Nestled between a backdrop of towering mountains and a sparkling lake, Lucerne 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.
Where is Lucerne?
Ideally located in central Switzerland, Lucerne is easily accessible from all parts of the country and beyond. It is situated on the major railway lines to Locarno/Lugano near the Italian border, Lake Constance on the German and Austrian borders, and Lake Geneva near the French border.
Getting to Lucerne
Only an hour or so from both the Swiss capital, Bern, and Zurich, Lucerne makes an ideal day trip for those with limited time, but also offers plenty to see and do for visitors staying a few days.
Further reading: 6 of the best day trips from Zurich
Things to See and Do Whilst on Holiday in Lucerne
Without doubt, Lucerne’s most famous attraction 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 its octagonal roof.
A fire in 1993 all but destroyed the 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 which represent 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.
Lucerne’s Altstadt (old town) is home to an array of medieval squares, cobblestone lanes and a fair share of shops, boutiques and cafes. 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.
In Summer, one of the city’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 lovely Jesuit Church of Lucerne is also worth a visit.
Lake Lucerne is the postcard-perfect Swiss lake with its sparkling blue water and surrounding snow-capped peaks. A great way to appreciate the size of the lake is on a cruise and there are plenty of options with both an historic paddlewheel steamer and a panoramic yacht offering lake cruises. Check cruise options and prices here.
Legend has it that it was on the shores of Lake Lucerne 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.
Just by the lake, Verkehrhaus, the Swiss Transport Museum, is all about things that go! Planes, trains and automobiles are the order of the day in this interesting 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. Kids will love it, and adults will find plenty to interest them, too. Watch a short video of Verkehrhaus here.
Art lovers visiting Lucerne can indulge their passion at the Picasso Musuem where they will find around 200 photos of the artist himself at work and play, rather than his own artworks, and the Rosengart Collection, which does house a number of Picasso’s works as well as those by Paul Klee, Cezanne and Chagall, to name a few.
Another frequently visited sight in Lucerne, the dying Lion, is 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. 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.
For the best views of Lucerne and the lake, there’s only one place to go – up! 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, too, with the mountain a mecca for hikers, and also home to one of the country’s largest rope parks, an adventure playground and the country’s longest toboggan run.
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. 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.
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.
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!
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 Lucerne hotel prices here.
If you have visited Lucerne whilst on holiday, what were your favourite things to see and do?