Greentraveller's Guide to Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne just about has it all: among the maze of small streets, bridges, promenades and plazas are numerous historical towers, fountains, alfresco buildings, museums, churches, boutique shops, wonderful pavement cafes and quality restaurants. But what sets it apart from other modern European cities is its location: at the far east end of the beautiful Lake Lucerne - the gateway to the idyllic resorts of Weggis and Vitznau, the UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch reserve and impressive mountains. Lucerne is a dynamic, non-nonsense city, Swiss style. It's also within a day's train ride from London, so it makes a great destination for a rail holiday.
Here are a few of things I saw on my recent trip to Lucerne as part of our Grand Tour of Switzerland (by train + boat), plus a selection of the many tips that were sent to us via our twitter account (@greentraveller) and via greentraveller's facebook page. Thanks to Sibylle Gerardi of Lucerne Tourism (@I_love_Lucerne) and all those who sent in recommendations.
Where to eat and drink
1. Unter der Egg Markets
On Tuesday, Friday and Saturday this historic area, close to the lake, is home to a local fish market and on Tuesday and Saturday fruit and vegetable is also sold. Markets tend to start as early as 6am and are closed by 1pm. In high season the area also hosts a flea and craft market. See Luzern Tourism for more information.
2. Bleichi 23
This is one of the more upmarket vegetarian and organic restaurants in Lucerne. It serves lunch and dinner with a variety of dishes including dumpings, home-made quiches and pasta in an intimate boutique-style setting. They also have a bento-box menu, which is ideal for a healthy lunch stop. The restaurant is situated at Bleicherstrasse 23, for more information or bookings call 041-4108565
Where to stay
1. I stayed at Hotel Wilden Mann (right), on Bahnhofstrasse, about a 10-minute walk from the main train station. It's a pretty sophisticated 50-room, 4-star former townhouse hotel that dates back to the 16th Century. It's in the old part of town on the southern bank of the Reuss River where it flows out of the city. wilden-mann.ch
2. Hotel Seeburg
This traditional 4* hotel has recently installed sustinable heat exchange facilities and cools the hotel in summer with the water from Lake Lucerne. Their outdoor sunset bar is well worth a visit for a very relaxing drink overlooking the lake. Some rooms come with a lake view but make sure you request this on booking. Rooms start from approximately 250 Euros for double occupany in a lake view room.
3. Jugendherberge Lucerne
The hostels in Swiss towns are a great option for anyone slightly dismayed at the cost of accommodation. This hostel has rooms for between 2 and 8 people, including double bedrooms with en-suite facilities. A bed costs from 27 Euros, including all linen and a breakfast buffet. The hostel has plenty of facilities including bike hire. From the train station with bus no 18 to the ‘Jugendherberge’ stop or with bus no 19 to the 'Gopplismoosweg’ stop, then it's 5 minutes' walk to the youth hostel. Or by bus no 1 to the 'Schlossberg’ stop and 10 minutes' walk to the youth hostel.
4. Hotel Radisson Lucerne
This modern Radisson hotel has implemented various energy saving facilities and is conveniently located next to the central station and lake. Rooms cost approximately 250 Euros for two people per night.
What to do
1. Mount Rigi Excursion
Also known as ‘The Royal Tour’ to commemorate Queen Victoria’s visit in 1868, this is the original Swiss Mountain experience that includes pleasure boats, lakes, old fashioned trains and, of course, breathtaking mountain views.
The first part of the trip is a very relaxing boat ride from Lucerne (the boat departs from the pier that's opposite the main train station) to Vitznau from where you can still catch the world's first ever cog railway to Mt. Rigi Kulm, 1800m above sea level. The trip then involves a walk down to Rigi Kaltbad and a lunch stop at Rigis Berggenuss before getting on the cable car back to Weggis where you can board a boat back to Lucerne.
This trip is included in the price of a Swiss Rail Pass, or if you're on Inntravel's Grand Tour of Switzerland, then it's already included in the price of your holiday. If you're travelling independenly, prices start from £38 - see Swiss Travel Sytem's Swiss Classic Rail Journeys.
2. The Lucerne Climate Trail
This signposted walk not only has fantastic views of Lake Lucerne, the surrounding mountains and a spectacular gorge but also 26 information stations on climate change. The whole walk takes about five hours, with an option to leave after about two hours if needs be. The first two hours takes you through dramatic canyon scenery whilst the final three hours is through peaceful meadows and alpine landscape until you finally enter the valley at the foot of Mount Pilatus.
The trail is free and there are occasional guided walks. To get there catch bus number 10 from the bus terminus, "Upper Gütsch" in Luzern. For more information see the Mein Klimaweg website or ask the tourist office at the central station for directions to the trail.
3. The UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch: A playground for walking, hiking, biking, skiing and other outdoor activities, year-round. Guided tours are available plus a few unusual activities such as 'gold digging' or 'outdoor hydrotherapy': biosphaere.ch (Swiss German)
4. Lucerne Lido
This traditional lido (ie. it's on the edge of a lake) is about 5-10 minutes by boat from the main jetty in Lucerne (opposite the main train station), is the perfect spot to relax in the sun and cool off after a day in town. There's an open-air swimmers’ pool, a children’s paddling pool and a diving tower with up to 6.3-metre diving platforms. Other features include a sandy beach, float and grassed sunbathing areas with shade, a beach volleyball court, tabel tennis and other sporting activities. Facilities include changing cubicles, lockers, showers, toilets, a kiosk and a large restaurant. In June, July & August, the lido is open 9am-8pm: Lido Luzern.
Getting Around Lucerne
The LucerneCard provides you with unlimited use of public transport (buses and trains) within the city and costs 14.10 Euros per adult for 24 hours. The card also provides you with 50% off most of the cities museums. To purchase your card visit the central tourist office at Zentralstrasse 5.
Cycling is also an excellent way of getting around the city and exploring a little further afield. The comprehensive Velo Land website lists all the places you can hire road and mountain bikes in the Lucerne region, as well as providing routes. Alternatively there is a cycle hire shop based at the central station. For those that find cycling a bit too much like hard work, there are electric bikes for hire at Ertsfeld, see: energy-trail.ch .
Tourist maps are available in most hotels and at the train station. See Lucerne Tourism for more information.
The Lucerne tourist office has stacks of information online and on the end of the phone, it's open 08.30 AM - 7.30 PM (Monday - Friday) and 09.00 AM - 7.30 PM (Saturday & Sunday).
Travelling to Lucerne by train from London St Pancras International
Lucerne is a very simple and relaxing train ride from London (thanks to the excellent Swiss rail system and the frequent service between Zurich and Lucerne, which takes under an hour). For a sample itinerary, transfer and booking information see our Train from London to Zurich page. The total trip from London to Lucerne takes approximately 10 hours costs from £170 return. Once in Switzerland a Swiss Pass will give you unlimited travel on their excellent train, boat and bus network.
The rail network in Switzerland is world class: punctual, comfortable and efficient. And best of all, the Swiss Travel system has formulated a very handy multi-journey ticketing system known as ‘The Swiss Pass’, which allows you unlimited travel on consecutive days within its public transport network, including the use of trams, boats and buses in 41 cities and a 50% reduction on tickets for most mountain-top trains and cable cars. It also gives you free entry to over 400 museums throughout Switzerland. (On this trip, I made use of Inntravel's special pass that includes entry on the various train trips, such as the Mount Rigi railway.)
See also our Guide to Train Travel in Switzerland.