in the event – with their artistically designed and sophisticated allegories are displayed.
Guggen parade and concert on the evening of Tuesday 28th February: Guggenmusik bands invade the city, noisily playing melodies with trumpets, trombones, tubas, drums, timpani and percussion. The event starts at 6.30 pm at Messeplatz and continues through the city centre to the three squares of Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz and Claraplatz. Concerts take place here from 7.30 to 10.30 pm.
The ‘Gässle’: this is not exactly an event, but more a tradition that literally takes over the city during the three days of carnival! During this period, it is usual to wander through the alleys of the centre marching to the hypnotic rhythm of small and large companies of pipers and drummers. Restaurants and wine cellars will also be open to guests 24 hours a day, serving drinks and traditional dishes.
More information on the event can be found at this link.

– How to get to Basel? Find your train on the SBB website.
– Do you prefer to stay overnight in the city to enjoy the party atmosphere until late at night? Find your hotel on Booking.com.

Bellinzona

Better known as the Rabadan, the Bellinzona Carnival is one of the most popular in Switzerland together with Basel and Lucerne. Every year, the small town hosts events, demonstrations and processions in its streets that attract many visitors from all over Switzerland and neighbouring Italy. Now in its 160th year, the Bellinzona Carnival traditionally opens on Shrove Thursday with the handing over of the keys to King Rabadan, and ends on Shrove Tuesday. Six days and six nights of pure fun, including parades, Guggenmusik concerts, tug-of-war tournaments, risotto and luganighe served in the square. In 2023, Rabadan takes place from 16th to 21st February and returns to celebrate in the traditional way! The event starts on Thursday with the handing over of the keys to King Rabadan and continues on Friday with the children’s masked parade and on Saturday with the performance of the Guggen bands. Also not to be missed is the large masked parade that takes place on Sunday in the old town centre. Some events are chargeable. From this year, tickets will only be sold online via this website and only to a limited extent and at an increased cost on site. All information can be found at this link.

– How to get to Bellinzona? Find your train on the SBB website.
– Do you prefer to stay overnight in the city to enjoy the party atmosphere until late at night? Find your hotel on Booking.com.

That’s it, now you know which events you absolutely must not miss for carnival! So no excuses: where are you going? If you like, tell us by leaving a comment in the box below!

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