Lucerne is Switzerland’s sixth-largest city so while it doesn’t get as many visitors as the more popular Zurich or Geneva, it’s still a fantastic place for a city break or well-worth including on a longer Switzerland itinerary. There are plenty of things to do in Lucerne without hordes of tourists, so it has a more local, relaxed feel.
Plus, Lucerne is surrounded by mountains, specifically Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus on either side. And if that doesn’t make Lucerne picturesque enough, the city is situated on the River Reuss and on Lake Lucerne which is the fourth largest lake in Switzerland.
The lake has lots of bends and turns, allowing epic views across several of Switzerland’s snowy mountain ranges. Within the city itself, Lucerne or Luzern as it’s known locally has plenty of cultural activities like the Swiss Museum of Transport, which is Switzerland’s most popular museum.
Lucerne is the perfect European city break to mix in wintery hikes and scenery, drinks by the lake at sunset and afternoons wandering around galleries and beautiful old city streets.
This ultimate travel guide to Lucerne will show you all the most beautiful places in Lucerne, what to expect when visiting, where to stay in Lucerne and what to do in Lucerne which will help you in planning a trip to Lucerne in Central Switzerland.
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How to get to Lucerne
Lucerne doesn’t have an airport so if you’re flying into Lucerne internationally, the closest airports are Zurich and Bern. Bern only flies to a handful of European destinations so Zurich Airport will be most travellers port of entry into Switzerland. Zurich is connected to many destinations across the globe via a number of airlines such as Qatar, Emirates and its own Swiss airlines.
The best way to get from Zurich to Lucerne, or from anywhere else around Switzerland, is via train. Switzerland has one of the fastest, cleanest and efficient public transport systems and rail network in the world. Not to mention amazing scenery.
The train is one hour direct from Zurich Airport and since Lucerne is in the middle of Switzerland, it’s one of the most convenient cities to reach in the country and there are hourly trains between Lucerne and Bern, Interlaken and several daily services to Geneva.
What to expect in Lucerne
Lucerne, like the rest of Switzerland, is one of the most expensive places to visit for travellers. There are ways to keep costs down by using public transport and booking activities in advance, but you will likely spend more in Lucerne than you would during most European city breaks.
Switzerland’s currency is the Swiss Franc and there are lots of banks and ATMs in the city centre. In various regions around the country, German, French or Italian is the main language spoken and in Lucerne it is German. However, English is a common second language for the Swiss and you can expect most service workers to speak English fluently, and a service charge is usually automatically added to restaurant bills, so tipping is not expected.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU but does have several agreements with the European Union and is a part of the Schengen zone.
How to get around Lucerne
Lucerne is a compact, walkable city and the entirety of Lucerne’s Old Town is pedestrianized so there is no better way to explore the city than on foot. One of the best things about visiting a city in Switzerland is that you receive a free visitor card when you check into your hotel which covers buses and discounts on attractions in the area.
All public transport including buses, trains and even boats depart from Lucerne train station in the centre of the city, as the station is right on the lake. If you are travelling throughout the region or country, consider purchasing a Swiss travel pass where activity discounts will be even better.
There are essentially no free parking spaces in Lucerne and a car is unnecessary to get around the city. If you are driving into Lucerne, book a hotel which includes parking or stay in an Airbnb instead.
The best time to visit Lucerne
Lucerne is a rare gem of a city because there isn’t really a better or worse time to visit, every season has its perks. June-August is peak season where the already pricey accommodation options will be at their most expensive and the weather will reach highs of 24 degrees Celsius but thanks to Lucerne’s proximity to the Swiss Alps, it will still get cool in the evenings.
November – April is ski season but is considered the off-season for cities, so visiting Lucerne in December or January will be slightly cheaper and look Christmassy under a blanket of snow.
Lucerne Festival is an extremely popular and coveted event known locally and internationally and they programme many classical music festivals in Lucerne throughout the year, though April and September are key dates for the festival. If you’re interested in attending any classical music performances in Lucerne, book your tickets in advance!
Things to do in Lucerne
Lucerne Old Town
Lucerne’s Old Town, right on the banks of the River Reuss, boasts a number of Lucerne’s main historic attractions, not to mention it’s an incredibly beautiful, pastel-coloured neighbourhood and offers the perfect mix of calm (walking along the river) and excitement (many cafes/bars with outdoor terraces).
It’s home to Chapel Bridge which is a 13th-century spindly wooden bridge and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge. There are also paintings on the ceiling of the bridge detailing moments from Lucerne’s past, which makes the Chapel Bridge one of Lucerne’s most beloved landmarks.
Two other important Lucerne landmarks are the Church of St. Leodegar and Museggmauer city wall and towers. The Musegg wall was Lucerne’s main defence in the 15th century and many of the nine towers are accessible so you can see the breath-taking panoramic views over Lucerne and Lake Lucerne.
Old Town is also where you’ll find two of Lucerne’s main city squares: Kornmarkt and Weinmarkt and the Old Town Hall.
One of the most unusual yet important symbols in Lucerne is without a doubt the Lion Monument. Carved into a rock in one of Lucerne’s green spaces is a sleeping lion, sculpted in the 1800s to represent the fallen lives of the Swiss Guard during the French Revolution.
Just like the mermaid statue in Copenhagen and the Mona Lisa in Paris’ Louvre, get here early to avoid the huge crowds.
Glacier Garden of Lucerne
A mere one-minute walk from the Lion Monument is the Glacier Garden of Lucerne which is the city’s main history museum. It’s a natural, open-air museum which covers the history of Switzerland’s glaciers and geology right up until the 19th century and it’s a real mix of different exhibits including a mirror maze and observation tower.
Technically outdoors, most of the museum is undercover so you can even visit on a rainy day.
Swiss Museum of Transport
The most-visited museum in Switzerland, the Swiss Museum of Transport is a lot more fun and interesting than it sounds, even if you’re not a petrol-head. The museum is slightly outside of Lucerne’s main city centre so you will need to hop on a bus, but it’s well worth the trip and you will be able to look out over the centre of Lucerne across the lake.
It’s a huge exhibit containing Switzerland’s first diesel-powered train, several aeroplanes and literal towers of cars from all eras and countries.
Bourbaki Panorama of Lucerne
Epic panoramic paintings used to be a way to commemorate significant events and wars across Europe, and now those paintings like the Bourbaki Panorama of Lucerne are a fantastic way for visitors to learn about a city’s history.
The Bourbaki Panorama is housed in a huge, circular building and it details a particular battle in the France-Prussia war in the 1800s.
Along with the Church of St. Leodegar, Lucerne’s Jesuit Church is one of the most important churches in the city, with its two towers appearing in any photograph or view of Lucerne’s skyline.
It’s a gorgeous church built in the 17th and 18th-centuries in an Italian Baroque style with a bright white, ornate interior with touches of a rose gold colour and incredible ceiling paintings.
What started out as a personal art collection by an art dealer named Siegfried Rosengart turned into one of the most valuable and extensive art collections in Europe with pieces by Monet, Picasso and Matisse taking centre stage.
The Rosengart Collection gallery and museum was set up by his daughter almost 20 years ago and it displays hundreds of his pieces at any one time and it’s truly remarkable how colossal this collection is.
What to eat in Lucerne
Switzerland is internationally renowned for its amazing Swiss cheese (usually in a fondue) and chocolate and you can find delicious examples of both in Lucerne. For the most decadent chocolate shop, head to Max Chocolatier to buy boxes of the richest Swiss chocolate and they even offer chocolate-making and tasting workshops. Fritschi Restaurant serves traditional Swiss cuisine, including fondue, in a cosy and casual tavern that is relatively affordable.
But Lucerne has much more to offer than cheese and chocolate. There is a diverse selection of amazing restaurants, especially Japanese food and there are lots of veggie and vegan restaurants and cafes serving meals using fresh, seasonal vegetables.
Sipping drinks in one of Lucerne’s many lakeside bars is the perfect way to spend an evening and watch the sunset. Nectar Bar is in a fantastic location on the water near the train station and serves cocktails that aren’t too pricey.
Where to stay in Lucerne
Budget – There aren’t many hostels in Lucerne but the ones the city does have are brilliant and a great way to cut costs travelling in an expensive country. The Barabas Luzern hostel was formerly a prison and is now a well-located hostel right in the heart of Old Town. Considering the hostel still has quirks from its former life (like bars on some windows!) it’s surprisingly cosy. Or, for a more comfortable hostel, the Capsule Hostel Luzern gives you your own space-age pod and more privacy for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room.
Mid-range – But there are plenty of budget hotels if you want a private room. Hotel Alpha is a modern and minimalist hotel with a bright and well-equipped breakfast room and The Tourist Hotel is right on the River Reuss and has amply sized rooms which are perfect for families.
Luxury – And if you can splash out on gorgeous hotel suites, you’ve come to the right city. Hotel Schweizerhof Lucerne resides meters away from Lake Lucerne in a stunningly grand building which is simply decorated with luxe touches like ornate mirrors and hand-painted murals. The Art Deco Hotel Montana Luzern Also has amazing views and many suites come with a balcony and hot tub.
Tours to do in Lucerne
Lucerne is such an easy city to wander through and explore, so why not join a walking tour so you can also discover Lucerne’s hidden gems at the same time with a local guide? This tour takes you around all of Lucerne’s top sights including the Culture and Congress Centre, the Jesuit Church and Chapel Bridge.
Sightseeing Cruise on Lake Lucerne
When you visit a city with an epically beautiful lake like Lake Lucerne, then you need to see it from the water! This ultra-modern yacht will take you on a sightseeing cruise around the towns and villages that surround the lake and you will learn all about them via a guide. You can choose to sail on the cruise during the day or at night for a magical evening.
Art and Culture Tour
Between the Lucerne classical music festivals and the Rosengart Collection, there is quite a lot of culture concentrated in one relatively small city! If you love art then Lucerne is the perfect place to visit, and this art and culture tour will show you all the best street art and some of the more obscure but equally fascinating galleries.
Day trips from Lucerne
Mount Pilatus sits just southwest of Lucerne and it’s one of the nearest alpine peaks to the city. For amazing, panoramic views over the city and Lake Lucerne, head on this trip up the mountain via an aerial cable car and spend some time at the top in Frakmuntegg, hiking or just relaxing and enjoying the views. You can then descend down the mountain via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway down to the lush, green village of Alpnachstad.
The other closest peak to Lucerne to the north is Mount Rigi, a similarly amazing peak where you can escape the city by travelling via two cogwheel trains and a cable car and enjoy the many hikes and trails at the top of the mountain.
Interlaken and Grindelwald
If you’re not just satisfied with looking out to the Swiss Alps and you want to visit them, even just for a day, then this day trip to Interlaken and Grindelwald is the perfect taster. Check out the postcard-perfect wooden chalets in the ski resort town of Grindelwald and Interlaken at the foot of the Bernese Oberland Alps which is such an idyllic winter wonderland. Even the drive from Lucerne to Interlaken is beautiful enough to leave you speechless!
Recommended tours in Lucerne
- Jungfraujoch Top of Europe Day Trip from Lucerne
- Golden Round Trip with Lake Cruise to Mt Pilatus from Lucerne Self-Guided Tour
- Mt Pilatus Experience Self-Guided Tour
- Lucerne Walking and Boat Tour: The Best Swiss Experience
- Beginners Ski Day Trip to Jungfrau Ski Region from Lucerne
- Cheese & Chocolate tour with private tourguide – starts from Lucerne
- Private Interlaken and Jungfrau Region tour from Lucerne
- Glacier Express one day tour with private tourguide – starts from Lucerne
- Canyoning in Interlaken from Lucerne
- Bern Day Trip from Lucerne Including Emmental Dairy Visit
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