With ancient buildings and bridges, awe-inspiring scenery of mountains and lakes, Lucerne is a picture-book city. Here are 15 things to do in Lucerne to put on your to-do list for your next Swiss vacation.
- Lucerne, Switzerland
- 15 Things To Do In Lucerne
- 1- Ride the railway to Mount Pilatus Kulm
- 2- Cruise Lake Lucerne
- 3- Walk the bridges of Lucerne
- 4- Explore Lucerne’s Old City Square
- 5- Visit Glacier Gardens
- 6- Ride the city train
- 7- Attend a Lucerne festival
- 8- Visit Lucerne’s galleries and museums
- 9- Visit Hof church
- 10- Mount Titlis
- 11- Visit the Lion Monument
- 12- Go Up the Sonnenberg Mountain
- 13- Visit the Bourbaki Panorama
- 14- Visit Meggenhorn Castle
- 15- Enjoy Swiss Cuisine
- 15 Things To Do In Lucerne
15 Things To Do In Lucerne
1- Ride the railway to Mount Pilatus Kulm
Board the world’s steepest cog railway for a heady 30-minute journey to the top of Mount Pilatus Kulm.
At 2432m high, it’s a journey you won’t forget.
The 4618m-long railway is a steep but picturesque trip at a 48% gradient up the side of the mountain.
Spend the night on top of the world at the Hotel Bellevue. While the hotel provides modest three-star facilities, the views are to-die-for.
A few hours exploring the mountain trails will take you through some wonderful scenery.
The easiest walk is the circuit through the Rock Gallery which winds past artwork set inside the mountain.
However, on Pilatus, a view is never too far away with windows cut out of the rock to capture the expansive vista.
The Oberhaupt and Esel routes provide spectacular 360-degree panoramic views of the alpine range where you will gaze at Switzerland’s famous mountains – the Eiger, Monch and Jungfraujoch.
Enjoy the scenery above the forest from the gondola as you glide silently down to Kriens before catching the bus back into the centre of Lucerne.
Both the cog-railway and gondola rides last for around 30 minutes.
If you have a lot of luggage, it’s a good idea to pack a small bag and leave the bulky stuff in a locker at the Lucerne railway station.
Mount Pilatus Kulm can be visited as a day trip from Bern but if you want to explore Lucerne itself you’ll need to stay a few days.
2- Cruise Lake Lucerne
Enjoy a romantic cruise along the shores of stunning Lake Lucerne.
From Lucerne, the boat trip to Alpnachstad takes around 90 minutes and makes several stops on the way.
Also known as the Vierwaldstättersee or “Lake of the Four Forest Cantons”, Lake Lucerne is surrounded by mountains.
A trip on the lake is a relaxing way to soak in the fabulous scenery as you glide past picturesque towns, charming Swiss chalets and forests that stretch down to the shore.
There are plenty of cruises to choose from including lunch, dinner and specialty cruises where you can tuck into Swiss fondue by candlelight.
While in Switzerland, most travellers are likely to pass through Zurich. There are lots of things to in Zurich and many of them are free.
3- Walk the bridges of Lucerne
In 1400, Lucerne was the only city in Europe to have as many as four bridges.
As you walk across Europe’s oldest preserved wooden bridge, the Chapel Bridge, look under the roof for the impressive 17th-century battle paintings on beams along the length of the bridge.
Set at the point where the River Reuss flows out of Lake Lucerne and built around the 1300s, both the Chapel Bridge and Water Tower are recognisable landmarks of Lucerne.
Chapel Bridge is connected to an octagonal Water Tower which was once a defence post for the inner city.
It was later reinvented into becoming an archive, a city treasury, prison and torture chamber.
The bridge isn’t completely original, as a large section was reconstructed after a major fire in 1993.
A bit further down the river is another attraction, the Mill Bridge with its series of 67 pictures portraying the Dance of Death painted by Caspar Megliger in the early 17th century.
A grinning skeleton leads people from all walks of life – from kings to beggars, merchants to nuns – to their inevitable fate.
In the final panel, a majestic Christ vanquishes bony Death.
4- Explore Lucerne’s Old City Square
Wander through the old section of town and admire Lucerne’s early architecture.
Old town Lucerne has an atmosphere that will make you feel like you’re walking through a fairy-tale.
The elaborately painted buildings are eye-catching and each has a rich history.
Many of the buildings have the year they were built painted on the front, so you won’t need a guide to explain how old each building is.
The three main squares of the old town – Weinmarkt, Hirschenplatz and Kornmarkt – are surrounded by historical houses with colourful frescoes.
The open arcade of the Lucerne Town Hall on Kornmarkt still holds a traditional market each week.
5- Visit Glacier Gardens
Discover Lucerne’s lost world at the Glacier Gardens. 20,000 years ago, Switzerland was covered by glaciers.
Don’t miss this outdoor museum, which is designed around large natural glacial potholes and boulders in a fascinating display of Switzerland’s natural history.
Some of these potholes are around four metres deep and four metres in diameter and were formed by rocks that were trapped inside rapidly flowing ice – proof that Lucerne was covered by glaciers during the last ice age.
More amazingly, 20 million years ago, the area was a tropical oasis with a palm beach.
Fossilised mussels and palm leaves are displayed to highlight this little-known fact.
At the entrance to the Glacier Gardens, the famous Dying Lion Monument carved out of rock sits majestically overlooking a pond.
Created by Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen, it commemorates the Swiss guards who were killed on 10 August 1792 in Paris while defending the king’s palace at the Tuileries.
6- Ride the city train
Rest your weary legs and hop a ride on the mini tourist train for an overview of Lucerne’s sightseeing attractions.
The pick-up point is the Hotel Schweizerhof, a grand old hotel located in the centre of town (if you’re not planning to ride the train head there any way for views over Lake Lucerne and the surrounding mountains).
The train does a circuit around popular Lucerne attractions and runs uphill to parts of the old Musegg Wall with its elegant towers.
Completed in 1408, the sturdy wall forms a defence ring around the city and is almost entirely intact.
Three towers are open to the public – Schirmer, Zyt and Männli.
7- Attend a Lucerne festival
Soak in some culture at one of the numerous festivals held throughout the year.
The most renowned is the Lucerne Festival held in August each year; it is patronised by world-famous orchestras and conductors.
While there is a concert hall that seats 1800 people in the Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre, Lucerne’s natural historic backdrop adds a rich atmosphere to outdoor performances so seek out an open-air concert or a play.
8- Visit Lucerne’s galleries and museums
The Rosengart Collection has a large collection of works by Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso.
There are 125 paintings, including watercolours and drawings from all periods of Paul Klee’s life.
Major works by over 20 masters of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Cézanne, Monet, Matisse, Braque, Léger and Miró hang on the walls at the Rosengart.
Sit back and enjoy some amazing aerial photography of Switzerland in the Swiss Transport Museum’s an IMAX Theatre.
Classical music fans will love visiting the Richard Wagner Museum.
It was once the residence of composer Richard Wagner and houses, among other artefacts, an exhibition of ancient musical instruments from Europe, Africa and Asia.
If you’re a museum buff it is worth purchasing a Swiss Museum Passport which offers free entrance to 380 Swiss museums and most of Lucerne’s museums.
9- Visit Hof church
In the 8th century, a Benedictine monastery was founded at the site of the present church.
Today, it is the main cathedral for the city and the most important Renaissance church in Switzerland.
The carved doors at the entrance depict the patron saints of Lucerne – St. Leger and St. Maurice.
The church is well known for its organ, one of the grandest and largest in Switzerland with 5945 pipes; when played it can reproduce the sounds of rain, thunder, and hail.
10- Mount Titlis
Sip on a drink at the highest bar in Europe.
For that experience, you’ll have to catch a train to Engelberg which is around one hour from Lucerne.
From Engelberg, the Mount Titlis winter wonderland can be reached via a gondola ride to Trubsee, followed by an aerial cable-car to Stand and finally the Rotair revolving cable-car to the summit.
At 3020m high, you’ll get a 360-degree panoramic view from the first revolving aerial cable car in the world.
This is one of the top day trips from Lucerne.
11- Visit the Lion Monument
The Lion Monument in Lucerne is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, with over one million annual visitors.
It commemorates the Swiss Guards who gave their lives defending Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution.
The monument is an essential part of any trip to Lucerne and is free to view.
Over 1,000 Swiss Guardsmen were in charge of protecting Louis XVI and his family in the Tuileries Palace in Paris, where the doomed royals were staying after being forced out of Versailles.
When revolutionaries attacked the Tuileries Palace, the Swiss Guard fought on low ammunition, successfully allowing the royal family to escape but losing around 700 men in the process.
Some died in battle, some later on in prison from their wounds.
About 300 survived the attack but many were then killed in other attacks or were executed.
The monument, whose dedication reads “to the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss” in Latin, is of a magnificent yet wounded lion and is hewn into the rock above a lush, green pond.
Mark Twain called the sculpture “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”.
The monument was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor, and was commissioned with the help of a Swiss Guard who would have been in Paris at the time of the tragedy had he not taken leave in Lucerne.
He fought against political opposition to commemorate his fellow men.
12- Go Up the Sonnenberg Mountain
The Sonnenberg is a mini-mountain a little to the west of Lucerne, with spectacular panoramic views of the lake and mountains.
Being a smaller mountain, it doesn’t take much effort to ascend and enjoy the views, which include some of the larger mountains of the region like Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus.
If hiking isn’t your thing, you can always take the blue funicular shuttle up the Sonnenberg, which was built during the 20th century as part of the Grand Hotel Sonnenberg, which still exists today.
The rail tracks are original and therefore over 100 years old.
For those who enjoy hiking, several nature trails begin from the top of the Sonnenberg.
There are restaurants on the Sonnenberg, one belonging to the hotel, and if you choose to walk up instead of taking the funicular, farms are selling local produce.
There are also designated barbecue spots, making the Sonnenberg the ideal location for a beautiful summer’s day.
The funicular runs between April and November, shutting for the bitterly cold winter months.
The Sonnenberg is a great place to take children, as there are play parks and a “gnome trail” inspired by a popular Swiss children’s book.
13- Visit the Bourbaki Panorama
The Bourbaki Panorama is a cultural centre focusing on a single, immense painting by Swiss artist Edouard Castres.
It depicts nearly 90,000 French soldiers seeking refuge in a snowy Switzerland after suffering a heavy defeat in the Franco-Prussian War of the 1870s.
The panorama stretches around the walls of the circular building and is 10 x 112 metres in size.
The impressive size and curving of the artwork is visually stunning and a precursor of modern cinema.
As well as the impressive artwork itself, there is a permanent exhibition attached that explains some of the cultural and historical backgrounds.
Take a guided tour in English, German, French or Italian, to learn about details that you may otherwise miss.
An adult admission fee is 12 Swiss francs, and there are combination tickets offering admission to the Bourbaki Panorama and other tourist attractions in Lucerne, such as the Glacier Garden.
The Panorama is located just a few minutes walk from the Lion Monument.
14- Visit Meggenhorn Castle
Meggenhorn Castle is just outside of the city of Lucerne, on the edge of Lake Lucerne.
The 19th-century castle is now owned by the municipality, though it was previously private property.
The chateau’s design was inspired by the architecture of the Loire region of France.
The castle itself is beautiful: white with decorative gables and pointed spires, it has the colourful addition of a pink extension with red beams.
It’s set in beautiful gardens and leads down to Lake Lucerne where it is possible to swim in the summer months.
Lifeguards are present during certain hours but only confident swimmers are advised to take the plunge as the water is deep.
Visiting the castle is an excellent day out for visitors with young families as there are children’s playgrounds, a farm and excellent picnic spots.
The views of the lake and nearby mountains are stunning and the castle looks out over a nearby vineyard.
15- Enjoy Swiss Cuisine
Tasting the food is a key part of a trip to Switzerland. When visiting Lucerne, make sure you indulge in Swiss chocolate, cheese, hearty meals, as well as Swiss beer and wine.
Only a tiny proportion of Swiss wine is exported beyond the country’s borders.
So while in Switzerland, make the most of the opportunity to try an authentic Swiss Pinot noir or the white Chasselas.
There are plenty of restaurants in the city that offer substantial, indulgent dishes filled with meats and cheeses in beautifully authentic surroundings.
One example is the hearty meatloaf served in the Wirtshaus Taub, which has homely wooden furnishings and high-quality Swiss cuisine.
Max Chocolatier is a great place to buy high-quality artisanal chocolate and chocolate fans will love watching a chocolate-making demonstration.
The Läderach shops in Lucerne are also worth a visit and although buying artisanal (as opposed to mass-produced) chocolate in Switzerland is expensive, it’s such a treat.
While the Swiss are not as famous for beer as their German neighbours, the Lucerne-based Rathaus Brauerie offers a refreshing beer made with the fresh spring water of the Pilatus.
This can be enjoyed in the stone-walled restaurant alongside sausages and soft pretzels.