Once a year when madness descends onto otherwise proper Switzerland, it is time for Fasnacht - the Swiss version of carnival.
The week before Lent, the Swiss are allowed to go all out! From bankers to nurses, everyone gets to replace their suits and scrubs with colorful costumes and creative masks. Usually, the carnival season is around mid-February, but the exact date depends on Easter.
This tradition is not to be mistaken with the many rituals to chase away winter. The latter are based on Pagan beliefs while the carnival is rooted in Christianity. Learn more about the Swiss carnival tradition, from the exact timing to the out-of-tune music.
Here are the main carnival parades in Switzerland:
Appenzell: Appezöller Faschned
Feb 16 - 18, 2023
Unlike any other parades, the Appenzell Carnival has special costumes for children. Look out for the children dressed in old firefighter outfits riding on makeshift horses: Botzerössli.
Baden: Badener Fasnacht
Feb 16 - 22, 2023
Here's a Swiss carnival entrenched with local traditions. In fact, you might need to grab a local in order to make sense of all the activities: Schelmen Füdlibürger? Schnüffler Party? The Badener Fasnacht seems like the perfect package to experience this festive time of year. There are parades for children and grownups, Gugge band concerts, and more.
Basel: Basler Fasnacht Carnival
Feb 27 - Mar 1, 2023
Switzerland’s largest carnival falls out of line: it takes place for three days starting on Monday following Ash Wednesday. The locals call this time die drey scheenschte Dääg - the best three days.
The Basel carnival tradition goes way back - the oldest surviving mention dates back to 1376. As such, the Basel carnival has been recognized as an element of intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
At the stroke of 4 AM on Monday morning, all the street lights in Basel go out, and colorful lanterns are lit - a sign for Morgestraich. Those same lanterns that kicked off the year’s carnival will be displayed on Münsterplatz the following day. Tuesday is all about brass bands, with one highlight being the evening’s Guggemusik concerts.
Two crucial pieces of advice: visitors to the Basel carnival (you!) are not supposed to dress up in a costume. And the Plakette pin, a sort of admission ticket, must be clearly visible.
Those who disobey the carnival rules are usually showered in Räppli confetti by a Waggis! This character has a large nose and wears a blue shirt with white pants and oversized wooden clogs.
Bellinzona: Rabadan Carnival
Feb 16 - 21, 2023
Aptly named after rabadán, the Milanese dialect word for noise, the Bellinzona carnival is considered the second biggest in Switzerland. It resembles an Italian carnival rather than a Swiss-German Fasnacht. The kick-off takes place on Fat Thursday at 9 PM sharp when the mayor hands the symbolic keys to the city to King Rabadan.
The ensuing Rabadan carnival party never stops for five days and five nights. Highlights include the costume contest, buskers' performances, and the charity risotto party on the final day. During this time, Bellinzona is a pedestrian zone, and visitors must purchase a bracelet for admission.
Bern: Bärner Fasnacht
Feb 23 - 25, 2023
The third-largest carnival in Switzerland is kicked off on Thursday after Ash Wednesday in a peculiar way. As part of the Ychüblete ritual, the bear that gave Bern its name is woken up from hibernation. The legendary animal, imprisoned in the Käfigturm at Bärenplatz since November 11, is released to the odd sounds of Guggenmusig.
And the bear will be loose for the next three days in the beautiful old town setting. Apart from various parades, the legend of William Tell is presented as a parody every Saturday morning.
Biel/Bienne: Bieler Fasnacht
Feb 23 - 26, 2023
The Bieler Fasnacht in Biel/Bienne offers a series of events, starting with Charivari. This is a lantern contest among the brass bands. This is followed by the inauguration of Prinz Karneval - the mayor's symbolic handover of the town’s keys.
The Bieler Fasnacht offers a large parade - including one for children- and pop-up concerts in the old town.
Broc: Carnaval de Broc
Feb 16 - 19, 2023
The Carnaval de Broc in canton Fribourg has a history dating back to 1949. Today, it is one of the main attractions during carnival season that attracts visitors from all over Switzerland. The main parade features some 30 groups and floats!
Bulle: Carnaval de Bulle
Feb 10 - 12, 2023
During three days, four Guggen bands will leave their mark on Bulle. The Carnaval de Bulle has a history dating back to 1905, when it was initiated as a fund-raising event. The carnival festivities were supposed to finance the Kiosque à Musique on Place du Marché, but there were insufficient funds. (The town kicked in the rest.)
Chiasso: Carnevale Nebiopoli
Feb 1 - 5, 2023
During the carnival season, Chiasso is officially turned into the Free Republic of Nebiopoli, ruled by a temporary Prime Minister. As part of a grand opening show on Thursday evening, officials hand the city keys over.
Friday night is entirely dedicated to Guggenmusik brass bands that receive their parade. And the Saturday afternoon masked parade is a highlight as it has been going on for more than sixty years.
Erlinsbach: Speuzer Fasnacht
Feb 16 - 19, 2023
The town of Erlinsbach has affiliations to two cantons: one part is located in Aargau, while the other is considered Solothurn. Amid this special setting, the Speuzer Fasnacht carnival unites everyone who likes the spirit of Fasnacht.
The festivities begin on Fat Thursday. Saturday is dedicated to a children’s parade. And the true highlight is on Sunday when a parade of elaborate floats culminates in the Uslumpete, a final “monster concert.”
Estavayer: Carnaval d'Estavayer
Feb 10 - 12, 2023
This carnival started back in 1982 and has been going strong ever since. It always starts with the "Pendaison de la Perche," a parade where a giant crafted perch is carried to the Dominican Sisters' tower. Of course, there is plenty of Guggenmusik to go around, plus a festive carnival party with DJs.
Feb 18 - 21, 2023
The old town of Fribourg is turned upside down during Bolzenfasnacht. Bolzen stands for the residents of the “Au” part of Lower Fribourg. A majority speaks an interesting blend of French, Swiss-German, and Standard German - all in one sentence.
On the first night of this carnival, there is a lantern parade leading to the Werkhof. On the following day, usually a Sunday, a parade takes off at 2:39 PM from Place J-F Reyff. And finally, there is the unmissable burning of the Grand Rababous, a statue standing 12 meters tall and symbolizing all evil in the world.
Locarno: Stranociada Carnival
Feb 3 - 5, 2023
Starting at 6 PM on Friday, Locarno will be home to the Stranociada Carnival. The name of this carnival is an imaginary word that means as much as "strong eyes" in the local dialect. The festivities commence on Saturday at 11 AM with risotto booths, appearances of King Pardo II, and lots of colorful confetti.
Lucerne: Luzerner Fasnacht
Feb 16 - 21, 2023
One of Switzerland’s largest carnivals with the widest variety of costumes is in Lucerne. You will find everything from Steampunk aliens and dragons to Super Mario...
The festivities traditionally start with Tagwacht, a 5 AM wake-up call on Fat Thursday. As the barge carrying the iconic Brother Fritschi character arrives at Schweizerhofquai, a big bang called Urknall signals the beginning of the Lucerne carnival.
These three days are so important to Luzerner, they have their own vocabulary for many things. Fötzeliräge is when the crowds get rained on with confetti. Brüele is the act of hollering and shouting. And the spirit of this Fasnacht can be summed up with one word: rüüdig.
Martigny: Carnaval du Bourg
Feb 16 - 21, 2023
The annual Carnaval du Bourg in Martigny offers all the classics: a children's costume ball, confetti fights, and a main parade.
Feb 10 - 12, 2023
The City of Roses will turn into the City of Confetti once again. On Friday at 8 PM, the Rapperswil Fasnacht is launched with a big bash on the Fischmarkt Square (Sauwleuthen Empfang). This is followed by a children's carnival parade on Saturday, and the main parade on Sunday.
Feb 9 - 12, 2023
Like a giant automaton, the town of Sainte-Croix on the Swiss-French border comes to life during the annual carnival. For the 37th carnival edition, the town will serve a meal to no fewer than 1000 lucky visitors on Friday night. And of course, one of the highlights is the giant parade with costumed Gugge bands on Sunday...
Sargans: Children's Carnival Parade
Feb 11 - 17, 2023
The popular main parade of Fasnacht Sargans will return on Feb 12 this year. But the festivities in Sargans start the day before and last through Feb 17. Another highlight is the children's parade on Feb 16, with a starting point at Apotheke zum Schwefelbad at 2 PM. You won't be able to miss it: there will be witches, Guggen bands, and lots of little ones sporting their colorful and creative costumes...
Feb 10 - 12, 2023
Recently, this carnival has been relaunched under a new team of organizers. What has not changed, however, is the traditional kick-off. On Friday night, a tall pine tree is erected in the old town, signaling the beginning of the three-day festivities.
The floats in Schaffhausen are rather elaborate, making this a perfect photo opportunity. Be it Saturday’s children's parade (confetti fight, anyone?) or the large parade on Sunday, Schaffhausen should be on your map.
Schwyz: Schwyzer Nüssler
Feb 4, 2023
During carnival season, the center of Schwyz is all topsy-turvy. Costumed characters wearing wooden masks will dance across town doing the Narrentanz. And dancers of all ages who have perfected the art of nüsseln are invited to a competition. Nuts have historically been an important source of nutrition.
This carnival is entirely dedicated to nuts, so does it surprise you that the oldest group dates back more than a century? In 2023, the Schwyzer Nüssler tradition celebrated its 100th anniversary - postponed from 2021.
Sion: Carnaval de Sion
Feb 16 - 20, 2023
Under the clever theme of "PlantAtoll", the 47th edition of the popular Sion Carnival will be taking place. During the four days, various festivities take place, including the children's parade on Sunday.
Solothurn: Fasnacht Solothurn Carnival
Feb 15 - 22, 2023
The Solothurn carnival festivities usually take over the town for an entire week. Shops and local businesses participate in the craze by decorating their display windows.
In 2022, the carnival events were reduced, but the legendary GUSO band night on Friday is still taking place. This is when the 14 local Gugge bands will exclusively be roaming the streets and alleys of Solothurn. Take a stroll, and you will always be running into another band or group in costume... Or remain at the Märetplatz to view all the concerts.
St. Gallen: Carnival
Feb 16 - 21, 2023
Carnival people in St. Gallen are especially nice to their best citizens. Every Saturday, one honorary resident with Födle, Herz und Humor is nominated as Födlebürger. (The criteria mean as much as “Butt or tenacity, heart, and humor.”) The ceremony at the Vadian memorial consists of a giant confetti cannon blasting the winner...
Zug: Zuger Fasnacht
Feb 20, 2023
Every Güdelmontag, a carnival custom in honor of a historical figure, takes place in Zug. Margarethe Schell was a local woman known to carry her drunk husband home from the pubs. Hence, the Greth Schell costume, which dates back to 1721, is that of an old woman carrying a man on her hunchback…
Another character is Löli, who stands for her husband’s drinking buddies. During the old town parade, you will see one Greth Schell with seven Lölis who swing their pig bladders while handing out treats to the children.
Feb 24 - 26, 2023
Regarding its carnival, Zürich has more than 100 years of tradition. The main parade of ZüriCarneval takes place on the Bahnhofstrasse shopping mile. Everyone is encouraged to show up in costume and participate in the festivities.
My advice: if you happen to be in Zürich on Nov 11, go to the old town and watch the launch of carnival season on Hirschenplatz at 11:11 AM.
Feb 24 - 27, 2023
The Winterthur Carnival commences on Friday evening when the mayor hands over the keys to the city. There will be a ceremony involving Gugge bands at the Neumarkt Square at 6:20 PM. For the following three days and nights, Winterthur will be under the reign of fools... Enjoy the marching bands in the old town on Saturday evening, or stop by the carnival parade on Sunday afternoon.