What to See in A Day in Lucerne
Lucerne, nestled amidst the Alps and overlooking Lake Lucerne, is one of Switzerland’s most picturesque towns. Also known as Luzern, the main language is Swiss German, however, everyone speaks excellent English.
Offering a host of things to see and do, Lucerne makes a wonderful holiday destination or a day trip from Basel. Accessible from all parts of the country, Lucerne is situated in central Switzerland on the major railway lines.
Its most iconic wooden covered bridge, along with lots of things to do in Lucerne makes it a popular destination in Switzerland. Dating back to 12th century, many great historical sites straddle the Reuss River. This city captured my heart the moment I set eyes on Lake Lucerne and the mountains that surround it. The old-time charm with wandering cobblestone streets and intricate painted medieval buildings give you a sense of being in a medieval novel.
Let me get started in sharing what to see and do in this fairy-tale town.
Lucerne was inhabited by Romans. A monastery showed records of inhabitance in 840. As it transformed into a city in 1178, Lucerne flourished. As the surrounding cities reformed into Protestants, Lucerne remained a Catholic community. During the Industrial Revolution is when the city saw much of its population growth.
Town Walls and Towers (Museggmauer & Türme)
As we entered the city, we parked the car and headed towards ancient walls and towers that can be seen from afar. Built in 1350 and 1408, the wall was constructed with nine towers and variations of styles to defend the city. The famous Zytturm (tower), holds the oldest clock in the city.
As we approached the wall, Scottish Highlander cattle can be seen grazing on the hillside. Although I couldn’t find out why they were there, I did find some general facts about Scottish Highlander Cattle here.
Visit several towers to get a good look over the city. The location is here.
Walking towards the Reuss River we stopped to admire the Fritschi Fountain, a figure representing Lucerne’s carnivals at Kapellplatz. There is a legend that a certain carnival character “Brother Fritschi” is buried in Kapellplatz alongside its colorful Fritschi Fountain. The columns depict the Fritschi family with carnival masks. Within the plaza, you can see several decorative buildings and restaurants.
St. Peter’s Chapel
Built in 1178, the St. Peter’s Chapel is the oldest church in Lucerne. Although the inside of the church doesn’t offer much in artwork, the exterior walls have several interesting designs such as the carving of the Mount of Olives. I found the craftsmanship in the wooden doors very interesting!
The Town-Hall Clock
On the Kornmarkt near the fish market, is the Town Hall of Lucerne, built between 1602 and 1606. It is considered a masterpiece of late Renaissance style, once serving as a dungeon but later housing the city’s clock. The clock was placed in 1526 by Hansen Luter, forged by hand.
Around the corner of the Town-Hall Clock is an area called the fish market where you will find many restaurants overlooking the Reuss River. Also, if you want to cross the river you can do so on the Rathaussteg Bridge.
Before heading down the steps make sure to capture a photograph of the mural wall on Pfistern Restaurant.
We stopped to enjoy fish and chips at Barca Restaurant. The day was cool and sunny as we sat near the banks of the river and enjoyed our lunch while admiring the city.
As you walk across the Reuss Bridge you can see the Needle Dam which was built in 1859 and 1861. The water levels of Lake Lucerne is still regulated manually by the removal or insertion of timber (needles).
Overlooking the Chapel Bridge is the Jesuit Church built in the 17th century. Its baroque style has a quite fascinating façade and a beauty not to be missed while in Lucerne. The church was modeled after the Church of the Gesu in Rome. The paintings on the ceiling are masterpieces! The acoustics in the church are outstanding, making it also an excellent venue for concerts.
- Hours: Open every day from 6:30 t0 18:30 all year.
- Visit the website for schedules and concerts.
Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)
The most iconic sight in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge. A covered wooden bridge running diagonally across the Reuss River. The bridge was built in 1333 and withstood many natural disasters and fires over the years. Today it’s Switzerland’s most photographed historical site.
Within the bridge are 67 painted panels representing the “Dance of Death” between 1626-1635, that were added in the 17th century.
Not far from Chapel Bridge is another famous covered bridge. Spreuer Bridge was finished in 1408 as part of the city’s fortification.
Siegfried Rosengart was friends with many modern artists and together with his daughter, Angela put together a collection of artworks such as Monet, Picasso, Miro, and others in the museum. Here you will find over 300 pieces at any one time.
- Hours: April-October 10:00 – 18:00 daily; November – March 11:00 – 17:00 daily; closed on holidays
- Fee: 18 CHF per adult
- Visit the website for more details
Richard Wagner Museum
If you are a fan of German composer Richard Wagner, then it is a must to visit Villa Tribschen where he and his family lived from 1866 to 1872. The villa contains original furniture and memorabilia, including musical instruments, from the years that Wagner spent here.
- Hours: mid-March – October, Tuesday – Sunday; 11:00 – 17:00, Closed on Monday
- Fee: 10 CHF per adult
On display is a panoramic scene of the history of the 87,000 soldiers of the French Bourbaki army, who fled to Switzerland in the harsh winter of 1871. The impressions are on display on the 112 x 10-meter canvas.
- Hours: November-March; Monday thru Sunday 10:00 to 17:00, April-October; Monday – Sunday, 10:00 -18:00
- Fee: 12 CHF per adult
- Visit website
Lucerne Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus der Schweiz)
Although we did not make it to the museum, it is a great place to learn more about transport in Switzerland. Near the museum is a theater and chocolate adventure, which would be great if you have children traveling with you.
- Hours: Sumer Time 10:00 – 18:00, Winter Time 10:00- 17:00
- Fee: 56 CHF per adult (A visit to Planetarium, Swiss Chocolate Adventure and more have additional fees.
- Visit the website for more details.
The Lion Monument
Although I was a bit reluctant to walk to see the Lion Monument, I am glad I did as the monument is nestled within beautiful shade trees. The Lion Monument commemorates Swiss soldiers who died in the 18th century during the French Revolution. The sculpture is of a mighty lion dying from a spear wound which has a shield with the mark of the French monarchy. The monument is carved into the wall of a former sandstone quarry in 1820 and has an inscription above it stating “HELVETORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI,” which is Latin for “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss.”
Glacier Garden of Lucerne (Gletschergarten)
Near the Lion Monument is the Glacier Garden. Discovered in 1872, a group of workmen was able to prove that Lucerne was covered by glaciers during the Ice Age. Within the gardens is Alhambra Mirror Maze.
- Hours: April – October 9:00 – 18:00 daily; November March 10:00 – 17:00 daily
- Fee: 20 CHF per adult. Guided tours are available. Visit the website for more details.
Church of St. Leodegar
Located on the site of the 8th-century Benedictine monastery is St. Leodegar Church with twin-towered steeples called Hofkirche (meaning Court Church). The church was rebuilt in 1634-39 and preserved the 1525 towers of the previous church. On the north, the tower is a Late Gothic sculpture depicting the Agony in the Garden. Although the overall interior is simple, the altar still highlights the baroque gold like many other catholic churches.
St. Leonhard’s Chapel – Near the Church of St. Leodegar is a small chapel near the northern side of the burial halls. The chapel is mentioned in 1461 and was renovated in 1608. The original chapel burned in 1642 but was rebuilt in 1813 and converted into a house of the dead.
Take a walk from St. Leodegar to the shoreline of Lake Lucerne and stroll along the water’s edge. Known as the “Lake of the Four Cantons,” Lake Lucerne is a stunning body of water with an irregular shape that invites you to explore. Here you can admire the mountain view or the yachts and sailboats enjoying their day on the water. Several cafes and restaurants are available along the pathway.
We noticed several artists taking advantage of the sunny day to paint the landscape that Lake Lucerne has to offer.
Take a Boat Trip Around Lake Lucerne
Archway (Torbogen) of Lucerne
Walk across See Bridge (Seebrucke) to see what is known as the “Gateway to Lucerne.” After a major fire that destroyed the main tramway station, the only piece survived the fire is the archway in the middle of the current station. On top of the arch is a statue by Swiss sculpture Richard Kissling called “Zeitgeist.”
Stop at Seebistro LUZ and enjoy the airy cafe with outdoor seating right on Lake Lucerne with service being offered all day long. We enjoyed a cup of coffee and mojito while watching the boat ferry carrying passengers to other cities along the lake.
Lucerne Culture and Congress Center
After you have seen the Torbogen (Archways) walk to the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre. Although the structure is modern (built between 1995 -2000) you will find a beautiful water fountain and another great place to enjoy the view of the lake. Inside is a first-class concert hall that accommodates 1800 seats.
DAY TRIP FROM LUCERNE
Earning the nickname “Dragon Mountain” from a legend claiming that it was inhabited by dragons with healing powers. A trip to the top of the world’s steepest cogwheel railway will dazzle you with the scenery. Tickets on the cogwheel can be found on this website.
Known to locals as “Queen of the Mountains” offering hiker’s paradise or for those riding the steam train or cogwheel train to the peak. For a day excursion visit the website.
The world’s first revolving cable car on Mt. Titlis may not be for the faint-hearted, with a panoramic view of the glacier world below. Visit the website for more details.
Lucerne Visitor Card – Lucerne is blessed with some fantastic museums. Purchase the card for 36 CHF per person and it covers all your entry fees into all the major museums in the city. Also, the card gives you free access to all forms of transportation within the city.
Taube is a highly rated and well-reviewed restaurant, near the river in an old town with both indoor and outdoor seating. Many Swiss specialties are offered here.
Galerie Schweizerhof Restaurant offers a great view and reasonable prices for good food!
If you are at the train station, try Tibits, a vegetarian restaurant.
Here are other blogs to read about Switzerland:
- Best Sightseeing in Zurich
- Exploring Geneva, Switzerland
- Guide to Dining in Geneva
- City Guide to Basel, Switzerland
Enjoy your travels! Please read my blogs about other exciting places around the world at Traveling Lens Photography.