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Nestled next to the gorgeous Lake Lucerne is one of Switzerland’s most popular tourist destinations for both locals and foreigners: Lucerne (Luzern). This small, waterside village epitomizes everything that travelers love about Switzerland: clean city streets, gorgeous natural views, fresh air, friendly faces and good food. Yes, Lucerne has it all and more and is the perfect base for your Switzerland itinerary.
The city has been a visitor hot spot for hundreds of years; even Mark Twain wrote about his visits to the city (although with a slightly negative point of view): “The commerce of Lucerne consists mainly in gimcrackery of the souvenir sort; the shops are packed with Alpine crystals, photographs of scenery, and wooden and ivory carvings. I will not conceal the fact that miniature figures of the Lion of Lucerne are to be had in them. Millions of them. “ (Mark Twain, A Tramp Abroad, 1870).
While it is true that Lucerne has more than its fair share of tourist shops selling the latest watches, Swiss army knives, and cow bells, there is plenty to see and do apart from pushing through the shopping crowds. Here’s just a sampling of what’s on offer.
Start High on Mount Pilatus
Mount Pilatus which towers above Lucerne, offers the traveler easy access to the Swiss mountains without bringing backpacks, mountain boots, and heavy duty equipment. The best way to experience Pilatus is to do the “golden round trip” – head uphill via the lengthy gondola trip and then take the world’s steepest cog railway back down the other side. You’ll need to take a bus to/from town in either direction but it’s quite easy and the Swiss transport drivers are all friendly and helpful.
At the top you’ll find a hotel and a number of short walking and longer hiking trails that allow you to get some fresh air and see some great views. Don’t forget warm clothes and decent footwear – even in the height of summer there may be snow and it is always very windy and chilly. This mountain is also home to the Swiss Army – you’ll find many cordoned off sections and “fake” rock slides (obviously part of various military installations.) It is possible to stay in the hotel, but advance reservations are required.
Back At Sea Level
Back in town, the most iconic Lucerne site (and rumoured to be the most photographed monument in the whole country) is the Chapel Bridge. It is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe, built in the 14th century. Unfortunately much of it was destroyed in a heart-breaking fire in 1993 but it has been quickly and carefully restored to its former glory. Walking along the bridge, look up and underneath the roof you’ll find paintings along the way describing life in Switzerland in the 12th century. Some are quite humorous and read like comics.
Beyond the bridge, keep walking along the water’s edge away from the lake and you’ll reach the old city walls. Climb the stairs and walk along for a new perspective on the city – many tourists don’t even know about this, so it’s a peaceful walking route on the city’s edge.
Another great walk takes you uphill from the city centre, to see the Lion Monument. This massive sculpture has an unreal life-likeness; it was carved into the stone wall in 1820 as a memorial to the Swiss soldiers who died in their attempt to save Marie Antoinette in 1792.
- Lucerne Art Museum (Kunst Museum Luzern)
- Picasso Museum (which some say is one of the best collections of Picassos as well as photographs of Picasso himself and his family)
- The Rosengart Collection, where you’ll find the works of Cezanne, Miro, more Picasso and other great artists
- Taking a bus to the out-skirts of town, one will discover the Swiss Transport Museum, which covers nearly all modes of transport – planes, trains, automobiles, motorcycles, and space. Children and adults will love the model railroad!
The first “Luzerner Fest” (Old Town Festival) takes place in the heart of Lucerne at the end of June. Music is played on all the squares of the Old Town, with various stands providing food and refreshments. Proceeds from this event are used to support charitable institutions.
The 17th international Lucerne Blue Balls Festival presents a cornucopia of music styles on the shores of Lake Lucerne. Over 9 days, more than 100,000 people will attend this one-of-a-kind festival in the heart of Switzerland.
If You Go
Lucerne can get quite busy in high season so be sure to book your accommodations ahead of time. And don’t miss trying some Swiss food while you’re here; such as fondue (a classic) or raclette, a cheese and potato dish.
Written by Andy Hayes for EuropeUpClose.com