Lucerne is one of Switzerland's most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason - its stunning alpine views, historic architecture and quaint cobblestoned streets make it an enchanting place to explore. And with plenty of attractions both in the city itself and in the surrounding area, there are many reasons to visit Lucerne.
Opportunities for outdoor activities like skiing, hiking or biking abound, while indoor attractions such as museums and art galleries offer something for those in search of a little culture. Meanwhile, luxurious spas and wellness centres beckon those in need of some serious relaxation, as do romantic boat rides across the lake. Countless picturesque villages are nestled amongst snow-capped mountains to bustling markets filled with local delicacies are situated in the immediate vicinity of Lucerne, and make for lovely day trips or even longer stays.
With so much to see and do around Lucerne, you can easily spend days exploring all that this charming destination has to offer. In this article we'll share some of our top picks for things to see when visiting Lucerne - whether you're looking for adventure or relaxation!
Except during the very worst weather, you’ll see Mount Pilatus’ imposing peaks from almost anywhere in Lucerne. At 2,132m above sea level it’s the highest and most rugged of Lucerne’s three local mountains. Medieval legend connected Pilatus to Pontius Pilate (Pilatus in German and Latin), the Roman official who authorised the crucifixion of Jesus. The despised bureaucrat was said to be buried in a lake on Pilatus, which no longer exists. Climbing the mountain was banned by law until the 16th century, for fear this might provoke storms that would destroy Lucerne. The ban has long since been removed and Pilatus is now one of the most popular peaks to visit. With several restaurants, a hotel, rock-climbing, a rope park and a long summer toboggan run there are plenty of options. And there will always be the grassy slopes, the woods and hiking trails and the view far into the distance. You can reach Pilatus all year round by the ‘Dragon Ride’ cable car from Fräkmüntegg. Taking the bus to Kriens and the gondolas to Fräkmüntegg, the whole trip takes around one hour and 15 minutes. In summer (May - November) you can reach Pilatus by the world’s steepest cog railway from Alpnachstad too.
If gazing at the main facade of this church you feel not everything fits together, you're actually not far off. The church here burned down in 1633 and was totally rebuilt in Renaissance style, but the two towers remained from the older Romanesque church, and the new nave was just planted inbetween them. The two figures on the main doors are St. Leodegar, patron saint of Lucerne and St. Mauritius. Look just above them and you'll see the Swiss Saint Beatus swinging his sword at a small dragon above his head. You can download an app for a guided tour to your smartphone (search store for Hofkirche Lucerne).
A rotating gondola takes you from the village of Engelberg up to Titlis at more than 3,000m above sea level. There you have spectacular views of the glacier and dozens of mountains, which completely surround you here. Best of all, there are all kinds of snow and ice activities that await you here including snow tubing (whiz down the piste on a rubber tyre), a cliff walk and ice that's up to 5,000 years old in the ice cave. A number of different restaurants are also available and after you've filled your belly you can walk it off with many ambitious hiking options or a leisurely stroll around Lake Trübsee. Summer activities include scooter and mountain bike rental, just to name a few. Regular train departures connect Lucerne to Engelberg in just under an hour.
While it is famous today, the Lion Monument (Löwendenkmal) enjoyed great fame in the 19th century and harks back to a very different era, when nation states were just emerging in Europe. The stone sculpture dates from 1821 and was created by Lukas Ahorn to a design by Berthel Thowaldsen. It shows a dying lion, in an allegory for over eight hundred Swiss mercenaries who died in service in 1792. They belonged to the Swiss regiment which served French king Louis XVI, and were defending the Tuileries in Paris where the French royal family were living during the French revolution against revolutionaries. The royal family had long since fled, so the mercenaries were defending an empty palace. The inscription gives the names of the officers killed and the approximate numbers of soldiers.
Lake Lucerne is one of the things that make Lucerne so exceptional. A walk along the shores is part of life in Lucerne, and the promenade along Schweizerhofquai and Nationalquai with the long double row of chestnut trees is the classical choice. But you can also go south from the KKL, towards the large lake-side park and bathing spot Ufschötti (15 min walk) or even further to the Richard Wagner Museum.
The lake also gives you access to a vast area filled to the brim with Alpine beauties. On a nice sunny day nothing can beat a cruise on the lake, whether you stay close to Lucerne or steam south towards the Alps. Due to the labyrinthine shape of the lake, new breathtaking vistas open up again and again.
The long cruise down to Flüelen e.g. will take you to the Rütli and past the Tellsplatte, both involved in Switzerland's founding myths (Lake Lucerne cruises, www.lakelucerne.ch, +41 41 367 67 67). In German the lake is called Vierwaldstättersee, literally the lake of the four cantons, which refers to Uri, Schwyz, Unterwalden and Lucerne. Barring Lucerne, these cantons are considered to be the birthplace of Switzerland and the William Tell saga plays in these mountain areas.
Mount Rigi (from regina, Latin for queen) is famous for spectacular views of the Alps and its easy access. The majestic mountain lies between Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug and Lake Lauerz. The cogwheel railway leaving from Vitznau was Europe's first mountain railway. At the top there are several restaurants and around 35km of winter hiking trails. You can also ski and sledge up there - they have around 10km of slopes, four ski lifts and a rental shop. You can descend on the other side with the aerial cable car from Rigi Kaltbad to Weggis and make it a round trip, by boat from Lucerne to Vitznau and return from Weggis. The train and bus connection to Vitznau takes about one hour, by ship it's just as fast.
One of the most popular attractions in Engelberg is Titlis - the highest peak in central Switzerland at 3238 metres above sea level. Here visitors can take the world's first rotating cable car ride which offers unparalleled panoramas of Alpine meadows and glaciers as it ascends over 3000 metres up the mountain. Once at the top there are a variety of activities available such as ice sledding, glacier hiking trails, climbing walls and much more!
For those interested in exploring further still - take advantage of Switzerland's excellent rail system to discover other nearby destinations like Interlaken. Alternatively you may wish to venture out on foot on one of the many alpine hiking trails that weave their way through pristine meadows scattered with wildflowers or take off into the sky on an unforgettable hang gliding excursion.