Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne, or Luzern in German, is a beautiful city in Central Switzerland. The city is located on Lake Lucerne and is surrounded by the Swiss Alps. It is not surprising that Lucerne is often included in any traveler’s choice and itinerary for when they visit Switzerland. Lucerne has a historic Old Town with beautiful frescoes on the buildings, medieval wooden bridges that cross the river Reuss, a wide selection of museums and attractions, the lake, and the accessibility to mountain peaks like Pilatus or Titlis.
In this article you will find our Top Things to do in Lucerne, and a suggestion on a hotel with an incredible view!
Lucerne city highlights, the old town and the bridges
Lucerne is not a big city and is easily explored by foot. There are two medieval wooden bridges not far from each other which are a must-see for any first-time visitor to Lucerne. What is so special about the bridges, the Kapellbrücke and the Spreuerbrücke, is that on the inside they are decorated with painted panels describing Swiss and local history.
Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower
The Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, is the longest of the two wooden bridges. The 205 meter long bridge dates from the 14th century, and the painted panels inside of the bridge were added in the 17th century. Together with the Water Tower, which has served as archive, prison, or even torture chamber, the Chapel bridge and the water tower are definitely the most famous landmarks of Lucerne. In Summer the Chapel Bridge is all decorated with flowers which makes it even more picturesque. The bridge has suffered from a terrible fire in 1993, which destroyed almost two-third of the bridge and many of its historic paintings. The bridge has since then been restored.
Jesuit Church, Spreuer Bridge and the Needle Dam
Once you have crossed the Chapel bridge, you can walk alongside the Reuss river towards the other wooden bridge, the Spreuer Bridge. In between the two bridges, you will find more historic sites of Lucerne, like the Jesuit church, and the Needle Dam. The Needle Dam regulates the water level of Lake Lucerne with quite a unique system, by manually removing or adding timber needles.
Look up and see the frescoes!
From the Needle Dam, you can head towards the Old Town shopping streets, and pass by Mühlenplatz. In these Old Town streets you will see many buildings with beautiful frescoes. Our preferred one is on the building of Guildhall zu Pfistern, which seemed to tell us on stories and generations of families.
The Musegg Wall and its towers is part of Lucerne’s fortifications. The wall and its towers can be visited between April and November.
Lion Monument Lucerne
The Lucerne Lion Monument, or the Dying Lion of Lucerne, which was described by Mark Twain as the ‘saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world’, is carved out of a rock and shows a mourning lion. The sculpture commemorates the swiss soldiers who died during the French revolution. We were really impressed by the size of the sculpture!
Museums in Lucerne
Glacier Garden Lucerne
Did you know Lucerne was covered by a glacier in the Ice Age? And that later on it was actually located by the sea? Learn all about this in the Glacier garden, which is located right next to the Lion Monument in Lucerne.
Glacial potholes were discovered by a local family when they wanted to do some works on their house. The Glacier Garden is an outside, covered, area and has a museum right next to it. The museum is the family house and has many objects of the family who used to live here, but also maquettes of mountains.
Another highlight at the Glacier Garden is the Labyrinth of Mirrors. This labyrinth was once made for the Swiss National exhibition in Geneva, but has been placed at the Glacier Garden after the Expo. We had a lot of fun getting lost in the labyrinth!
Swiss Museum of Transport
Lucerne has one of the most child friendly museums in Switzerland, the Swiss Museum of Transport. The museum says it’s ‘open to discoverers’ and we totally agree, because there are a lot of activities for children where they can touch and do things.
The museum has a large screen movie theatre, a planetarium, an attraction called the Swiss Chocolate Adventure to learn all about chocolate, a big aerial photograph of Switzerland where you can walk on and learn about Swiss geography at the same time, and of course it has trains, cars and planes for children to discover. Kids can also drive some cool miniature vehicles for themselves, be a passenger on a miniature train or slide down from a plane! Our children loved the Swiss Transport Museum!
The Kunstmuseum Lucerne is right in the center of town, on the lake. We loved the architecture of the building, but we could not visit when we were in Lucerne as the museum was closed at that time.
Lake Lucerne, Vierwaldstättersee, and the surrounding mountain peaks
If you have more days to spend in Lucerne, you can easily access the lake and the mountains from Lucerne. A boat trip on the lake for just a few hours, or longer, or a trip to the famous Pilatus, Rigi, or Titlis mountains.
From Lucerne to Titlis: to get to Titlis you would need to take a train from Lucerne to Engelberg, which takes approximately 45 minutes. From there you can continue on to the cable car by foot, or by taking a free shuttle bus. More info on visiting Titlis from Lucerne: https://www.titlis.ch/en/info/general/arrival
From Lucerne to Pilatus: There are two ways to get up to Pilatus, and your best way depends on the season. To go to Mount Pilatus from Lucerne in Summer, you can take a train or boat to Alpnachstad. From there, the steepest cogwheel train in the world will take you up between May and November.
In Winter, you would need to go to the town Kriens, where 2 different cable cars will take you up. Kriens can be reached by bus from Lucerne (bus 1 from the station) More information on how to get to mount Pilatus: https://www.pilatus.ch/en/inform/arrival-and-location-plan
From Lucerne to Rigi: There are many ways to get to Rigi mountain from Lucerne. One of them would be by taking a boat to Vitznau (about 60 minutes), and then hop on the train up to the Rigi mountain. More information on different ways to get to Rigi can be found here: https://www.rigi.ch/en/inform/arrival-parking
Chateau Gütsch and the view over Lake Lucerne
You can see the castle Chateau Gütsch from the center of Lucerne. It is located up on a hill overlooking the city and the lake. The castle, which is a hotel, and has a restaurant and bar, is a beautiful spot to have a drink while enjoying the view. (however, current measures did not allow us to enjoy that, as at the moment, it is only accessible to hotel guests). A funicular takes you up to Chateau Gütsch from the Baselstrasse in Central Lucerne.
Best Place to Stay in Lucerne
This beautiful hotel in Lucerne has an incredible view on the most famous landmarks of Lucerne and is located in a building in the Old Town with wonderful fresco paintings. In the morning when you open your curtains, you immediately see the famous Chapel bridge or the Jesuit church. Really beautiful location, and quite reasonably priced for such a prime spot in the city.