Lucerne may be small and compact, but it has a lot to offer when it comes to attractions and things to do. This gem is one of the most happening places in Central Switzerland and features activities that will make everyone happy, from those who want to explore nature to those who prefer museums. Here are the 10 best things to see and do in Lucerne.
Lucerne’s early 14th-century Kapellbrücke (German for Chapel Bridge) is not only Europe’s oldest covered wooden bridge, it’s also the oldest surviving truss bridge on the planet. Extending in an unusual diagonal shape over the Reuss River, the 170-metre bridge was originally constructed as part of Lucerne’s fortifications. During the 17th century, a series of paintings by artist Hans Heinrich Wägmann depicting scenes from Swiss and local history were added. Sadly a fire broke out on the bridge in 1993, destroying the majority of Wägmann’s works, alongside damaging much of Kapellbrücke itself, though around 30 of the paintings were rescued and the bridge was fully restored. Try to visit it at sunset, when the lake and the pastel-coloured houses on the river look even more beautiful in the soft dusk light.
No wonder the Swiss Museum of Transportation is the most visited museum in Switzerland – it spreads across more than 20,000 square metres of space with over 3,000 displays. Plus it features interactive exhibits that take you through the history of transport on land, sea, air, and even space. The fascinating history of transport and its vehicles, together with their socio-political effects on our culture, are the key themes at the museum. So be ready to learn all there is to know about mobility and public transport in a country that is famous for its impeccable services and punctuality. The museum also offers a number of themed and tailor-made tours.
Adjoining Lucerne’s town hall is its very own restaurant and brewery, Rathaus Brauerei, where you can enjoy the staples of alpine cuisine in a convivial pub-like setting. Highlights of the menu include the Älplermagronen mit Apfelmus (a macaroni cheese pasta dish served with apple sauce), the Luzerner Käsekuchen (a savoury cheese cake), and rabbit fillet with oyster mushrooms. Naturally, all food at the Rathaus Brauerei goes well with Rathaus Natürtrub and Rathaus Bock, the two in-house beers.
You’ll want to spend some time on and around Lake Lucerne while you are in town. Switzerland’s fourth largest lake takes a while to get to know, on account of its vast expanse of water and the fjord-like fingers that hide small towns and fishing villages. The best way to explore it is by taking one of the many ferry boats that connect the city to the other villages along the shores. The mighty mountains that loom nearby also contribute to making Lake Lucerne one of the country’s most beautiful lakes, so take your time to enjoy it and consider booking a lunch or dinner cruise to make it an even more memorable experience.
Is there anything better than an ice-cold beer after a day of hiking in the mountains or touring a new city? Brauerei Eichhof in Lucerne offers not only the chance to quench your thirst, but it also gives visitors participating in guided tours the possibility to see how beer is made – from hops to fermentation to the finished product. This brewery has been around for more than 180 years and is an institution in the area, to the point where you will rarely see other beers served around town. There is no better way to taste the different brews than directly where they are produced.
Nature lovers, rejoice! Lucerne is a city that is very much in touch with its beautiful natural surroundings. The snowy peaks of Mount Pilatus loom over the city and offer great opportunities to enjoy the outdoors a mere 20 minutes away from downtown Lucerne. Visitors can take the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, and even ride in the driver’s cabin past the spectacular alpine scenery. Alternatively, you can take a panoramic cable car trip to the top from Kriens. On the mountain itself, a wide array of activities like hiking, climbing, and even summer tobogganing are available, as well as a panoramic restaurant for those who prefer to enjoy the views in a more relaxed way.
Accessible from the Sonnenberg highway tunnel, a massive bunker lies hidden under Lucerne. Constructed during the Swiss bunker building craze in the late 60s and 70s, Sonnenberg Bunker provided enough space for 20,000 of Lucerne’s residents in the event of a nuclear attack. This never happened, however, and now that the Cold War is over, visitors get to tour the bunker every last Sunday of the month. The tour through this underground time capsule takes you past hospital facilities and decontamination stations, complete with vintage washing machines and massive ventilation systems.
A rather sombre monument awaits you in Lucerne. Just a short walk away from the Medieval city centre, there is a dying lion etched into a rock face overlooking a pond. Artist Lukas Ahorn carved it in 1821 to commemorate the Swiss military men who died trying to defend the unfortunate French King Louis XVI, who was beheaded during the Revolution. It’s impossible not to be moved by this tragic work of art, surrounded by beautiful and ancient trees. Even famous writer Mark Twain, when he saw it, was undoubtedly impressed and described it as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world”. Rumour has it, the monument inspired the heartbreaking scene in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, in which Aslan dies.
A highlight of any trip to Lucerne is the Glacier Garden, especially if you are interested in Natural History. In 1872, glacial potholes were discovered when a local businessman was digging out a new wine cellar, and they were subsequently traced all the way back to the Ice Age. The park is a wonderful place for a stroll surrounded by ancient species of trees and flowers. While inside the nearby museum, you’ll learn what caused these fascinating formations, and you can explore the incredible 20-million-year history that makes Lucerne’s landscape so unique and different.
This magnificent turn-of-the-century hotel, located on a hill next to Lucerne, can be reached via a long staircase or a brief hike through the Gütsch forest. At the top, the reward for the hard journey is a superb view of the city and Lake Lucerne, and an opulently decorated bar and restaurant. Offerings on the restaurant’s menu are based mostly on seasonal, locally-sourced ingredients. The blue-painted ikat walls, green velvet upholstery, and panoramic windows make the bar alone well worth the climb.