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FESTIVAL

Where to enjoy carnival in Switzerland this year

Carnival time is here already. The festivities kicked off in many Swiss cities on Thursday, with others to come in the next few weeks.

Where to enjoy carnival in Switzerland this year
Photo: Elge Kenneweg/Swiss Tourism
Lucerne’s annual party – the second biggest in Switzerland after Basel – began, as per tradition, at 5am on the day known as ‘Dirty Thursday’. 
 
Crowds of around 15,000 people braved the zero-degree temperatures and light snowfall to watch the afternoon’s Fritschi parade, a tradition dating back to the 15th century in which life-size straw dolls are escorted through the town accompanied by carnival bands and floats.
 
The event kicks off six days of revelry which are concluded on Shrove Tuesday with the third carnival parade, the Monstercorso, which aims to chase the ghosts of winter away and welcome in spring.
 
An age-old tradition particularly in Catholic cantons, carnival is celebrated in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday and is a chance to indulge and make merry before the coming of Lent. Since Easter is early this year, so is carnival time. 
 
Known as Fasnacht, carnival is characterized by colourful parades of people wearing elaborate costumes, carnival bands called Guggen, plus plenty of eating, drinking, throwing of confetti and general merriment. 
 
If you’re hoping to experience carnival this year, here’s where to go: 
 
This weekend
 
 
 
Guggenmusik bands will play in bars and restaurants around the city on Saturday, and then march through Littau on Sunday. The revelry continues on Monday with a big parade in the afternoon, followed by two further parades on Tuesday – one for children in the morning and then the festival’s closing event in the evening. The partying will continue until 4am on Ash Wednesday, when carnival officially ends and everyone collapses in bed for some serious recovery time.  
 
 
The north-western Swiss city’s festival also kicked off on Thursday and will include parades on both Saturday and Sunday before the ‘burning of the Böögg’ on Ash Wednesday – a traditional event hailing the arrival of spring, which is also celebrated in Zurich, but not until April
 
 
 

#carnaval2017 #carnavaldesbolzes #bolzes2017 #tradifri

A post shared by Carnaval des Bolzes Fribourg (@carnavaldesbolzesfribourg) on Feb 25, 2017 at 2:52pm PST

 
A newer festival on the block, Fribourg’s Carnaval des Bolzes will celebrate its 50th edition when it kicks off on Saturday. Taking place in the Old Town near the cathedral, the highlight is a big parade on Sunday, which begins at 2.01pm precisely and features colourful costumes, Guggen bands and decorative floats.
 
 
A must-visit in eastern Switzerland, St Gallen's Fasnacht sees the Guggen play on stages throughout the beautiful streets of the Old Town and take part in various parades through the city over the weekend, continuing until Shrove Tuesday. 
 
 
Though relatively new compared to others (this is only its 43rd edition), Sion’s carnival is one of the biggest in the Valais, attracting 60,000 spectators over six days of festivities. Visit on Saturday afternoon for the highlight, a parade through town featuring 800 participants, 14 Guggen bands and 12 floats. Monday and Tuesday are dedicated to children’s events. 
 
 
Bellinzona's castles lit up during carnival. Photo: Remy Steinegger/Swiss Tourism
 
Known as Rabadan, Bellinzona’s carnival is the most important in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino. It started on Thursday 8th February when the keys of the city were handed over to King Rabadan, who rules over the revellers until next Tuesday. As well as the traditional Guggenmusik, parades and children's festivities, there are also DJ sets, concerts, aperitif events and a mass risotto-eating session on the Tuesday.  
 
February 15th-17th
 
 
While most carnivals conclude on Ash Wednesday, this one only begins then. One of the country's largest events, the Swiss capital's carnival celebrates the bear, the symbol of the city. The story starts back in November when the (symbolic) carnival bears are captured in the prison tower at Bärenplatz (Bear Square) for 111 days of slumber. On Ash Wednesday revellers gather again at Bärenplatz to ‘free' the bears from their winter hibernation. A procession of jesters, musicians and traditional drummers – called Ychüblete – then proceeds through the city, sparking three days of revelry.
 
February 19th-22nd
 
 
The Morgestraich. Photo: Swiss Tourism
 
The biggest and most important carnival in Switzerland is this one in Basel, which waits until last to trump the rest with three days of extreme partying. So old and important is it that it was recently inscribed onto Unesco’s intangible heritage list. The fun starts at 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday when the city's lights are extinguished and lanterns and decorative floats depicting topical themes light up the streets in a parade known as ‘Morgestraich’. For the next three days the city centre is taken over by costumed revellers who have spent the entire year preparing their outfits. More than 10,000 masked participants parade throughout the city in two main processions on the Monday and Wednesday.
 
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CHRISTMAS

Your complete guide to Switzerland’s best Christmas markets in 2019

Christmas is just around the corner, which means its just about time to don a winter hat and get a hot cup of Glühwein. Here are the ten best Christmas markets in Switzerland.

Your complete guide to Switzerland's best Christmas markets in 2019
The Christmas market in Montreux. Photo: Depositphotos

Every diverse region of Switzerland celebrates Christmas with its own cultural tradition, and there's no better way of experiencing these differences than by visiting a local Christmas market. 

While some run for almost a month, others only last a weekend – so make sure to get in while you can. 

Interlaken

Photo: Interlaken Tourism

The Christmas Market in Interlaken is built around the massive Ice Magic skating complex (3000 square metres), which features five rinks all linked by runways.

If you're not confident on the ice, fear not. You can sign up for skating lessons and, bringing a taste of Scotland to Swiss markets, there is also a curling lane available for booking. 

Of course, there's also more than 100 stalls to browse and a chalet-style restaurant to enjoy. The market runs from December 14th until 22nd, but Ice Magic opens on December 14th (running into the new year). 

Montreux

Photo: Montreux Noel

Now in its 24th year, the Christmas Market in Montreux is known for its grandeur and spectacle. Stretching along the lake promenade (which is, of course, specially lit up for the occasion), the market offers thousands of gift ideas for grown-ups and children alike.

New attractions this year include a 3D light show, craft workshops for kids, a gourmet area and an open-late bar. Or just stick with the classics and visit Santa Claus, enjoy the carnival rides then wash it all down with some tasty grub and Glühwein.

Runs from November 21st to December 24th.

Basel

Photo: basel.com

The Christmas Market in Basel is said to be the oldest in Switzerland, and the people living in the city are well known for getting into the festive spirit with lights and decorations.

No wonder, then, that there are not one but three Christmas Markets to enjoy there. Basel's offering is known as one of the biggest and best markets in Switzerland and was recently voted as the 8th best in Europe – so naturally there is a whole lot of fun to be had.

The children's railway, craft workshops, the delicious Basel Läckerli (a hard, spiced type of biscuit) and performances from the Basel Music Academy are just some of the reasons you might want to stop by. The markets run from November 28th until December 23rd. More information can be found here.

Einsiedeln

Photo: Christof Sonderegger/Swiss Image

Einsiedeln might be small, but its Christmas Market is known as one of Switzerland’s best. As well as offering 130 stalls, the market is said to be the home of the world’s largest nativity scene – with a whopping 450 colourful figurines telling the story of the birth of Jesus.

The stunning backdrop of the Benedictine Einsiedeln Abbey and its twin spires adds to the fairy-tale feeling and the nearby gingerbread museum really puts the icing on the Christmas cake (gingerbread is a local speciality).

You'll have to get in early to catch it though; it runs from November 30th until December 8th.

Zofingen

Photo: Weihnachtsmarkt der Sinne Facebook Page

Like Einsiedeln, Zofingen isn’t the biggest. But its “Christmas Market of the Senses” is worthy of a mention for the remarkable way it offers guests a sensory experience. 

The market provides more than 200 stalls within the cosy old town setting, as well as a section just for “medieval” wares – and there’s a support programme to keep you entertained too. Short and sweet, the market runs from December 6th to December 8th.

St Gallen

Photo: Photo: St.Gallen-Bodensee Tourismus

The Christmas Market in St Gallen is another popular one – and for good reason. During advent, the city is lit up by 700 stars, covering the streets and the stunning medieval abbey district.

Guests can enjoy an advent tour of the city and a concert within a UNESCO World Heritage site cathedral. The market features a selection of handmade products and, for any carnivores out there, the region’s traditional sausage is well worth trying.

The St Gallen Christmas market runs from November 24th until Christmas Eve. 

Bremgarten

The medieval town of Bremgarten in Aargau hosts one of Switzerland’s bigger Christmas Markets, with more than 320 stalls filled with trinkets and delicacies to browse.

It is well worth a visit if only so you can say that you've been – but be warned; the Bremgarten market is popular and is usually very, very busy as it takes place only on one weekend.

In 2019, the market will take place from December 5th until the 8th. 

Willisau

Photo: Christkindlimärkt.ch 

Flying perhaps a little under the radar, the Christkindlimärt in Willisau, canton Lucerne, is nonetheless a bit of a favourite with locals.

The romantic old-town setting and the daily performances compliment the festive feeling and there’s a packed programme to keep the kids happy.

Don’t miss the yodelling Christmas concert, and make sure you try some Ringli – a sweet local delicacy that's a bit like a very crispy doughnut.

Running for just three days, the Christkindlimärt opens on December 6th and closes on December 8th.

Ticino

Photo: Ticino Tourism Facebook Page

Ticino is always worth a visit but perhaps even more so when it’s Christmas time.

Featuring a market inside a UNESCO World Heritage site castle, a massive (2000 square metre) ice rink in Locarno’s Piazza Grande and all the usual festive fun with a distinctly Mediterranean flavour, this one is not to be missed.

Dates vary in different places, so be sure to triple check before you head in. Some only run for a short period of time – with the market in Locarno open for just one day (December 8th). 

Yverdon-les-Bains

Set in and around the town’s stunning medieval castle, the Christmas Market in Yverdon-les-Bains is a mostly traditional affair that is notable for being a little more relaxing than some of its peers. You’re unlikely to have to fight your way through the crowd here, giving you more time to enjoy a few drinks and soak up the Christmas spirit. The stalls mostly feature regional produce (including local beers) and there’s also an ice-rink to enjoy too.

Bern

For more than 30 years, Bern's Christmas Market has aimed to offer guests what it calls a quiet and sensitive take on Christmas markets. Featuring arts and crafts of the “highest quality”, the market is set in front of the imposing Munster cathedral and runs from December 1st to December 24th. It also runs entirely on renewable Swiss energy. 

Neuchatel

Photo: Artisanalesdenoel.ch

Neuchatel’s Christmas Market has been dubbed Switzerland’s “largest indoor market of craft-creators” and organisers put a particular emphasis on showcasing the region’s craft and culinary specialities. Plus, the fact that it is indoors means you won’t have to worry about the weather. The market runs from December 8th to December 16th.

Morges 

Photo: Morgesmarchedenoel Instagram

The Christmas Market in Morges isn't the biggest but it does win points for its historic qualities as it is set in and around a castle that dates back to the 13th century. This year, the castle grounds will be home to 20 chalets that surround a large tented restaurant area. There will also be a healthy selection of artisan stalls and attractions to keep children interested.  

Lucerne

Every year, Lucerne's Franciscan square in the heart of the city's old town is converted into a winter wonderland full of colourful wooden houses. Nestled away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the market is rightfully known as being one of Switzerland's most attractive.

With around 70 stalls to enjoy and a variety of entertainment for children, the market runs from December 5th to December 22nd.

Lausanne

Christmas in Lausanne is like nowhere else. “Traditional but extremely modern” is the tagline they like to use and they certainly back it up. The annual festival of lights sees installations set up all over town, and even though they sometimes have very little to do with Christmas, they do help boost spirits. 

Markets in Lausanne are actually held in three different locations, each with its own style. There's lots for the kids to enjoy, a nice selection of local craftwork to browse and, of course, lots of wine. Markets run between November 20th and December 31st. More information on locations can be found here.

A version of this story was originally published in November 2018. 

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