Switzerland Insider

Switzerland Insider

Imagine the streets of Lucerne transformed into a rainbow of colors, sounds, and sights. Once a year, this picturesque Swiss city breaks out into an extravaganza of music, laughter, and dancing, marking the beginning of one of the most anticipated events in Switzerland: the Lucerne Carnival. Known locally as Fasnacht, this carnival is not just a party; it’s a deep-rooted tradition (several centuries) that lights up the dark winter days, bringing warmth and joy to everyone involved. The main events are the parades of the Guggenmusik bands with the stunningly detailed costumes and masks and their carnival floats. If you get to visit to visit Lucerne in February, make sure you hit the carnival weekend!

Lucerne Local dressed for carnival

History of Lucerne Carnival

Fasnacht has been celebrated for centuries, with evidence suggesting that forms of pre-Lenten festivals date back to the Middle Ages. The exact start date of Fasnacht in Lucerne is hard to pinpoint, but it’s clear that the celebration has evolved over hundreds of years. The primary purpose of Fasnacht is twofold: to mark the end of winter and to celebrate with abandon before the austere period of Lent.

When does Lucerne Carnival take place?

Fasnacht in Lucerne, like other similar festivals, takes place immediately before Lent, which is a period of fasting and reflection leading up to Easter. This normally is in February. Specifically, Fasnacht starts on “Dirty Thursday” (Schmutziger Donnerstag or Schmudo) and continues until the following Tuesday (Güdis Dienstag), which is exactly six weeks before Easter Sunday. This timing aligns with the traditional Christian calendar, where Easter’s date varies each year, and consequently, so does the timing of Fasnacht.

What is a Guggenmusik?

Guggenmusik is this really fun and loud music you hear a lot during Carnival time. Imagine a bunch of people in crazy costumes playing trumpets, trombones, drums, and pretty much anything that makes a sound, marching down the street. It’s not your usual band music; it’s super energetic, a bit wild, and designed to get everyone in the party mood.

The musicians playing Guggenmusik, they’re all about having a good time and spreading those vibes. They take songs you might know, twist them up in their unique, upbeat style, and play them so you can’t help but want to dance or at least tap your foot. 

Visiting Lucerne Carnival as a Tourist

When visiting Lucerne Carvinal as a tourist, you have made a big step to tap into local Swiss culture! In Lucerne it is the norm that everyone that attends Fasnacht dresses up in a fancy costume. Obviously you don’t have to, but you will feel that you stand out if you don’t (at least I did the first time I visited). You can purchase some costumes or overalls that resemble animals etc. from bigger supermarkets all over Lucerne during the Carnival seasons.

Now that you’re all set, you can go and mingle with the locals (not that many tourists attend actually). When it comes to food and drinks you will find a lot of places that pop up and you can try some Swiss sausages (they almost all contain either beef or pork or both) and other delicious to go meals. Also, you will find small decorated carts everywhere scattered all over Lucerne. These carts serve coffee and tea that’s enhanced with fruit spirits (very popular Swiss drink in the winter months). Now here’s the special thing about it. As you normally would need a license to sell this kind of drink, and all these carts don’t have one, they are not allowed to name a price to you. Like this, you can pay them whatever you think is adequate. What is adequate? That’s up to you to find out 🙂

As you can see, although Switzerland sometimes seems a bit uptight, if you go look a bit closer, you find out that very often it can be the opposite.

Timeline of Lucerne Carnival

The following timeline is mostly the same every year.

Schmutziger Donnerstag (Dirty Thursday)

  • Morning: The festivities kick off early in the morning with the traditional wake up (Tagwache) by the Fritschi father, a symbolic figure of the carnival. This marks the official start of Fasnacht in Lucerne. At 5am there is a big bang to open up the events. You can watch it around Schweizerhofquai or head directly to Kappellplatz, where there will be loads of confetti falling from the sky!
  • Afternoon: Various guilds and societies start their parades throughout the city, with participants dressed in elaborate costumes and masks. The parade starts usually at around 2pm and you takes place around the bridge that crosses the lake, Schweizerhofquai, train station and continues to Kantonalbank.
  • Evening: The streets of Lucerne come alive with Guggenmusik (brass and percussion bands) performing at various spots (mainly the Old Town), creating a lively atmosphere that encourages everyone to join in the celebrations.

Friday

  • Daytime and Evening: The Guggenmusik bands perform here and there in different parts of the city (mainly Old Town), keeping the festive mood going. It’s not a big day of Fasnacht in Lucerne though.

Fasnacht Saturday

  • Daytime: The day is usually reserved for private and society balls, where members of various carnival organisations celebrate in a more formal setting.
  • Evening: Public balls and parties are open to everyone, offering a chance to dance and enjoy the carnival spirit.

Sunday

  • Daytime and Evening: The Guggenmusik bands perform here and there in different parts of the city (mainly Old Town), keeping the festive mood going. It’s not a big day of Fasnacht in Lucerne though.

Güdismontag (Fat Monday)

  • Morning: There is another wake up (Tagwache) at 6am, yet a tad smaller than on Thursday.
  • Afternoon: Various guilds and societies start their parades throughout the city, with participants dressed in elaborate costumes and masks. The parade starts usually at around 2pm and you takes place around the bridge that crosses the lake, Schweizerhofquai, train station and continues to Kantonalbank. It lasts for about two hours.
  • Evening: The Guggenmusik bands perform again in different parts of the city (mainly Old Town), keeping the festive mood going.

Güdisdienstag (Fat Tuesday)

  • Daytime: In the afternoon there is a childern’s parade starting at around 2:30pm (Chendermonschter).
  • Evening: The focus shifts to the big parade (the Monstercorso), a highlight of the carnival. This parade features elaborately decorated floats, musicians, and participants in stunning costumes, attracting thousands of spectators. It starts at 7:30 pm and lasts a while!

Ash Wednesday

  • Morning: A quiet, reflective day as the city cleans up and participants recover. Some private events may continue, but the public festivities have officially concluded, marking the beginning of Lent.

Must-Visit!

Value for Money

Locals would do this!

How much I love this!