Lucerne is one of those must-see towns in Switzerland. The train from Zürich takes less than an hour and the region boasts easy access to several world-class mountain excursions. It’s so easy to fill two days in Lucerne that you’ll want to come back time and time again.
The world-famous Kapellbrücke and Water Tower, Lucerne, Switzerland
Not only can you ride the train to Lucerne with your Swiss Travel Pass (STP), but you can also gain access to two of the mountain excursions, the Stanserhorn and Mt. Rigi, for free as part of your pass. Even the popular Pilatus is half-price with the pass, and you get even more benefits like local trams and entrance to the extensive Swiss Transportation Museum. Boats on shimmering Lake Lucerne are included, so there’s no need to book an expensive dinner cruise - just ride any of the evening boats with your STP and enjoy a meal on board while watching the rough-hewn Alps slip into the mirror of the lake.
Here are some activities to consider when you have a couple of days in Lucerne.
As with any visit to a new place, it’s always worth it to get on your feet and simply walk the city. Beautiful Lucerne is graced with a particularly fetching Altstadt, where brightly colored frescoes adorn the buildings, telling stories of the town’s past while ornate fountains gurgle at every turn. Stroll the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) with its water tower; wander the Musegg Wall and its nine towers; and visit the “Lion of Lucerne” monument, which Mark Twain called “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world” and which memorializes the 1,000 Swiss Guardsmen who lost their lives defending the life of King Louis XVI of France against revolutionaries in 1792. Lucerne’s Tourism Office offers a variety of individual, group, and themed tours.
This sky-piercing mountain is reached via either a steep funicular or the “Dragon Ride” gondola, which is named for the mythical dragon that supposedly lives on top of Pilatus. I suggest taking the gondola up and the funicular down. Getting to and from the base of the funicular at Alpnachstad or the cable car at Kriens is easy on public transportation. Once up on top, hike to spectacular vista points and have a meal at one of the restaurants, which range from traditional Swiss fare to a casual grill. Be aware of the last transport times. Most days, the last gondola down the mountain is at 4:30 p.m. and the last funicular is at 6:04 p.m.
For a real treat, on select Saturdays during the summer, you can book the Pilatus zNacht, which covers tickets and dinner, plus a special extended stay that allows you to watch the sunset and the lights of Lucerne flicker on. That can also be achieved any night by staying at the Hotel Pilatus Kulm, which also rewards the early riser with a striking sunrise. Believe me, it’s well worth it.
Another mountain excursion very close to Lucerne is the majestic Stanserhorn. Take the S4 train 20 minutes to the charming town of Stans and walk a few minutes to the funicular station. Board this unique, historic cable train for a ride through broad, flower-studded meadows at the foot of the mountain and up the steepening slopes.
Disembark the funicular onto the CabriO cableway, the only open-topped cable car in the world, for the rest of the journey, with breathtaking, breezy views of the Lake Lucerne region (Don’t worry, there’s an option to ride in an enclosed cabin). On top, take a hike, have a Swiss meal in the revolving restaurant, and meet the adorable, local marmot colony. On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights in the nicer months, the schedule is extended to allow travelers to have an evening meal and to stay as late as 11:00 p.m. Other offers include a candlelight dinner and breakfast, and if you’re looking for some unique outdoor experiences, why not try tandem hang-gliding or yoga? It’s all more exciting on top of the Stanserhorn.
Another of the excellent mountain excursions available close to Lucerne is Mt. Rigi, “Queen of the Mountains.” This is a fantastic day or overnight trip that begins by boarding a boat at the Schifflände (ship landing) across from the main train station in Lucerne. Once again, you have the choice of taking either a gondola at Weggis or a funicular at Vitznau, both of which offer fun, view-filled rides.
On top, take a hike or a tandem paragliding trip (this is where I took a mind-blowing tandem paragliding trip at the end of Real Rail Adventures: Swiss Winter Magic) and have a meal at any of the great restaurants. While there are lots of mountain inns and campsites available, treat yourself to a stay at the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad with its luxurious spa and various indoor and outdoor pools, the latter of which sports magnificent views of Lake Lucerne and the region below. Mix up your luxury with a rustic picnic: Just a couple of hundred meters from the hotel is a small park where you can take a lunch of local sausages to grill over a fire. Wood is provided and the views are just as spectacular from the park as from the gondola which will pass over your head as you eat. If you prefer dining in that gondola, reserve a seat in the Restaurant in the Sky, which takes place on a back-and-forth gondola ride between Weggis and the top of Mt. Rigi on select evenings during warmer months.
If you’re a foodie with a penchant for local, gourmet, heirloom fare, you won’t want to miss the Culinarium Alpinum, which we visit in the Lucerne episode of Real Road Adventures. Once a Capuchin monastery, it now serves as a research center for the culinary heritage of the Alps. Here you’ll find an excellent restaurant, a small market filled with Alpine culinary delights, and cooking courses. You can even stay in one of the tastefully renovated monk’s cells on the property. Its location in Stans makes it a great place to visit if you’re headed to the Stanserhorn, as it’s a mere 7-minute walk from the train station.
There are so many fascinating stories of Swiss innovation in transportation that they could likely fill several museums, and this place actually feels like several museums in one. From drilling and blasting tunnels through the Alps for early trains to the establishment of the yellow Postbuses to Swiss aviation history, there’s something for everyone. On top of that, there’s a cinema, a “Swiss Chocolate Adventure” visitor experience, Switzerland's largest planetarium, and more special exhibitions than you can shake a stick at. If you’ve got kids in tow, this will keep them busy for the better part of the day, but I’ve enjoyed this place several times for shorter trips because entrance is free with my STP. The easiest way to get to the museum is to pick up one of the boats at the Schifflände. Just make sure the Swiss Museum of Transport is the first stop.
Where to Stay
Continental Park, Luzern Hotel Flora, and Renaissance Luzern Hotel are all excellent places to stay and are close to the train and boat stations, making for easy access to day trips. Whenever our crew is there to film the shows, we stay at the stylish Radisson Blu Hotel.
Other activities to consider:
There’s no way to fit everything Lucerne has to offer into a couple of days, but that will just whet your appetite to come back for more. Take my word for it: This is a place that you’ll remember long after you’ve arrived home and the jet lag has worn off.
Have you spent time in Lucerne? What did you like the most? Let us know in the comments below and subscribe so you don’t miss a thing!