The city of Lucerne (Luzern in German) is a popular stop for most people visiting Switzerland. The city is well known for its stunning medieval architecture and its stunning location on the edge of Lake Lucerne amid snow capped mountains.
Many people touring Switzerland spend at least a few days in Lucerne. Two to three days is plenty of time to explore all the main Lucerne tourist attractions, make a day trip, as well as slowing down and soaking up the atmosphere.
If you are looking for the best things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland, then this guide is a great place to start.
In this Lucerne things to do guide, I cover all the most popular Lucerne attractions, as well as list some of the best day trips from Lucerne, tell you how to get to Lucerne from nearby cities and give you some suggestions for the best hotels in Lucerne.
Hopefully after reading this guide, you will have a much better idea of what to do in Lucerne, Switzerland. If, however, you’d like a ready-made plan for your visit, read our two days in Lucerne itinerary here.
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Best Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland
Below are some of the most popular attractions in Lucerne that I highly recommend you visit during your stay.
Lucerne Old Town
In terms of places to visit in Lucerne, most people start by spending a few hours strolling around the colourful Old Town (Altstadt in German). The Old Town Lucerne is just beautiful with its old buildings and bridges, narrow cobblestone alleyways and gorgeous medieval squares.
Make sure you allow some time to wander, admiring the beautiful painted facades and oriel windows of the medieval buildings, particularly those around Weinmarkt, an attractive square.
As well as being a great spot to start your Lucerne sightseeing, the Old Town is also a good place to come for a little bit of shopping as the area is filled with shops, boutiques and cafes and it is also where you will find some of the best restaurants in Lucerne.
You will find all the famous Swiss products here such as watches, army knives and chocolates as well as a range of other souvenirs.
Lucerne’s Old Town is also home to a number of department stores and internationally-known brands like H&M and Fossil, for example, and there’s a fruit and vegetable market held every Tuesday and Saturday.
One of the most popular things to see in Lucerne is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke). Built in 1333 this medieval wooden footbridge crosses the Reuss River linking the Old Town with the right bank.
A fire in 1993 all but destroyed the famous wooden bridge in Lucerne, and even though it was rebuilt, fire damage can still be seen on the remaining 17th century pictorial panels which are a feature under the eaves.
The 34-metre high tower with the octagon roof beside the bridge is called the Water Tower, named due to its position, although it doesn’t actually store water.
This tower was built around 1300 as part of the city’s fortifications and has been used for a range of purposes including an archive, treasury and even a prison.
Taking your photograph by the Chapel Bridge is certainly among the top things to do in Lucerne. It is beautiful year round – adorned with colourful blooms in the warmer months and dusted with snow in the winter.
As well as the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne, the Spreuer Bridge is another one of the places to see in Lucerne.
The Spreuer Bridge was finished in 1408 as part of the city’s fortification. Kaspar Meglinger added 67 paintings representing the “Dance of Death” between 1626 and 1635.
Unlike the Chapel Bridge, Lucerne’s Spreuer Bridge was spared from the 1993 fire, however its paintings are rather darker and more sombre, as you would expect of paintings representing death.
When it comes to what to see in Lucerne, do not miss the Jesuit Church. Situated on the southern bank of the River Reuss, you cannot help but notice the twin onion-domed towers of the Jesuit Church which dominate the skyline.
Built from 1666 to 1673 for the Jesuits, this church in Lucerne was the first large church in Switzerland to be built in the Baroque style.
While the exterior looks quite plain, the interior is a sight to behold. Richly decorated in white marble, the church features an outstanding painted ceiling and ornate faux marble side altars.
Be sure to add the Jesuit Church to your list of Lucerne places to visit.
Lucerne’s Reuss Weir is one of the only remaining needle dams in the world.
Built in 1859, the series of thin strips of wood, called needles, are used to control the flow and water level in the river and to help prevent flooding.
In 1998, the latest technology was used to convert the dam to a hydroelectric power plant which produces 4.3 million kWh per year – enough to power 1,500 households in Lucerne!
Thanks to the dam, the water level of Lake Lucerne can now be maintained at an optimum height year round, no matter the weather conditions.
You can see the dam from the Spreuer Bridge.
Dying Lion Monument
Another of the Lucerne top attractions is the dying Lion of Lucerne, one of the world’s most famous monuments.
The dying lion Lucerne monument was carved out of natural rock and is said to represent the heroic deaths of the Swiss mercenaries who were massacred while trying to protect Louis XVI at the Tuileries in France in 1792.
American author Mark Twain once described the Lion of Lucerne as the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world and to this day it still moves the thousands who visit each year.
Given the sheer size of the monument and the fact that it is carved out of rock, it’s no wonder a visit here is considered to be among the top 10 things to do in Lucerne.
Get here early to avoid the crowds.
Address: Lowenplatz 11
Commemorating the 87,000 French soldiers who fled to Switzerland during the winter of 1871, the Bourbaki Museum houses one of the world’s last surviving panoramas.
The huge circular mural is 112 metres long and 10 metres high and was painted by Edouard Castres. Visitors can view the panorama at leisure and enjoy the sound effects and commentary that help bring it to life.
The Bourbaki Museum is also home to a museum and art galleries, and a restaurant.
Open daily from 9am to 6pm.
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Address: Denkmalstrasse 4
The Glacier Garden, Lucerne, is a remarkably interesting natural attraction which was discovered in 1872.
The area was formed during the ice age, some 20,000 years ago and consists of polished glacier rock and a group of 32 potholes which were formed at the base of waterfalls of melting glacial ice.
Also at the Glacier Garden are fossils of shellfish and palm fronds which amazingly exist from more than 20 million years ago.
As well as the natural attractions at the Glacier Garden, there are a range of interactive exhibits explaining the impact of climate change, as well as a mirror maze and an observation tower (currently closed) where you have some great views across Lucerne and Mount Pilatus.
A visit to the Glacier Garden is certainly one of the more interesting Lucerne activities. It is located next to the Dying Lion Monument.
Swiss Transport Museum
Address: Lidostrasse 5
If you are visiting Lucerne with kids, one of the top things to do Lucerne, Switzerland attractions is definitely the Swiss Transport Museum. In fact even visitors without children will be absolutely fascinated by this brilliant museum dedicated to Switzerland’s transport history.
The Swiss Transport Museum is located just by the lake and is all about things that go! Here you will learn all about planes, trains and automobiles and loads more!
Static and interactive displays, rides and simulators, as well as an IMAX theatre and planetarium, make this Switzerland’s most popular museum. (A 50% discount on entry applies to Swiss Travel Pass holders and 20% discount for Tell Pass holders.)
The Swiss Transport Museum is also home to the Swiss Chocolate Adventure where you can learn about the history and manufacture of Swiss chocolate and even taste it!
Allow at least half a day here or even the entire day – there is so much to see here, and it is well worth it.
The Swiss Transport Museum is certainly one of the more fun Lucerne, Switzerland things to do and it’s open every day of the year..
The northern section of Lucerne’s medieval fortifications, which consist of the 850-metre long Musegg Wall and its nine towers, are well preserved. Today, four towers and the Wall are open to the public to view the exhibitions and museums within.
There are excellent views of the city and lake from the towers which are open from 1 April to 1 November each year.
Picasso & Rosengart Museums
Address: Pilatusstrasse 10
Another one of the interesting attractions in Lucerne, Switzerland is the Sammlung Rosengart (often referred to as the Rosengart Collection).
This museum showcases over 300 Classic Modernist and Impressionist works by 23 different artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Across three floors, you will find artwork of Klee, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne and Chagall and more.
Most of the artwork on display is the work of Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. In the basement, you will find 125 drawings and paintings by Klee, while the entire ground floor is dedicated to the work of Picasso from 1938 to 1969.
In addition to artwork, the museum also has a collection of around 200 photos of Picasso at work and play. Previously these images were displayed in another museum but are now part of the Rosengart Collection.
The museum offers a range of different guided tours suitable for adults, children, and families. During the tours, visitors will learn not just about the artworks on display but also hear some amusing stories about the artists who made them.
Of course a must do in Lucerne is to take a cruise on Lake Lucerne. With its sparkling blue water and surrounding snow-capped peaks, Lake Lucerne is the postcard-perfect Swiss lake.
Known as Vierwaldstattersee in German, which translates to ‘four forest sites’, the lake is surrounded by four cantons – Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne.
When it comes to choosing your cruise, there are a range of options to explore the 38 kilometre long lake. You can choose from five historic paddlewheel steamers, more than a dozen modern motorboats and a panoramic yacht – click here to check details and prices – all offering lake cruises.
Some cruises (like this one) offer delicious lunches or morning teas, while others are a more casual affair.
Tip: Many Lake Lucerne cruises are included with the Swiss Travel Pass
Address: Europaplatz 1
Just beside the Lucerne train station and on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the KKL (Culture and Convention Centre) is hard to miss. The modern glass building, designed by Parisian architect Jean Nouvel, features a cantilevered roof that overhangs the lake.
Opened in 1998, the KKL hosts the annual classical musical festival, the Lucerne Festival, thanks to its excellent acoustics. It’s concert halls, theatres and conference centres also host numerous other events.
The Kunstmuseum (Art Museum) covers the top floors of the KKL building and houses a collection of both 18th- and early 20th-century Swiss paintings.
Address: St. Leodegarstrasse
With distinctive twin towers, the Hofkirche (sometimes called the Church of St. Leodergar) was built during the 1630s, though its history dates back much further than that. A Benedictine monastery dating from the 8th century once stood on the site, followed by a medieval basilica but in the Roman style.
After this structure was struck by fire during the Thirty Years War that occurred in parts of Europe during the 17th century, it was replaced, with the newer building being completed in 1639.
Some parts of the original church were integrated into the 17th century design, including the two towers dating from 1525 and some medieval decorative features found inside. If you visit Lucerne and call into Hofkirche, look out for the sculpture telling the tale of the Agony in the Garden on the northern tower.
On the nave’s northern side, the Maria-End-Altar still remains, as this was salvaged when much of the church burnt down. It depicts the ailing Virgin Mary supported by the Apostles.
Only a handful of churches were built during the 1630s in this area to the north of the Alps, and Lucerne’s Hofkirche is one of them. Some of the late Renaissance style details dating from that time include the intricately carved choir stalls and pulpit, and the altar made from black marble.
Horkirche is often regarded as Switzerland’s premier example of a Renaissance church, and is thus quite rightly included on many lists of what to do in Lucerne, Switzerland.
During summer, you may catch an organ recital here. At any time of year, you can also see the final resting place of various members of prominent local families in the grounds.
Hofkirche is also worth a visit for its position. Atop a hill overlooking the historic Old Town in Lucerne, there are great views over the city from the site.
Richard Wagner Museum
Address: Richard Wagner-Weg 27
Exploring the museum dedicated to the German composer and conductor Richard Wagner is also one of the top things to do in Lucerne.
After being banished from his homeland by Ludwig II, Wagner settled in the Swiss city’s Tribschen district, and today the area is best known for the villa in which he resided with his wife and son during his exile.
The composer was forced to flee Germany due to his political interests and involvements, which included left wing concerns such as socialism and German nationalism. After this, he occupied the parkland home which today serves as the Richard Wagner museum for a number of years.
Both Götterdämmerung and Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg were composed while Wagner lived in Tribschen, and the museum contains original musical scores as well as correspondence, photographs, paintings and furniture dating from his residence.
Telling the story of Wagner’s time in Switzerland, the museum also houses the piano which was used to compose some of his most famous works.
Christmas and New Year Events in Lucerne
Visiting Lucerne during the Yuletide season is surely one of the best Lucerne experiences. You’ll definitely find a lot of fun things to do when you visit Lucerne at this time of year! Major winter events include:
Lucerne Christmas Markets – Lucerne is home to a number of different Christmas markets during Advent. The markets are a great place to buy gifts, sample traditional Christmas fare and enjoy the festive ambience.
Live on Ice – An ice rink is constructed at Europaplatz, right next to the KKL building. With light illuminations, food stalls and a festive ambience, this is the place to pull on a pair of skates and hit the ice. The ice rink is open from 21 November, 2020 to 3 January, 2021. Use of the ice rink is free and skate hire is available on-site.
New Year’s fireworks – A huge fireworks display takes place at 8.15pm (20:15) on January 1 over the bay of Lucerne. Gala cruises operate and a number of hotels offer special menus in honour of the event.
Lilu Light Festival – each night over 10 days in January, Lucerne’s buildings are spectacularly illuminated thanks to the Lilu Light Festival. Tourist sights, squares and alleys in the old and new town quarters and around the bay are illuminated thanks to talented artists from around the world. The Festival usually starts around 9 January and the illuminations take place each night from 6pm to 10pm.
Best Day Trips from Lucerne
As well as all the wonderful attractions to visit in Lucerne, there are some brilliant day trips and activities in Lucerne to be enjoyed from the city. Below I have listed some of the more popular things to do near Lucerne, some of which are included with the regional Tell Pass.
- Mount Rigi: Take a cruise across Lake Lucerne to Vitznau and then take the cogwheel railway to the top of the mountain for 360 degree views across the Swiss Alps. On your way down, stop and explore at the various stations. I also recommend you take the cable car down to Weggis and a cruise back to Lucerne. > Click here for tour options. Read our full guide to visiting Mt. Rigi here.
- Mount Titlis: Take a train to Engelberg, then the cable car to the top of the mountain. At the top, you will enjoy views across the Swiss Alps as well as the various attractions including the revolving cable car, Glacier Cave, Cliff Walk and snow sports such as sledding and snow tubing. > Click here for tour options.
- Mount Pilatus: Take a bus to Zentrum Pilatus and then the cable car up to Pilatus – the ride up is an experience in itself. There is a range of stations to stop on the way up, each with a range of different attractions including an adventure playground, rope activity park, sledding, walking trails and restaurants. > Click here for tour options. Read our full guide on How to Visit Mt. Pilatus here.
- Jungfraujoch: While best to visit from Interlaken, if you are only going as far as Lucerne, it is still possible to visit Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe – as a day trip from Lucerne. From Interlaken, make your way to Kleine Scheidegg and take the cogwheel to the top – this alone is well worth the trip. Depending on the time of year, attractions here include the Snow Fun Park, Ice Palace, and the Sphinx Observation Terrace. > Click here for tour options.
Other days trips from Lucerne that you can consider include Mount Burgenstock – > click here for details.
Not sure whether to visit Mt. Titlis, Mt. Pilatus or Mt. Rigi? This article will help you to choose.
Where is Lucerne
Situated on Lake Lucerne and surrounded by a mountainous landscape, the city of Lucerne is in central Switzerland, making it easily accessible from all parts of the country and beyond.
How to get to Lucerne
Lucerne is situated in central Switzerland with excellent road and rail connections throughout Switzerland and beyond.
Given the central location of the city of Lucerne, it is relatively simple to reach the city from most areas of Switzerland.
Below is a brief overview of travel times from some of the popular routes to Lucerne:
- From Zurich to Lucerne: 50 minutes by train (1/2 hourly services), 55 minutes by bus, 1 hour by car.
- From Basel to Lucerne: 1.25 hours by train, 2 hours by bus or 1 hour by car.
- From Interlaken to Lucerne: 2 hours by train, 1.25 hours by bus or 1 hour by car.
- From Geneva to Lucerne: 3 hours by train, almost 6 hours by bus or 3.75 hours by car.
- From Bern to Lucerne: 1 hour by train or car and 2.25 hours by bus.
- From Paris to Lucerne: 4.5 hours by train, 6.25 hours by car.
You can also join an organised day tour to Lucerne from Zurich – click here to check prices.
If you plan to drive to Lucerne, our driving in Switzerland guide will be helpful.
Where to stay in Lucerne
As well as over 60 hotels, ranging from 5-star to 2-star, Lucerne also has a large selection of apartments to choose from.
Below you’ll find a selection of highly rated properties.
Hotels in Lucerne
5* – Hotel Schweizerhof
The 5-star Hotel Schweizerhof is located in the Old Town right beside the lake. Its elegant rooms are all individually furnished and feature adjustable air conditioning and heating, a coffee and tea maker, a desk and satellite TV with many international channels. As well as restaurants and a bar, other hotel facilities include a wellness centre and fitness room.
4* – Hotel des Balances
With a picturesque location on the River Reuss, many of the rooms at Hotel des Balances offer views of the Chapel Bridge, the Jesuit Church and the Weinmarkt square. The rooms are comfortable and feature all modern conveniences, including free WiFi, and there’s an excellent restaurant, a bistro and bar on site.
3* – Hotel Anker
Housed in an historical building in the centre of Lucerne, Hotel Anker makes a convenience base. The small but comfortable rooms feature a flat-screen TV with cable channels, private bathroom with free toiletries, and free WiFi. Some rooms offer views of Mt. Pilatus. On-site there’s a restaurant and bar.
>> Read our comprehensive guide to 12 of the best hotels in Lucerne here.
Apartments in Lucerne
Just 200 metres from the Chapel Bridge and right in the heart of the Old Town, HITrental Chapel Bridge Apartments offer travellers a cosy home away from home. Featuring a kitchenette, equipped with a toaster and refrigerator, linen and towels and free WiFi, the property offers both 1- and 2-bedroom apartments as well as studio apartments. A shared laundry is available for guest use.
Offering both studio and 1-bedroom apartments, this property is located in the Old Town and close to all main attractions. Rooms feature a fully-equipped kitchenette, flatscreen TV and free WiFi. A communal laundry is available for guest use.
Whether you come to experience the medieval charm of Lucerne’s Old Town and the Chapel Bridge, to enjoy one of the many mountain excursions, or to admire the picturesque surrounds of the city, you won’t be disappointed.
As you can see, there are enough things to do in Luzern to keep you busy for a week but you’ll have time to explore the main attractions even if you can only spend a day or two.
However long you spend in Lucerne, I’m sure you’ll fall in love with it.
To read our full guide to Lucerne > click here.
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