Owning a pristine blue lake, a glamorous promenade, and an old town that is as lovely as a children’s book, it is not difficult to understand why Lucerne attracts so many visitors. Its name is derived from the Latin word Luciaria, which means “the city of light” – a popular sobriquet for this stunning lakeside city.
Positioned at the heart of Switzerland, Lucerne was predestined to be a thriving center of commerce. For centuries, merchants, especially from Milan and Lombardy, flocked to this city to trade with those coming from the north. They brought not only wealth to this town but also Italian art and culture.
Since the mid-19th century, Lucerne has, however, grown into a tourism stronghold thanks to its excellent connectivity to nearby natural attractions, including Lake Lucerne, Mount Pilatus, and Mount Rigi. Combined with a charming old town and a pretty lakeside promenade, Lucerne understandably ranked among Switzerland’s most beautiful cities.
1. Chapel Bridge
Stepping out of the train station, the first thing that captured our attention was the 14th-century Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). Spanning the Reuss River diagonally, this wooden footbridge is the centerpiece of Lucerne’s townscape. It connects the Old Town on the northern bank with the New Town on the opposite side of the river. Together with the nearby octagonal Water Tower, they become Lucerne’s most recognizable symbol.
Lucerne’s most recognizable symbol.
But what we are seeing today is a mere reconstruction of the original Chapel Bridge. A disastrous fire broke out in 1993 and destroyed most of the centuries-old structure. All that could be saved were the two bridgeheads and the Water Tower.
When crossing this creaky bridge, I caught a glimpse of Lucerne’s history. A total of 158 important events in the past as well as in mythology are vividly illustrated on the roof panels. This is a unique feature of Chapel Bridge that none of Europe’s other wooden footbridges has. Unfortunately, only 30 original panels could be fully restored. The rest was lost in the flame.
2. Lucerne Old Town
As a cultural melting pot, Lucerne Old Town has long treasured the differences. At one turn, I found myself standing in a sunny plaza surrounded by beautiful Renaissance buildings. By another turn, I was delighted to see a half-timbered house painted in red and white, just like in a Grimm’s fairy tale. The Italian and German culture, which was brought by traveling merchants, undoubtedly has had an impact on the city’s urban landscape. They make Lucerne look like a charming village in the Italian lake district but with a German twist.
Posing over Lucern Old Town is the Museggmauer (Musegg Wall), one of the last fortifications that still stands in Switzerland. Erected in 1400, this 800-meter-long wall separates Lucern’s historic core from the 20th-century boomtown quarters. It has withstood the test of time, with several parts even maintaining its original state. Museggmauer features nine towers, and from afar it looks like a giant crown circling the city.
3. Lion Monument
Not far from the Old Town is the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), one of Switzerland’s best-known statues. Carved in stone, yet deceptively real. This dying lion is a powerful memorial created by two sculptors Bertel Thorvaldsen and Lukas Ahorn in 1820.
They carved this monument to pay homage to Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI during the French Revolution. Helvetorium Fidei ac Virtuti – “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss” – are the words above the lion.
4. Lake Lucerne
Calm and pristine, Lake Lucerne is undoubtedly the city’s piece-de-resistance. Encircled by an impressive mountainous setting, this cobalt-blue lake extends over 114 km². It passes through four cantons: Lucerne, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. Hence, it’s also referred to as Vierwaldstättersee, which means “The Lake of Four Forest Settlements”.
Every day, steamers and other boats ply between the different villages and towns around the lake, bringing passengers to their desired destinations. Lake Lucerne looks even more picturesque on sunny days as sunshine glitters on the water and the mountains appear on the horizon.
Tips for visiting Lucerne
- The best place in Lucerne to view the lake is the lakeside promenade. More specifically, the section between Schweizerhofquai and Nationalquai. From there, you can have a view of the lake with Mount Pilatus in the background.
- Due to its location at the outflow of the lake, Lucerne is an ideal starting point to explore this gem of Central Switzerland. Depending on your time and how many towns you want to visit, you can choose between a four-hour trip around the whole lake or a short trip with a modern yacht. All necessary information regarding timetable and fares can be found on the shipping company’s website.