Lucerne in central Switzerland might have a small population of around 60,000 people but it’s one of the most popular holiday destinations in the country. And it’s certainly no surprise why: Lucerne boasts spectacularly beautiful surroundings, with a stunning lake, picturesque mountains and a charming Old Town. One of its most famous features is the Chapel Bridge; once Europe’s oldest woodbridge – dating back to the fourteenth century – a fire in 1993 means that the current bridge is mostly a replica. However, while many tourists simply pass through Lucerne on short tours before exploring the surrounding Swiss rural idyll, its plethora of annual events and festivals make an extended stay in the town worth considering.
The Lucerne Festival, for example, is one of Europe’s most well-respected classical music festivals. Held each summer, its first event took place in 1938 in the gardens near Villa Tribschen, once the home of German composer Richard Wagner. Since then, the festival has expanded considerably. Its core summer event of world-class classical music and performances by the lauded Lucerne Festival Orchestra is now accompanied by two other festivals during the year: the Lucerne Festival at Easter and the Lucerne Festival at the Piano. The latter takes place each autumn and showcases some of the best piano players from across the globe.
Also in autumn, the town hosts the annual Lucerne Blues Festival, a non-profit event that aims to boost the profile of blues music in Switzerland. If you’re a true blues fan, this festival provides the ideal opportunity to hear established acts and up-and-coming talent from around the world. Crucially, it doesn’t play host to blues megastars, giving smaller acts a chance to enjoy the spotlight. The organisers even run a programme called “blues at school” during the festival, taking participating artists into Lucerne’s high schools for performances and learning sessions.
Contemporary music lovers will also find entertainment in Lucerne, with the annual Blue Balls Festival attracting international pop and rock stars to the town. In the past, guests have included singer-songwriters Natalie Cole, KT Tunstall and Gabriella Cilmi, folk artist Newton Faulkner, hip-hop outfit The Roots and musician Gil Scott Heron. However, Lucerne’s yearly festivals aren’t confined to the sphere of music. The Lucerne Cheese Festival takes place each October and the Rose d’Or festival – an important awards ceremony for international television – has been held annually in the town since 2004.
And while New Orleans’ Mardi Gras might get all the attention, Lucerne’s own Carnival, known as Fasnacht, is one of Europe’s liveliest pre-Lent celebrations. Starting at 5am on Shrove Tuesday and ending on Ash Wednesday, Fasnacht in Lucerne is a chaotic event, with people dressed in elaborate masks and costumes parading the street for several days. The marching of its revellers is characterised by Guggenmusig, a traditional Swiss carnival marching band that consists of wind instruments and drums. Be warned, however, that the town can get very busy during Fasnacht, so be sure to book Lucerne hotels early if you’re planning to participate in its merriment. Also make sure you have a good costume and a mask – without them, you’ll mark yourself out clearly as a tourist.