Guide to the mountain city of Lucerne, Switzerland

Whilst visiting Basel in the north of Switzerland I wanted to take the opportunity to see some of amazing landscape which the country is famous for. Some quick searches came up with the city of Lucerne only a 1 hour and 15 minute train ride away and sitting on the wonderful picturesque lake Lucerne and surrounded by the beginnings of the Swiss alps… this was a day trip I just had to make! Here’s a guide to this beautiful city and what I made of it!

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Lucerne, or Luzern as it is know in the local German dialect was somewhere which as soon as I researched I knew I had to visit. Sitting in central Switzerland the journey from Basel took just over an hour. I managed to book my tickets before hand and get them for half the price, you can read about that here: Half price train fare in Switzerland.

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I booked a train for first thing in the morning and last thing at night to maximise my day in Lucerne but at the rain began to fall I wondered if my plans would be ruined and the amazing day I thought I was going to have shattered. Well, if you can have an amazing day despite the rain then this city must have something going for it!!

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A little bit about Lucerne:

Known as Lucerne in English and French, Luzern in German and Lucerna in Italian this city sits in central Switzerland on the shores on Lake Lucerne. The city is surrounded by the jagged mountains of the Swiss alps, the most famous being Pilatus and Rigi. The huge area covered by the lake is home to many smaller towns and the city itself serves as a transport hub for and is the most populous in central Switzerland

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Beginning with humble origins as a fishing village the town grew with importance due to important trade routes through the mountains and across the lake.

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Things to do in Lucerne:

Old Town Lucerne

 The old town of Lucerne sits on the north banks of the river Reuss which splits this city in two. The half timber tall houses, beautifully painted and detailed exteriors and wooden shutter along the narrow cobbled alleyways are simply charming. I loved the character of Basel but wandering the streets off Weinmarkt square you get the sense that this city has in fact changed very little since the 14th century.

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I found just to explore these streets to be quite a magical experience and one which really lived up to the Switzerland I had envisaged for all those years. It’s traditional, quaint and soaked in history, each building is uniquely decorated in that quintessential 800 year old Swiss style!

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Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke)

Lucerne is a city built on the water and has several bridges crossing the Reuss, but by far the most iconic is the Chapel bridge which has become a symbol of the city. The Kapellbrucke is the oldest covered bridge in Europe dating back to 1333, and stretches for 669ft across the river bending at the intersection in which it is connected to the octagonal Water Tower, a 13th century fortification.

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I have to admit that this was one of the spots I came back to over and over, not only is it a wonderful walk through the bridge, inspecting the 17th century paintings inside, but it can also be viewed from so many different angles around the city. It is also somewhat of a hub with markets alongside the river banks and people using it as a meeting place.

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Town Hall/ Rathaus/ Kornmarkt

Built between 1602 and 1606 in the Italian Renaissance style the Lucerne Town hall has served may purposes in its long life. The arches which face out towards the river still today are a bustling market place filed with fresh fruit, veg, breads and cheeses.

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The arcade above was once used as a trading hall but now serves as a place for concerts. The tower itself existed over 100 years before the main town hall was built as part of the towns fortifications, it also houses the oldest clock in Lucerne which chimes 1 minute before the others!

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Spreuer Bridge

One of the smaller but yet no less impressive bridges across the river. The zig zaging Spreuer bridge gives you another angle on this beautiful city from its downriver position. Built in 1408 it also features medieval style 17th century paintings by Kaspar Meglinger as well as a small red chapel added in 1568.

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Dying Lion of Lucerne Monument

 This monument is carved into the sheer cliff face in a quiet and peaceful area of the city and stands at am imposing 10m high and 6m wide. Created in 1821 it memorialises the massacre of hundreds of Swiss guards in 1792 whilst serving the French king Louis XVI in Paris during the French Revolution.

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This historic monument harks back to an era in which the European nations states where just emerging. The park in which the monument sits is also a lovely place to sit back and relax although it is a tourist magnet!

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Hofkirche

This striking church is officially named The Church of St. Leodegar, the city’s patron saint, but is locally known as “Hofkirche”. The twin needle towers of the church are from the original 735 structure but the present church itself dates back to 1633.

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When I visited it was absolutely throwing it down outside so it was great to get out of the rain, the inside is beautiful and there was a choir practicing as I stepped it which made it even more atmospheric.

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The Nine Towers

The remnants of the old town walls surround the present day city with nine towers remaining (one of which is part of the Rathaus). These eight towers are joined together by sections of the wall and free to explore.

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The views they afford are beautiful and varied, some have working clocks and mechanisms, others have displays and historic plaques, this was one of the highlights of my visit to Lucerne!

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Lake Luzern

You can’t visit lucerne without spending sometime on the magnificent lake which acts as a centre point to this city. The lake is huge and travelling from one side to another, down its meandering arms and off shoots will be a trip which takes you a few hours and give you amazing views of the mountains which surround it.

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The steamers which serve the lake depart from Luzern bahnof, the pier right outside of the train station. Fares are based on distance and can be bought in either first or second class. Tickets can be bought from the train station. I took a trip across the lake as part of the “Golden Round Trip”.

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The Golden Round Trip:

 One of the most popular trails up the mountains in Lucerne is the Golden Round Trip up Mt. Pilatus. This is quite expensive but a truly unforgettable experience and one which really is worth the outlay. The Golden Round Trip involves taking the boat across the lake to Alpnachstad, then taking the world’s steepest cogwheel railway up the side of the mountain to the viewing platforms and various trails at the top. On the way down you take the amazing panoramic gondola (cable car) down to Frakmuntegg and the awe inspiring valley, then a 30 minute cable car ride back down the lush meadows and forests to Kriens before a bus back to Lucerne!

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Despite costing 106 CHF (£75.00) the trip was one something I will never forget. I was hesitant to spend the money given the awful weather conditions, and sure the view wasn’t as good as I expected because of that, but it was still magnificent when the clouds did part and the cable car passed below them. From setting off in Lucerne to returning to the city it was also a good 4 or 5 hours so you really do get your moneys worth!

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I am in the process of writing a much more detailed account of my trip up Mt. Pilatus as I really did have an amazing time up there!

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Reflections on Lucerne:

As the train rolled into Lucerne I admit to being bitterly disappointed, this awesome day in the mountains had been scuppered by the weather. It wasn’t just raining, it was pouring! As I wandered around the amazingly historic and detailed streets my feet were soaking and the contents of my bag all in shopping bags to stop them getting ruined! I couldn’t even make out the famous mountains which surround this town!

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But I was here and I was determined to make the most of it, with rain forecast for pretty much the whole day but calming down later in the day I decided to explore the city itself first before considering heading up the mountain. Straight away even in the pouring rain I fell in love with Lucerne, it had such a traditional feel, even more so than Basel. The streets were all so narrow and every building hundreds of years old and decorated uniquely.

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It felt much less modern than Basel, literally like walking around a medieval city. The atmosphere with the lake opening up, the sounds of the horns in the mountains, the ringing of the church bells every hours and the distinctive sound track of the steamers was quite incredible. There was also a freshness, maybe it was the weather, but with the mountain air and the wonderfully clean lake it almost doesn’t feel like a city at all.

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It is quite compact, even more so than Basel, which makes seeing everything in a day trip very achievable, although there are a few other mountains to head up which I would have loved to have done on a clearer day. It is also a bit of a tourist hub, where Basel flies under the radar Lucerne is in full view, at one point I turned down a street to be greeted by around 300 Chinese tourists waiting for their buses! Quite surreal!

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Overall I loved my day in Lucerne, I dismissed the weather put my waterproof on and experienced every inch of its historic streets. I headed up the mountain and despite the thick covering of fog was still treated to some incredible views and unforgettable sights. Falling asleep out of exhaustion on my late night train “home” to Basel I reflected that you can’t change the weather but you can change your attitude, once I realised that I had a day to remember in Lucerne.

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Have you ever been to lucerne?

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Nicola Hilditch-Short

Nic is one half of the Roaming Renegades, a passionate traveller, climber, adventurer, photographer and artist who has a B.A in Fine Art and M.A in Design & Art Direction.