One of the largest cities in central Switzerland, Lucerne (also called Luzern in German) is an ideal stop for travelers due to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne surrounded by the Pilatus, Rigi and Titlis mountains. As a nexus of economics, transportation, culture in the region and a population of around 80,000 people, Lucerne has got something for everyone.I was particularly excited to explore Lucerne itself, especially the azure Lake Lucerne, as I had heard plenty about it.
With a rich historical background, Lucerne, founded in the middle of the 9th century, has been governed by the Romans, the French and finally the Swiss. The city soon became a center of Swiss history and legends, with Mark Twain writing about the blossoming souvenir business in the 19th century.
Lucerne can easily be reached by rail and by boat on Lake Lucerne from other towns. The city itself is a mix of modern and traditional buildings with ample shops for shopping and lots to do for travellers and locals alike. And it’s quite easy to explore on foot.
Since we were driving around Switzerland and staying 15 minutes outside Lucerne at the Holiday Inn Express Lucerne-Neuenkirch, we would often drive to the city. Here are a few of my fave shots from an impromptu photo shoot on an evening stroll near our hotel.
JAINI’S TIP: If driving in Lucerne, a great parking area is the Lucerne Train Station (Bahnhof Luzern) as it has guaranteed parking in a central location in the city. With the street signs being in German, as travelers, it was quite difficult to decipher the signs and find street parking easily.
After exploring the Titlis, we headed to Lucerne to discover the city. We started with the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), which spans diagonally across the Reuss River. Built in the 14th century, it’s one of the oldest wood bridges in Europe, with around 100 paintings of the 12th century city life and Swiss history that can be seen while walking over it. Unfortunately, the bridge burned down in August 1993, however it was soon rebuilt, though the tower, which was used as oubliette (a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling), is still in its original condition.
Since the Kapellbrücke is old, I couldn’t quite access it without a EuroKey (a special key that opens lifts for wheelchair access across Swiss tourist attractions). I didn’t bother with ordering a key prior to our trip because I was told we would borrow one if and when needed (we needed one at Jungfraujoch. But I couldn’t find someone with the Euro Key, so I crossed the main road and met the others at the other end of the bridge.
There were plenty of cafes on the banks of the Reuss. In fact, there are also plenty of gelato shops in Lucerne. I managed to try some tiramisu gelato from one of the shops. Oh, it was so creamy and delectable. When we ventured back to Lucerne the next day, we searched for Mövenpick, the iconic Swiss ice cream. It was worth the hunt as it was smooth and delicious as ever. I don’t know what it is about Swiss ice cream but it is always so good.We also explored Old Town the next day, which is walking distance from the train station where we had parked the car. Since it was a Sunday, a lot of the stores were shut, but I was thrilled to see some ancient architecture from the 15th century. Historic houses decorated with murals lined the picturesque town square in the car-free zone. Although, I thought it was a pain to drive over the pebble stones with my wheelchair.
With great scenic variety, Lake Lucerne (“Luzernsee” in German) is somewhat reminiscent of a fjord landscape, yet remains characterized by a mild lake climate with bright blue skies on a warm, sunny day. With a total area of 114 square kilometers, the lake was an important transit route back in the day.
The largest shipping company in Switzerland (The Schifffahrtsgesellschaft des Vierwaldstättersees (SGV)) operates the necessary routes to reach many of the most important excursion destinations and mountain cableways of the region, such as the Rigi, Pilatus, and Bürgenstock. Special musical and culinary events are also offered on numerous scheduled and additional trips.
We decided to go on an hour panoramic cruise on the MS Saphir Panoramic Yacht. The two-level boat was huge and each level had open unobstructed views. The main deck had a coffee shop and bar with huge panoramic windows, while the upper deck had an open bar with a convertible roof. And each guest was given an audio guide that was available in 11 different languages.
We left Pier Seven, sailing by the Grand Casino and sailed to Schloss Meggenhorn. Built in 1868 by Edouad Hofer-Grosjean from Mulhouse, the castle is surrounded by vineyards and is considered to be the municipality’s symbol. Today, it is mostly used as a tourist attraction and event venue.
Then, the boat passed by Bürgenstock mountains and turned around passing by Richard Wagner Museum. The popular German composer resided in Triebschen on Lake Lucerne for a few years and this museum is located in his former residence – a stately mansion that houses a collection featuring Richard Wagner’s works. From there, it was back to the pier. I loved cruising on the lake as we got to parts of the city that we would have otherwise missed.
Other activities that we didn’t manage to do in Lucerne include exploring the Mount Rigi, also known as the Queen of the Mountains. It’s almost entirely surrounded by the water of three different water bodies: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and Lake Lauerz. The 1,798-meter-tall mountain can be reached by trains, gondola or cable car and offers a range of recreational activities such as hiking and paragliding, and skiing and sledding in the winter. Due to lack of time, we skipped out on the Swiss Museum of Transport and The Glacier Garden, which is a flower garden with many different flowering plants of the glacial periods. We also didn’t manage to visit the Lucerne Art Museum and the Lion Monument, that commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution.
With a little bit for every sort of traveller, Lucerne is a must-stop on every itinerary for central Switzerland.
Photos by Hitesh & Diva Shah