Carnaval has a different connotation, depending on where you are from. Being from the western part of the Netherlands, carnaval has always been something that ‘the south of the country does’. Now, we live in Lucerne, Switzerland. This city is big on carnaval, or Fasnacht as it is named here. The event that rules the city for almost an entire week is so important and popular, it is also called ‘the fifth season’ of Lucerne.
The origins of Fasnacht in Lucerne
Luzerner Fasnacht is one of the most popular carnival celebrations in Switzerland. The origins of the festival can be traced back to medieval times, when the city of Lucerne was still a small, isolated town surrounded by forests and mountains. In those days, the townspeople used to celebrate the arrival of spring with a wild, raucous festival filled with music, dancing, and masks. The tradition was so popular that it quickly spread throughout the region and became an annual event, celebrated with even more parties and excitement with each passing year.
However, the origins of Lucerne Fasnacht are not just originating in the celebration of spring and scaring away the winter. Some of its customs can also be linked to old pagan rituals where costumes and marks were used to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck for the coming year. The use of masks and costumes has evolved over the years, but the underlying purpose remains the same – to create a lively, joyful atmosphere that brings people together in celebration. In recent years, the Luzerner Fasnacht has become a popular tourist attraction and you’ll see visitors and locals celebrate the event side by side.
So you should feel welcome during the ‘Lözärner’ Fasnacht, local or not, just don’t forget to bring a costume!
The program of Fasnacht in Lucerne
Thursday February 8 2024 – Schmutzigen Donnerstag
It all starts on Schmutziger Donnerstag, or Fat Thursday, very early in the morning! At 05.00 in the morning, the Urknall (Big Bang) marks the opening of the Fasnacht. It takes place on the lake by Kapellplatz and is the sign for the city to start the celebrations! The opening of the Fasnacht festival is very popular among residents of the city and canton of Lucerne. The city is full of people early in the morning and the Swiss railways plans extra trains to allow inhabitants of surrounding villages to join for the Urknall at 05.00 in the morning.
Later that afternoon, the famous Fritschiumzug takes places. During this parade, starting at Luzernerhof in town, you will see the wildest costumes, parade wagons and enthusiastic ‘Guggenmusik’ bands! This is a particular kind of carnaval music popular in Switzerland. Bring your party mood!
The parade goes from Luzernerhof by the lake all the way to Helvetiaplatz in Neustadt. The Pilatusstrasse will be closed for traffic and this is a great place to watch the parade.
The rest of the day and evening, the town will be the stage of celebrations, music and lots of drinking.
Friday February 9, Saturday February 10, Sunday February 11
The Fasnacht madness partially calms down in Luzern and moves to surrounding villages on Friday. Don’t expect the city to be like any other day, but most of the festivities are focused elsewhere, especially on Friday and Sunday. On Saturday (Rüüdige Samschtig), Lucerne Fasnacht 2024 will be in full party-mode again, with the entire inner city being the center stage of celebrations. Yearly, over 100.000 people celebrate Fasnacht in Lucerne on the Saturday. Don’t be intimidated by the crowds and of course, bring your costume!
Monday February 12 – Güdismontag
Another parade, the Luzerner Fasnachtsumzug, starts at 13.45 from Luzernerhof in the city.
Tuesday February 13 – Güdisdienstag
The big finale takes place on Tuesday the 13th of February, when with the Monstercorso, all Fasnacht organizations of the town unite for one last big parade. The parade starts at 19.30 in the Bahnhofstrasse and then goes over the Seebrücke into town. This parade if normally live broadcasted on national television and attracts big crowds.
Once the parade is over, the city of Lucerne is not going to sleep yet. The Guggen music bands will spread over town to do their last performances, and many establishments in old town open their doors for parties.
Friendly rivalry with Basel, the other Swiss Fasnacht hotspot
Carnaval season in Switzerland is a time celebrating and honouring traditions, but it also brings with it a fierce sense of rivalry between two of the country’s most famous carnaval cities – Lucerne and Basel. The two cities have a long-standing rivalry when it comes to their carnavals celebrate, and each year, the residents of Lucerne and Basel come together to prove that their city has the best Fasnacht celebration in Switzerland.
What to expect from the Fasnacht in Lucerne 2024
While I am personally no expert in the matter, Luzerner Fasnacht is a big deal. You should expect the entire town to not quite be like itself during this period. Quaint streets in the old town turn into incredibly busy dance floors for thousands of people celebrating the event.
You should also expect some noise if you have a hotel in the inner city. The celebrations start very early on some of the days and don’t end until very, very late.
Not quite a fan of carnaval? The best advice (besides giving it a try!) is to avoid the inner city of Luzern during these days. Day trip destinations such as Pilatus, Rigi and the museum of Transport can be visited as normal.
For more information about what to expect and the program of Lucerne Fasnacht 2024, have a look on the website of the Luzern Tourism board.