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Swiss Carnival Traditions
Party-time in Switzerland

The Swiss Carnival is called "Fasnacht". And as it is custom in our neck of the woods, Fasnacht can differ from town to town. Over 200 carnivals take place throughout Switzerland, and though traditionally most last from Dirty Thursday to Ash Wednesday, some of them are celebrated anywhere between end of January and May. In fact, the largest Swiss carnival in Basel breaks with the tradition too and starts on Monday following Ash Wednesday.

Guggen musicians at a Swiss carnival

Swiss Carnival Terminology

I use a few expressions throughout the carnival calendar below that might need some explanation:

  • "Guggen" are groups of musicians playing out of tune - the louder and queerer the better;
  • "Schnitzelbank", "Schnitzelbänke" or "Schnitzelbängg" are short verses in Swiss German with a comedic twist, spoken or in song form, with our without music. Politicians, famous people be aware, not even the Pope is off topic;
  • "Tschääggättä" are scary figures with sinister wooden carved masks, an ancient pagan tradtition;
  • "Chesslete" are noisy instruments such as bells and wooden percussion instruments, mostly used in Zug and Solothurn;
  • Fire ceremonies:: "Chienbäse" are oversized wooden brooms that are set on fire - only celebrated in Liestal; "Chluri" is an elaborately carved wooden sculpture depicting each year a different public figure; the "Böögg" ("Rababou" in French) is a large snowman-like figure made of straw and fabric - a rag doll really or bogey man - filled with explosives that will be burned in certain places to chase away winter, the most striking ones can be seen in Zürich, in Solothurn, in Fribourg and Winterthur;
  • "Morgestraich" means the opening ceremony in the wee hours of the carnivals in Basel and Sissach.

List of the most impressive Swiss carnival traditions

Thun (BE)

January 26 - 29, 2017

Processions, street performances and party all night in the lakeside city of Thun in the Bernese Oberland.

Main events:

  • 26.01. Opening parade 7:10 pm;
  • 27.01. Guggenfest in various tents;
  • 28.01. Children's fest on Mühleplatz (tent) at 2pm; Children's parade 4:16 pm;
  • 29.01. Large parade 1:15pm.
Program see here.

Schaffhausen (SH)

February 17 - 19, 2017

FAKOS, the Schaffhausen Carnival always takes place 1 week before Maundy (fat) Thursday.

Here's the full program.

Tschäggättä, Lötschental (VS)

Febraury 2017

Main Events:

  • 23.02. Traditional Tschäggättä parade in Blatten;
  • 25.02. Large carnival procession in Wiler.

Detailed info see here

Fritschi Fasnacht Lucerne (LU)

February 23 - 28, 2017

Lucerne carnival festivities begin with a loud boom at exactly 5 am, always on Dirty Thursday. But even before that Lucerne gears up to the Fasnacht with two carnival markets held before the official start.

Main events:

  • 23.02. Fritschi arrival at 5 pm followed by Fritschi parade, and various concerts; large procession with the guilds at 2pm;
  • 27.02. Large parade at 2pm;
  • 28.02. Children's monster concert at 2:30pm; Monster corso at 7:30pm; Saying good buy to Fritschi at 11pm; Party into the wee hours.

Program see here.

Olten (AG)

February 22 - 28, 2017

Various events everyday throughout the city.

Main events:

  • 23.02. Children's carnival starting at 1pm and Gugge events throughout the city;
  • 26.02. Grand parade starting at 2pm;
  • 28.02. Drummers and flautists parade.

Program see here.

Sitten / Sion (VS)

February 23 - 29, 2017

Main events:

  • 23.02. Guggen concert at 6:45pm, followed by parades and allnight party;
  • 24.02. Children's parade at 2:30pm; night parade at 8:30pm;
  • 25.02. Grand parade 2:30, followed by Guggen parade and grand ball with Orchestra.

Program of Sion's carnival madness see here.

Chesslete Solothurn (SO)

February 22 - March 1, 2017

More info on the 'foolish days' of Solothurn here.

Carnival St. Gallen (SG)

February 23 - 28, 2017

There are many events every day throughout the city.

Main event:

  • 26.02. Grand parade starting at 2pm Vadianstrasse to the Market square.

The program of the 'most beautiful time of the year' see here.

Zuger Chesslete, Zug (ZG)

February 23, 2017

More on the various events in Zug see here.

Glarner Fasnacht, Glarus (GL)

February 24 and March 04/05, 2017

Parade, parties and market in the smallest cantonal capital of Switzerland, Glarus. But they do know how to party :) Program see here.

Alpenstadt Carnival Chur (GR)

February 24 - March 1, 2017

Main events:

  • 25.02. Grand parade at 2pm;
  • 26.02. Children's parade at 2pm.

The Alpen city's various programs see here.

Carnaval de Bolzes in Fribourg (FR)

February 25 - 28, 2017

Every day is a party day in the "Basse Ville" (Lower town).

Main events:

  • 26.02. Grande Cortège 2:39pm starting at the "Pont de Berne" (Bern bridge) in the lower town;
  • 28.02. Children's parade at 2:39pm at the "Pont de Berne".

Full program see here.

Biel/Bienne (BE)

March 01 - 05, 2017

Biel (in German) and Bienne (in French), the lovely city on its namesake lake gets 'masked up' during the craziest time of year.

Main events:

  • 01.03. Star march "Charivari" with the Guggen at 8pm;
  • 04.03. Kids monster concert and kids procession starting at 12:15 (noon); Street carnival and Fest tent starting at 9pm;
  • 05.03. Apéro concert in the fest tent on Guisanplatz starting at 11am, Grand parade at 2pm, carnival party starting at 6pm.

Program see here.

Bärner Fasnacht - Berne (BE)

March 02 - 04, 2017

Even our cozy and relaxed capital gets a little crazy during its carnival.

Main events:

  • 02.03. Release of the bear at the "Chääfigturm" at 8pm followed by concerts;
  • 03.03. Children's parade at 2pm; Witches' fest at 9:30pm (Postgasse) and torchlight procession at 10pm;
  • 04.03. Grand parade at 2:30pm.

Full programm see here.

"Les Brandons" in Payerne (VD)

March 03 - 06, 2017

Usually six weeks before Easter, this medieval hamlet celebrates one of the oldest Swiss carnival traditions. Brandons-torches of straw are used to light the fire and chase winter away.

Main events:

  • 04.03. Guggen concert at 2.07pm; children's procession at 2:47pm; Night procession at 10:17pm;
  • 05.03. Apéro concert at 10:07am; Brandonesque parade at 2:27pm; mega disco starting at 5:47pm into the wee hours;
  • 06.03. Tumulus parade at 2.07pm.

Full program see here.

Winterthur (ZH)

March 03 - 06, 2017

The Rosen city's carnival activites end with the burning of the Böögg (the boogie man) on the last day.

Main events:

  • 03.03. Opening ceremony starts at the "Oberer Graben" at 6:15pm;
  • 04.03. Guggenparade at 6:45pm; Guggenconcerts 8pm to 0:38am;
  • 05.03. Grand parade at 2:14pm starting at Marktgasse;
  • 06.03. Children's parade at 2pm starting at Steinberggasse; cut down of the Fools' tree at 6pm on Neumarkt and burning of the Böögg at 7pm on Zeughauswiese.

Full program see here.

Chienbäsä and Carnival, Liestal (BS)

March 05 - 11, 2017

The height of the carneval season in Liesthal is the "Chienbäsä" on 14 February at 7:15pm. Fire is an integral part of many rites and customs. The glowing "Chienbäsä torches" symbolize the sun that breaks the darkness of winter.

Main events:

  • 05.03. Grand parade at 1:45pm; Chienbäse parade at 7:15;
  • 08.03. Children's parade at 1:45pm followed by Guggen concerts;
  • 11.03. Cherus parade - celebration the end of Fasnacht.

Program see here.

Carnival Sissach(BL)

March 05 - 09, 2017

Close to Basel, another colourful and interesting carnival takes place in Sissach. The most impressive events are the torch parade on Sunday, the "Morgenstraich" on Monday morning at 4am and the burning of the Chluri, a wooden figure depicting an official person. Kind of a funeral march as a good by to carnival and to a new start (fire ceremony - highly recommended) on the last day at 7:30pm.

Main events:

  • 05.03. Carnival parade at 2pm; Latern and torch parade at 7:30pm;
  • 07.03. Children's parade at 1:30pm; Guggen concerts at 7.15pm followed by a party at the "Obere Fabrik";
  • 09.03. Chluri march at 7:30 followed by the burning of the Chluri on "Grosse Allmend".

Program see here.

Carnival Basel(BS)

March 06 - 08, 2017

Always Monday to Thursday following Ash Wednesday.

Switzerland's largest carnival starts with with a bang, the "Morgenstreich" at exactly 4am when the street lights are turned off. Fifer and drummers march through the streets, and carnival cliques carry big lanterns to illuminate downtowns dark streets and alleys. All day entertainment of Guggen concerts, processions and performances by a variety of cliques throughout downtown as well as in Restaurants, museums and theatres. Sunday-Matinee at the "Tramdepot BVB", starting at 11am. Die-hard carnival enthusiasts never miss this festival.

Main events:

  • 06.03. Morgenstraich at 4am (a must); Grand parade at 1.30pm; All night latern exhibition at Münsterplatz;
  • 07.03. Children's carnival all day; Guggen music bands "Starmarch" starting at 6:30pm (Trade fare building "Messe" to Marktplatz);
  • 08.03. Grand parade at 1:30pm.

Program see here.

Carnevale Rabadan, Bellinzona (TI)

February 23 - 28, 2017

The claim is that this is Switzerland's second largest carnival (after Basel), although I am not sure if Lucerne likes to hear that :-) The Rabadan takes place in the castle city of Bellinzona.

Main events:

  • 23.02. Opening ceremony at 10pm followed by the Kings ball;
  • 24.02. Children's parade at 2:30pm;
  • 25.02. Guggenparade at 2pm followed by concerts at 4.15pm and 8pm;
  • 26.02. Grand parade at 1.30pm; concert show at 7pm;
  • 27.02. RabaRun - a fun group race in costume at 9pm;
  • 28.02. Risotto on the Piazza Manifestazioni at 11.30am; parties starting at 9pm.

Program see here.

Chalandamarz - Various villages in parts of Graubünden

1 March

The ancient tradition of Chalandamarz is a pagan festival and celebrates the beginning of spring. It takes place in the Engadin and Albula valleys, Val Mustair and Oberhalbstein, usually on March 1. However there are some events that take place one day earlier or later. So do check with the local tourism office before you go. One of the best can be seen in Guarda (Engadin).

More info see here.

Groppen Carnival, Ermatingen (TG)

March 26, 2017

The Groppen Carnival in Ermatingen offers all-day street fests, cabarets, music, dance and parades. A fabulous day for the whole family.

Program see here.

Swiss National Alpine Guggenmusic Meeting, Savognin (GR)

March 11 - 12, 2017

If you haven't had enough of the "Guggenmuic" groups, then the Savogininer competitive Guggenmusic event is for you. Concerts, parties and dance until midnight.

Program see here.

Sechseläuten Zürich (ZH)

April 21 - 24, 2017

This is not exactly a carnival, but it is a spring celebration with a carnival-like character to chase winter away, always celebrated on the 3rd Monday of April. Rather than fantasy carnival costumes, the participant wear traditional and historical clothing.

More info see here.

Carnival de Lausanne (VD)

May 4 - 7, 2017

The carnival starts at the main square in the city center at 8pm on the first day and ends at 11pm on the last day.

The largest parades takes place on Sunday 10am and 2.30pm.

More info here.

To give you a taste of what Schnitzelbängg are doing and how they sound, here a video by the group "Schuumschläger", Basel:

Please share if you think this info was helpful. Thank you!

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