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Lucerne Travel Guide
Ever since the first Grand Switzerland Tour of 1830 stopped here, Lucerne has cast a spell on travellers. The small but well preserved medieval city with its fresco painted houses, the picturesque wooden bridges, museums and a wealth of cultural events sits at the north shore of glittering Lake Lucerne and is surrounded by an amphitheater of shiny mountain majesty.
Lucerne has been given many names: the City of Bridges, Music, Squares and Churches has inspired painters, poets and composers to produce great works of art.
But most of all, it is the "City of Lights". Legend has it that an angel cast a light upon a place and told the fishermen to build a chapel in honour of their patron St. Nicholas. Later, the chapel became part of the monastery "Luceria", hence the name Lucerne.
The St. Leodegar monastery was first mentioned in 840 and it was not before 1178 that the parish was transferred from the monastery to a town. Today, the once small fishing settlement has grown to a city of over 80'000 residents.
Lucerne is the first city that joined the Everlasting League of the 'three forest cantons' in 1332. Legendary landmarks representing facts and legends dating back more than 700 years can be found all over the Lake Lucerne region.
And last but not least, Lucerne is a favorite by music connoisseurs for its outstanding classical concerts. The exceptional acoustic quality of the KKL's music hall brings the world's best musicians and conductors to the city.
Lucerne is compact and small enough to be easily explored on foot. The pretty scenery and sights can be visited on a leisurely stroll, starting at the centrally located railway station, a striking modern building.
Cross over the "Seebrücke" to the northern part of the city and meander through the cobbled streets and irregular lanes with its multitude of squares and corners. Many of the fine medieval and renaissance buildings are elaborately painted.
Stately hotels along Schweizerhof-, Nationalquai and Haldenstrasse bear witness of Lucerne's early role as a tourist town. Cafés and Restaurants on the Reuss River along Rathausquai and the chestnut tree lined upper promenade of "Unter der Egg" invite to linger on.
The most prominent bridge is the Kapellbrücke or Chapel Bridge with its tilted roof, zigzagging over the River Reuss from the Rathausquai to Bahnofstrasse and the Jesuit Church. The bridge was erected in 1333 as part of Lucerne's fortification; it had to endure more than one fire, the last one in 1993. The original triangular paintings in its gabled roof - added in the 17th century - illustrating religious legends and historic events of both - Lucerne and Switzerland - suffered severe damage during the fires and most of them are now replicas.
The Chapel Bridge is flanked by an octagonal stone tower that predates the bridge by a few years. The tower served one time or another as a watch tower, then archive and treasury. In the middle ages, one of the rooms was a torture chamber and a jail - the latter a room in complete darkness.
The Spreuer Bridge or Mill Bridge ("Spreu" meaning chaff in English), built in 1408, got its name from the custom of throwing chaff from wheat and leaves into the river from this bridge. It links Mühleplatz right beneath the Musegg Wall with the Museum of History on Kasernenplatz and the Museum of Natural History on Pfingststasse. The Spreuer Bridge paintings depict the 'Dance of Death' and were created between 1626 and 1635.
The 'Nadelwehr' (Needle Dam) is not a bridge but it's an interesting spot to observe how Lucerne's water level is regulated. The dam is directly attached to the 'Spreuer Bridge '. The 'needles' (wooden blanks) are removed and re-set by hand depending on the water levels.
Take a rest in the coolness and splendor of the ornate Jesuit Church (former Jesuit college and dedicated to St. Franz Xaver).
The Franciscan Church right behind the Jesuit Church is a fine example of Gothic architecture - both are located on the 'railway station' side of the River Reuss.
The Hof Church (dedicated to the city's heavenly patron St. Leodegar) is on the north shore and its prominent pointed spires of the bell towers can already be seen from the 'Schweizerhofquai'. Particular pretty are the carved choir stalls and gothic altars. The Hof Church is famous for its organ concerts. St. Leodegarstrasse 6.
The small 18th century St. Peters Church at the Kapellplatz (right next to the Chapel Bridge) is often used as a wedding chapel.
Lucerne is predominately catholic and it wasn't before the 19th century, that the protestants were permitted to build their first church, the Matthäus Kirche on Hertensteinstrasse 30 (behind Hotel Schweizerhof). The other downtown protestant church is the Lukaskirche on Morgartenstrasse 16 (close to the train station).
Churches are closed during the main dates of the Lucerne Carnival.
The Musegg Wall with its 9 towers is a well preserved, 800 meter long city fortification. Walk up along the wall and climb at least one if its towers, for example the 'Männliturm' for yodel-ready vistas.
Open to public are three more Lucerne Towers:
- The 'Schirmertower' houses a small café;
- The 'Zyttower' (Zyt meaning time) has the city's oldest clock and therefore the privilege to chime one minute before all other town clocks;
- The 'Wachtturm' is the former storage tower for gunpowder.
From a tactical point of view, the fortification wall was a failure. Cannons that could have destroyed the walls have already been in use at the time of completion in the 14th century, but the wall sure makes for a good sight.
The Lucerne towers are mostly maintained on a voluntary basis by clubs and guilds who rent them from the city.
There are guided tours to all of the towers organized by the tourism office.
The Lion of Lucerne is Switzerland's oldest figurative sculpture. The moving statue of a dying lion carved into a Rockwall in 1821 has become Lucerne's main tourist attraction so don't expect to be the only visitor. It serves as an allegory to honour the Swiss Guards, which were slathered during the storm on the Tuileries, August 10th 1792. It even inspired Mark Twain for moving words. Glacier garden and Mirror maze are right next to it.
I've created this Lucerne map so you can see all the places mentioned. Click on the blue place holders to get more information.
Just type a word or phrase into the box
and off you go!
Lucerne is the largest city in Central Switzerland and lies smack dab in the middle of our country.
The nearest international airport is Zürich-Kloten. Trains run on regular intervals of about 30 minutes between the Airport and Lucerne and the ride takes approx. one hour. Make sure you board a direct train so you don't have to change trains at Zürich's main train station (Hauptbahnhof).
Navigating the city is easy. City buses and trains are leaving from the centrally located Railway station and boats leave from the landing right behind it.
Many Swiss Cities and even regions are only a one or two hour train ride away from Lucerne, for example Zürich, Basel, and Bern can be reached in approximately one hour; Zug in 20 minutes, the Lake Brienz area in only two hours and the much loved Jungfrau Region in approximately three hours, depending where you are headed.
Lucerne's train station called RailCity (Architect Santiago Calatrava) is a meeting place. All trains arrive and leave from here. Luggage storage and bike rental available. It houses an underground mall with train ticket counters, shops, and places to eat early to late, 365 days.
Lucerne's Tourist Office is also located in the RailCity. A great place to get the latest news, pick up a city map, book tickets for guided city tours, the City sightseeing Train, excursions and events.
By the way, Lucerne is not only full of sightseeing attractions. There are so many exciting and emotionally charged stories of ghosts, liaisons, history rich fountains and legends and you'll be surprised what the painted facades have to say.
Do you know what a 'Schreckmömpfeli' is? There! Take one of the guided themed tours offered by the tourism office and you'll be 'in the know'.
There's a Museums Pass that can be purchased at the reduced price valid for two days and for all museums mentioned in this Lucerne travel guide. You can get it at the Tourist Office in the train station. Of course, if you already have a Swiss Travel Pass and visit one of the museums during a travel day, you'll most likely be covered.
The Lucerne Tourism also offers a free city tour App for download that can be used offline.
The weather in Lucerne is quite comfortable year round - not too hot and not too cold, at least in our terms. If you are used to a hot climate though, then maybe fall, winter and spring can feel quite chilly. Dressing in layers always helps and do bring rain gear with you.
If you come to admire the spectacular scenery, the months between April and mid-October are best to enjoy the city and the lake surroundings.
Autumn and winter bring fog and snow to the region, and while winter skiing areas are usually fog free, the city itself is often enveloped in depressing gray. While misty fog rising from the lake can paint a romantic atmosphere, the visibility is very much restricted. If the day is sunny above the fog line, there is a chance that the fog in the city lifts later in the day. But one can't always count on that.
If you come for "ear candy", a visit to Lucerne is interesting all year - rain or shine. The City of Music offers a variety of concerts, from classical to jazz, brass, blues and folk.
Kultur- and Kongresszentrum Luzern (KKL) - Culture and Convention Centre Lucerne
The name maybe lacks grace but the stunning building is anything but and its events are state-of-the-art. Designed by architect Jean Nouvel; united under the big roof are an ultimate concert hall (engineered by Russell Johnson), the Museum of Art, restaurant and a shop. Concerts year-round though the most important events are the three Lucerne Festivals.
Europaplatz 1, open year-round
Luzerner Theater (Civic Theater)
The program is varied and presents dramas, operas, musicals and ballets… mostly in Swiss German.
Folkloric performances in the summer months presented nightly at the 'Stadtkeller and Swiss Folklore Restaurant'; during winter the program is quite different with mostly Jazz performances.
For more authentic and lesser touristy folk events search the 'Stubete' Website. The site is in German but it's easy to find events by date and entering "Luzern" into "Suche Wort/Name/Lokal" or just ask the Tourism Office in the train station for recommendations.
Grand Casino Lucerne
Fancy gambling? You can do that in the Grand Casino. Don't expect Vegas high wagers though. There's a dress code so check before you go. And don't forget your passport. You've got to be 18 years of age to get into the Casino. Good Luck!
Festivals surly will enhance your Lucerne travel experience. Here some of the most celebrated ones in the city year-round:
Connect with others at Pickwick Pub, the Shamrocks Irish Pub and the Legends Bar aka Billy's while watching the current rugby and soccer games on screens.
The Rathaus Micro-Brewery attached to the City Hall serves a delicious beer that you can sip while you people watch by the river Reuss.
If you are looking for a special place to enjoy a delicious gourmet meal, I recommend 'The Wilden Mann', a fine dining restaurant (Bahnhofstrasse 30)
René volunteers in his spare time as a "Friendly Host", a group of 30 people in red outfits who walk around Lucerne to help visitors find their way and to answer their questions. He is also a certified Hiking Guide.
To be honest, this is a hard one since I don't recommend anything I haven't tried personally. What's more, tastes and expectations are so different.
Lucerne is a tourist city and there are a myriad of Restaurants to choose from. Tripadvisor alone lists 251 of them. Do check the reviews before you go.
Most restaurants have a menu posted outside where you can check if the food could appeal to you.
Last time I meandered through Lucerne I had a delicious asparagus salad 'under the arcades' at the Restaurant Pfistern right at the promenade along the river Reuss on 'Unter der Egg'. Kornmarkt 4; open every day
Great value at buffet-style restaurants or take outs in department stores such as:
Old Swiss House on Löwenplatz 4, a timber framed house with a good vibe serves Swiss cuisine in a reasonable price range.
La Cucina on Pilatusstrasse 20 serves Pizza, Pasta and Co. Nice Mediterranean atmosphere.
Bolero Restaurant & Lounge, Bundesplatz 18 - serves a mix of Spanish and Mexican dishes for the small and large appetite.
As for eating fondue, I can't give you any good advice. I asked my cousin who lives in Lucerne and she was all "are you mad? Fondue in a Restaurant? You eat that at home!" Yes, exactly - so no big help there. I am hesitant to recommend the 'Fondue House' and the 'Swiss Stübli' since friends of mine didn't like them at all.
I know that the Fritschi Restaurant does serve fondue. It's a restaurant steeped in history with a colourful mural and - as the name implies - the hang out of the 'carnival boss Fritschi'. For reservations: +41 (0)41 410 16 15. Sternenplatz 5.
And then there's the 'Fondue and Raclette' boat on Lake Lucerne. Only in winter though.
Art Deco Hotel Montana
If you want to treat yourself to something really special in a charming atmosphere coupled with a superb view, the Gault Millau Scala Restaurant and Terrace at the Art Deco Hotel Montana is THE place. Reservations: +41 (0)41 419 00 00.
Olivio at the Grand Casiono Lucerne
I haven't been there personally but friends are raving about it. Stylish environment, serves Mediterranean dishes, has an impressive wine list and a wonderful view to boost; closed on Sunday's. Call for reservations: +41 (0)41 418 56 61.
Gasthof Rössli in Eschholzmat
Stefan Wiesner is a culinary master sorcerer and a 17 Gault Millau and one Michelin-star chef - innovative and unusually creative with a special touch. His creations will tickle your taste buts. He serves such unusual dishes as 'snow' and 'hey soup', 'arolla pine gravy' and 'peat mustard' topped with chocolate, just to name a few of the exotic dishes. Every 4 month he creates a new 8-course menu, a true 'eat-art' experience. Of course, the plates hold meat and veggies too. If you are a vegetarian, he's happy to surprise you too.
It's a restaurant where locals and gourmets meet. The interior is straightforward and without frills, a real "Gaststube" where locals have coffee and drink their after work beer. He also serves 'every day dishes', especially for lunch. Prices range from CHF 16 to 29, whereas dinner dishes are approximately CHF 65 and the eight course menu up to CHF 170.
If you don't feel like returning to Lucerne, the Restaurant Rössli organizes overnight stays on a farm for CHF 60 per person and night, including breakfast and transport from and to the restaurant (or train station).
Open Wednesday through Sunday. Only 30 seats. If you go, know that Saturday's are booked up to three months ahead but you might get lucky getting a seat during the week. Call to make a reservation: +41 (0)41 486 12 41.
Hauptstrasse 111, Eschholzmatt-Marbach
Approx. 46 km; 40 to 50 minutes from Lucerne through the beautiful Entlebuch Biosphere. 5 minute walk to the Restaurant.
The "Golden Hour" for capturing the best photos of the city is morning and late afternoon.
Lucerne lies at the geographical center of Switzerland and is well suited as a base to visit other Swiss cities, Lake Lucerne attractions and all of Central Switzerland.
There is no visit complete without taking a boat excursion on Lake Lucerne or 'Vierwaldstättersee' (Lake of the Four Forest Settlements) as we call the lake with its many arms, bays and basins. The vistas you will enjoy are spectacular. Boats leave in front of the KKL near the train station. There are a variety of boat rides on Lake Steamers or motorboats of up to six hours on offer.
The region around Lake Lucerne is Switzerland's birthplace. There are many historic sites to explore. Most of them can be visited by boat, among them Altdorf, where - according to legend - Wilhelm Tell refused to greet the hat of the despotic bailiff Gessler that was mounted on a stick and he therefore was forced to shoot an apple from his son's head; the Tellsplatte (Tell's Ledge), a rock shelf onto which Wilhelm Tell jumped to safety to escape his captors; the Rütli meadow where the men from the three Forest Settlements Uri, Schwyz and Nidwalden held their secret gathering on August 1st, 1291 to pledge the Everlasting League and the Town of Brunnen, where the oath of alliance was renewed in 1315 after the Morgarten battle.
The Swiss Path was inaugurated in 1991 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the oath of allegiance. It is a scenic 35 km (21.7 miles) hike between Brunnen and the Rütli meadow. It's well suited for families, and most sections are wheelchair accessible.
You don't have to be a history buff to enjoy the natural beauty of the Lake's surroundings! Nor even a serious hiker. Take time to wander or bike along the shores and through the meadows of the foothills to enjoy what nature has to offer in spades. Trails are everywhere and well signed.
Or climb the mountains without breaking into a sweat. Funicular's and gondolas take visitors up to lofty heights for breathtaking panorama views all around Lake Lucerne and its wreath of showy mountains, the most attractive being: Mt's Pilatus, Rigi, Stanserhorn (open air gondola), Stoos Fronalpstock and just one hour outside of Lucerne, Mt. Titlis above Engelberg. From Bürgenstock one enjoys fabulous views to Lake and Lucerne.
Experience a guided tour just the way a local would travel. You can join a small group of like-minded people or even ask for a tailor made tour just for you and your loved ones. Tours start at and return to the train station in Lucerne. Your guide is perfectly bilingual, speaking English and German. Get the details by clicking here.
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