Lucerne (Luzern) is one of the most popular destinations for tourists in Switzerland, and for good reason: it boasts a picturesque Old Town, rich history, and lakeside setting with sightseeing and activity opportunities for nearly any type of visitor. Just three hours from Geneva (by car or by train), you can cover Lucerne’s main attractions in a day, or spend several days exploring the city, Lake Lucerne, and the surrounding cantons. My family recently spent a long weekend in the city, and in this post, I want to tell you about some of our favorite discoveries.
Lucerne is a large city in Central Switzerland that is home to nearly 80,000 people. Most visitors tend to stick to the city center and the Old Town area where most of the main city sights are located. The Chapel Bridge, originally constructed in the 14th century, spans the Reuss River and is one of Lucerne’s most-visited spots. Pictorial panels from the 17th century illustrate scenes from Switzerland’s history. The wooden bridge caught fire in 1993 and was mostly destroyed; now reconstructed, you can see where the original wood meets the reconstruction. Downstream from the Chapel Bridge, you can see the Needle Dam. Sections of the dam (the “needles”) are raised or lowered to control the water level of the lake. Don’t miss the Spreuer Bridge, another covered wooden bridge, with grisly painted panels that depict the “dance of death”.
In the Old Town area, you can visit several historic buildings including the Kornmarkt, Rathaus, and Weinmarkt. You can also climb the towers of Lucerne’s old city walls; the Zyturrm houses the city’s oldest clock. On a personal note, one of my favorite sights in Lucerne was the Dying Lion of Lucerne, a powerful and moving sculpture carved into a cliff face that commemorates Swiss guardsmen killed during the French Revolution in 1792. The lion’s monument is next to the Glacier Garden and is a short five- to ten-minute walk from the Old Town.
Finally, there are several museums in or near Lucerne, including the Transportation Museum, Kunstmuseum, and the Richard Wagner museum. The Transportation Museum has a large collection of ; the collections of the Kunstmuseum center on Swiss art from the Renaissance to present day, and the Richard Wagner museum contains exhibitions from the composer’s life and works.
Lucerne’s proximity to Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus, among other peaks, make it an ideal starting point for mountain hikes and unbeatable views. In Medieval times, legend had it a dragon lived on Pilatus; today it is a popular tourist destination and hosts radar and weather stations.
Pilatus can be reached by train from Alpnachstad or by cable car and gondola from Kriens. Access Rigi from lakeside towns Vitznau and Weggis. From Vitznau, the Rigi-Bahnen will take you to the summit; in Weggis, catch a gondola to Rigi-Kaltbad and reach the summit either on foot or by connecting to the Righ-Bahnen.
Lake Lucerne is the fourth-largest lake in Switzerland and is sometimes called the Four Cantons Lake because its borders reach the cantons Uri, Schwyz, Luzern, and Nidwalden. Compared to the relatively smooth kidney shape of Lake Geneva, Lake Lucerne has a winding shoreline such that it feels like several connected lakes.
The SGV boat company operates a fleet of motorized passenger boats, steamers, and other vessels that criss-cross each segment of the lake. You can buy tickets for individual legs of a journey or a day pass; dogs and bicycles also require a ticket. SGV ticket information for 2014 is available here. Most boats have a restaurant and/or snack bar where you can purchase snacks and meals.
During my family’s visit to Lucerne, we purchased day passes and started early in the morning for a full day on the lake. Especially combined with a discount we received because we hold demi-tarif cards with the SBB, it was a relatively inexpensive way to see several different parts of the lake and visit several cantons.
History and Industry
One spot easily reached from Lucerne is the Rütli Meadow, birthplace of the Swiss Confederation in 1291. My family caught an early boat from Lucerne and enjoyed breakfast on the boat as we steamed across the lake to Rütli. From the boat dock, it was a short 10-minute hike to the meadow. We explored the commemorative plaques and then started a hike on the first segment of the Swiss Path, a scenic trail created 1991 as part of the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Confederation. More information about the Swiss Path is coming up in our next post, so stay tuned!
During our trip to Lucerne, my family also visited the town of Hergiswil to tour the Glasi Hergiswil glassworks. The facility has a museum, restaurant, sculpture park, and more. The museum tour concludes at a gallery above the factory floor; during our visit, we watched a dozen glass-blowers create plates, bowls, goblets, and decorative pieces. Children would enjoy the sculpture park and the hands-on glass objects such as musical instruments.
Useful resources: The City Guide Lucerne is available for iPhone and Android devices; it contains city maps, transportation information, sights in and around the city, and more. Click here for the city’s website; click here for the MySwitzerland overview of Lucerne.
Have you visited Lucerne? What are some of your favorite spots in the city? Tell us!
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