Choosing between Lucerne or Zurich is almost an impossible task. When you are visiting Switzerland, there are great reasons for visiting both.
But when you dive into the nitty gritty, one city is a better fit for you than the other. As someone who has lived here for 20+ years, I can tell you all about Zurich and Lucerne in detail.
Join me as I compare everything you need to know about the cities from costs to accommodation and more so that you can pick the right one for your trip to Switzerland.
|1 hour from Zurich Airport
|15 minutes to Zurich Airport
St Peters Church
Richard Wagner Museum
Swiss Museum of Transport
Historisches Museum Luzern
|Swiss National Museum
Museum für Gestaltung
Lindt Chocolate Museum
Beyer Watch Museum
Museum Haus Konstruktiv
|Mountain Excursions Nearby
Stoos & Fronalpstock
Table of Contents
Top Sights in Lucerne
Lucerne is a wonderful place to walk around as there are stunning paths along the lake, river, and through the old town.
It also offers some of the best access to nature and panoramic views of all the cities in Switzerland. Here are some of the great sights to see while you are there.
Chapel Bridge is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic sights in Lucerne. It crosses the river connecting one side of town with the other and is the oldest covered footbridge in Europe.
Dating back to the 1300s, it is a very old bridge to which famous paintings were added in the 1600s. A stroll across the Chapel Bridge is a must while in Lucerne.
Taking A Boat Around The Lake
Lake Lucerne is another of the great things about the city as you can swim, sunbathe, paddle board, and more.
One thing not to miss is taking a boat ride around the lake to see views of the alps, lakeside villages, and surrounding countryside from different angles.
See The Views From Mount Pilatus
Lucerne’s local mountain is Mt Pilatus which is some 2,100 meters above sea level and provides the greatest views of the area.
You can get a funicular up to the jagged mountain peaks from the village of Kriens which is just 20 minutes from Lucerne by bus.
At the top, you will find a viewing platform and be able to look down on the city, and lakeside villages and see the other peaks around the lake too. The views are some of the best in the world!
The Swiss Museum of Transport
The Swiss Museum of Transport is the most popular museum in Switzerland and it showcases everything from trains to planes, boats, ships, cars, and more. This is something not to miss especially if you have kids.
For art lovers, especially Picasso lovers, a stroll around the Rosengart Museum in the old town is a must.
The Old Town
Old Town Lucerne is exceptionally well preserved from medieval times and wandering around it is simply magical.
Top Sights in Zurich
Zurich is teeming with excellent attractions and with its lake and river (just like Lucerne) access to nature is excellent too.
See The Old Town
Old Town Zurich is packed full of charm and being close to both the river and lake, it makes for a great place to stroll around. You will find iconic sights such as Fraumünster Church and Grossmünster Church as well as restaurants, bars, cafes, and shops.
Take To The Water On Lake Zurich
While Lake Zurich is not as big as Lake Lucerne, it is just as beautiful and there is no better way to see it than by boat. You can choose from different tours, some of which include fine dining.
Seeing the surrounding villages and mountains while looking back at the city from the water is pretty spectacular.
Bellevue Opera House
Taking a tour of, or seeing a performance at the famous Bellevue opera house in Zurich is a must. It is world-famous, has some of the best performances, and on a tour, you will learn all about its history.
Like Lucerne, Zurich also has a local mountain with great views of the area. The Uetliberg Mountain is just outside the city and you can ride the train to its peak.
The views across the city and the lake are stunning and it is a great way to escape the busy metropolis for a while.
A deciding factor for a lot of travelers when visiting the snow-capped mountains of Switzerland is cost.
Switzerland is an expensive country and being able to save here and there can go a long way when it comes to traveling there.
So, if budget is your highest concern, should you visit Zurich or Lucerne? Let’s take a look.
The most expensive daily cost when traveling to any destination in the world is accommodation and there is quite a difference between Lucerne and Zurich.
On average, you will spend $100 per night in Lucerne and $123 a night in Zurich for a similar class of hotel. Now, there are, of course, much more affordable and more expensive options than these, but this is a good average to base your budget on.
Getting around the city is the next thing to think about. Of course, it depends on how much walking you want to do and how much exploring. Generally, though, the main difference between Lucerne and Zurich is that Lucerne is a lot more walkable, saving you a bunch.
On average, daily transport costs in Zurich are around $26 whereas in Lucerne they are around $9, making Lucerne a lot more affordable.
Eating out in Zurich and Lucerne costs about the same, as attending any theater, art gallery, or museum. But, alcohol in Lucerne is generally about 25% cheaper so if you enjoy a beer at the end of the day and wine with dinner, then Lucerne is going to be more affordable.
How about flights? Getting to Zurich is easy as it has Zurich Airport, the main international airport in Switzerland. There are more flights to Zurich airport and therefore they should be more affordable than flying to Lucerne, but this is not always the case.
Which Is More Affordable?
When you come to Zurich, you should budget about $200 a day including everything I mentioned above, bar flights. Lucerne on the other hand will cost around $160 a day for the same.
This means you will get a lot more for your money in Lucerne as it is a cheaper destination than Zurich. This gives you the option to reduce your travel budget or splash out in Lucerne and have a bit of a wilder time.
Public transport options are another key thing to consider as you don’t want to spend all your time sitting on Public Transportation instead of exploring the city.
Of course, Swiss Public Transport is some of the best in the world, but it does differ from city to city. Let’s see how they compare against each other.
Lucerne is a much smaller city than Zurich and is, therefore, more walkable. You can walk from one side of Lucerne to the other via the old town and Lake Lucerne in just over an hour.
So, if you like to walk and the weather is good, you can avoid public transport altogether if you want to. But, if walking around a city all day isn’t up your street, there are of course lots of transportation options.
The main train station connects you to the rest of Switzerland. You can also take a quick train ride from one side of the city to the other. Many travelers use the trains in Lucerne however, the bus network is also extensive and efficient.
Taxis are also available in Lucerne, but taking a taxi is expensive. With such efficient public options, it is best to use them and keep travel costs down.
Zurich is the biggest city in Switzerland and therefore it is not very walkable like Lucerne. You can walk around certain areas but when you explore, chances are you are going to need to move around different parts of the city.
Zurich has one of the most efficient public transport networks on the planet. It consists of trains, trams, and buses plus streetcars and bicycles. This means you can get from A to B with minimal stress and maximum efficiency using any of the options.
Renting a bicycle for $20 a day is a great way to see the city or you can buy a day travel pass for $26 which covers everything.
Lucerne is home to many restaurants that serve great food from across the world. Some restaurants only serve traditional Swiss dishes so you are also covered if you are looking to taste some fondue or raclette.
One thing Lucerne is known for is steak. Some of the longest-standing restaurants in the city have made steak their specialty and are excellent at it.
Another specialty you can find in Lucerne is Bachmann chocolate as it is made in Lucerne, so trying this is a must while you are there.
If you are looking for fine dining, there are at least 10 Michelin-star restaurants in Lucerne to choose from too.
Overall, you can find all the Swiss and international dishes you like at the restaurants in Lucerne but it certainly doesn’t have the same amount of restaurants as Zurich.
Zurich is packed full of restaurants with more variety than Lucerne, which makes sense considering how much bigger Zurich is.
You can find all the traditional Swiss dishes you like in Zurich, from Burgermeister Schwert to muesli, which was invented in Zurich.
There is also a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants to choose from in the city, so fine dining is very easy. And, you can also find the same quality of Swiss chocolate in Zurich.
Overall, both Zurich and Lucerne have great restaurant options but you will have more choices in Zurich.
Lucerne is home to a range of hotels to suit everyone’s needs and budgets. The more expensive and luxurious hotels are found on the shores of Lake Lucerne, offering stunning views across the lake and into the Alps.
More affordable hotels are found in the old town and further from Lake Lucerne. While these do not have the same amazing views as the lakeside options, they are within walking distance of the train station and the lake.
For the most affordable options, you can look at accommodation in the smaller surrounding villages of Lucerne.
There are hundreds of different hotels in Zurich, ranging from luxurious 5-star hotels to budget hostels. No matter what kind of hotel you are looking for, Zurich has one to match your needs.
Booking a hotel in the old town is best in Zurich as this will mean you can access the Limmat River, Lake Zurich, and many sights on foot. But, old-town hotels are not the most affordable.
For budget options, look for places in the center of town and near the train station. You can also find good deals on the city’s outskirts, but you will have to travel a lot to get to the nice parts of town.
Overall, the hotels on offer in Zurich and Lucerne are very similar in terms of the range of luxury and budgets.
When it comes to shopping, Lucerne certainly has fewer options compared to Zurich, but that doesn’t mean good shopping opportunities aren’t easy to find.
Lucerne is home to large fashion brands as well as boutique stores. It also offers some of the best shopping for local souvenirs and trinkets, which you will find in the small shops of the old town.
Swiss watches are also available in Lucerne as it is a global center for timekeeping. If you want to pick up a high-end Swiss watch, this is where to do it.
There is also a huge shopping mall just outside Lucerne with over 150 shops if you want to do some more “standard shopping” while you are there.
Zurich is hard to beat when it comes to shopping. It is most famous for luxury shopping on one main shopping street, Bahnhofstrasse.
Bahnhofstrasse stretches from the central train station to lake Zurich and is the perfect walk for window shopping, lunch, cafes, and restaurants when the weather is good.
Along Bahnhofstrasse, you will find luxury stores, big fashion brands, jewelers, watch stores, and more. There are also old historic Swiss stores along this shopping street.
You can also find excellent shopping opportunities in the old town and along the river.
Overall, Zurich is much better for shopping than Lucerne as it has more luxury and variety.
Being a smaller city, the nightlife in Lucerne is not as pumping as in Zurich. Nonetheless, there are some great options, especially in summer.
During the summer, you will find around 15 or more bars along the shores of Lake Lucerne and the Reuss River. These are very beach bars with a chilled atmosphere and the best views in town and they serve up some excellent cocktails too.
You will also find quite a lot of different nightclubs in the old town as well as close to the river and can party until the following morning if you want to. Some clubs even book international DJs, and some host live music too.
Zurich is a great place to party, and considering its size, one shouldn’t expect anything less. You will find everything from pubs to classy cocktail bars and nightclubs that go on until the early hours.
A popular nightlife spot is Niederdorf in the old town where you will find rows upon rows of restaurants, bars, and pubs. The real parting happens on Langstrasse, where you will find nightclubs with famous DJs and great bars too.
If you are in Zurich in the summer, look to the shores of the Limmat River and Lake Zurich, as there will be open-air bars along them with great views.
Lucerne or Zurich: People & Culture
Lucerne is far less international than Zurich and, therefore is home to fewer people in general and people from around the globe. But, it is a favorite spot for tourists and it is impossible to ignore them while you are there.
The locals in Lucerne are lovely and quite traditionally Swiss, which culturally is a lovely thing to experience. The traditional side of things runs true in the city, too and with such easy access to the Alps and the lake, it feels very Swiss in every way.
Zurich on the other hand is a metropolis and is home to people from all around the world. The international scene here is quite serious and fun as you can meet people with very varied backgrounds.
While Zurich is big, Swiss culture and traditions are not lost inside the city and you will see them as you are exploring.
Also, the benefit of it being so large means it does feel or seem touristy as the tourists get lost amongst the city’s crowds.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit either Zurich or Lucerne is in the months of May, June, and September.
The weather in these months is excellent meaning you can enjoy the lake and river plus outdoor dining and the bars that come with summer too. Plus, the cities are not as busy with tourists as they would be in July or August.
Another great time to visit is early to mid-December as the cities are alive with Christmas markets and decorations. There is no better place to get into the festive feeling.