Lucerne is as lovely as any fairytale city.
Located in central Switzerland at the junction of Lake Lucerne and the Reuss river (just 40 minutes’ drive south of Zurich), the city was a former trading hub on the medieval merchant route between Germany and Italy. Today, the locals boast that Lucerne has it all: the Alps, water views, history and a laid-back vibe. They’re not wrong.
Surrounding the city are the mountains of Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn, and the glistening expanse of Lake Lucerne. There are endless ways to enjoy the setting — from skiing and aerial cable car rides to boating and water sports.
Enjoy this Lucerne travel guide.
History buffs will adore the well-preserved medieval churches, towers, bridges, market squares and laneways of Lucerne’s Old Town.
Take a guided walking tour and discover historic gems at every turn. The Old Town’s centerpiece is the 14th century covered wooden Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke). Tragically ravaged by a fire in the early 1990s, then fully restored, it’s still regarded as the oldest wooden bridge in Europe. The bridge is adorned by almost 2,000 geraniums and a collection of 17th century paintings, which depict historical events in the city. At the time they were painted, the average citizen couldn’t read.
Old paddle steamboats, white swans and a castle (Château Gütsch) in the background all add to the enchanting sense of old-world elegance. Yet beneath the gentler reminiscences about the past lies a trove of dark tales that allude to the harsh realities of life in medieval Lucerne. Seventeenth century paintings on the Mill Bridge (Spreuer Brücke) depict the ‘Dance of Death’ — a reference to the black plague that raged through the city in the 1500s. A tree in the Kornmarket supposedly marks the spot where suspected witches once came to a gruesome end.
Sheltered in a green oasis in the city centre, the Lion Monument has to be one of the most touching sculptures in the world. Representing the slaughter of 800 Swiss guards attempting to protect French King Louis XVI during the French revolution, the agony chiselled into the face of the dying lion draws the eye with its poignancy. Almost 200 years after it was carved, tourists still stare in awe at the suffering on the almost human face.
There’s no shortage of cultural activities in Lucerne that will delight visitors of all ages.
If you are travelling with children, ramble through the whimsical Glacier Garden’s Mirror Maze. It will seem kitsch to some, and pure enchantment to others. Ninety mirrors create confounding thoroughfares. Next door you’ll find the Glacier Museum, which provides an in-depth study of Switzerland’s icy heritage.
Culture vultures should head to the acclaimed Rosengart-Museum, which features works by Pablo Picasso and other modernist artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
For those who love planes, trains, automobiles and boats, a visit to the excellent Swiss Museum of Transport is a must. See modes of transport past and present, and get a glimpse of what the future holds.
Listen to a podcast of our tips for top things to see and do in Lucerne:
The Italian Renaissance-style Old Town is pedestrianised and popular with shoppers.
Here you’ll find clothing boutiques, traditional Swiss trinket shops, antique and jewellery stores, traditional eateries and more.
Lucerne hosts some lively weekly markets. The open air Wochenmarkt happens along the Reuss on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Browse the stalls for fresh produce, cheeses and smallgoods. It’s the perfect opportunity to put together a waterfront picnic.
Don’t leave town without treating yourself to a delicious Swiss chocolate tasting at Max Chocolatier. The exquisite chocolates are all made by hand.
Lucerne offers plenty of casual outdoor dining options, many of which are clustered along the glistening waterfront.
Across the Chapel Bridge you’ll find a promenade of restaurants and cafes that offer traditional Swiss cuisine and pastries. Sit and ponder the beauty of Lucerne while enjoying rosti, fondue raclette or perhaps älplermagronen — an alpine macaroni dish served with apple slices.
Go upscale for a special occasion and venture to Scala Restaurant at the stunning art deco Hotel Montana. It’s the place to dine, according to the locals. Inspired by the flavours of the Mediterranean, the set menus are a cost effective option. The views of the lake, mountains and city, add additional wow factor to the culinary delights on offer. Note the dress code: ‘elegant and chic’.
You are guaranteed of a relaxing stay in Lucerne — it’s that sort of place!
For a wonderful way to see Lucerne and the surrounding region without tiring the legs, climb on board a Belle Époque (beautiful era) period paddle steamboat. Five steamboats run regular services on the lake, including breakfast and lunch-time jaunts past stunning mountains, old lakeside villas and majestic castles. Full day cruises to Flüelen are an option. It’s a three-hour trip each way.
For some serious pampering, Hotel Montana’s Day Spa offers a great range of massages and spa treatments.
If time permits, head up Mount Rigi by cable car and enjoy a soak in the thermal waters at Mineralbad & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad amidst spectacular views of the Alps. It’s a fitting way to end your stay in this sublime city.
Five tours we love
Explore magnificent Lake Lucerne by yacht on this superb morning, afternoon or evening cruise. Take in the splendor of Switzerland’s most stunning lake. Audio commentary is provided.
Enjoy this summer adventure into the Swiss Alps, where you’ll see magnificent gorges and glaciers. Highlights include the Rhone Glacier ice tunnels and the wild beauty of the Bernese Oberland.
A day of summer Alpine adventure awaits on this fabulous half-day trip from Lucerne to Mt Pilatus. You’ll enjoy a 30-minute gondola ride to Fräkmüntegg, before boarding the aerial cableway for the ascent to the top of Mt Pilatus. A Lake Lucerne cruise is also included.
Lucerne is a photographer’s delight. The city offers many exquisitely photogenic natural vistas and heritage street-scapes. On this tour, you’ll discover secret vantage points known only to local photographers, and have the opportunity to capture some truly stunning images.
Enjoy the services of a local guide on a six-day tour of magnificent alpine Switzerland. The tour departs from Lucerne, and includes visits to Zurich, Geneva and Berne, along with Lake Como and the vineyards of Valais. Five nights’ accommodation (3 and 4-star hotels), breakfasts and selected other meals are included.
Do you have any tips to add to our Lucerne travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock/Photodune
About the writer
Linda Moon is a freelance travel, health and lifestyle writer with work appearing in Voyeur, the Sun-Herald, Traveller in the Sydney Morning Herald, the NZ Journal of Natural Medicine, Nature & Health magazine, the New Daily, SBS Comment & Analysis, the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Pub Food Guide, Essential Kids, Australian Family magazine, Weekend Notes, WellBeing magazine, Retirement Living Today and more. Based in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains, Linda has been blessed to explore the wonderful cultures and magical lands of Vietnam, Cambodia, Switzerland, Tahiti and Moorea, Japan, India, Koh Samui, Vanuatu, Lifou and New Zealand.