Nestled in the heart of Switzerland on the banks of a lake is the beautiful city of Lucerne. If you are not familiar with this part of central Switzerland, hopefully after reading this article you be will ready to head there because this is one of the most breathtaking cities throughout Europe. Focusing on some of the top things to do in Lucerne, we want to inspire visitors to the Swiss nation to take some time to explore this part of the country.
Lucerne is an easily accessible city from many of the main hubs in Switzerland. During our recent visit, we were based in Zurich and Lucerne could be reached in a little over 45 minutes. This is a perfect city to experience for a few hours before heading on to explore other parts of Switzerland.
Conveniently located on the Golden Pass line which allows visitors to take a scenic, panoramic train through the Swiss Alps to Interlaken and beyond, Lucerne is certainly a spot you should consider visiting before heading into the mountains.
Whether you arrive in Lucerne by train or by car, you will soon realize that the heart of this city is by Lake Lucerne and the surrounding neighborhoods. The central station is located by the lake and after arriving here we were immediately able to start exploring some of Lucerne’s most iconic landmarks. Let’s take a look at the top things to do in Lucerne.
If you are visiting Lucerne for the first time, you will likely want to visit the iconic Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) that crosses the Reuss River in the heart of the city. The bridge dates back to 1333 when it was originally constructed and over 600 years later in 1993 it was destroyed by fire. The following year it was rebuilt and today we see a reconstruction of the original wooden footbridge that crosses the river.
The Kapellbrücke is iconic for many reasons, none more so than the unique paintings on the interior of the covered bridge. Many of these paintings were of course destroyed during the fire, but 30 of the original 158 paintings were fully restored and are on display today.
Depicting local, historic scenes from Lucerne, these paintings are an integral part of the bridge and as visitors cross today, they are able to not only appreciate the present day beauty surrounding this city but also gain a better understanding of the history here.
Another of the iconic features of this bridge is the 140 feet tall Wasserturm (water tower). The octagonal shape of this tower is quirky and although you may assume that this is a water tower in the usual sense, this is in fact named this way because it stands in the river.
There have been many uses of this tower including a prison and torture house but today it is closed to the public aside from a gift shop that is located at the base of the tower along the covered walkway.
The Chapel Bridge is one of the first landmarks that you see after leaving the central station in Lucerne, so taking a stroll across here will lead you into the medieval quarters of the city where you can begin exploring more of the city’s iconic attractions.
We encourage you to take some time to learn about Lucerne’s history while standing on the bridge, plus take a moment to peer out into Lake Lucerne and take in the awe-inspiring views (don’t worry though, if you miss this opportunity, the views later in your self-guided tour will be even more spectacular!)
Leaving the Chapel Bridge, you are presented with the stunning views across Lake Lucerne. Encircled by the Swiss Alps, this lake offers unequivocally beautiful panoramas both from the banks by the city of Lucerne and of course for those fortunate to take a cruise around the lake.
The length of time you spend in the city will determine whether you can take one of these scenic cruises. Boat cruises aboard one of the five historic paddle wheel steamers offer an amazing opportunity for visitors to relax on this gorgeous lake. However, just taking a leisurely stroll along the banks of the lake was a wonderful experience.
Glancing over to the sunlight shimmering across the surface of Lake Lucerne while peering up to the majestic Alpine peaks in the background make this the ideal spot to relax before continuing to explore Lucerne’s Old Town.
The graceful elegance of swans gliding across the lake enhance the beauty here and it’s no surprise to see these images scattered across paintings and postcards as you later explore gift shops around Lucerne.
Lucerne’s Old Town neighborhood is typified by gorgeous medieval architecture and narrow streets leading to the historic Museggmauer (Musegg Wall). Located at the summit of the Old Town overlooking the city, Lake Lucerne and beyond, this area is part of the rampart walls built in 1386.
Much of this medieval wall is still intact over 600 years later and today four towers are still open to the public (Schirmer, Zyt, Wacht, and Männli).
The real beauty about exploring this part of Lucerne, aside from the obvious history, is to appreciate the stunning views across the city. When you think about picture perfect scenes, the views from the summit are exactly that.
The hike to the top takes about 15 minutes through the aforementioned quaint cobblestone streets but we can attest that it is well worth the effort. Everything about this part of Lucerne is the epitome of charm and whether you are a history buff or simply an avid explorer, you can’t help but appreciate everything visible here.
Another interesting fact for the historians out there, the oldest city clock dating back to 1535 is located inside the Zyt tower and is set to chime every hour, the difference being it chimes one minute before any other clock in the city.
Church of St. Leodegar
After leaving the medieval ramparts of Lucerne, the relatively more modern Church of St. Leodegar stands proudly at the base of the Old Town in close proximity to Lake Lucerne. When I say ‘modern’, I am referencing an era dating back to the mid-17th century.
St. Leodegar was founded in the mid-8th century, part of the monastery which in turn founded Lucerne (Myswitzerland.com)
The history of the St. Leodegar legacy dates further back than this to the 8th century when the monastery here actually founded the city of Lucerne.
The ornate details of this church’s architecture make this a spectacular construction and certainly a landmark worth visiting while exploring the rest of the city. This church is also known as the Hof Church to locals within the area.
The Lucerne Town Hall is another intriguing piece of architecture inspired by the Italian Rennaissance era and well worth visiting. The gorgeous clock tower is a feature that stands out among Lucerne’s Old Town neighborhood but the history of the ‘Rathaus’ dates back to the early 17th-century.
Designed by Anton Isenmann, the Town Hall is used today as a marketplace in the arcades and above this level is a concert hall.
We spent just a few hours exploring Lucerne but even in this short amount of time we quickly fell in love with this city. The breathtaking scenery, the relaxing atmosphere throughout the Old Town and the rich history inside the ramparts make this a Swiss destination that we can’t wait to revisit in the near future.
Not only is this a city worth exploring but with so many rail connections to other parts of Switzerland, it may be well worth considering using Lucerne as a hub to explore the rest of the country. We can assure you that you could do a lot worse that choosing this gorgeous city on the banks of Lake Lucerne!