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Set on a crystal-clear lake and backed by snow-capped mountains, Lucerne is a delightful city break fuelled by cheese and chocolate. Get the most out of this lakeside gem with our guide to the best things to do in Lucerne.
Lucerne is a charming city in central Switzerland framed by crystal-clear lakes and alpine landscapes. Graced with medieval architecture and cobbled squares, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland.
With over 800 years of history, Lucerne has an enchanting old town of medieval architecture adorned with pastel frescoes.
A picture-perfect backdrop sets the scene for a host of wonderful things to do in Lucerne.
Take a stroll along the Lake Lucerne promenade and amble past exquisite architecture. Explore historic monuments, then have an Aperol in a lively square. Savour local culinary delights and admire Lucerne’s progressive art scene.
Here are all our favourite things to do in Lucerne, the jewel of central Switzerland.
Updates – We do our best to keep the information in this guide up to date, if you notice anything has changed, please leave a comment below. // Bookings – Booking your trip via the links in this guide will earn us a small commission, at no extra cost to you. Thanks for your support – Paul & Mark.
1 – OLD TOWN
Lucerne’s Old Town is a fairy-tale setting of medieval squares, historic buildings, and narrow streets. The small heart of the city is car-free and perfect to explore on foot.
While you will spend much longer soaking up the atmosphere on your Lucern visit, you only need 1-2 hours to stroll through most of the Old Town.
Here are some of the highlights of the old town:
Kornmarkt // Kornmarkt was the grain market from 1356 to the late 19th century. The square contains the city’s most beautiful building, the town hall (Rathaus). A 14th-century clock tower adorns the Italian Renaissance-style building with a typical Swiss roof.
Hirschenplatz // Another beautiful square, ornate frescoes adorn the buildings in Hirschenplatz. Many are saints immortalized to protect the buildings, while others are advertising for the businesses. Keep an eye out for the prancing cherubs holding rings on the jewellery business.
Weinmarkt // The Wienmarkt was the fish market until the middle of the 16th century. The Weinmarkt fountain from 1481 features an octagonal basin and a limestone sculpture.
Mühlenplatz // Mühlenplatz is the largest of Lucerne’s squares. It’s a great place for dinner and drinks in a local setting a short distance from the very touristy riverside area.
2 – CHAPEL BRIDGE & WATER TOWER
The Chapel Bridge, also known as Kapellbrücke, is one of the most famous landmarks in Lucerne. It’s a covered wooden footbridge that diagonally spans the Reuss River. Built in the 14th century, the Chapel Bridge is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe.
Paintings by local painter Hans Heinrich Wägmann, depicting the history of the city, adorn the inside of Kapellbrücke. A fire in 1993 destroyed some of the paintings and much of the bridge. The rebuild restored all the charm to Chapel Bridge.
The Water Tower was erected in the late 13th century, almost 100 years before the bridge. Lucerne’s ruling class used the four floors inside the building as a treasury and a prison. The 30-metre octagonal building is one of the most photographed landmarks in Lucerne.
Tips for visiting – The Water Tower is not open to the public, but it’s free to stroll across the bridge any time of day. It’s particularly stunning at sunset when the colourful buildings in the background glow a golden hue.
3 – MUSEGG WALL
The Musegg Wall is an 870-metre medieval wall with 9 towers that surround the old town of Lucerne. The walls were built in the 14th century to protect the city from invaders. They are considered some of the best-preserved defensive walls in Switzerland.
Strolling on the wall and enjoying panoramic views of the city nestled under the surrounding mountains is a unique thing to do in Lucerne.
Several of the towers are open to the public between April and November from 8 am to 7 pm:
- The Männli Tower takes its name from the iron figure of the Männli (little man) crowning the top.
- The Heu Tower stored hay and gunpowder until 1701 when a lightning strike caused an explosion that ripped the tower apart.
- The Zyt Tower has a clock face large enough for fishermen to read it from the lake.
- The Schirmer Tower marked the divide between the entity of Lucerne and the countryside.
The remaining towers, Nölli, Luegisland, Pulver, Allenwinden Dächli are visible from various points throughout the city.
4 – SWISS MUSEUM OF TRANSPORT
The Swiss Museum of Transport is the most-visited museum in Switzerland and a great thing to do in Lucerne in winter.
The massive collection includes historic cars, planes, simulators, interactive media, and learning experiences.
Day passes to the Transport Museum include access to the Swiss Chocolate Adventure. Learn about the chocolate-making process and watch the experts prepare individual goodies for you to try.
Another great attraction at the Transport Museum is the IMAX screen – the largest in Switzerland. Additionally, Media World is a virtual reality experience featuring adrenaline sports.
The museum is the perfect family-friendly thing to do in Lucerne.
5 – LION MONUMENT
The Lion Monument, or Löwendenkmal, commemorates the Swiss Guards killed during the French Revolution.
The sculpture shows a lion dying with a spear in its side, carved into a cliff made of sandstone. The lion is covering a shield that has the fleur-de-lis symbol on it, which stands for the French monarchy.
Beside him is another shield bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland.
An inscription under the sculpture tells how many soldiers died (760) and lived (350).
The monument is not without controversy. Many people oppose it because it represents the loss of Swiss lives in support of a foreign power.
Nonetheless, set in a small English Garden with a tranquil pond outside the old town, it’s a wonderful free thing to do in Lucerne.
6 – JESUIT CHURCH ST FRANCIS CAVIER
The Baroque Jesuitenkirche occupies a striking position on the banks of the River Reuss.
The Jesuit order were active in the Catholic fight against Protestantism in Switzerland. Good favour got them invited to Lucerne in 1573 to establish a college. The mayor funded the enterprise from his private wealth.
Construction of the church aligned to the college commenced in 1667 but it remained unfinished at its consecration in 1677.
The building was modelled on the Church of the Gesù in Rome and the Baroque style was one of the first of its kind in Switzerland.
Inside, the church is beautiful. Decorated with golden rococo stucco, sculptures, and paintings, the space is a pristine dazzling white.
The highlights are the high altar, the organ, and the painted ceiling depicting scenes from St Francis Xavier, the Patron Saint of Lucerne.
Tip for visiting – The Jesuit Church is one of the best free things to do in Lucerne. If services are underway you’ll need to stay in the entrance hall, so try to time your visit to avoid those times.
DETAILS | JESUIT CHURCH
Hours – 6:30 am to 6: 30 pm (Monday & Thursday the church opens at 9:30 am | Church Services – Sunday 7 am, 10 am, 3 pm, 5 pm / Monday & Thursday 7 am / Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday & Saturday 7 am | cost – Free
7 – RICHARD WAGNER MUSEUM
The Richard Wagner Museum commemorates the life and work of the famous composer. He spent several years living in the beautiful villa which now houses the museum.
Overlooking Lake Lucerne, the museum features exhibits about Wagner’s life and music.
There are handwritten musical scores, letters, historical photographs, paintings, and memorabilia. The score to Siegfried Idyl is the most important exhibit in the museum.
Guided Tours – Tours with a Wagner expert start at 3 pm daily and include the villa and the grounds. It finishes with a short recital on Wagner’s grand piano.
Lucerne Festival Piano Recitals – As part of the Lucerne Festival, short concerts at held at the Richard Wagner Museum. Hear the Erard Grand Piano which the composer used to write his most famous works.
DETAILS | RICHARD WAGNER MUSEUM
Hours – 11 am to 5 pm (Tuesday to Sunday) | cost – CFH 20 | Audioguide – The audioguide is free but you need to bring your own headphones with you | website – richard-wagner-museum.ch
8 – LAKE LUCERNE
Stretching in many directions and nestled in 4 valleys, Lake Lucerne is a stunning body of water and the centrepiece of Lucerne.
Surrounded by tall mountains, the lake is one of the most beautiful in Switzerland and the perfect place for outdoor activities.
LAKE LUCERNE PROMENADE
The lakeside promenade is a popular meeting point in Lucerne. In the old town, grand buildings and some of Lucerne’s most notable landmarks line the waterfront.
Outside the old town, a pedestrian promenade lined with trees and lovely gardens houses many of the city’s festivals. We visited during Luzern Live and the lakefront was buzzing with music and pop-up street food.
Lucerne has an excellent festival scene, see what’s on for your visit on the official website: www.lucernefestival.ch
LAKE LUCERNE BOAT RIDE
One of the unmissable experiences in Lucerne is taking a boat ride on the lake, soaking up the stunning views. The Panoramic cruises last 1 hour and include an audio guide via a smartphone app.
A great way to get an expansive view of Lake Lucerne is from the top of Mount Pilatus, a spikey mountain overlooking the city.
The Lucerne to Mount Pilatus Golden Round Trip gets you to the summit using the cable car, the steepest cogwheel train in the world and finishes with a cruise on the Lake. It’s one of the best day trips from Lucerne.
The magnificent massif of Mount Rigi is another excellent way to take in the scenery of Lake Lucerne. In fact, Rigi is unique in that it’s surrounded by 3 bodies of water: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and Lake Lauerz. Take the Classic Rigi Round Trip which includes a boat trip, the rack railway and cable car.
9 – ROSENGART COLLECTION
The Rosengart Collection is a private collection of modern art, housed in a former bank building in the centre of Lucerne.
The collection features over 300 works by artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, and Joan Miró. It’s considered one of the most important collections of modern art in Switzerland.
There are several different tours to help you get the most out of the gallery. Take a guided tour of the masterpieces. Learn about the progression of styles on a themed Curator tour. For a quicker immersion, there’s a 30-minute lunchtime tour.
It’s an excellent private collection and a great Lucerne activity if you have one day.
DETAILS | ROSENGART COLLECTION
Hours – 10 am to 6 pm (April to October) / 11 am to 5 pm (November to March) | cost – CFH 20 (adults) / CHF 18 Seniors / CHF 10 (Students) | website – rosengart.ch
10 – SEEBAD LUZERN
One of our favourite unique things to do in Lucerne is to swim at Seebad Luzern. SEEBAD Lucerne is a stunning lakeside swimming complex located outside the old town.
The floating wooden structure dates back to 1884. The complex is a vintage swimming experience that originally had separate bathing areas for men and women. Today it includes swimming pools, diving boards, water slides, and sunbathing areas.
Take a refreshing dip in the crystal-clear waters of Lake Lucerne under the breathtaking views of the alpine landscape.
The open-air bar and bistro serve simple Swiss, Mediterranean, and Asian Food. The upper sun deck is the perfect place to unwind.
DETAILS | SEEBAD LUCERNE
hours – 10am to 11pm (Monday to Friday) / 9 am to 11 pm (Saturday) / 9 am to 10 pm (Sunday) | swimming – until 7 pm (May & September) / until 8 pm (June to August) | cost – CHF 7 | website – seebadluzern.ch
11 – SPREUER BRIDGE (SPREUERBRÜCKE)
The Spreuer Bridge is another old wooden bridge in Lucerne. It’s down the river from the Chapel Bridge and it too has survived for centuries.
Occupying a less dominant position on the river, Spreuerbrücke is often less busy, particularly late in the afternoon.
Painted triangular panels inside the bridge form a “Dance of Death.” This is an artistic style from the Middle Ages depicting death represented by people from all walks of life.
The original 67 paintings date from the early 17th century, today 56 survive. Each of the paintings include the coat of arms of the donor and other notable members of Lucerne society.
The bridge is a great location to photograph other landmarks in Lucerne. Capture the Musegg Wall, the Jesuit Church, and the Chapel Bridge from this prime location.
There is no fee to walk across the Spreuer Bridge and it’s open all the time.
12 – CHURCH OF ST LEODEGAR (HOFKIRCHE)
There has been a church on the site of Hofkirche since around the 8th century when there was an abbey to Saint Maurice.
The current building was constructed between 1634 and 1639. It incorporates two Romanesque towers; all that remained from a fire that destroyed the previous church.
It’s now considered one of the most important Renaissance churches in Switzerland. Yet, the simple and plain interior feels at odds with the commanding exterior.
A carved pulpit and choirstalls in rich wood add warmth. The ostentatious black marble and gold altar stand out against the muted tones of the walls.
You don’t need long at St Leodegar’s but it’s a nice part of Lucerne overlooking the old town. It’s also on the way to the Lion Monument, a few minutes’ walk away.
WHAT TO EAT IN LUCERNE?
One of the most popular dishes in Lucerne is the Luzerner Chügelipastete, a puff pastry filled with veal and mushrooms in a creamy sauce.
On the sweet side of things, Zuger Kirschtorte is a cherry liqueur-infused cake. Our pick of the deserts was Luzerner Kugel, a chocolate truffle filled with a hazelnut cream center.
When in Lucerne, you need to try the famous Swiss cheese fondue, which is served with bread cubes for dipping.
The Luzerner Lebkuchen is a gingerbread-like cake that is a specialty of the region.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
WHAT ARE SOME POPULAR DAY TRIPS FROM LUCERNE THAT CAN BE TAKEN BY TRAIN?
There are several great day trips from Lucerne by train. Mount Pilatus is the most popular and you can reach it by taking a train to Alpnachstad and then boarding a cogwheel railway to the summit.
The charming town of Engelberg, home to the famous Benedictine monastery, is another great day trip from Lucerne.
WHAT ARE SOME RECOMMENDED HOTELS TO STAY AT IN LUCERNE?
In Lucerne, you can find many types of places to stay that fit different budgets and tastes. Some popular hotels include the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern, the Palace Luzern, and the Art Deco Hotel Montana.
WHAT ARE SOME POPULAR ATTRACTIONS TO VISIT IN OLD TOWN LUCERNE?
Old Town Lucerne is a charming and picturesque area with several popular attractions. Some of the must-visit places in the Old Town include the Chapel Bridge, the Water Tower, the Jesuit Church, and the Lion Monument.
WHAT ARE SOME THINGS TO DO IN LUCERNE THAT ARE COVERED BY THE SWISS PASS?
The Swiss Pass offers unlimited travel on trains, buses, and boats throughout Switzerland. In Lucerne, you can use the Swiss Pass for the boat ride on Lake Lucerne, the Swiss Museum of Transport, and the Golden Pass Line.
WHAT IS LUCERNE SWITZERLAND KNOWN FOR BESIDES ITS BEAUTIFUL LAKE?
Lucerne is famous for its beautiful nature, a lovely old town, and a rich history. It also hosts music festivals like the Lucerne Festival and the Blue Balls Festival, which features modern music.
Lucerne also has world-class museums. Some of these include the Swiss Museum of Transport and the Richard Wagner Museum.
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