I was born and raised in Lucerne, so I often get questions about whether or not the city is worth a visit. Absolutely unbiased but long story short, yes: Lucerne is the best city to visit in Switzerland with plenty of things to do. It’s idyllic, green, has a lake surrounded by mountains and is located in the heart of Switzerland – it doesn’t get any more Swiss than this. Fight me, Bern.
The Shining City of Lucerne
Possibly named after the latin word for lantern, lucerna, Lucerne is the 7th largest city in Switzerland today. Lucerne was also one of the earliest cantons to join the fledgling confederacy in the struggle for independence against the Habsburgs, and its boundaries remained almost unchanged to this day.
Things to Do While in Lucerne
Lucerne strikes a great balance between a charming alpine retreat and a functioning modern city. Not only is it ideal for sightseeing and hiking on the nearby mountains, but you’re also going to find a surprisingly large shopping district and vibrant nightlife in the old town. If you’re looking for a place to wind down after a stressful year, you can’t go wrong with Lucerne.
The Best Season to Visit Lucerne
I recommend you to visit Lucerne in either late spring or summer as most of the outdoor activities are only accessible during warmer periods, and I wrote this guide with that in mind. There’s also no guarantee that it will be snowy during winter, so if you’re more into skiing I would look into other places such as Zermatt, Davos or Sankt Moritz.
How Much Time to Spend in Lucerne
The city can be efficiently checked off within a day if you just want to go sightseeing in Lucerne, but I’d recommend you to at least stay a weekend to catch a breather in between. Longer stays are for those who really enjoy hiking on the nearby mountains or want to visit different parts of Switzerland via train while staying in Lucerne.
Altstadt / Old Town
The Old Town is one of the most iconic parts of Lucerne and ideal for both shopping and sightseeing. The city made a strong effort to preserve the historic look of the original town as it grew and presents a stark contrast to a highly modernized city like Zürich.
Luzerner Torbogen / Lucerne Gate Arch
This is probably the first thing you’ll see after getting of the train. The Lucerne main station actually burned down in a fire in 1971, and this arch – which was the former entrance – is the only thing that remained of it. Take note of the iconic Swiss railways clock too, we’re really proud of it!
This is an exhibit dedicated to glaciers, the alps and rocks. The Glacier Garden also features a hall of mirrors and is suitable for children. A bakery, souvenir shops and the famous lion monument can be found nearby.
Löwendenkmal / Lion Monument
This monument is dedicated to the Swiss Guards who perished protecting Louis XV during the storming of the Tuileries Palace in 1792. People tend to throw coins into the pond hoping for good luck.
Rathaus Luzern / Lucerne Town Hall
Located at the Kornmarkt in the city centre, the historic Town Hall is still used as a government building. The weekly farmer’s market takes place here every saturday and almost all shops in the old town line the roads leading to this place. You can’t miss it!
Kapellbrücke / Chapel Bridge
Europe’s oldest wooden bridge and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge. The bridge ceiling is decorated with restored paintings, and the water tower which used to be a prison houses a small souvenir shop.
Nadelwehr Luzern / Lucerne Needle Dam
Responsible for regulating the level of Lake Lucerne, this needle dam also redirects the water flow into a water turbine to generate electricity for the city. The Spreuer Bridge can also be found nearby, and cafes as well as stores line the river banks.
Built in the 14th century along with the Water Tower, the Musegg wall marks the old boundaries of the then fledgling town of Lucerne. 4 out of the 9 watchtowers can be entered during summer.
This is a fancy, private castle overlooking the city of Lucerne. Forget about the overpriced hotel and restaurant – you’re here for the funicular leading you to the Gütsch forest which is yet another cool place to take a quiet stroll.
The St. Leodegar monastery was built in the 8th century which in turn founded the town of Lucerne. Expanded into the massive church it is today during the Thirty Years War, this building is one of the oldest and most important pieces of Lucerne’s history.
The Lucerne Jesuit Church is one of the first baroque churches built in Switzerland and provides a glimpse into Lucerne’s position during the catholic counter-reformation in the Holy Roman Empire. The church was constructed in the 17th century and underwent numerous renovations over the following centuries.
Art & Culture of Lucerne
Lucerne’s location in the center of Switzerland grants you a very regional view of Swiss culture without the heavy influence of our bigger neighbors. While the city focuses more on cultural preservation than contemporary cultural output, it does host a number theatres, indie cinemas and music festivals.
This modern, interactive museum is dedicated to cars, planes, boats and amazing model railways that shaped the economy and history of Switzerland. I heartily recommend this place to both adults and kids.
This private collection managed by Angela Rosengart features works from Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee and other artists from the age of Impressionism and Classic Modernism.
Located right next to the main station, the KKL serves as Lucerne’s cultural center and houses its art museum. Concert and plays frequently take place here as well, so check out the agenda to see if anything piques your interest!
This museum is dedicated to the history of central Switzerland and struggle against the Habsburgs. Each of the 3000 exhibits is marked with a unique barcode that can be scanned to display detailed information.
This museum focuses on the geology and fauna of Switzerland and features a large collection of insects. The latter may be a bit creepy at first, but the stuffed animals on exhibit tend to be very popular with children.
Vierwaldstättersee / Lake Lucerne
The “Lake of the Four Forest Cantons” connects the cantons of Unterwalden, Schwyz, and Uri with Lucerne. Not only is it perfect for camping, swimming and sailing, it’s also traversed by amazingly well preserved steam ships with fully intact steam engines. That’s right, Lucerne’s public transportation includes steam ships!
This open air swimming facility contains everything from pools, sports fields, playgrounds and of course the beach leading into Lake Lucerne. Even a mini-golf course can be found nearby, so it’s a place really popular with kids and teenagers.
These pedal boats can be rented by the hour and do not require a license to use. Enjoyed by tourists and locals alike, “Pedalos” are a cool way to spend some time on Lake Lucerne on a sunny day. Motor boats for larger groups are available as well.
Some of my fondest memories of Lucerne involve a canoe! Lake Lucerne is really calm and suitable for beginners and pros alike. The shore is accessible at almost any point allowing you to grab a quick bite before continuing. Routes are available here.
Pilatus / Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus overlooks the city of Lucerne as well as parts of canton Nidwalden and Obwalden. It’s an amazing mountain with tons of hiking routes, and the foothill of Fräkmüntegg presents a resting point with its own activities for families. The summit itself features an observation station as well as a restaurant and souvenir shop.
These tiny cable cars will take you from Kriens to Fräkmüntegg in small gondolas carrying up to four people each, and the ride will take around 30 minutes.
Central Switzerland’s largest climbing park at Fräkmüntegg is a popular destination for families with children over the age of 8. The parcours vary in difficulty, so go give it a try!
One of the longer summer toboggan runs around. Tip: If you’re one of those speed junkies, try to wait a bit more after you get the greenlight to go. The person in front of you might be a bit of a slowpoke which will end your run short.
Nicknamed “Dragon Ride,” this swift cable car will take you from Fräkmüntegg to Station Kulm near the Pilatus summit in under 5 minutes.
This is the steepest railway in the world and will take you from Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm in about 40 minutes, and the route takes you up the backside of Pilatus.
The TL;DR Pilatus Round Trip: Kriens via bus -> Fräkmüntegg via cable car -> Station Kulm via aerial cableway -> Alpnachstad via railway -> Main Station via steam ship.
Rigi / Mount Rigi
Rigi is Lucerne’s second favorite mountain overlooking the nearby lakes and extends well into the other cantons. The mountain is easily accessible and hiking on Rigi remains scenic throughout the journey. I recommend this trip to families with children and people who wish to go on less intensive hiking routes supported by plenty of resting points.
The aerial cableway from Weggis takes you to Rigi Kaltbad where you can continue to Rigi Kulm via rail or on foot. The ride takes about 10 minutes and grants you a view of Lake Lucerne as well as the Bernese alps.
The cogwheel railway takes you from Vitznau to Rigi Kulm via Rigi Kaltbad. If you’re lucky, you can ride in one of the restored carriages dating back to the 19th century. The Rigibahn stops at Rigi Kaltbad meaning you can combine the ascent with the cable car.
The village of Rigi Kaltbad overlooking Weggis features hotels, a mineral bath and plenty of great restaurants. It’s both a stop and destination for the various hiking routes on Rigi. The tiny village shop has become something a tourist attraction and sells souvenirs as well as local produce.
The TL;DR Rigi Round Trip: Vitznau via steam ship -> Rigi Kulm via cogwheel railway -> Rigi Kaltbad via cogwheel railway -> Weggis via aerial cable car -> Main Station via steam ship.
Bürgenstock / Mount Bürgenstock
Despite being considered a mere foothill of Pilatus, the Bürgenstock has become one of Lucerne’s biggest tourist hotspots. Extensive construction has taken place in recent years and you can find an entire luxury resort town on its flat back. Even if you’re not splurging for a stay, it’s definitely worth a visit as you’ll be treated to one of the best views of Lucerne without having to break a sweat.
The Hammetschwand elevator is the highest outdoor elevator in the world and was built over 100 years ago. This 150m tall construction takes you from the scenic Felsenweg path to the summit station in under a minute.
The Bürgenstock funicular gets you from Kehrsiten (which can be reached by steam ship) directly to the Bürgenstock Resort. Be warned though: This funicular is ridiculously expensive, just like everything else on this mountain.
Stanserhorn / Mount Stanserhorn
Technically located in canton Uri, this iconic mountain is easily accessible via steam ship departing from the main station in Lucerne to Stansstad, followed by a short train ride to Stans. This trip takes a little over an hour. The Stanserhorn also features great hiking routes leading deep into central Switzerland.
This antique funicular – which nearly burned down entirely in 1970 – takes you from Stans to the foothill of Kälti in a little under 30 minutes. Noteworthy sight is the farmland nearby which gets more rustic the further away you get from Stans. At the destination you can either take the cable car or hike to the summit on foot.
This is one of the most modern cable cars in the world and allows you to stand on its open roof during the ride from Kälti to the summit, which takes about 7 minutes. The hiking trail roughly follows the cable car in the trees below.
This eye catching cafeteria actually revolves in a 360 degree radius if you’re on the outer disk granting you an amazing view on Stanserhorn’s surroundings. If you’re hungry, try out the Älplremagronen – Alpine Macaroni – which is a simple yet tasty dish originating from the Swiss alps.
Day Trips From Lucerne
Lucerne is a major transportation hub and you can go virtually anywhere in Switzerland and still make it back on the same day. Listing everything you can do is a bit out of scope for this guide, but here are some day trips I can recommend.
Tierpark Goldau is a personal favorite of mine. Over 100 European animal species can be seen roaming around and the large enclosures lend the park a very natural feeling. The train ride from Lucerne to Arth-Goldau takes about 35 minutes, and the trip can be combined with a Rigi visit!
Paragliding over Lake Lucerne is a once in a lifetime experience treating you with an amazing view of central Switzerland. Prior experience is not required, and the company takes care of pickup and equipment. Both children and seniors can fly.
Lucerne has nice bike lanes, and I’m saying that as a former student. Whether you just want to take a short trip around the canton or go on a more daring route on a nearby mountain, renting a bike for a day is a great way to burn some calories in the countryside.
The Alpamare waterpark is a great way to spend an hot summer afternoon for adults and teens alike – the waterslides are seriously fun! Keep in mind that there are age restrictions in place for certain slides. You can get to the facility in about an hour and a half by rail.
Food in Lucerne
Traditional Swiss dishes are rather simple and made out of the few ingredients farmers and herdsmen had access to – milk, potatoes and flour. Contemporary Swiss cuisine is heavily influenced by our southern neighbor Italy, so having a pizza for lunch and pasta for dinner isn’t uncommon.
If you want to try local Swiss food like Rösti or Pastetli, this is a good place. The location right next to the Reuss is also pretty great. You may want to reserve a table if you’re pressed for time.
This is an affordable hotel-restaurant with a good lunch offer, kids menu and salad buffet located next to the main station. Making a table reservation during lunch and dinner hours is recommended here as well.
This is one of the newer takeaway Dönerbuden, or kebab shops, located right inside the Lucerne main station. You do pay a little bit more than in the student favorites nearby, but it’s absolutely worth it. I’m also told it’s halal.
Bachmann is a large bakery chain in Switzerland operating cafés and confiseries all over the country. If you’re thinking of trying out our sweets, you can’t go wrong here. Their macarons are really good, too.
Amazing Thai and Vietnamese cuisine at a low price – I used to grab dinner here during my school days all the time. You can also order takeaway to eat in a nearby park such as Helvetiaplatz or Vögeligärtli.
Local Secrets of Lucerne
Lucerne is very well traveled and almost all the hotspots will be crowded during peak season. That said, there are a few spots that are worth a visit despite not being on most tourist guidebooks. Pic not related, unless you’re looking for a secluded place after having one too many drinks.
This public park consists of a single patch of grass with a tiny beach strip, and yet it’s the most popular place for students and families to hang out on a hot day during summer. If you’re lucky, you’ll see a paraglider attempting a landing.
Lucerne’s largest flea market takes place every saturday on the Reuss river bank. Apart from the usual flea market goodies, you’re also going to find the odd antique here and there.
The Richard Wagner museum is dedicated to the composer and sheds some light on the person behind the music. More importantly though, the location is amazing and almost secluded so it’s a great place to take a quiet stroll along the lake shore.
Bireggwald / Biregg Forest
The Bireggwald is a large forest located in the residential area towards the the south of Lucerne. It’s ideal for taking a stroll in the cool shade of trees and features numerous fireplaces to do some grilling.
Good Things to Know About Lucerne
I won’t lie, you probably can come here without a plan, get lost and do just fine. That said, it’s going to be expensive and I’d wager you’d rather spend your time doing something fun than trying to figure out where the nearest ATM is. So without further ado, here are some general tips for visiting Lucerne.
Price & Money
Switzerland is expensive, and tourist attractions in Switzerland are especially expensive. Buy snacks and especially drinks at supermarkets if you want to save some money and make sure to always carry some cash around – cards are not as widely accepted as in other countries. Also, don’t try to pay in USD or EUR – we’re as far away from the border as it gets, and if by chance it does get accepted the exchange rate is going to suck. You can take advantage of tax free shopping in Lucerne as well.
Stores in Lucerne are open until 6:30 pm on weekdays and until 4:00 pm on Saturdays. Most stores are closed on Sundays. If you really need to buy something, try the shops at the main station which have special opening hours.
Despite not being a financial necessity, tipping in Switzerland remains a social norm. If you’re just sitting down at a café, you want to round up to the next Franc, so a CHF 3.50 cappuccino would become CHF 4. For meals at restaurants I’d go with 10% and the same for cabs. Keep in mind that this is a social norm to express satisfaction, so it’s better to not tip at all than to give a tiny amount.
Travel & Transport
Public transportation in Switzerland consistently ranks among the best in the world, and Lucerne is no exception where most things are within walking distance anyways. I fully recommend you get a local VBL or nationwide SBB day ticket to move around the city instead of using cabs and rental cars. Certain travel tickets also include museum visits and other activities, so make sure to stop by the tourist information office.
- Cigarettes / Tobacco: 16+. Available at most kiosks and bars.
- Beers and Wine: 16+. Available at non-Migros supermarkets.
- Spirits: 18+. Available at Drinks of the World.
- Drugs: Don’t, it’s still illegal.
- Vapes: 18+. Available at Dampfqueen.
Enjoy your Stay in Lucerne!