By Briana Seftel
This Swiss city will charm you with its sparkling lake and small-town vibe. Made famous in the Romantic era in the 19th century, Lucerne is Switzerland in a nutshell. Get to know Lucerne (Luzern as the locals call it) with this helpful guide.
What to Know
Known as the gateway to central Switzerland, Lucerne is situated on the shores of Lake Lucerne and the Reuss River. This German-speaking city is not only renowned for its lovely lakeside location, but also its many historical treasures like the Chapel Bridge (the oldest covered bridge in Europe) and the Old Town (Altstadt). With an equally impressive dining and cultural scene, Lucerne makes an ideal starting point to a Switzerland vacation.
When to Go
Lucerne is wonderful to visit year round. June to September is peak season, with the city’s warmest weather (temperatures usually hover around a comfortable 75F) and tourists aplenty. Lucerne’s proximity to the Alps ensures cool weather, particularly in the evenings. November to mid-April is skiing season in Switzerland, which means Lucerne doesn’t slow down even as the temperatures drop. For the best deals, look to travel in the off season months like May and October.
How to Get Around
Lucerne’s town center is relatively small and easily explored on foot. As an alternative to walking, consider using the city’s excellent buses and trains. From the Tourist Center, pick up an all-purpose transit card for visitors, which will get you on loads of transportation options like the regional train, metro and boat.
Where to Eat
There’s no shortage of Swiss cuisine in Lucerne, with restaurants serving traditional dishes like rosti (a potato pancake) and the ubiquitous fondue. Below are some of our favorite restaurants in the city.
- Bolero Restaurant Bundespl. 18, 6003 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 226 80 80
- Restaurant Stern Burgerstrasse 35, 6003 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 227 50 60
- Sauvage Bahnhofstrasse 30, 6003 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 210 16 66
- Max Chocolatier Schweizerhofquai 2, 6004 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 418 70 90
- Vincafe La Barca Unter der Egg 6, 6004 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 202 12 12
- Wirsthaus Galliker Schützenstrasse 1, 6003 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 240 10 02
- Restaurant Olivo Haldenstrasse 6, 6006 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 418 56 61
- Rathaus Brauerei Unter der Egg 2, 6004 Luzern, Switzerland Phone: +41 41 410 61 11
What to See
Europe’s oldest covered bridge, Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) is a landmark of Lucerne. Built in the 14th century as part of the city fortifications, the wooden bridge was nearly destroyed during a fire in 1993. A stroll across the bridge is an absolute must, as is admiring the 17th-century roof panels containing scenes of Swiss history as well as the Lucerne's history, including the biographies of the city's patron saints, St. Leodegar and St. Maurice.
Carved out of sandstone rock, the Lion Monument commemorates the fallen Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 during the French Revolution. To see this touching memorial, head to Löwenplatz square and continue uphill following Denkmalstrasse another block to the monument.
Swiss Museum of Transport
Opened in 1959, the Museum of Transport is Switzerland’s most popular museum and features numerous exhibitions, theme parks and simulations. In addition to the museum, you’ll find unique attractions like the film theater, planetarium, Swiss Chocolate Adventure and Media World.
The fourth largest lake in Switzerland, Lake Lucerne is framed by dramatic mountains and is best explored by traditional paddlewheel steamers or motor vessels. Especially gorgeous in summer, the lake is reminiscent of a fjord. A popular excursion is to the far eastern part of the lake, known as Lake Uri or Urnersee. It’s home to the Rütli Meadow, where Switzerland was legendarily born.
Tips and Tricks
If you count yourself a classical music fan, consider visiting Lucerne during the Lucerne Festival, occurring three times a year.
Pick up tasty treats or just peruse the stalls at Wochenmarkt (Weekly Market) every Tuesday and Saturday along both river shores.
The Lucerne Museum Card gets you one entry into eleven museums across two consecutive days.
Catch a performance at Lucerne’s Culture and Convention Centre (the KKL Luzern), a top-notch concert hall.
For the best panoramic views of Lucerne and the surrounding countryside, ascend Mount Pilatus. According to legend, it's said a dragon once dwelled here in the Middle Ages. While Pilatus can be reached from Lucerne by cable car and gondola, it's worth heading to the village of Alpnachstad to catch the cogwheeel train, the steepest railway of the world! Once you reach the top, discover the many activities offered or just breathe in the fresh mountain air. On a clear day, the mountain offers a panoramic view of 73 Alpine peaks.
Just a 45-minute train ride from Lucerne, Zurich is Switzerland’s biggest city known for its high-end shops, 11th-century church and financial centers. Widely regarded as one of the world's most liveable cities, Zurich is best explored by water taxi.
Built on a peninsula, the capital city of Bern isn't your typical European capital like Paris or London. Small enough to be explored in a day, Bern charms visitors with its medieval old town and colorful 16th-century fountains that are the city's trademark.