Lucerne – a must-see on any Switzerland Itinerary
A Guest Post by Anna Timbrook from Expert World Travel
Every year, more and more people flock to Switzerland to get a taste of their own unique Swiss experience. And in the very center of this alpine wonderland is Lucerne, an absolute must-see city.
Lucerne is a bustling city welcoming over 5 million visitors every year with a record of 1 million overnight stays. So, once you have finished this post and are motivated to come visit, don’t hesitate to book ahead.
(Editor Update 2020)
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Lucerne is the capital of the Canton of Lucerne and is one of the eighth largest cities in Switzerland. This economic and cultural center of the region is a thriving city with many things to do for both locals and visitors. It also sits on the north-western side of Lake Lucerne and at the outlet of River Reusse. Together with the Alps in the background, Lucerne is a picturesque destination rich in history, culture, and adventure.
This German-speaking part of the country is also an excellent base for day trips. Which, thanks to the super-efficient transportation system of Switzerland means you can explore the city to your heart’s content and head off to one or two other locations with absolute ease.
Whether you’re dropping by for a day or spending days on end, here are the many reasons why you can’t miss a trip to Lucerne.
The most-visited landmark in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge. It connects the old and the new part of Lucerne over the River Reusse. It combines function and craft, serving as a covered footbridge lined with 17th-century artwork that you will be craning your neck to see as you cross over the river.
Also known as the Kapellbrücke, this is the oldest bridge of its kind in all of Europe. When it was built in 1333, it spanned 200 meters from end to end. It now measures 170 meters due to the replenishment of the river banks, but still makes for a beautiful stroll over the water. Get a glimpse of history through its artwork, sit by the walls and gaze over the water, or bask in its glow when the bridge is illuminated at night.
And the best part of all, it is right in the center of town, so you can easily pop by at various times of the day to get the best photos to remember it by.
As Switzerland’s fourth-largest lake, Lake Lucerne is hard to miss. And because Lucerne is right on the shore, it gives you lots of options.
You can take a stroll along the water’s edge or take it all in on one of the historic paddle-boats that go around the lake. There are many trips and excursions that can take you around the lake throughout the day. But no matter how you choose to enjoy it, the lake’s setting is simply stunning.
The pristine blue lake is surrounded by glistening snow-capped mountains. Even locals can’t resist the allure of the lake. Swimming in the water is a favorite activity during the summer, or even when the water is a little bit chilly.
Every city in Switzerland has its own version of Old Town, and Lucerne is no different. On the right bank of the River Reusse (looking from the lake), Lucerne’s historic core is lined with shops and houses lining the medieval cobblestone streets. And lucky for us all, It’s a traffic-free zone that lets visitors walk around freely and immerse themselves in its curious history without the fear of getting run over.
There are still some debates as to when the city was really founded, but there are records to show that the first settlements date back to 840 AD. However old the Old Town is, the best starting point is Weinmarkt. This location is walled by medieval guildhalls and decorative facades that will have you wondering at the skill it took to create them.
Within Old Town are dozens of historic landmarks. The most distinct is the Museggmauer, situated at the summit of the town and overlooks the city and Lake Lucerne. The ramparts were built in 1386 where four of its towers are open to the public.
Another popular landmark is the Lion Monument. It’s around a 10-15 minute walk from the Chapel Bridge and was built to commemorate the Swiss Guard massacred during the French Revolution in the 18th century.
There are many museums around Lucerne covering different fields of interest. A popular one is Lucerne’s Museum of History directly situated on the River Reuss. On top of the usual displays and artifacts, the museum offers theatrical tours that bring the city’s history to life. Actors take visitors through an interactive experience of the museum collections as they provide information and insights into local history.
Among all the museums in Switzerland, one of the most visited is in Lucerne. The Swiss Museum of Transport holds an impressive collection of all forms of transport from different periods of history. The exhibits are interactive and offer a variety of vehicles on show. In addition to their unique exhibits, the museum also houses a planetarium, a film theater, the Swiss Chocolate Adventure, and Media World for a highly immersive experience.
Lucerne is also home to some of the world’s most exciting art museums and galleries. The Rosengart Art Collection is one of the premier galleries for classic modernist art. It houses works by over 20 art masters from the last century as collected by the gallery’s founders, Siegried and Angela Rosengart.
Another stunning collection can be found at Museum Bellpark. This 19th-century mansion has exhibits of modern photography juxtaposed with Swiss classics. It also runs temporary exhibits that span Switzerland’s artistic past, present, and future. The newest addition to its list of art galleries is Kunstpavillon, which quickly became world-renowned for its unique collections of art, innovation, and experimentation. It proudly displays artwork from younger artists to signal the evolution of Switzerland’s artistic culture.
Brought about by Lucerne’s rich history is the castle that lends grandeur and a bit of lore to the city.
The ramparts of the Heidegg Castle were first built around 1192. It was said to be the only castle left standing after the arson attacks of Swiss Confederates in the Battle of Sempach in 1836. According to legend, a fog hid the castle as soldiers marched upon it, saving it from much destruction. Its walls tell many stories, and a trip to the Heidegg Castle will tell all of it. Through its award-winning Turmkeller stories, guests learn more about the history of the Heigegg Castle through sound and illustration.
In Ettiswil stands the Wyher Moated Castle, inhabited by many families of minor nobility since 1304. It was in possession of the influential Feer family for one hundred years, followed by 250 years of the Pfyffer dynasty. Now, the castle is in the possession of the city and used for many private, business and cultural events.
Lucerne Day trips
Whether it’s by land or water, up mountains or through valleys, you’ll be spoiled for choice in expanding your trip beyond the city of Lucerne.
For the adventurers, a cog rail or gondola brings you to the towering summit of Mount Pilatus, the most dominant Alpine peak on Lake Lucerne. If you choose to hike up instead, just be sure to be both fit and have enough time. The hike takes around four hours and as someone who has done it three times, I can tell you it’s steep. Its spiky peak is one of Switzerland’s best and rewards successful hikers with unparalleled views of Lucerne and beyond.
If you have a little longer in Lucerne, there are a few other stunning day trips you can schedule in as well. There is Rigi, another of Switzerland’s favourite mountains, which is kind of opposite the city. Or, if you want a little luxury or just to see the glass elevator in the James Bond movie, you can pop over to Burgenstock and admire the views or do the cliff-side walk to the elevator.
In many ways, your options are endless, and you can almost make a full Swiss itinerary with Lucerne as your base. You can even reach Interlaken Switzerland and the infamous Jungfraujoch from here if you want, so if you are stressed for time, you don’t even have to leave the comfort of this amazing city.
Memorable experiences in Lucerne
Among the many stunning destinations in Switzerland, Lucerne is one of the stops you absolutely must make. This city is unique in its colourful history and stunning perch on Lake Lucerne with the alps right at your doorstep.
About Anna Our Guest Author
Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has travelled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on her travel blog with her husband.
Essential Visitor Information
How to get to Lucerne
- The nearest airport to Lucerne is Zurich
- It takes 1 hour by train from Zurich Airport to Lucerne Train Station. Direct trains leave every hour. The train station is located in the airport on Level 2. You can purchase tickets at the counter or from a ticket machine. The machines are located near the stairway leading to the platform. You can change the language on the machines to English.
- It takes 45 minutes by train from Zurich Main Station to Lucerne.
- Lucerne’s train station is located in the centre of town. There are taxis and buses available from the station as well as a Tourist Information Centre.
- The Bus Station – Inseliquai 10 – is located towards the East of the Train Station.
- You can hire a car from Zurich Airport. Click here for the latest deals.
- Bern is the capital of Switzerland and can be visited from Lucerne on a day trip. The train journey will take 1 hour 15 minutes. Trains leave every 55 minutes.
- The Swiss High-Speed Railway connects all major Swiss cities. For schedules, planning and mobile tickets you can download the SBB app.
Currency in Switzerland
The Swiss Franc is the official currency of Switzerland, not the Euro. If you pay in Euros, your change will be given in Swiss Francs and the exchange rate will not be in your favour.
1 CHF = Euro 0.88
1 CHF – USD 1.00
Driving in Switzerland
- Motorway A14 connects with Zurich
- Motorway A2 connects with Bern, also connects with Gotthard and Italy
- Parking is at a premium in Lucerne. Car parks can cost up to 50 CHF a day.
- For driving on the motorways there are tolls to be paid. You can buy a ‘vignette’ (motorway tax sticker) at Post Offices or Petrol Stations for 40 CHF.
- Your headlights must be on all the time.
- You drive on the right in Switzerland.
- Speed limits on motorways are maximum 120 km/hour, highways 100 km/hour, outside built-up areas 80 km/hour and towns 50 km/hour.
- You can use your home license if it is in English, French, German or Italian, if it is not you will need to have an International Drivers license.
- Pedestrians always have right of way on zebra crossings.
- The legal alcohol limit is 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood or 0.5 grams/litre or 0.05%
Things to do in Lucerne Switzerland
Some of the best things to do in Lucerne are:
Winter in Lucerne: Minimum average temperature -2 degrees (Celcius) and average maximum of 5 degrees (Celcius). Winter months are December, January and February.
Spring in Lucerne: Minimum average temperature 2 degrees (Celcius) and average maximum of 19 degrees (Celcius). Spring months are March, April and May.
Summer in Lucerne: Minimum average temperature 13 degrees (Celcius) and average maximum 25 degrees (Celcius) Summer months are June, July and August.
Autumn in Lucerne: Minimum average temperature 3 degrees (Celcius) and average maximum 20 degrees (Celcius) Autumn months are September, October and November.
Some of the best hotels in Lucerne are:
- Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern located in Schweizerhofquai 3a. This historic 5-star hotel (guest rating 9) is located on the lake with views over the Old Town.
- Art Deco Hotel Montana located in Adligenswilerstrasse 22. This art deco 4-star hotel (guest rating 9) is well-positioned for shopping, dining, nightlife, and in walking distance to the Rathaus Lucerne and the Lion Monument.
- Hotel Des Balances located in Weinmarkt. This 4-star hotel (guest rating 9) is well-positioned for shopping. Lucerne Train Station is a 20-minute walk away.
For more Lucerne Hotel options:
[su_note note_color=”#ffc400″] For the latest Tripadvisor Lucerne Hotel Recommendations and Reviews[/su_note]
Lucerne has a range of Airbnb properties to suit all travellers and budgets.
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