It’s no mystery why Lucerne is so popular with tourists. The city sits on the shores of Lake Lucerne in a breathtaking mountain landscape. Lakes and mountains are at your fingertips, whether you want to take a paddle steamer cruise or conquer majestic Alpine peaks like Pilatus or Rigi.
In the city, there’s plenty more to occupy you in the historic streets of the car-free Old Town, with frescoes on the façade of the medieval town hall. You’ll venture across medieval wooded bridges with paintings on their ceiling vaults and climb a row of mighty defensive towers. For recent spectacles, see the poignant lion monument to the slaughtered Swiss Guard of Louis XVI, and the Glacier Pothole Park formed during the last ice age.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Lucerne:
1. Mount Pilatus
Standing in Lucerne, it’s impossible not to be enchanted by this 2,128-meter mountain to the south.
The mountain is steeped in folklore, earning the nickname “Dragon Mountain” after medieval legends claimed it was inhabited by dragons with healing powers.
A trip to the top is always an adventure, but it couldn’t be more convenient.
In summer we have designed a special loop, the Goldene Rundfahrt (Golden Tour), where you can leave Lucerne on a paddle steamer.
Once ashore, you will ride the steepest cog railway in the world with a maximum gradient of 48%. Then, after being mesmerized by the scenery, you’ll ride the new “Dragon Rider” aerial ropeway and return on the funicular ropeway.
2. Old Town
On the right bank of the Reuss, set aside as much time as possible to explore the historic core of Lucerne.
A chain of squares is surrounded by tall painted houses and linked by cobblestone shopping streets.
All the old centers are free of traffic, reserved for hordes of shoppers and sightseers.
The Weinmarkt is a must-see, surrounded by medieval town halls, some with decorative painted facades.
Not far from Kornmarkt is the Renaissance Altes Rathaus (Old Town of Haar), built in the early 17th century with a lovely arcade on the ground floor.
Related Tours: Chapel Bridge and Old Town 2-Hour Walking Tour
3. Lake Lucerne
Known as the “Lake of the Four Cantons”, Lake Lucerne is a stunning body of water with irregular shapes that invites you to explore.
The lake has four sharp arms and is surrounded by epic mountains on all sides.
Lucerne is in the far northwest corner, and you can head to Lucerne train station to cruise the lake on one of five paddle steamers from the early 20th century.
On land, Lucerne’s waterside communities were reconfigured in the 1880s to make the most of the landscape.
Nationalquai and Schweizerhofquai are exquisite tree-lined promenades made up of mansions where you can admire the lake and alpine peaks such as Pilatus and Rigi.
Recommended Tour: 2-Hour Gourmet Lunch Cruise on Lake Lucerne
4. Swiss Transport Museum
Switzerland’s most-visited museum isn’t just for vehicle collections.
At the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz by the water, it is a self-sufficient world of transportation.
With trains like Switzerland’s first diesel locomotive, 30 planes and an automatic theatre, it’s a stunning attraction, with motorcades from all eras stacked like toys on six-high shelves.
But these vehicles are only one side of the story, as there’s also a newly updated planetarium, Switzerland’s first IMAX theater, a 1:20,0000 scale photo of Switzerland from space, and a new Swiss Chocolate Adventure for chocolate lovers.
Book Online: Swiss Transport Museum Tickets
5. Chapel Bridge
It is the oldest surviving truss bridge in the world and the symbol of Lucerne.
This covered wooden bridge was built in the 14th century and extends diagonally for 200 meters.
The pediment on the ceiling is a 17th-century triangular painting depicting historical events in Lucerne.
There are 30 in all, and there were many more before the 1993 fire destroyed most of the bridges. The 35-meter-tall tower that completed the ensemble was planted in the water, some 30 years before the bridge.
You can’t go up, but it’s a sight to behold, and there’s a souvenir shop on the ground floor.
6. Rosengart Collection
Art dealer Siegfried Rosengart brushed aside modern painters in the first decades of the 20th century.
Together with his daughter Angela he has amassed one of the richest collections of modern art in Europe, including hundreds of works by artists such as Chagall, Monet, Matisse, Miró, Braque and Fernand Léger .
But the treasure trove of works by Picasso and Paul Klee is the crowning glory, receiving special attention in this museum in the former National Bank building.
Opened by Angela in 2002, the museum exhibits over 300 pieces at a time.
7. Lion Monument
Carved in a former sandstone quarry is a rock relief of a dying lion.
The monument was designed by Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn by Lukas Ahorn in the early 1820s.
The lion represents the Swiss Guard, which was massacred on 10 August 1792 while trying to protect Louis XVI at the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution.
The work is rich in symbolism: the lion stands on a broken shield with French royal lilies, and behind him is another intact shield with the Swiss coat of arms.
Come here early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
8. Glacier Gardens
Near the Lion Monument is a natural site that stunned scientists when it was discovered in 1872. One set of potholes formed during the last ice age 20,000 years ago.
Even older than these are the fossils of shellfish and palm fronds from a time when the place was a subtropical coast some 20 million years ago.
These natural phenomena are complemented by new hands-on exhibits and 18th-century Swiss relief models.
See if you can solve the Alhambra Mirror Maze, made of 90 mirrors dating back to 1896. From there, follow the “Stone of Time” path to the observation tower for stunning views of Lucerne and Mount Pilatus in the background.
9. Musseg Wall
As we can see now, Lucerne’s city fortifications were erected at the end of the 14th century to defend the old town on the steep northern slopes.
It was a breathtaking sight, as a row of nine towers were all separated by the length of the city wall.
Four of them are accessible, including the famous Zytturm, which has the oldest clock in the city.
This dates back to 1535, and in honor of its time, it was allowed to be one minute ahead of the other clocks in Lucerne.
The other three towers are worth expanding to survey the city and lake.
CONTAINED IN: Lucerne: Classic City Walking Tour
10. Hof Church
Lucerne’s medieval Romanesque cathedral burned down in the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century.
So while the war was still raging in the 1630s, the city built the new church, one of the few built north of the Alps during that period.
The building is in the late Renaissance style, but has elements of the original church, such as a pair of towers and some medieval and Renaissance decorations inside.
On the north side of the nave is the colorful Maria-ende-altarpiece, which was rescued from a fire and made in the 1500s.
It shows a dying Virgin Mary surrounded by apostles.
From the 17th century reconstruction period, you can visit the black marble high altar and the unique carved wooden choir booth.
11. Richard Wagner Museum
In 1865, after his affairs got him into trouble, Richard Wagner was forced to leave Munich by Ludwig II.
The king placed him in an estate in Lakeside Park in the Tribschen district of Lucerne.
Wagner lived in the house for six years, during which time he started Götterdämmerung and wrote Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg.
The house is now a museum about Wagner and his time in Lucerne.
There are letters, musical manuscripts, furniture, paintings and photographs to browse.
But the best part is the Erard piano on which he composed his masterpiece.
12. Jesuit Church
Built just a few decades after the Hofkirche, the church has a striking Baroque style and is a beacon of the Counter-Reformation in the face of Protestant cities such as Geneva and Zurich.
Designed by Austrian and Italian architects, the Jesuit church was consecrated in 1677 and completed in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Inside, the ornate stucco of the side chapel is the earliest example of the influential German Weissobna school.
The second chapel is dedicated to the hermit and now the Saint Brother Claus, whose 15th century vestments can be seen.
13. Lucerne Culture and Congress Center
Where the Royce River flows from the lake are jaw-droppingly modern buildings.
The Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre was drafted by Jean Nouvel and took shape between 1995 and 2000. What immediately catches your eye is the huge flat roof on the waterfront.
Below it is a complex dominated by a first-class concert hall, with 1,800 seats and the best acoustics you can hope to experience.
The Lucerne Art Museum is also inside, with works from the Renaissance to the present.
Day or night, you can grab a coffee or a bite to eat at the minimalist World Café, which offers hot stews in winter and ice cream in summer.
14. Royce River Attractions
Lucerne has a second medieval bridge downstream, in the western corner of the old town.
The 15th century Spreuer Bridge is in the same form as the Chapel Bridge, with a roof, truss design and more 17th century ceiling pediments.
The paintings, dated between 1616 and 1637, depict a creepy dance, and each image is accompanied by a description and details of the donor.
Continue downstream for a while and you will come to Nadelwehr (Needle Head Dam). In 1852, when the dam was installed to maintain the lake’s water level, the river’s history of flooding was a thing of the past.
It’s an ingeniously simple system that involves adding or removing boards (pins) to regulate the flow on the Reuss.
Related Tour: 1-Hour Historical Tour with the Night Watch
15. Bourbaki Panorama
Near the Lion Monument and Glacier Gardens at Löwenplatz is a tourist attraction that is now almost 140 years old.
Swiss artist Édouard Castres paints a panorama of the decisive moment in the Franco-Prussian War in the early 1870s: In a snowy landscape, defeated French troops trek to Switzerland for refuge.
The painting is 112 meters long and 10 meters wide and is displayed in the rotunda.
Castell served as a Red Cross volunteer during the war, so his paintings draw on first-hand memories.
Bourbaki Panorama has a small museum with some background information about the painting and the war.
Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Lucerne, Switzerland
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