Nestled at the north end of Lake Lucerne, the charming city of Lucerne boasts an array of attractions that appeal to travelers of all types. With its well-preserved medieval core, elegant historic buildings, and inviting atmosphere, it’s no wonder Lucerne is considered one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland. As you plan your trip, prepare to immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, natural beauty, and vibrant culture.
Begin your Lucerne adventure by wandering the cobbled streets of Altstadt (Old Town), where you’ll find picturesque squares, delightful shops, and colorful frescoed buildings. Along the way, make sure to admire the iconic Chapel Bridge and Water Tower, which poetically span the River Reuss. For a bird’s-eye view of the city, a visit to the medieval Musegg Wall and its towers is a must, providing you with stunning panoramas of Lucerne and its surrounding landscape. Once you’ve soaked in the city’s history, set your sights on exploring the natural wonders that are just about everywhere you turn.
As your Lucerne experience unfolds, venture beyond the city limits to marvel at the region’s breathtaking countryside and majestic mountains. Switzerland’s iconic peaks are right at your doorstep including Rigi, Pilatus, Stanserhorn and more. And with the Swiss Travel Pass, you can enjoy unlimited access to boats, trains, and buses in over 41 cities across Switzerland, unlocking endless possibilities for your unforgettable getaway.
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Top Attractions in Lucerne
Chapel Bridge and Water Tower
While exploring Lucerne, be sure to visit the iconic Chapel Bridge and Water Tower. This historic wooden bridge dates back over 650 years and was once part of Lucerne’s defenses. It was originally adorned with 168 unique paintings by Renward Cysat depicting the history of Switzerland and Lucerne. Unfortunately, there was a devastating fire on the bridge on the eve of the 18th of August, 1993.
Luckily, the majority of the bridge and the paintings were quickly restored and 147 of them are still with us to enjoy. Today, the Chapel Bridge can be seen with vibrant flower boxes, which makes for a picturesque backdrop for your stroll across the Reuss River.
You should also take note of the 34 meters high Water Tower as you cross the bridge. It has had so many uses over the years from torture chamber and prison to archive and treasury. Today it is simply the headquarters of the Lucerne Artillery Association and home to returning black and white Alpine Swifts that nest here every year.
Pro Tip: Be sure to come to the Chapel Bridge either early or late in the day to avoid the large numbers of people that come here during the day. Also, incorporate it into your overall tour of the city as it joins the two sides of the river and makes for a great way to loop around the old town, across to the Jesuit Church and Spreuer Bridge further downstream.
I love to take a leisurely walk through the charming, cobblestoned Old Town of Lucerne. It is for me, one of the most stunning parts of this city, spreading itself out along the northern banks of the Reuss River.
There is so much to see and do in this medieval old town with numerous squares linked together by cobbled car-free roads. Here are some of the highlights you cannot miss:
- Weinmarkt – where back in 1332 the citizens of Lucerne decided to join the blossoming Switzerland. Don’t miss the beautiful 1481 Gothic fountain, as well as the painted guild halls that are worth attention.
- Alt Rathaus (Old Town Hall) & Kornmarkt – Admire the stunning Town Hall built in the early 17th century, with its skyline dominating 14th-century clock tower.
- Kapellplatz & St Peter’s Chapel – Towards the Chapel Bridge end of the old town, this is the oldest church in Lucerne, dating to 1178.
It is also fun to just get lost in the side streets and alleys of this part of town, so don’t get tied down to this exact list of things to see.
Pro Tip: You will discover countless great cafes and restaurants, and also some of the perfect souvenirs along the way. Places like the Swatch and Victorinox shops to get those souvenirs you wanted, as well as Läderach or Max Chocolatier for Swiss Chocolate.
Another must-visit bridge in Lucerne is the Spreuer Bridge, which was actually one of three such bridges that used to form the defenses of Lucerne. It too features a series of paintings, this time created by Caspar Meglinger between 1625 and 1635 depicting the rather macabre “Dance of Death.”
As this covered bridge is so much further downstream from the Chapel Bridge, fewer people come here. It is definitely worth the trip though, as you get some great views up the Reuss River and also get to see some parts of the old town most people miss.
Pro Tip: Use this as the connecting point for a full tour of Lucerne as you can head to the Musegg wall from here or dip straight back into the old town, or vice versa.
Musegg Wall and its Nine Towers
For a panoramic view of the city, climb the 800 meter long Musegg Wall and its nine towers. They also form another integral part of the former defences of the city. They were actually primarily constructed at the beginning of the 15th century, following the Battle of Sempach.
This well-preserved city wall allows you to explore part of the wall as well as four of these towers, each offering distinct and stunning views of Lucerne and its surroundings. The most impressive one, and the one I head to the most with visitors is the Zyt Tower (Swiss-German for Time Tower or Clock Tower). It is the oldest clock in Lucerne and you can explore its inner workings from the tower. It rings at one minute before the hour, so be sure to be there on time, and make sure your ears are covered when it strikes!
The other three towers that you can visit via the doors at their bases include:
- Wachtturm (Watch Tower) – named in 1768 when the guard room was moved there, previously the Heuturm (Hay Tower)
- Männliturm (Little Man Tower) named after the iron-clad figure on the tower
- Schirmerturm (Umbrella Tower) functioned as a gate tower to the city
The other towers, which cannot be visited are: Nölliturm, Luegislandturm, Pulverturm, Allenwindenturm, Dächliturm
Pro Tip: The towers are actually free to visit, but only open from Spring to Autumn – specifically, 8 am to 7 pm between 1 April and 1 November. Otherwise, if you come out of season, my recommendation is to walk along the wall at the back, so you can experience the full length and glory of this masterpiece of medieval architecture.
It’s well worth a quick visit to marvel at the beautiful baroque architecture of Lucerne’s Jesuit Church, I have often ignored this church in the past because it has such a bland facade. But the interior is nothing short of mind-blowing.
It was built between 1666 and 1677 after the Jesuits were invited to Lucerne in 1573 to help reduce the Protestant influence that was brewing in the north. You may have heard of what was happening with the Reformation in Zurich, but that story is for another time.
The real story of the Jesuit Church is its interior. The church’s ornate frescoed ceilings, opulent altars, and magnificent organ make your head spin as you stare upwards in this lavish church. There are beautiful stained-glass windows, gold accents, and rococo stucco everywhere you turn. I had trouble deciding where to aim my phone when taking pictures.
Even if you are not into churches, as I am definitely not, it is worth popping in just to see how crazy churches can get. And given how boring this one appears from the outside, I was a little blown away by what was inside!
Pro Tip: If you really want to soak up the information on the details of this church, be sure to get their App for your visit. There is one for the iPhone and one for Android.
Soak Up Lake Lucerne
How can you miss the breathtaking natural beauty of Lake Lucerne while you are in town? It is the fourth biggest lake in Switzerland, covering a staggering 114 square kilometers. If you manage to see it from above, you will notice that there are four main arms to the lake and at the far end it will remind you of the fjords of Norway.
There are many ways to enjoy the lake from Lucerne itself. I like to walk along the promenade which starts right after the bridge where the Ruess River flows into the lake. Turn left and enjoy a pleasant stroll along the shores of the lake, taking in Mount Pilatus and Burgenstock opposite you. And notice all the top-notch hotels with lakeside views behind you!
Of course, my favorite way to entertain visitors is to enjoy some time on the lake with a cruise. There are a few ways you can do that. One is to take a specific Lake Lucerne cruise which might include dinner, sunset, or longer tours around the lake.
My best tip is to do the Mt Pilatus Golden Route which starts with a cruise to the cogwheel train up Pilatus and ends with a gondola down the other side. You can also just take the Lake Lucerne ferries to a number of destinations like Vitznau, to then go up Mt Rigi, or to Burgenstock, to finally walk to the Hammetschwand Lift (more on that below). The options are endless!
You can also rent a pedalo, small motor boat or pontoon boat on the Lake as well. I saw the sign shown above along the way to the promenade while I was walking along the lake. It looks like it is an ad from these guys at Schwanenplatz Boat Rental. Might be worth checking out.
Discover the fascinating Glacier Garden, a geological attraction that showcases traces of a prehistoric ice age along with a range of other attractions. This place has always fascinated me because of the story behind its discovery. They were found by Josef Wilhelm Amrein-Troller during construction in the back of Lucerne back in 1872. This guy took what he found and instantly knew he had a major tourist attraction!
Over the years it has expanded to include a range of things, sometimes they may even seem confusing. There is
- the Glacier Garden itself including the pots
- The Swiss House Museum
- The quite new Rock Underworld
- The Alpine Park on the top
- and the Mirror Maze
So, even if you think that geology is boring, you can enjoy the amusement of the mirror maze or views from the Alpine Park for example. The museum itself was the highlight for me because there are so many fascinating things collected by the Amrein-Trollers to see in their old house
Pro Tip: Combine a visit to the Glacier Garden with the Lion Monument (below) and also the Hofkirche St. Leodegar. You could do it all on foot via the Lake Promenade from the old town in half a day and catch the bus back.
The final stop on any complete tour of the city of Lucerne is the Lion Monument. The monument was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn by Lukas Ahornit between 1820-1821. Which, if you see the monument up close was quite a feat to do in the rock face!
It is in fact a moving tribute to the Swiss Guards who perished during the French Revolution. This poignant sculpture is carved directly into the rock and shows a lion being impaled by a spear and lying on a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarch. It is meant to symbolize Switzerland’s independence and its willingness to defend its sovereignty.
If history or sculptures are not your thing it is worth visiting here just to take a load off your feet for 15 minutes because the park is so quiet and relaxing. Especially if you have walked all the way from the old town and taken in the Glacier Garden too!
Like most Swiss cities, Lucerne is chock full of great museums so you could easily spend one day of your trip here enjoying them. A few of the best are below in case you need me to choose for you!
Richard Wagner Museum
If you are at all interested in classical music, make sure to drop by the Richard Wagner Museum. This historical museum is dedicated to the life and work of German composer Richard Wagner and is actually inside the villa he lived in from 1866 to 1872. Some of the inspiring things you will find in the museum include:
- original sheet music
- personal belongings
- some of Wagner’s letters
Pro Tip: It is a little challenging to get to this museum on foot, so I recommend you take the boat service from the main pier outside the train station and KKL. Nestled in a beautiful villa, you’ll feel inspired as you explore various artifacts, Please note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
Art lovers should definitely visit the Rosengart Collection, which showcases an impressive array of modern art. It is actually quite a young museum by most standards, as it was a personal collection of Swiss art dealer Siegfried Rosengart and his daughter Angela. She created a foundation after his passing and only opened the museum in 2002.
This museum is home to works by renowned artists such as Picasso and Klee (a famous Swiss painter), so soak in their creativity while admiring paintings, sculptures, and other works. Here are some highlights of the museum:
- Exceptional Pablo Picasso pieces
- Collection of Paul Klee’s work
- Other modern art masters including Matisse and Cézanne
Pro Tip: The museum is behind the Jesuit Church so you can combine these two quite easily. And holders of both the Swiss Museum Pass/Swiss Travel Pass and Lucerne Museum Pass get free entry.
Swiss Museum of Transport
Dating back to 1942, the Swiss Museum of Transport is an epic dive into all things transport It is actually Switzerland’s most visited museum, it features exhibits related to mobility’s past, present, and future. With plenty of hands-on displays, you’ll have a fun time exploring the various forms of transport, including trains, cars, boats, rockets and planes.
The museum also houses some exclusive attractions, that you usually have to pay extra for:
- Film theatre
- Swiss Chocolate Adventure
- Media World
Pro Tip: This museum is perfect for kids of just about any age. I have been with my 6-year-old godchild recently and he loved it. Also, it is best to buy tickets before you arrive as it can get very busy. And, honestly, the museum itself is enough for one day, so you don’t have to buy all the extras unless you really want to see everything.
Lucerne offers a wide range of nearby activities, and here are some recommended options for you to consider during your visit.
The Hammetschwand Elevator is a fascinating attraction to visit. It is the tallest outdoor elevator in Europe and whisks visitors 153m (502ft) up to the summit in less than a minute. So, be sure to have your camera ready when the doors close, otherwise, you will miss your chance. I almost did!
The ride offers breathtaking views of Lake Lucerne and the surrounding Alpine landscape and at the top there is a restaurant where you can either grab a drink or sit down to a meal with a view.
To reach the elevator, you’ll have to go on a short hike along the outer edge of the Burgenstock massive, first passing through the Bürgenstock Resort. It’s not a tough hike, and it’s the only way to reach the lift. You can also make a round trip back down the mountain to the resort from the top too, if you want to make a longer walk of it.
Pro Tip: Make a day of this with a boat road from Lucerne to Kehrsiten Bürgenstock, then take the funicular to the Burgenstock Resort. Enjoy the views from the balcony at the resort, then hike along to the bottom of the lift.
For another unforgettable day trip, head over to Mount Pilatus. You can reach the summit by taking the Pilatus Railway, the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, or by cable car and aerial gondola.
So, there are a number of options to do this trip – the best being the Golden Round Trip which includes a boat trip from downtown Lucerne. You can spend as long as you like at the top, or even partway down at Krienseregg where there is a rope part and other fun activities for kids.
Back at the top, take advantage of the multiple viewing platforms and trails to explore this stunning mountain that towers over Lucerne. Don’t forget to stop by the visitor center to learn more about the legend of dragons believed to inhabit Mount Pilatus. And just soak up the epic views of the Alps and Lake Lucerne below. It is a unique perspective of the town you now know like the back of your hand.
Another popular destination, Mount Rigi, is often referred to as the “Queen of the Mountains.” You can access the mountain by taking a scenic boat ride across Lake Lucerne to Vitznau before hopping on the Rigi Cogwheel Railway, which dates back to 1871.
Once at the top, you’ll have a variety of ways to enjoy your time there:
- Take in panoramic views from the top of the mountain (Rigi Kulm)
- Hike along well-marked trails catering to various skill levels
- Enjoy a traditional Swiss meal at Rigi Kaltbad
Pro Tip: There is also a cable car you can take from Weggis right up to Rigi Kaltbad where there is a designer spa with views of the lake and Alps! It’s a great place to overnight and enjoy the mountain air, stunning views and some spa treatments to die for!
Shopping and Dining
Lucerne is actually quite a large city and the shopping there is not much different from what you will find in the larger cities, just more compact.
When visiting Lucerne, you’ll love exploring the charming Old Town (Altstadt) for shopping and dining opportunities. Wander through the beautiful alleyways filled with a variety of boutique shops, department stores, and markets featuring fresh, regional products. You’ll find something for everyone, including:
- Clothing and accessories
- Handmade crafts and souvenirs
- Swiss chocolates and confectionery
- Art and design pieces
Souvenirs & Chocolate
If you are in the mood for souvenir shopping, the old town is also so compact you can almost find anything you need there.
Starting with souvenirs, you will find lots of boutiques with Swiss products as well as the usual souvenir shops (So I won’t bore you with details on those). However, some of the ones you might want to watch out for are the Swatch and Victorinox (Swiss Army Knives) shops for genuine Swiss products everyone knows and loves. Each has a store in the old town.
In terms of chocolate, which you all absolutely have to take back home, there are two places I would recommend you visit. Sure, you can pop into Manor or Coop and grab as much Lindt as you can carry, but the following two put you above the rest.
First, there is Läderach which makes absolutely “to die for” large pieces of chocolate you can break off even bigger blocks. You can choose which flavor, how much, and mix and match your own bag. They also have ready-made mixes if you are in a hurry. This idea is so popular now, all the other big manufacturers in Switzerland are copying it. They also have boxes of chocolates and other goodies, so pop in even if you don’t want a chunk or block.
Second, there is Max Chocolatier – they are a premium chocolate maker who handmakes their chocolates in a small factory in Lucerne. Their main store is on the edge of the old town which I found on my way back from the Glacier Garden. They also have a small store in the old town of Zurich, but that’s it! So, grab em while you can!
Events and Festivals
Lucerne Fasnacht (Carnival)
When you visit Lucerne in winter, make sure you experience the city’s vibrant carnival atmosphere, which usually takes place during February or March. At this famous local event called Luzern Fasnacht, you can witness colorful parades, stunning costumes, spirited marching bands, and whimsical festivities that combine tradition and modernity. As the streets become filled with laughter and music, feel free to join in on the fun, immerse yourself in Swiss culture, and make unforgettable memories.
The whole season is called Fasnacht and takes place all over the country (and other neighboring countries) at around the same time. But the best ones to see are in Basel (with Morgenstreich) and the one in Lucerne!
Here are some key events during the carnival:
- Fasnacht’s Eve: The carnival season is kicked off with an exuberant celebration where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the festivities.
- Carnival Parades: Featuring intricate costumes, parade floats, and music, this is truly a highlight you cannot miss.
Another major event in Lucerne is the internationally renowned Lucerne Festival, which consists of various music festivals held throughout the summer (mainly August – September). The festival attracts top musicians and orchestras from around the world to showcase their talent and provide mesmerizing performances.
Some notable parts of the Lucerne Festival are:
- Summer Festival: Lasting for four weeks between mid-August and mid-September, the Summer Festival focuses on a specific theme each year, with more than 100 events taking place all over the city.
- Lucerne Festival Orchestra: This prestigious group of musicians delights audiences at the Summer Festival, offering enchanting performances to captivate your senses.
Personally, I find festivals a great way to immerse yourself in the local culture and meet locals too. Sure, you can come and see every single attraction Lucerne has to offer but do you truly get to experience Switzerland that way?