Compact and colourful, Lucerne in Central Switzerland seamlessly portrays a subtle interplay between nature and architecture. Here’s what you can see and do when here
Dainty swans swimming freely in a misty Lake, a flower-lined wooden bridge, gorgeous architectural treasures reflecting in shimmering waters, people cycling and walking on a maze of cobblestone streets and giant mountains looming over a delightful, serene town. Now, imagine immersing yourself in this beautiful view from a sidewalk cafe, accompanied with a cup of hot coffee or a glass of Swiss-made red Pinot Noir! You certainly aren’t at fault if you’re already mesmerised by this inspiring terrain. Located in the geographic heart of Switzerland, Lucerne is where urban life and nature come together to give you endless photo opportunities, and this isn’t an overstatement!
THE HISTORIC OLD TOWN
The 14th century medieval Chapel Bridge and the octagonal Water Tower form the centrepieces of Lucerne’s townscape
With important landmarks dotting nearly every corner, it is a pleasure to explore the Old Town’s car-free, cobblestoned streets on foot. This way you can appreciate its intricately-painted facades dating back hundreds of years and historic houses decorated with frescoes.
Moreover, you can simply take a halt near one of the amusingly carved and decorated fountains to fill up your bottle with pure glacier water. It is said that Lucerne’s social life took place around these fountains as housewives and servants chatted and exchanged news while their tanks slowly filled with water.
The oldest surviving covered bridge in Europe, Chapel Bridge is not only the means of crossing the Reuss river but also an interesting art gallery. As you walk, admire the gable paintings on the roof panels; they depict the most important events from Lucerne’s history in four official languages (German, French, Italian, and Romantsch). The Water Tower served a prison cell, an archive and a treasury vault until the 19th century. Another unique sight is the Spreuer Bridge which connects the Old Town to the more modern part of Lucerne. While walking along it, notice 67 “Dance of Death” paintings and the Water Spike. These wooden water spikes are still used to regulate the level of Lake Lucerne and to feed a modern hydroelectrical power plant.
THE CITY OF TOWERS, TOWN SQUARES & CHURCHES
For a bird’s-eye view of Lucerne and the surrounding lake and mountains, wander the well-preserved, medieval ramparts. Four of the nine Musegg Towers are open to the public during warmer months. The wall begins with the so-called Nölli tower in the west above the Geissmatt bridge, and ends at Museggstrasse 7, at the eastern end of the Old Town. The Zytturm is definitely a must visit as it houses a vintage clock, built in 1535. It enjoys the privilege of striking the hour a minute before all the city’s other clocks.
Lucerne can be easily called a city of town squares and churches.
The Jesuit church was built back in 1666 and is Switzerland’s first sacral Baroque building. As the resonant sound of a pipe organ lures you inside, get ready to be mesmerised by how beautiful and bright the inside of the building is. Franciscan Church is another example of typical medieval Gothic architecture, with a dash of Renaissance and Baroque styles. But somehow since its founding in the 13th century, it has been perpetually under renovation. The Hof Church, dedicated to the city’s heavenly patron St. Leodegar, is famous for its organ concerts. Built on a small hill east of the medieval downtown, it dominates the picture of the city with its gothic twin towers. Particularly marvelous are its carved choir stalls and gothic altars.
EVERY FOODIE’S HAVEN
Enjoy an aperitif at “Chäs Chäller” – a cheese cave in the midst of downtown Lucerne. Owner Roland Lobsiger is more than happy to give you a guided guided tour of the 100-year-old cellar, explaining how Alp cheese from Central Switzerland is stored for several months in order to ripen, as per the old tradition. Sample a range of Innerschweizer Alpkäse (Central Swiss Alpine cheese) and wine along with delectable side dishes that include fruit bread and juicy grapes. If you’re a foodie, you must stroll through Lucerne’s farmers’ markets on Saturday or Tuesday morning. That is when they are overflowing with fresh produce. Shop for homemade Swiss cheeses, quality seasonal fruits, wines, farm-fresh vegetables, marmalades in varied flavours, and a lot more. The city of Lucerne is famous for Luzerner Chügelipastete – a vol-au-vent (puff-pastry shell) filled with sausage meat balls doused in white creamy sauce. Dating back to the 18th century, the pie owes its name to Fritschi, Lucerne’s famous carnival figure.
To sample a very authentic version of Chügelipastete – a high-calorie yet delectable speciality, plan a dinner at Restaurant Lapin, Museggstrasse 2
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
- HOW TO REACH: Fly in to Zurich or Berne to reach Lucerne. Both airports are well connected to the city by road and rail. From Zurich, there are hourly trains to Lucerne and the journey takes 45 minutes by train and about an hour by road. It’s best to start or end their itinerary in Zurich.
- WHEN TO GO: Spring, summer, and fall are perfect for warm-weather outdoor activities. Best time to visit would be June to September, when the weather is crisp.
TIP: If you’re going up and down mountains, dress like an onion: in layers. The warmth of the valley can be quickly replaced by a cold breeze 5,000 feet higher
- WHERE TO STAY: Experience 500 years of history by putting up Wilden Mann located in the historical Old Town of Lucerne. It was originally a bar and later a tavern, until the 19th century when it was transformed into a romantic hotel with elegant antique furniture and a lot of character. Just a few minutes’ walk from the railway station, the Waldstätterhof is another lovely option. The distinctive building with its striking façade was erected in 1898 and is a designated heritage asset.
- WHAT TO SHOP: Authentic Swiss cheese (remember to check its type and shelf life), watches, army knives, and chocolates
- Swiss Cuisine: https://soulsearchingjourneys.com/2017/07/14/swiss-cuisine-a-potpourri-of-influences/
- Take a day trip from Lucerne: https://soulsearchingjourneys.com/2017/02/08/when-the-swiss-mountains-are-calling/
- For a rural experience in Lucerne, visit a farm: https://soulsearchingjourneys.com/2016/08/30/a-fruitful-day-at-a-swiss-farm/