Nestled between a backdrop of towering mountains and a sparkling lake, Lucerne (called Luzern in German) is one of Switzerland’s most visited cities. Offering a host of things to see and do, Lucerne makes a wonderful holiday destination in which to spend a few days.
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Where is Lucerne?
Ideally located in central Switzerland, Lucerne is easily accessible from all parts of the country and beyond.
How to get to Lucerne, Switzerland
Only an hour or so from both the Swiss capital, Bern, and Zurich, it is easy to do a Lucerne day trip if you only have limited time, but the city also offers plenty to do if you can stay a few days.
Lucerne is situated in central Switzerland on the major railway lines to Locarno and Lugano near the Italian border, Lake Constance on the German and Austrian borders, and Lake Geneva near the French border.
If you are planning a driving holiday in Switzerland, Lucerne makes a great stop on your own Grand Tour of Switzerland (see my suggested itinerary here).
Tip: When you visit Lucerne, I suggest your first port of call is the Lucerne Tourism office located at the main railway station. The staff are friendly and helpful (and speak excellent English) and can offer suggestions for what to do in Lucerne, Switzerland. They can also provide you with a free Lucerne map which will help with your Lucerne sightseeing.
Things to Do in Lucerne, Switzerland
Chapel Bridge and Spreuer Bridge
Without doubt, one of the most popular Lucerne attractions is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke). Dating back to 1333, the medieval bridge is just one of many that straddles the River Reuss, but this one is recognizable by its distinctive water tower with an octagonal roof.
A fire in 1993 all but destroyed the famous Lucerne wooden bridge, and even though it was rebuilt, fire damage can still be seen on the remaining 17th century pictorial panels which are a feature under the eaves.
Lucerne’s other famous covered bridge, Spreuer Bridge, was finished in 1408 as part of the city’s fortification. Kaspar Meglinger added 67 paintings representing the “Dance of Death” between 1626 and 1635.
Unlike the Chapel Bridge, the Spreuer was spared from the 1993 fire but its paintings are rather more dark and sombre, as you would expect of paintings representing death.
Old Town Lucerne
Lucerne’s Altstadt (old town) is home to an array of medieval squares, cobblestone lanes and a fair share of shops, boutiques and cafes, many of which are adorned with frescoes.
This is Switzerland so you’ll find an endless display of Switzerland’s most famous products – watches, army knives and chocolates – on offer, as well as shops offering the usual range of souvenirs.
If you fancy some clothes shopping in Lucerne, Switzerland’s major chain stores are all represented here.
In summer, one of the Old Town’s outdoor cafes is the perfect place to people-watch and sip a coffee, especially if you choose a café with views of the lake.
The Jesuit Church of Lucerne
The lovely Jesuit Church of Lucerne is also worth a visit. Built from 1666 to 1673, the twin onion-domed towers dominate the skyline on the southern bank of the River Reuss.
Whilst the exterior looks quite plain, the interior is a sight to behold. Richly decorated in white marble, the church features ornate stucco-work and frescoes.
Cruises on Lake Lucerne
Lake Lucerne is the postcard-perfect Swiss lake with its sparkling blue water and surrounding snow-capped peaks. Easily one of the best things to do in Lucerne is to take a lake cruise.
Known as Vierwaldstattersee in German, which translates to ‘four forest sites’, the lake is surrounded by four cantons – Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne.
A great way to appreciate the lake’s size is on a Lucerne boat tour and there are plenty of options with historic paddlewheel steamers, modern motorboats and a panoramic yacht all offering lake cruises. Click here to check cruise options and prices.
Legend has it that it was on the shores of Lake Lucerne, Switzerland that the Swiss hero William Tell won his freedom by successfully shooting an apple off the head of his son, Walter.
A stroll or bike ride along the lakeside is a great way to take in the sights of this beautiful city and with ample benches along the way, there is plenty of opportunity to stop, relax and take in the beautiful views beyond the lake to the snow-capped alps.
In summertime, concerts are often performed in the lakeside park.
Swiss Transport Museum
Just by the lake, Verkehrhaus, Lucerne’s Swiss Transport Museum, is all about things that go! Planes, trains and automobiles are the order of the day in this interesting Swiss museum dedicated to Switzerland’s transport history.
Static and interactive displays, rides and simulators, as well as an IMAX theatre and planetarium, make this Switzerland’s most popular museum.
The Swiss Transport Museum is also home to the Swiss Chocolate Adventure where you can learn about the history and manufacture of Swiss chocolate and even taste it!
If you are visiting Lucerne with kids, they will love the Swiss Transport Museum but adults will find plenty to interest them, too.
The Swiss Transport Museum is open 365 days a year. Click here to check admission prices and buy tickets.
Rosengart Collection art gallery
The Sammlung Rosengart (often referred to as the Rosengart Collection) is where you will find a private collection of more than 200 modernist paintings by Paul Klee, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne and Chagall, amongst others.
It is also home to a collection of around 200 photos of Picasso at work and play. These were previously displayed in a separate museum but have now been incorporated into the Rosengart Collection.
The Museum is located on Pilatusstrasse and is open daily.
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Richard Wagner Museum
Fans of the German composer Richard Wagner can visit Villa Tribschen where he and his family lived from 1866 to 1872.
Now known as the Richard Wagner Museum, the villa contains original furniture and memorabilia, including musical instruments, from the happy years that Wagner spent here.
The Villa is open from mid-March to October.
The Dying Lion Statue
Another of the top things to do in Lucerne is to visit the dying Lion, one of the world’s most famous monuments. It was carved out of natural rock in memory of the heroic deaths of the Swiss mercenaries at the Tuileries in France in 1792.
American author Mark Twain once described the Lion of Lucerne as the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world and to this day it still moves the thousands who visit each year.
TIP: For great views over the rooftops of Lucerne, head up to the restaurant in the Manor department store in the Lucerne Old Town. The views from the outdoor terrace are fantastic.
Day trips from Lucerne
There are numerous Lucerne day trips on offer but for the best views of Lucerne and the lake, there’s only one place to go – up!
Mt. Pilatus excursion from Lucerne
At 2132 metres above sea level, Mt Pilatus offers superb views, and getting to the top is easy. This is Swiss precision at its finest!
Take the world’s steepest cog railway, a cable car or scenic gondola (click here to check prices), and then enjoy magnificent dining at the summit.
There are plenty of summer activities on offer at the summit of Mt. Pilatus, too, with the mountain a mecca for hikers. It is also home to one of the country’s largest rope parks, an adventure playground and the country’s longest toboggan run.
Mount Rigi excursion from Lucerne
Mt Rigi – known to locals as ‘Queen of the Mountains’ – also offers a hiker’s paradise, and even today, the less energetic can reach the top of the summit by steam train or cogwheel train.
From the peak of Mt Rigi you can enjoy a fantastic view of the Alps, 13 surrounding lakes and as far as Germany and France. Click here to check day excursion options.
Mt. Titlis excursion from Lucerne
The world’s first revolving cable-car on Mt Titlis may not be for the faint hearted, but it provides those made from sterner stuff than me the chance to take a look at a unique glacier world.
With snow all year round on Mt.Titlis, the Titlis Rotair, as it is known, and the similarly unique Ice Flyer Chair Lift, allow visitors to float over the glaciers like never before.
The easiest way to get from Lucerne to Mt. Titlis is on an organised day trip. Click here for details and prices.
Can’t decide which mountain excursion to take from Lucerne? This article might be helpful.
Other popular day trips from Lucerne include:
- Full day trip to Jungfraujoch – click here for details and prices
- Day trip to Grindelwald and Interlaken – click here for details and prices
- Private Glacier Express day tour from Lucerne – click here for details and prices
- Browse more day tours and things to do in Lucerne by clicking here.
After the efficient, modern transport modes of the mountains, descending back down into Lucerne you will feel like you are being transported into a medieval fairytale.
Cobblestone streets, seven hundred year old bridges and narrow alleyways all give Lucerne the feel that nothing too much has changed in recent times.
Except perhaps the commercialism aimed at today’s tourist – and the fact that today’s Swiss heroes aren’t required to shoot apples off their sons heads in order to stay alive – and that can’t be a bad thing!
If you’re spending a few days in Lucerne, it’s worth considering purchasing a Tell Pass which covers public transport, mountain railways and cable car trips, and more. Click here for more information and prices.
Where to stay in Lucerne
Ready to plan your visit to Lucerne? I’ve visited this beautiful city numerous times and have shared my accommodation recommendations for Lucerne in this article. You can also check prices for Lucerne hotels here.
Here are some further recommendations:
These 5-star properties are rated some of the best hotels in Lucerne –
- Renaissance Lucerne Hotel – Click here to check current prices
- The Hotel Lucerne Autograph Collection – Click here to check current prices
- Grand National Hotel – Click here to check current prices
- Hotel Schweizerhof – Click here to check current prices
For hotels near Lucerne train station, try:
- Hotel de la Paix – Click here to check current prices
- Hotel Central Luzern – Click here to check current prices
- Hotel des Alpes – Click here to check current prices
- Hotel Waldstatterhof – Click here to check current prices
If you’d like a room with a lake view, try these Lake Lucerne hotels:
- Hotel des Balances – Click here to check current prices
- Hotel Seeburg Luzern – Click here to check current prices
- Seehotel Hermitage – Click here to check current prices
Prefer to rent an apartment in Lucerne? The following apartments have received great reviews from members of my Switzerland Travel Planning group:
- HITrental Chapel Bridge Apartments – Click here to check current prices
Average day time temperatures in Lucerne range from 4C in December and January to 25C in July.
Lucerne’s climate is regarded as temperate but if you are planning a Christmas visit to Lucerne, Switzerland winter temperatures can be very cold so be prepared.
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