“Lucerne – You can’t imagine that it is real because it looks like a movie lot.” ~ Brad Thor.
Sometimes the overlooked little sister to popular Zurich, pretty Geneva and capital Bern, I believe every first-time visitor to Switzerland should create a Lucerne itinerary. Having visited this underrated gem during the winter, spring and summer months, I feel she has so much more to offer than her famous siblings – here’s why!
Situated in the shadow of Mt Pilatus, Lucerne (German: Luzern) is packed with medieval history, breathtaking natural beauty, an abundance of activities and even tales of mythical dragons. Her central location in the heart of Switzerland makes the perfect base to undertake day trips to other destinations, too.
To top it off, all this is wrapped with an intriguing luxe charm that will have you coming back for more. I mean, even the river is dotted with elegant swans drifting by… Could this city be any more beautiful?
Take it from me, one day in Lucerne just isn’t enough. Stay longer, skip the tourist crowds and enjoy the glistening River Reuss under moonlight. If you’re interested in learning more about Lucerne attractions and the history behind them from someone whose soul always yearns for this stunning city, read on for more!
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NOTE: This Lucerne itinerary forms part of my larger 1 week in Switzerland itinerary. For more ideas for visiting Switzerland in a relaxed, sustainable way be sure to take a look once you’re done here.
Is Lucerne worth visiting? Why create a 2 day Lucerne itinerary
The nutshell answer to this question: You’d be crazy not to!
The lengthy answer: Yes, Lucerne is absolutely worth visiting, especially if you’re a huge lover of history, natural scenery and outdoor activities. And not just during the warmer months, you’re about to find out why Switzerland in winter is a gem for non-skiers, too!
Despite what others may say, Switzerland is beautiful to visit at any time of year and Lucerne is no exception. Allocating at least two days allows you to take your time and explore at your own pace, as well as have enough time for lengthy experiences without feeling rushed.
Lucerne in winter and early spring means fewer crowds as most visitors are away in the ski fields, while summer means making the most of the extra daylight and the warmer weather with fun outdoor experiences. I’ll get more into these further down the page.
Where to stay in Lucerne
As mentioned earlier, I’ve stayed in Lucerne 3 times now during different seasons, and can recommend each of the hotels I’ve stayed in for their location, proximity to restaurants, transport and scenic views.
Fancy staying on a mountain summit? Or prefer to sleep in a hotel beside the Reuss River? You can do either!
- Hotel Pilatus Kulm: During my summer trip to Lucerne, I felt so lucky to have woken up to the sounds of distant cowbells and fresh mountain air on Mt Pilatus’ summit at 2,132 metres above sea level – yes, really!
- Hotel des Balances: Prefer to stay centrally in the Old Town along the Reuss River? You can’t go wrong with the absolutely stunning Hotel Des Balances . Its façade is decorated with beautifully preserved medieval paintings you’ll also find scattered throughout the area. When the weather was clear, my river view room had an incredible 180-degree view of the riverside buildings and Mt Pilatus.
- Ibis Styles Luzern: For a more budget option, Ibis Styles is in the perfect spot. Just a few steps to the bus stop, a 10mins walk to the Old Town and views over Luzern rooftops. My room also had a balcony, which was so nice!
How to get to Lucerne
Due to Lucerne’s location in central Switzerland, it is very well connected to other major cities. When arriving in Switzerland by air, it’s likely you’d fly into Geneva or Zurich airports and make your way to Lucerne from there.
- From Bern: 1 hour from Bern Hauptbahnhof on SBB Rail
- From Zurich: 45 mins from Zurich Hauptbahnhof on SBB Rail
- From Geneva: 3 hours from Genève Gare via Lausanne on SBB Rail.
Switzerland has the unfortunate reputation of being rather expensive. No need to worry as I explain in my full week in Switzerland itinerary, you can receive 50% off rail journeys with the Swiss Half Fare Card and discounted journeys and museum entries with the Swiss Travel Pass. Take a look and see if it will suit your needs.
TIP: Overnight guests in Lucerne are entitled to free use of local buses and trains within Zone 10 with Visitor Card Lucerne. It’s free! Your hotel will print out this card with a QR code, simply present it on transport to travel for free. This also includes the bus to from Lucerne to Kreins for Mt Pilatus.
Lucerne itinerary: Amazing things to do
DAY 1 – Discover the Old Town & Surrounds
Day one of this Lucerne itinerary will take us on a journey around the Old Town and along the Ruess River. For a compact area, there sure is plenty to see and do!
Take your time to explore Altstadt (Old Town)
If you love admiring paintings from centuries past and ornate cast-iron motifs, you are going to adore Lucerne’s Altstadt (Old Town). I actually completely missed the paintings during my first Lucerne trip, so I made sure they were a top priority the second time.
Shopping can be considered more on the expensive side in Switzerland, but Lucerne takes the definition of “window shopping” to a new level with its stunning shopfronts! Cobbled streets lined with these fairytale-esque buildings feel like stepping into a fantasy world, almost too perfect to be real.
I couldn’t help but feel like I’d been teleported back to the medieval era on seeing the colourful characters featuring on the buildings’ façades – knights in armour, court jesters, farm animals, milk maids and more.
TIP: You can find most of the decorated buildings in and around Hirschenplatz, Sternenplatz, Weinmarkt, Kramgasse and Metzgerrainle. The cobbled roads of the entire Old Town are mainly pedestrian friendly, but be aware of the occasional car!
Learn the history behind Chapel Bridge
Its pointed octagonal brick tower an icon of the city, Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) is one of the must-see Lucerne attractions, although this water tower actually pre-dates the bridge.
Dating back to the 14th century and named after St Peter’s Chapel, this covered wooden footbridge is considered the oldest in Europe and was once part of the city’s old fortifications.
Kapellbrücke spans the width of the Reuss River and is a lengthy 204 metres. Walking the bridge’s length offers a unique perspective of Lucerne from above the river lapping at its foundations. In summer, vibrant flowers burst into colour along its length.
Unfortunately, much of the bridge was destroyed by a devastating fire in 1993, and in parts the wooden beams still bear blacked scars as a reminder. The bridge was rebuilt in 8 months and includes new protections to defend it from future fires.
TIP: When walking across the footbridge, don’t forget to look up into the roof’s interior. A number of triangular panels supporting the roof structure are adorned with beautiful paintings depicting events from the city’s history. Out of 157 paintings, only 30 managed to be salvaged and restored after the fire. They’re extra special!
TIP: Don’t miss Chapel Bridge at night, when it’s illuminated beautifully against the starry skies.
Admire the intricacies of Jesuit Church
If you’re a lover of Baroque architecture, you’ll be intrigued by Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church). With green onion-shaped domes perched upon twin towers at its entrance, it’s a memorable landmark of the city.
This 17th century Catholic church holds the title of first Baroque building in the country north of the Alps, and the dark contrast of wooden details against its white interior is exquisite. Cost: Free entry.
Find out what makes Church of St. Leodegar special
Like two needles pointed directly towards the sky, the spires of Hofkirche St. Leodegar (Church of St. Leodegar) are visible from many areas throughout the Old Town.
Built on an old Roman basilica, this Catholic church was originally built in the 17th century, although its history can be traced back as early as the 9th century.
TIP: In January, the church’s ceiling becomes awash with colourful light projections as part of the annual Lilu Light Festival (Licht Festival Luzern). Don’t miss the colourful light installations and illuminations throughout town!
Discover the meaning behind Lion Monument
With pain deeply etched onto his stone face, the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument) is one of the most memorable things to see in Lucerne. Overlooking a glassy pond framed by leafy trees, this wounded lion carved into a stone wall made it difficult for my soul not to feel moved by loss and sadness.
Mark Twain even proclaimed “The Lion of Lucerne (is) the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” But why is the lion there? It’s to commemorate the bravery of guards in a city some 600 kilometres away.
During King Louis XVI’s reign in 1792, 1,000 Swiss Guards were sent to defend the King against revolutionaries attempting to storm Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Managing the break through, the revolutionaries slaughtered the Swiss Guards and the King was subsequently arrested. This was a turning point in the French Revolution – just six weeks later, France abolished the monarchy and became a republic.
If the guards had managed to succeed in defending the King, it makes you wonder how history would have played out?
Find the Old Town Hall & Clock Tower
Built in the Italian Renaissance style, Lucerne’s Rathaus (old Town Hall) is located along the Reuss River. Although to me personally, the star of the show here is its beautifully preserved clock tower, which has been proudly standing over Kornmarkt at the building’s rear since 1606.
It’s maroon pointed roof, giant golden hands and bright blue clock face are easily recognisable throughout the town, making it an icon of Lucerne.
Admire the old towers along Museggmauer
In medieval times, Lucerne’s Old Town was surrounded by immense fortification walls. With 9 remaining towers standing today, Museggmauer (Musegg Wall) is an impressive reminder of the city’s past. From April until November, it’s possible to go inside some of them.
With their foundations dating back until the 13th century, the walls are also a conservation project as some endangered bird species make their nests in the crevices. And at over 800 metres in length, the walls are some of the oldest and best preserved in Switzerland.
Perhaps the most interesting of towers to me was the Zytturm, with two painted giants holding a working clock. Within the clock tower is a collection of huge old clock faces collected throughout the centuries. Admission is free from May to October.
TIP: Don’t miss the views over Lucerne and Mt Pilatus from nearby Panorama Terrace!
Head up to Hotel Château Gütsch for drinks with exquisite views
You may notice a white castle up on the hill towards Mt Pilatus when you arrive in Lucerne. This is called Hotel Château Gütsch, and it’s an actual château with origins dating back to the 16th century. There’s no need to be a guest at the hotel to enjoy the incredible views from here, though!
Since our first visit to Lucerne some years ago, my partner and I always said we’d make it up there someday. And that day finally came during our most recent spring visit! The scenic walk either up or down has breathtaking views over eastern Lucerne, including sightings of the Old Town Walls.
There are two ways to get there:
- Take the funicular: Google Maps gets the entrance to this one wrong. Their walking directions will take you to the top of the funicular via the steep hillside pathways and stone staircases (I learnt this the hard way!)
TIP: If you’d like to take the funicular up, head to the corners of Baselstrasse and Gibralterstrasse. The white concrete wall with black Château Gütsch text can be seen from here, and you can enter the funicular there.
- Walking up: If you prefer to walk up, head towards Aussichtspunkt Gütsch, the observation deck with a huge red heart and the Angel of Lucerne silver sculpture.
The funicular comes around every 15mins and to my understanding is free to head down (not sure about going up because I make the trek up the pathway by mistake, thanks Google, hehe). But I’m sure you’ll agree the views are absolutely worth it.
Get out on the water
During the warmer months, you may wish to enjoy some water activities in Lucerne! I’ve personally had fun seeing the city from a blue peddle boat (known as pedalos) amongst swans on the Reuss River. They can be hired from SNG Boat Rental along the waterfront promenade.
Cost: 30 CHF for one hour, with a 20 CHF deposit which is returned to you when you bring the peddle boat back.
Alternatively, you could take this 2 hour lunch cruise on Lake Lucerne. I’ve been blown away by a similar cruise in the late afternoon, watching Mt Pilatus’ silhouette darken against a pink sky was an unforgettable moment!
Where to eat in Lucerne
- Love coffee and cake? Head to Heini for delicious sweets and beverages. Maybe pick up an oversized pretzel from Brezelkönig if savoury snacks are your thing.
- Alternatively you could try and get a reservation at the Old Swiss House, a fine-dining restaurant that has won various awards where waitresses make schnitzel right in front of you! This striking red and white cottage is almost 150 years old and houses antiques throughout the building’s history.
- Tucked away behind the Old Swiss House is Restaurant Caravelle, delicious Italian cuisine. I tried the kalbsschnitzel Zitrones (veal schnitzel in a creamy lemon sauce) and it was to die for!
- If you’re not up for fine dining, you can try one of the many pubs and eateries along Unter der Egg and Rathausquai (these places are buzzing at night), or grab some fresh produce from Luzerner Wochenmarkt.
- Head to Coop or Aldi for cheap pastries for breakfast and different snacks.
DAY 2 – Lucerne & Mt Pilatus
On day 2 of this itinerary for Lucerne, we make our way to the summit of beloved Mt Pilatus. Your time at the mountain will take the better part of the day, before heading back into Lucerne later in the afternoon.
This is where you’ll see why Lucerne is beautiful to visit at any time of year – the scenery on the journey to/from Mt Pilatus is stunning in its own way, no matter the season!
During the Middle Ages, it was thought that dragons with healing powers lived inside the mountain. This is why you’ll see the symbol for Mt Pilatus today is a friendly-looking dragon named Pilu.
There are several ways to reach Mt Pilatus’ summit, 2,132 metres high:
Golden Round Trip
Lucerne – Alpnachstad – Pilatus Kulm – Kriens – Lucerne (May – October)
Scenic boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, cog railway to Mt Pilatus, Mt Pilatus to Kriens by cable car (gondola), then bus from Kriens back to Lucerne.
Cost: 52.20 CHF with Swiss Half Fare Card or buy tickets here.
Silver Round Trip
Lucerne – Alpnachstad – Pilatus Kulm – Kriens – Lucerne
Rail journey from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, cog railway to Mt Pilatus, Mt Pilatus to Kriens by cable car (gondola), then bus from Kriens back to Lucerne.
Cost: 42.60 CHF with Swiss Half Fare Card. Tickets can be purchased from Lucerne Station before you go.
Take an organised tour
Instead of doing it yourself, although it’s not as flexible. But tours may be an option if you’d prefer all the scheduling to be done for you.
NOTE: The Golden or Silver Round Trip experiences are able to be done in reverse, which I recommend. Taking the gondola first means you can beat the crowds on the mountain in the morning, as the cruise takes around an hour before it reaches Alpnachstad.
Also, ending with the cruise back to Lucerne is a nice way to relax after a busy day exploring the mountain. The time you should allow to/from Lucerne to/from Mt Pilatus summit is between 1-2 hours each way (depending on the transport options you choose).
For my summer visit, I took the cruise then cog railway as I was spending the night at Hotel Pilatus Kulm on the summit. During my winter and spring visits, I took the bus from Kriens to Alpnachstad gondola to reach the summit as a day trip. The flexible options here means you can choose what will best suit you.
Let’s take a quick look at each mode of transport and what to expect:
Cog Railway at Alpnachstad to Pilatus Kulm
As the world’s steepest cog railway, this 4.6 kilometre journey takes around 30 mins (ascent) and 40 mins (descent). Be warned it does feel like you’re leaning quite far backwards when first seated, but it’s no wonder as the steepest incline of the track is 48%!
Bus to/from Lucerne
The bus trip takes about 15 mins and usually costs CHF 4.00 each way (if not using the Golden or Round Trip tickets where it is inclusive). As mentioned earlier, this bus trip should be free with the Visitor Card Lucerne.
Cruise to/from Lucerne
Board a steam-operated paddlewheeler to see the shores of Lake Lucerne from the water. The cruise takes around 1 hour 10 mins. Check the timetable here as cruises only run every few hours – don’t miss the last trip!
Gondola to/from Kriens
The gondola operates from 08:30 – 17:30 during summer (May – October) and until 16:30 during winter. There are two legs to reach the summit:
- The first is from Kriens to Fräkmüntegg and is a smaller Panorama gondola that holds up to 4 people.
- The second leg from Fräkmüntegg to Pilatus will have you switch into a larger cable car that fits around 20 people.
The total time from base to summit is about an hour each way.
TIP: During winter, you can experience a special “Fondue Gondola” by enjoying this cheesy Swiss dish during your journey to the mountain summit!
Train to/from Lucerne
I’m yet to do this personally, however this may be a great alternative when the cruises run on a reduced schedule through winter (October – April). The train journey is about 17 minutes, in the direction of Giswil.
Things to do at Mt Pilatus
- Fräkigaudi toboggan run at Fräkmüntegg – 1.3 kilometres long! This is a summer activity as it becomes snowed over during winter. Cost: 9 CHF per ride. I did this twice, it’s so much fun!
TIP: Let the fast people go first, no one likes being stuck behind a slow rider.
- Pilatus Rope Park – Ziplines, climbing amongst alpine trees, even experience a free fall!
- Pilu Land – A huge outdoor playground for kids with many slides and climbing equipment.
At Pilatus Summit
- Hike the impressive Dragon Trail or one of the other many routes
- Go tandem paragliding from the summit into the valley below (book in advance here)
- Take an ibex safari during the summer months (and watch these marvellous mountain goats stick to vertical cliffs!)
- Be left in awe by the sunset whilst overlooking Lucerne from above
- Enjoy a snack at Ibex Bar, sample regional delicacies at Restaurant Pilatus-Kulm, indulge in a buffet meal at Bellevue or feast on grilled delights at Panorama Grill – all with breathtaking views over the surrounding mountain ranges
- Pick up some local souvenirs in the gift shop – I bought some high-quality Swiss-themed souvenirs and gifts here!
Day trips from Lucerne
In the mood to do some additional day trips after your stay in Lucerne? As mentioned in my one week Switzerland itinerary, I used Lucerne as a base during my stay and undertook day trips from there because it’s very well connected to other major cities. Some day trips from Lucerne you may wish to consider are:
- Zurich – 45mins by rail (read my full Zurich itinerary)
- Mt Titlus – 45mins by car, 1hr 15mins by train
- Mt Rigi – 45mins by car, 1hr 30mins by rail
- Basel – 1hr 15 by car, 1hr by rail
- Interlaken – 1hr 20mins by car, 1hr 50mins by rail
- Bern – 1hr 20mins by car, 1 hr by rail (although if following my full Switzerland itinerary, I’d suggest using Bern as your alternate base and do day trips to Zermatt and Geneva from there. Read my Bern itinerary for details.)
- Lugano – 2hrs by car, 1hr 50mins by rail
- Geneva – 3hrs by car, 3hrs by rail (read my full Geneva itinerary).
Concluding what to do in Lucerne in 2 days
That’s a wrap for my Lucerne itinerary! As you can see, there’s no doubt Lucerne is an absolute beauty on the surface. The ornate architecture along an emerald river combined with Mt Pilatus peering down over it all is something out of a dream.
However, beneath the surface are many treasures from history waiting to be uncovered by the most curious.
All it takes is a little pre-planning and knowledge upfront to truly appreciate things that are hiding in plain sight. Lucerne is one of my absolute favourite cities in Switzerland, it’s so easy to fall in love. I hope my insights throughout this guide help you make the most of your visit, too!
If you found my Lucerne travel guide helpful or are planning to use it on your trip, I’d love to hear! Let me know in the comments below. You can also come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or TikTok for more Europe travel inspiration!
Until next time,
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