With panoramic views of the glorious rugged peaks of the snow-capped Alps the breathtaking central Swiss city of Lucerne is the picturesque gateway to the popular tourist destinations Mount Rigi and the Rütli Meadow. Located in a German speaking area of Switzerland, the city hugs the shores of gorgeous Lake Lucerne which adds further to the charms and delights of what is truly a glorious destination. Basking in a glory of a booming tourism industry, the city has a magical charm, whisking visitors right back to a fairy tale era, some thousands of years ago – to the 13th Century.
Starting out life as a humble yet integral trading point for travelers and merchants making their way across the Swiss Alps, Lucerne’s vast wealth has antique roots. With a charismatic and glamorous history, the city of Lucerne is steeped in myths and legend including being the epic site where Swiss folk hero William Tell was to have shot an apple off of his son’s head.
Diverse and spectacular, Lucerne is a city that offers something special for every visitor. And whether you have come for the mountains, the city, the lake, the history, the festivals or the culture – you will not be disappointed. This incredible medieval city centre is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland and has grown in leaps and bounds from its origins as a small lakeside fishing village. Breathtaking sights, historical attractions and the staging point for outdoor pursuits in wonderful countryside, Lucerne is fabulous any time of year.
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The Best Time to Go
The best time to go and visit Lucerne depends only on your budget, your seasonal and climate preference and whether or not you like crowds. Summer runs from June through to September and is the most popular season for visitors as the weather isn’t so cold and you can expect daytime averages reaching about 23°C (73°F). However, being the high peak tourist season, everything from flights to accommodation to meals will be expensive and accommodation is virtually impossible to get if not booked well ahead of time.
In addition there are queues to get into all of the attractions and sites and the entire city will be heaving with holiday makers. So the best time to go if you want to visit when there are no crowds will be April or May and around the end of September and October. Spring and Fall, the crowds have dispersed, the high season prices have dropped – although the day time temperatures are not as high.
But if you are visiting the city with your skis and or snowboard, then the best time for you to visit would be any time during winter. The snow fields around Lucerne offer sporting facililites and good snow from November right through to April. December is a much favored month in Lucerne and the city is busy not only with winter sports enthusiasts but also visitors flock into the city for the Christmas markets and a super special Swiss white Christmas.
Getting Around in Lucerne
With a major slice of tourist action going on all year round, there is a good visitor infrastructure and Lucerne is easily accessible to all travelers. Navigating the city on foot is one of the most sensible ways to get around. The most popular historic sights and the Old Town are all about 20 minutes or so away from each other on foot. With plenty to see on the way, a journey on foot is favored, especially when the weather is nice.
There is also a fantastic city bus system that will assist less mobile and disabled visitors getting around to see the city. If you plan to go out of the city and explore the rest of Central Switzerland then the Swiss Federal Railway has lines that will take you where you want to go.
Cycling is another popular way to see the sights of the city and bike rentals, pick up and drop off is available at the central rail station and throughout the city. You can also rent electric bicycles and other bikes with baggage clamps that will take you zipping around the streets of Lucerne. The city is well planned, organized and easy to navigate and you can tour around at your own leisurely pace.
Major Attractions and Sights
The Chapel Bridge
The oldest wooden bridge in all of Europe as well as an iconic Lucerne landmark has been standing for nearly 700 years. Made entirely of timber and built in 1333, the Chapel Bridge unfortunately was badly burnt in a fire in 1993 but was rebuilt a few months later.
The Lion Monument
Also known as the Lion of Lucerne, the Lion Monument is a sculpture commemorating the Swiss Guards who were massacred in the French Revolution in the 18th Century.
The Rosengart Collection
With more than 200 displayed artworks from more than 23 modern artists as well has some 200 photos from David Duncan Douglas who was a WWII photographic correspondent, this is one exhibit that should not be missed. Look out for works of art by Miro, Picasso, Klee and Cezanne. The Douglas collection showcases an intimate portrait of Picasso and his family throughout the years.
The Swiss Transport Museum
This is a fantastic place to spend the afternoon if you are into trains, planes and automobiles as well as motorcycles. There are also some exhibitions of space, a model railroad and a miniature steam train.
The Picasso Museum
With its famous location being in the Am-Rhyn Haus, this inspiring museum showcases a vivid collection of paintings, drawings, ceramics and sculptures all done by Pablo Picasso. The museum is entirely dedicated to this art legend and most of the work is from the last 20 years of his life.
The Glacier Garden
This garden has got to be one of the most unique sites in the city. The Gletshergaten is a massive piece of land with unusual pits which are actually holes of erosion created during the Iron Age when Lake Lucerne was entirely covered by ice. There is a museum here, maps and a delightful showcase of animals and prehistoric plants.
The Old Town
This is one of the most popular sections of the city. Every antique city and town in Europe worth its salt has a medieval old town and Lucerne’s is a fine example. Beautifully preserved, it sweeps you back in time as you meander through the winding cobbled streets and narrow passages exploring tucked away buildings and squares.
Vast and breathtaking, Lake Lucerne is a sensational Swiss panorama. Glittery breeze-ruffled waters lap the shores of the rugged Alpine forests, giving way to meadows and valleys. Enjoy a resplendent tour on the lake aboard a vintage paddle steamer or join in with a variety of water sports during the summer months on the water’s edge.
The Richard Wagner Museum
Find here a stunning showcase of historic musical instruments including portable and regal organs; a wonderful tribute to the legendary composer who had his home here in Lucerne.
Shopping in Lucerne
The retail experience in Lucerne is typically Swiss – a good mixture of high street style brand names and exclusive boutiques and shops. Wander the small hops in the old town or head for the brighter lights of the main drag. Good buys are to be found in fashion and accessories and of course, prestigious watches and fine jewelry are a major player. Casagrande is a favorite among tourists as there are typical Swiss souvenirs and handicrafts to be found at reasonable prices. Markets are colorful and lively and are held in various locations in the city throughout the week.
Eating Out in Lucerne
Lucerne offers a true authentic Swiss cuisine experience and is renowned for having some of the best food in the country. Fish is a popular choice on any menu with the daily fresh catch straight from the lake made available all throughout the city. Two of the most delightful things that you must try while visiting the city are the Kaffee Fertig – coffee laced with schnapps; a true Swiss pick-meup in every sense of the word. And the Luzerner Kugelipastete, which is a delicious puff pastry dish filled with veal and mushrooms in a sauce. The markets, sidewalk cafes and finest restaurants offer up a feast of pastries, cheese, chocolates, fondue and rostii – practically one of the national dishes of Switzerland – a fried pancake of grated potato.
GartenHaus 1313 is a relaxed and friendly restaurant offering the best Swiss comfort food in a laid back atmosphere. Longing for a mouth-watering home cooked meal? Then this is the place to go, where there’s good value for money by Swiss standards and unpretentious, with a new menu prepared every day.
The Old Swiss House is an elegant and super popular traditional Swiss Restaurant. A bit on the pricey side but worth every cent for its excellent service and mouth-watering menu – come hungry book ahead and leave your diet at home.
Night Life in Lucerne
The night life in Lucerne is buzzing, and there is something to keep you up until the wee hours, every night of the week. There is a huge cultural sector in the city and the Congress Centre is the place to be if you are after opera, ballet, theatre, arts and music. The Kultur Kalender will provide a comprehensive listing of what is on while you are visiting Lucerne.
There are many music festivals held throughout every season, bringing in big name artists from around the world. Chances are that no matter what time of the year you are here, you are bound to be able to get tickets for some of the best live performances held in all of Switzerland.
As far as the ultimate party is concerned you have definitely come to the right place – everyone is satisfied with the range of dance clubs, bars, pubs, discos and nightclubs. Schuur is one of the biggest nightclubs in Lucerne, with a fantastic outdoor area, a party room with international live bands and music themed nights perfect for rocking the night away.
The Loft is one of the trendiest nightlife hangouts in the city, and attracts a younger, hip crowd who sip on expensive cocktails and boogie the night away. The atmosphere is classy, yet laid back and they have a great selection of music.
Lucerne is famous for having an exciting line up of events all throughout the year, and there are many cultural, musical and traditional folklore festivals and events held in the medieval city. Christmas is a special time and people come from all over the world to brave the cold and snow and head out to the Christmas markets sampling local fare, delicious pastries and hot mulled wine. Being such a popular tourist town, you can be sure that if you are here to be entertained you won’t go home disappointed.
Internationale Musikfestwochen Luzern
Lucerne was the home of the famous composer Richard Wagner who wrote some of his finest pieces of music here. The International Music Festival of Lucerne is considered to be the finest in Europe and is a tribute to this music legend. It is held over a month from the middle of August ending in the middle of September every year.
Held every year at the end of winter on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, Lucerne Carnival kicks off the spring season with a blast of parties and outdoor entertainment. Chaos, revelry and lively people, music and characters hit the streets and thousands of people head to Lucerne to join in on the fun. Lots of very strange looking people, all dressed up dancing the day and night away carry on wildly until the festival ends with Fat Tuesday complete with bands, candles, lanterns and a parade of lights.
There are so many music festivals held here throughout the year, but the biggest classical music festival takes place during summer. The Lucerne Festival Orchestra is made up from some of the most talented and distinguished musicians from around the world, and this is without a doubt one of the single biggest cultural events on the Lucerne calendar every year.
A Swiss Folklore Show
A very touristy thing to do, but it is absolutely magical to experience. Unique to this glorious Alpine region, you start off the evening by feasting on a traditional menu consisting of rostii and fondue, accompanied by the best Swiss wines before the show begins. The Stadtkeller, located in the Old Town is one of the best places to experience these shows. Sit back and relax and enjoy an evening of flag throwing, yodelling and alpine horn blowing.