Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? Here Are 6 Reasons Why You Should Go

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Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Lucerne’s iconic Chapel Bridge
Lucerne’s iconic Chapel Bridge. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Is Lucerne worth visiting? I thought so. When I was planning my two-week itinerary around Switzerland, I made it a point to include two days in the lovely little city of Lucerne. Situated on the banks of sparkling blue Lake Lucerne and surrounded by mountain peaks, I was looking forward to a wonderful combination of beautiful scenery, unique historic sights, and charming cultural experiences.

Here are the six reasons why I think Lucerne is worth a visit.

Lucerne is easy to get to

My journey around Switzerland was all by train using a Swiss travel pass and it was very easy. Swiss technical prowess and attention to detail were in clear evidence as I easily traversed from one canton (the Swiss term for states) to another using just public transportation.

Located in central Switzerland’s German-speaking region, Lucerne is only 35 miles from Zurich and its major international airport. From the train station at the Zurich airport, it was a 1-hour train ride with a quick change of trains at the Zurich Hauptbahnhof (main train station).

I entered Switzerland through Basel after spending a week in France. From Basel, it is also only about a one-hour non-stop train ride to Lucerne.

To the west of Lucerne lies Switzerland’s capital, Bern. From Bern, it is only a 90-minute nonstop train ride to the heart of Lucerne. Once I reached Lucerne’s bustling train station, it was a quick 15-minute walk to my hotel and the center of the historic old town.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Train travel to Lucerne and around Switzerland is very easy. I suggest getting a Switzerland Eurail pass if you are planning a lot of train travel around the country. The pass needs to be purchased before you leave on your trip and is very easy to use via the associated app.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Painted facades on the buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town.
Painted facades on the buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Discover Lucerne’s historic old town

Traffic-free and pedestrian-friendly, the Altstadt, or Lucerne’s Old Town, was a joy to explore on foot. Despite being lined with modern shops and restaurants, the narrow streets and squares still radiated much of their original medieval character.

As I strolled, I kept having to remind myself to look up at the buildings. Many had colorful fresco paintings decorating the outside facades. From Mardi Gras masks to wedding feasts, these paintings told the stories of life, love, and death in Lucerne.

Another fun element to discover was the ornate fountain sculptures that dominated the center of each square. Built in the Middle Ages, these fountains are still fed by spring water coming from high above Mt. Pilatus.

Surrounding the Old Town, the Musegg Wall and its nine towers are the fortification system that was put in place in the 13th century. The walls and towers still stand and can be toured during the day.

SheBuysTravel Tip: If you have extra time, Lucerne has some interesting museums to explore. I really enjoyed the Rosengart Art Museum with its many Picasso paintings, and the fun Swiss Museum of Transport. The Transport Museum is especially fun for kids and I saw many there during my visit.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Early morning is the best time to see the Chapel Bridge without the crowds
Early morning is the best time to see the Chapel Bridge without the crowds. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Explore Lucerne’s historic wooden bridges

Without a doubt, the centerpiece of Lucerne’s historic sights is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke) with its large stone water tower. As the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe, it has become the symbol of Lucerne as well as one of the most photographed monuments in Switzerland.

Originally built in 1365 as part of the city’s fortification system, the 672-foot-long bridge is unique in that it traverses the Reuss River on a diagonal rather than straight across as most bridges do. At that time in the city’s history, fortification walls completely encircled the city and it is assumed that this diagonal design was put in place to complete this line of defense.  

Unique features of this bridge are the beautiful triangular paintings that decorate the inside trusses. Originally painted in the early 1600s, these wooden canvases portrayed scenes from Lucerne’s and Switzerland’s glorious past. Sadly, a 1993 fire damaged about two-thirds of the bridge, so now only 48 of the original 158 panels remain.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Some of the painted panels inside Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge.
Some of the painted panels inside Lucerne’s Chapel Bridge. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Not far downriver from the Chapel Bridge is a second historic wooden bridge, the Spreuerbrucke, or Mill Bridge. In the middle of the bridge is a small chapel that was built to provide divine protection against floods.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Lucerne’s Mill Bridge.
Lucerne’s Mill Bridge. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

At one time there was also a third wooden bridge that traversed the river, the Hofbrucke, which was unfortunately taken down in the 19th century.

As I walked from the Chapel Bridge to the Mill Bridge, I also stopped to take a peek inside the 17th-century Jesuit Church with its elaborate baroque architecture.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - The Lion Monument in Lucerne
The Lion Monument in Lucerne. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Contemplate the Lion of Lucerne monument

On the northern edge of the Old Town and situated in a serene green park sits another famous Lucerne tourist attraction, the Lion Monument. This moving, realist sculpture of a dying lion honors the many Swiss guards who died in defense of the French king Louis XVI during the French Revolution.

The Latin inscription above the lion reads “HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI,” which means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”. In his book A Tramp Abroad, Mark Twain made the following comment about this sculpture: “The lifeless eyes of the Lion of Lucerne may not be able to cry, but the endless tragedy in its gaze still inspires more than its share of tears”. I certainly could not have said it better myself.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Inside the KKL concert Hall
Inside the KKL concert Hall. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Take in a performance at the KKL

In contrast to the historic buildings in the old town, Lucernes’ Culture and Convention Center (or KKL as it is called locally) is a modern architectural masterpiece. There are three separate buildings under one (literally) large, sweeping roof. The centerpiece of the complex is the concert hall with its world-renowned acoustics.

I always look for local musical events when I travel, and I was happy to find a performance at the KKL during my visit. In this case I got a taste of local musical flavors as I listened to the graduating students from the Lucerne School of Music.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Getting on the Mount Pilatus cog railway
Getting on the Mount Pilatus cog railway. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Spend a scenic day on Mount Pilatus

I spent my second day in Lucerne exploring nearby Mount Pilatus. My adventure started with a scenic boat cruise on Lake Lucerne to the town of Alpnachstadt. Even though the morning started foggy and rainy, I could still see hints of the alpine peaks around me as my boat ride crossed the lake.

In Alpnachstadt I caught the historic cogwheel train that slowly climbed its way to the top of Mt. Pilatus. With a 48% grade, this is the steepest cog railway in the world. As the cherry red railcar inched its way up the incline, I happily took in the nearby scenery. The landscape around me changed from a green forest to sharp granite peaks with their head in the clouds. Unfortunately, the day I was there, it was very foggy and cloudy. I was told that on a clear day you can see the famous Swiss Alps from here, but I had no such stunning views that day.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Eating Pasta the Swiss Way
Eating pasta the Swiss way. Photo credit: Rose Palmer

To counteract the foggy chill at the high altitude, I chose to go inside and have a warming lunch at the Restaurant Pilatus-Kulm. The local specialty of Swiss alpine macaroni with potatoes, cheese sauce, onions, and apples did indeed warm me up.

To get back to Lucerne, I chose to take the cable cars back down the other side of the mountain, followed by a bus which dropped me off at the Lucerne train station. Once the cable cars got out of the clouds, I had some lovely aerial views of Lucerne and its lake.

If I had one more day in this area, I would have liked to also go to the top of nearby Mt. Rigi. I had read that the Mount Rigi cog railway was the oldest in Europe and I would have liked to see that one as well.

Is Lucerne Worth Visiting? - Local specialty “Fritschipastete”
Local specialty “Fritschipastete” . Photo credit: Rose Palmer

Where I stayed in Lucerne

While in Lucerne, I stayed at the Hotel Ambassador, a budget-friendly hotel situated on the edge of the historic old town of Lucerne and just steps from the lake and all the must-see sights. I liked that this was a family-owned establishment which has been welcoming guests since 1912.

The hotel’s restaurant Lapin also offered a very hearty breakfast with lots of choices for all tastes. For dinner, I also enjoyed their local specialty “Fritschipastete” which combined veal meat and sausage veal meat prepared in a ragout with Cognac berries, with a lot of vegetables in a puff pastry pie.

While it would have been easy to do just a day trip to Lucerne, I was glad that I had an extended stay in this lovely Swiss city. It meant I had some time to amble along the lakefront, poke my nose down little side streets, and take in the city’s ambiance at an outdoor café with an espresso and a pastry.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of the best things about spending time in Lucerne is sitting outside at a cafe or bar and people-watching. Make sure to take time to just sit and take in the ambiance.


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