Of all Switzerland’s main cities, I like Lucerne the best. Only an hour by train from Zurich, Lucerne (spelled Luzern in Switzerland) is a good place to stay at the beginning or end of your trip. It’s probably the most mountainous of Switzerland’s main cities, and is certainly one of the most beautiful. Founded in the ninth century on the banks of Lake Luzern, the city has a small, charming old-town center (Altstadt) with beautiful Renaissance architecture, museums, parks, and opportunities for boat and cogwheel train excursions that could keep you busy for days. For a quick trip to Switzerland, don’t plan on spending many days here, but one or two is certainly worthwhile.
The flower-covered Chapel Bridge is just one of Lucerne’s iconic sights.
The Chapel bridge and water tower is a Lucerne landmark. Dating to the 14th century, it unfortunately caught flames and most of it burned down in 1993. It’s been carefully restored (you can easily see where the older and newer sections meet), and is once again on display leading to the old-town center near the train station.
The Swiss Museum of Transport – very kid-friendly with lots of interactive exhibits everything to do with trains, planes, boats and cars. It’s great for both kids and adults, and also features an IMAX theater. Get there by bus, boat, or a pleasant walk along the lakeside promenade.
The dying lion is a monument to fallen Swiss soldiers fighting as mercenaries at the Tuileries in 1792. Mark Twain called it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
You almost have to see this, because it’s so famous. Set in a park near the center of town, this 20-ft lion sculpture commemorates Swiss mercenary soldiers who stood their ground and died for their loyalty during the French revolution. Mark Twain called this “the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world.” It’s a short outing, but it is surprisingly poignant.
Sammlung Rosengart Picasso Museum – a fun trip for Picasso fans, it includes a lot of his minor works as well as numerous black & white photos of Picasso himself. There are many other museums in Luzern as well, and you can get a list from the tourist office.
Mt. Pilatus is the local mountain above Lucerne, and is a great viewpoint for enjoying the Lake Lucerne region.
Pilatus Kulm towers above Lucerne and the surrounding lakes just outside the city, and provides one of Switzerland’s most famous viewpoints. You can get there by gondola from Kriens, just outside of Lucerne, or by cogwheel train from Alpnachstad (at 48% average gradient, the “world’s steepest”), on the south-western corner of the lake. There are restaurants at the top, a number of trails (you can hike also), Switzerland’s longest summer luge ride (worth a spin), a hotel, and fabulous views all around. The “Golden round trip” includes a boat ride on the lake, goes up the train, and comes down the gondola. It’s expensive, but you save 50% with your Swiss Half Fare Card (get one). You can check out the Pilatus website for more info.
City or regional tour – Rene Welti is a friendly Swiss-American man who lives in Lucerne and gives informative and fun tours of the region. His guided Lake Lucerne Panorama and Country Walk is a great half-day walk through nearby meadows and vineyards. Or the full-day William Tell Swiss Path walk takes you across the lake to the Rutli meadow where Swiss independence was born over 700 years ago. Contact Rene and treat yourself to a local’s perspective of the Lake Lucerne region. www.echo-trails.com, +41 79 917 6873
Lake steamers offer boat tours of varying length. For spending a day around Lucerne, consider one of these relaxing trips.
A great idea for a relaxing day around Lucerne is a trip on one of the lake steamers. There are tons of destinations, depending on how long you want to travel. You might want to consider Vitznau, where you can combine it with a cogwheel train ride up to Rigi Kulm, another worthy mountain viewpoint.
Farmer’s market – plan your trip for a Tuesday or Saturday morning, and visit the colorful farmer’s market near the Chapel bridge on the river.
TOURS IN THIS REGION
Self-guided Best of Switzerland … this self-guided tour includes nights in Zermatt, the Bernese Oberland, Lucerne and Zurich. A great introductory week to some of the top Swiss sights.
Lucerne Tourist Office – email them for maps and information; there is a tourist office at the Lucerne train station.