Located on Lake Lucerne, in the middle of an incredible mountain panorama, the City of Lights, as it is known to most, is a must-see for anyone visiting Switzerland. The small, hospitable and decidedly human-sized town offers numerous unmissable attractions and a lively cultural life. With its old town centre, historic wooden bridges, lakeside promenade and high mountains, it is the perfect Swiss holiday destination for any time of the year. In this article we list the must-see attractions, events and some useful tips for a weekend in the city.
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Download for free our quick guide of Lucerne!
Where to stay in Lucerne
For a short stay, our advice is to choose one of the many hotels in the old town or in the immediate vicinity, so that you can move around freely on foot. The historic centre is in fact entirely car-free and the town is small enough to get around on foot without too much effort. The city has many hotels of all categories. However, our suggestion is to stay near the old town, on the north bank of the river Reuss. Alternatively, a very lively and dynamic area of the city is Neustadt, which is built around the railway station and the south bank of the river Reuss.
For a lower budget solution, our advice is to stay outside the city centre in a location that is well connected by public transport. We suggest the Holiday Inn Express in Kriens, from which you can easily reach the city centre by bus or train.
What to see and do in Lucerne
St. Peterskapelle and the Kapellbrücke
The Kapellbrücke, one of the city’s most famous landmarks and a symbol of the city worldwide, is an old covered wooden bridge that connects the two sides of the city, separated by the River Reuss. Today’s crossing, which measures just under 200 metres, has a special charm and offers a privileged viewpoint over the historic city centre. If you walk along it, you won’t be able to resist taking dozens and dozens of photos, especially at sunset! The bridge was originally a little longer and gave direct access to the St. Peterskapelle, a small chapel slightly elevated on the river bank, from which the bridge takes its name. The original core of the structure dates back to 1300, but the bridge visible today is actually the result of a reconstruction in 1994. During the night between 17th and 18th August 1993, perhaps due to a carelessly thrown cigarette butt, a fire broke out on board a small boat anchored just below the base of the bridge. The fire quickly grew and enveloped the bridge, completely destroying the central part of the structure up to the foundation piles. Only the two ends of the bridge were saved, but they required extensive consolidation. In addition, of the more than one hundred painted panels from the 17th century that adorned the bridge, just over 20 were saved. After extensive restoration work, they were relocated to the reconstructed bridge and are now fortunately visible again. If you would like to know more about this terrible event, you can find images of the devastating fire and the subsequent reconstruction work in this short Youtube video.
However, what makes this wooden bridge so special is not only its turbulent history, but also the imposing presence of the Wasserturm (Water Tower), an old octagonal tower that was part of the city’s defence structure, along its route. The tower is still perfectly intact today and survived the devastating fire of the Kapellbrücke without too much damage. The 35-metre-high structure is probably older than the bridge itself and dates back to 1200, although there are no reliable sources on its origin. Unlike the bridge, which is freely accessible, the tower is not open to the public and therefore cannot be visited inside.
A stroll through the centre: our itinerary
The historic city centre is small and well-kept, and can easily be explored during a short walk. The advice is to walk slowly, carefully observing the alleys, squares and facades of the historic buildings and enjoying the peace and beauty of its streets, perhaps not during rush hour. After visiting the Kapellbrücke, we suggest you start your city tour at Kapellplatz, near the St. Peterskapelle. The square is small and elegant and the small church is certainly worth a visit. Leaving the church and keeping the front door behind you, turn right into the small Hans-Holbein-Gasse, where you will find a perennial taste of the city’s famous carnival: Restaurant Fritschi and the picturesque façade of the building that houses it. Immediately after the restaurant, turn right again to reach Weggisgasse, one of the city’s main shopping streets. Follow the street to Hirschenplatz, a small square in the heart of the old town surrounded by medieval buildings with painted facades and a small fountain. Just behind Hirschenplatz, in the direction of the river, you will find the Town Hall Square, Kornmarkt, where you can admire the town hall building and the 17th-century town tower. From here, at the top of the steps leading down from the square to the riverbank below, you can also enjoy a beautiful view of one of the city’s most charming bridges and the small theatre on the opposite bank. But don’t go down the stairs now! Instead, continue along the Kornmarktgasse and in a few steps you will reach the Weinmarkt (wine market). The square is home to the Weinmarktbrunnen, an old fountain from 1481 that is considered the most beautiful fountain in the city. From the fountain, continue along Weinmarktgasse and turn right to reach another of the city’s most beautiful squares, Mühlenplatz, in just a few steps. This square is one of the city’s living rooms and, especially in summer, is full of life and outdoor tables where you can have a drink, an ice cream or dinner. The square is enhanced by the presence of the Spreuerbrücke, the city’s second wooden bridge. Smaller but no less interesting, the bridge takes its name from the “Spreu”, the grain waste from the threshing process that was thrown over the edge of the bridge into the Reuss. Like its big brother, this bridge is adorned with painted triangular wooden panels made by the painter Caspar Meglinger in 1600. The works illustrate ‘the dance of death’, not the most cheerful of themes. With a touch of optimism, we like to interpret it as a permanent invitation to enjoy life in every moment!
Walk across the bridge, look at the small, characteristic votive chapel on your left and you are on the opposite bank of the river. From here continue along the narrow river walkway just behind the historical museum building to the Reusssteg fountain and then on to the Nadelwehr, the needle dam, a historical dam built between 1859 and 1861. The level of water flowing out of the lake is still regulated manually by removing or inserting so-called needles, wooden boards attached to a metal structure. From the dam, walk up Burgerstrasse, a quaint little street full of restaurants and outdoor cafes. At the junction with Bahnofstrasse, take a look at the old building of the Alte Apotheke, the town’s former pharmacy, and its unique shop windows. From here, follow Bahnhofstrasse for a few steps to Franziskanerplatz, where you will find the Franziskanerkirche, a Catholic church in the heart of the city. If you wish, visit the church inside as well: it is well worth a visit. Once outside, return to Bahnhofstrasse and continue on to the Jesuitenkirche. With its Baroque façade and two bell towers, it’s a permanent feature of every photo of the city. From the Jesuitenkirche, end your walk by returning to the opposite bank through the Rathausteg and having an aperitif or a bite to eat in one of the many bars along the river.
If you feel like expanding your city tour a little, we suggest a pleasant ten-minute walk to Musegg hill, where you will find part of the city’s old medieval walls. The portion of the wall still visible today is about 900 metres long and retains nine of the original thirty observation towers. Walking around the walls and in the gardens at their foot is certainly a pleasant experience. The wall is normally open from April 1st to November 1st and is closed during the winter months for safety reasons. When it is open, the Wall and its towers (Männliturm, Zytturm, Wachtturm and Schirmerturm) are accessible daily from 8 am to 7 pm. You can find more info at this link (in german only).
Hofkirche and Lion Monument
The Church of St. Leodegar in Court (German: Hofkirche Sankt Leodegar) is one of the city’s main churches and has a long history. It represents the founding center of the city and its oldest core dates back to the eighth century. However, its current appearance is largely the result of a reconstruction in the 1600s, after a violent fire destroyed the church, leaving only the two towers standing, which still retain their Gothic appearance with a square base. The 1600 façade has a Renaissance appearance, which creates an interesting contrast with the austerity of the two tall bell towers. The church, located near the lakeside promenade, is certainly worth a visit.
Just a few steps from the church is another of the city’s most famous landmarks, the Dying Lion Monument, the Löwendenkmal. This evocative sculpture stands in the middle of an idyllic green area of the town and depicts a dying lion, shot in the side with a broken arrow and with its head lowered onto a shield, continuing to protect it with its claws. The work in fact recalls the sacrifice of the Swiss Guards who died in Paris, in the Tuileries Tower, in 1792 in an attempt to protect the life of the King of France, Louis XVI, from the revolutionaries.
If you like long walks and if you are looking for the best way to admire the alpine panorama that surrounds the city without climbing to the top of Mount Pilatus, then we suggest you take the long promenade – the Seepromenade – that starts in the city center and ends at the Strandbad Lido, the city’s bathing beach. The promenade runs entirely along the lake shore and, especially in its first part, is mainly characterized by majestic hotel buildings built in the 19th century. Just before the Grand Hotel National, an elegant stage, the Pavillon, offers concerts and shows during the summer. The entire walk is about 2.5 km and takes about 45 minutes, at a relaxed pace. At Strandbad Lido, the Beach House offers coffee, food and cocktails even in winter and often organizes interesting events.
Events to put on your calendar
Lucerne offers many events throughout the year! Here are four not to be missed!
– LILU Light Festival Lucerne: The light festival transforms the city into a luminous stage! Light artists from all over the world put on light shows in different parts of the city, giving a new face to the city’s most famous monuments and offering original and colorful performances, often to the rhythm of music. In 2024 year, the LILU festival will take place from 11th to 21st January, every day, from 18.00 to 22.00. You can read our full report here.
– Luzerner Fasnacht: The Lucerne Carnival is, for many Lucerne residents, the highlight of the year. It starts on Shrove Thursday and ends on Ash Wednesday, filling the city with music, food, fun and a touch of madness. In 2024, Fasnacht will take place from 8th February to 13th February!
– Lucerne Festival: One of the largest classical music festivals in Europe, the Lucerne Festival now produces three events a year, all held in the impressive lakeside building of the KKL. Events are normally held in April, summer and November. It must be said, however, that in recent years the usual programming has been largely disrupted by the Covid19 pandemic. Each festival offers a variety of first-class local and international musicians and is certainly worth a visit, of course if you are a classical music fan. All information is available here.
– Luzerner Weihnachtmarkt: the city of lights also shines during the Advent weeks! The traditional Christmas markets take place in the city during the month of December on the intimate Franziskanerplatz, right in the middle of the old town and a stone’s throw from the train station. Here every year the old fountain is decorated with candles, lights and fir branches, transforming it into a giant Advent wreath.
But there are two other places in town that are also worth a visit: the Vögeligärtli city park, with its winter fun market, and Inseli-Park, where Rudolf’s Christmas has been taking place since 2019 and where you’ll find many stalls and a rich gastronomic offer.
Arriving by public transport
Arriving by car
If you are in town and if you love good food, there are two stores that you just can’t miss! The first is Max Chocoatier’s store, which offers a wide variety of handmade chocolate in all forms, from pralines to bars and even spreads. The small and elegant store has recently moved to a new location and is now located at Hertensteinstrasse 7, in the center of the city. A little further on, on the same street at the intersection with Museggstrasse, you will find Barmettler’s Cheese Shop (Chäs Barmettler), a historic store selling alpine cheeses and regional specialties. Enjoy a quick snack with a warm “Chaeschuechli” – a savory cheese cake.
Traditional Swiss cuisine is essentially characterized by a wide variety of sausages and cheeses, such as raclette or fondue. These dishes are often accompanied by potatoes or pasta preparations and the inevitable beer. In the city you can try the typical cuisine in many places, especially in the area of the riverside and the old town. But if you really want to pamper yourself, we suggest you go a little out of town to the Swisschalet in Merlischachen. The hotel-restaurant is easily accessible by car or public transport and offers excellent traditional cuisine of the highest quality with excellent service in a historic building absolutely fascinating. If, on the other hand, you love Italian cuisine and want to stay in the city, we suggest you make a reservation at the Barbatti restaurant, where we had the opportunity to try the best Italian cuisine in town.
Guests who decide to stay in one of the city’s hotels will receive the Visitor’s Card, which allows free use of buses and trains within zone 10 and a number of valuable discounts on cable cars, mountain railways, museums and excursions. The card also gives you access to “Free WiFi – Luzern.com” hotspots throughout the city. You can find all the information here.
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