Lucerne: The Complete Guide

Luzern (loot-SAIRN, “Lucerne” in English) has served as Switzerland’s premier destination for tourism for an extensive period. Nestled along the shoreline of a lake (also known as Vierwaldstätter See), and set against the stunning backdrop of the Alps, Luzern held a regular spot on the European Grand Tour circuit during the Romantic era. It welcomed illustrious visitors such as Mark Twain, Goethe, and Queen Victoria. With its captivating old town, a pair of picturesque wooden bridges, an array of exceptional museums, and the renowned weeping lion monument, Luzern boasts attractions that solidify its place on any Swiss travel agenda. Furthermore, Luzern serves as an excellent starting point for exploring the nearby region recognized as Central Switzerland (Zentralschweiz).

Nice to know: The name “Luzern” is derived from lucerna, Latin for “lamp”.

Visiting Lucerne for the first time and wondering what are the top places to see in the city? In this complete guide, I share the best things to do in Lucerne on the first visit. Top help you plan your trip, I have also included an interactive map and practical tips for visiting!

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History of Lucerne

The ‘City of Light’ Emerges
Stone Age – IX Century
Although there are some remnants from the Stone Age and Roman times, Lucerne’s history becomes more prominent around 840. Documents mention the name Luciaria, possibly meaning ‘place of light,’ a moniker that still resonates with Lucerne today. During the early Middle Ages, the town primarily consisted of the Benedictine abbey of Saint Leodegar, the town’s patron saint, and the houses situated at each end of the bridge over the River Reuss.

A Trans-Alpine Trade Boom
XII – XVII Century
For a considerable period, Lucerne served as a regional market town, with a weekly market held on Tuesdays—a tradition that continues to this day. In the 13th century, the north-south trade route across the Gotthard Pass transformed Lucerne into a vital commercial hub. This trade path connected the Upper Rhine Plain with Milan and thrived until the 17th century.

Alliances with the ‘Forest Counties’
XIII – XIV Century
Prior to the 15th century, Lucerne was under Habsburg rule without major issues. In 1332, amid a power struggle between the German kings Ludwig and Friedrich, Lucerne formed a pact with the three waldstätten or ‘forest counties’—Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden—encompassing Lake Lucerne. This military alliance gradually expanded to become the Swiss Confederacy, laying the groundwork for the modern Swiss state.

Lucerne’s Role in the Catholic Faith
XVI – XVII Century
Religion assumed significant importance in the 1500s as the Reformation swept across Europe. Zurich and Bern, neighboring confederates, adopted the new confession, while Lucerne adhered to the old faith, becoming a prominent center for Catholicism. In the 16th and 17th centuries, new monasteries for the Capuchins, Jesuits, and Ursulines were constructed. Tensions related to faith, sometimes leading to wars, arose within the Swiss Confederacy. Lucerne emerged as the leader of the Catholic faction and assumed the role of the papal envoy’s seat in 1586, as well as the Spanish ambassador’s seat in 1595.

Profits from the War Business
XV – XIX Century
Apart from trans-Alpine trade, mercenaries were a significant source of income for Lucerne and its surrounding region. Numerous young Swiss men left the area between approximately 1400 and 1800 to serve abroad, fighting for France, Spain, the Duchy of Savoy, and other contemporary powers. During this period, the population of Lucerne only numbered around 4,000. While some mercenaries returned home wealthy, many did not return at all, and the well-connected families who brokered these arrangements reaped the greatest benefits.

Napoleon and the Onset of Tourism
XVIII – XIX Century
In 1798, Napoleon’s occupation resulted in Lucerne’s loss of independence as the Swiss Confederacy was transformed into the Helvetic Republic for a brief five years. After the return of the old powers, Switzerland was officially established in 1848, marking the birth of the modern nation-state. In 1859, modernity arrived in Lucerne in the form of the railway, sparking rapid expansion of the town on the southern riverbank. By 1830, tourism had taken root, with the lake, easily accessible mountains, and some of the earliest mountain railways making Lucerne a favored destination for those fortunate enough to travel for leisure. Many of the grand hotels and attractions, such as the Gletschergarten, were constructed toward the end of the 19th century.

Modern-Day Lucerne
XX – XI Century
In the 20th century, Lucerne evolved into a vibrant central hub for the Central Switzerland region, acquiring university status in 2000. Architect Jean Nouvel’s KKL concert hall, inaugurated in 2000, gave the town a contemporary facelift. Culturally, Lucerne is renowned for hosting the second-largest Swiss carnival (after Basel), known for its exuberance, as well as the Lucerne Festival for classical music, enjoying significant international acclaim. This recognition is partly due to the esteemed conductor Claudio Abbado, who led the festival from 2003 until his unexpected passing in 2014.

24 Best places to See in Lucerne

This complete guide to Lucerne not only tells you about the very best sights and tourist attractions for first-time visitors to the city but also provide insights into a few of our personal favorite things to do.

This is a practical guide to visiting the best places to see in Lucerne and is filled with tips and info that should answer all your questions!

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge)

Chapel Bridge Lucerne Switzerland
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Tony Badwy
Lucerne boasts Europe’s oldest covered bridge as its iconic hallmark. Constructed in 1332, this bridge originally formed a vital component of the city’s fortifications. During the 17th century, the incorporation of pictorial panels enriched its history, depicting not only scenes from Swiss history but also Lucerne’s own narrative. These panels intricately unveil the biographies of […]
Location: Chapel Bridge, Kapellbrücke, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge)

Museum Rosengart Collection - Klee, Picasso, Cézanne

Sammlung Rosengart, Luzerne
CC BY-SA 3.0 / WES1947
The Rosengart Collection holds significant value due to its possession of two distinctive sets of artworks by Paul Klee and Pablo Picasso. Additionally, the collection proudly presents creations by more than 20 notable artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, encompassing luminaries such as Cézanne, Monet, and Matisse. Originally, the Rosengart Collection was the personal […]
Location: Sammlung Rosengart, Pilatusstrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: April to October: 10.00–18.00 daily (including public holidays) November to March: 11.00–17.00 daily (including public holidays) | Price: Adults: CHF 20.00 | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Museum Rosengart Collection - Klee, Picasso, Cézanne

Kunstmuseum Luzern

Kunstmuseum Luzern
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Photones
The Kunstmuseum Luzern can be found on the highest level of the Culture and Convention Center Lucerne (KKL), and it too was envisioned by the Parisian architect Jean Nouvel. Encompassing a space of 2,100 square meters, the museum regularly hosts rotating displays that showcase important pieces of contemporary art. Additionally, it presents exhibitions featuring artworks […]
Location: Kunstmuseum Luzern, Europaplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday closed | Price: CHF 15.– | Website | Distance: 0.20km
Visiting Kunstmuseum Luzern

Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church)

Jesuitenkirche Jesuit Church Lucerne
Pixabay / B. Hochsprung
Attracted to Lucerne through the patronage of Ludwig Pfyffer von Altishofen, the Jesuits introduced the Counter Reformation to the city during the 17th century. The elaborate Jesuitenkirche, devoted to Francis Xavier, was constructed in 1666. Craftsmen from Italy and Austria collaborated to create what is widely regarded as Switzerland’s most splendid Baroque church. The interior […]
Location: Jesuitenkirche, Bahnhofstrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Jesuitenkirche (Jesuit Church)

Rathaus, Lucerne

Rathaus, Luzern
CC BY-SA 3.0 / WES1947
Recognized as a cultural landmark, this Renaissance structure stands as one of Switzerland’s most charming public buildings. Its splendid setting is equally enchanting: nestled beside the River Reuss in the heart of the Old Town, adjacent to the Town Hall, it offers an array of attractions both day and night. In addition to the delightful […]
Location: Rathaus Stadt Luzern, Kornmarkt, Luzern, Switzerland | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Rathaus, Lucerne

Fritschibrunnen & Kapellplatz

Fritschibrunnen Fern
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Caahlo
in the Kapellplatz at the entrance to Lucerne’s old town stands the Fritschi fountain with its magnificent column. The fountain features a bannerman atop a pillar adorned with multiple carnival masks, among them those of Fritschi and his spouse. Water pours into the fountain’s base from four jester masks. Designed by the architect August von […]
Location: Fritschibrunnen, Kapellplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Fritschibrunnen & Kapellplatz

Peterskapelle (Peter's Chapel)

Peterskapelle
CC BY-SA 3.0 / SwirlyLand
The Kapellplatz surrounds tiny Peterskapelle or St. Peter’s Chapel. The Chapel holds the distinction of being one of Lucerne’s earliest and most pivotal religious edifices, renowned for its awe-inspiring Gothic design and rich historical background. Erected during the early 14th century, the chapel’s dedication to St. Peter, the guardian saint of fishermen, adds to its […]
Location: Peterskapelle, Kapellplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Open 8.30am - 6.30pm. | Website | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Peterskapelle (Peter's Chapel)

Kornmarkt

Kornmarkt
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Aniacra
The Kornmarkt is a plaza in Lucerne, where people engaged in the trading of grains from 1356 until the late 1800s. The town hall, standing adjacent to the tower, encompassed the grain trading exchange on its ground floor. Furren Tower Several noteworthy features grace this locale, starting with the Furren Tower. This medieval tower, reaching […]
Location: Kornmarkt, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.30km
Visiting Kornmarkt

Weinmarkt, Lucerne

Weinmarkt Lucerne)
CC BY-SA 3.0 / trolvag
Among Lucerne’s historical landmarks is the quaint Weinmarkt. The Weinmarkt, which translates to “Wine Market,” is testament to its long-standing history. Up until the mid-16th century, this square functioned as the fish market. Lucerne was a fishing village and the alleys made for an easy connection to the river. The fish market was the political […]
Location: Weinmarkt, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Weinmarkt, Lucerne

Ritterscher Palace

Ritter’scher Palast
CC BY-SA 3.0 / WES1947
Adjacent to the Jesuit Church lies the Ritterscher Palace, now home to the cantonal administration. This location not only serves administrative purposes but is also a magnet for those passionate about art and history. One can find Jakob von Will’s Dance Macabre on the top floor corridor, featuring seven artworks and 23 scenes. These vignettes […]
Location: Government Buildings of Canton Lucerne Bahnhofstrasse 15 6003 Luzern Switzerland | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Ritterscher Palace

Hirschenplatz

Dornacher House Hirschenplatz
Pixabay / Hans
Hirschenplatz or stag square, is a square in Lucerne, Switzerland. The square is surrounded with traditional houses which feature fascinating ornamented facades which are under historical monument protection. One of the building has This plaza takes its name from the former Hirschen Hotel, which has a sign with a marvellous golden stag.  Ironically, despite this […]
Location: Hirschenplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.40km
Visiting Hirschenplatz

Museggmauer (Musegg Wall)

Musegg Wall
CC BY-SA 3.0 / WES1947
Lucerne’s historical skyline is graced by the imposing presence of the Water Tower, Chapel Bridge, and Musegg Wall. While these structures command attention, it’s along the path that meanders beside the Musegg Wall where the most captivating view of the lake basin unfolds. A legacy of the town’s fortifications, the Musegg Wall and its nine […]
Location: Museggmauer Auf Musegg 6004 Luzern Switzerland | Hours: 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. between 1 April and 1 November | Website | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Museggmauer (Musegg Wall)

Spreuerbrücke

Luzern Spreuerbrücke
CC BY-SA 3.0 / ermell
Completed in 1408 as an integral part of the city’s fortifications, the Spreuer Bridge in Lucerne, Switzerland, stands as one of the two remaining covered wooden footbridges in the city, alongside the Kapellbrücke. An additional similar bridge, the Hofbrücke, once existed but was dismantled in the 19th century. Originally constructed in the 13th century to […]
Location: Spreuer Bridge, Spreuerbrücke, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Spreuerbrücke

Historisches Museum Luzern (Lucerne History Museum)

Luzern Historisches Museum
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Aniacra
Actors guide visitors on captivating theatrical tours of the museum’s collection, offering intriguing insights into the life and culture of Lucerne. The History Museum is dedicated to displaying, collecting, documenting, and presenting artifacts with cultural-historical and folkloristic significance from the Canton Lucerne and Lake Lucerne Region. The museum takes pride in its relevance and interactive […]
Location: Historisches Museum Luzern, Pfistergasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m | Price: Adults: CHF 10.00 | Website | Distance: 0.60km
Visiting Historisches Museum Luzern (Lucerne History Museum)

Hofkirche St. Leodegar (Court Church of St. Leodegar) Luzerne

Hofkirche St. Leodegar
Pixabay / ngakai78
St. Leodegar’s origins trace back to the mid-8th century when it was established as part of the monastery that subsequently laid the foundation for Lucerne. A prior Gothic church existed before the present German Renaissance structure, yet it suffered extensive damage from a fire in 1633. What remains of the earlier era are the towers, […]
Location: Hofkirche St. Leodegar, Sankt Leodegarstrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Mon - Fri 9am - 12pm & 2pm - 4.30pm | Website | Distance: 0.70km
Visiting Hofkirche St. Leodegar (Court Church of St. Leodegar) Luzerne

Natur-Museum Luzern

Natur Museum Luzern
CC BY-SA 2.5 / Naturmuseum Luzern
Visitors are consistently astonished by the unique exhibitions at the Lucerne Nature Museum. This museum offers an in-depth, and occasionally humorous, peek into the mysteries of plant and animal life. There’s a constant display featuring the flora and fauna of Central Switzerland. Numerous live creatures can be observed in the terrariums and aquariums. Dynamic displays […]
Location: Natur-Museum Luzern, Kasernenplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Tuesday - Sunday 10am - 5pm Monday closed / Monday closed | Price: Adult: CHF 10.–; Children (6 - 16 years) CHF 3.– | Website | Distance: 0.70km
Visiting Natur-Museum Luzern

Bourbaki Panorama

Bourbaki Panorama
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Leiju
An awe-inspiring panorama, a significant piece of European cultural heritage, and a representation of Switzerland’s compassionate tradition – the Bourbaki Panorama encapsulates a rich tapestry of narratives: political occurrences, personal stories, everyday experiences, and a slice of art, culture, and media history. Unquestionably, the Bourbaki Panorama stands as an authentic “visual marvel.” The monumental historical […]
Location: Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne, Löwenplatz, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: April to October daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. November to March daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m | Price: Adult CHF 15.00 | Website | Distance: 0.80km
Visiting Bourbaki Panorama

Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument)

Löwendenkmal Lion Monument
Free Art License / A.Savin
The Lion Monument, also known as the Lion of Lucerne, stands as a poignant rock relief situated in Lucerne, Switzerland. Conceived by Bertel Thorvaldsen and meticulously carved by Lukas Ahorn between 1820 and 1821, this monument bears profound significance. It serves as a heartfelt tribute to the valiant Swiss Guards who met their tragic fate […]
Location: Lion Monument, Denkmalstrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Distance: 0.90km
Visiting Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument)

Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden)

Gletschergarten, Luzern, LU, Schweiz. Glacier Garden, Lucerne, LU, Switzerland.
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Leiju
Nestled upon the ancient mountain landscapes of Central Switzerland, the world’s oldest, a treasure trove of scenery unfolds at your feet. Lucerne’s Glacier Garden beckons you to peer through a window into the Earth’s history. Within its rocky depths, a journey across epochs and stones unveils remarkable insights. Complementing this captivating exploration are a museum […]
Location: Gletschergarten Luzern, Denkmalstrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: April 1 to October 31 (sommer season) daily 10 am to 6 pmNovember 1 to March 31 (winter season) daily 10 am to 5 pm | Price: Adults: CHF22 | Website | Distance: 1.00km
Visiting Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden)

Richard Wagner Museum

Richard Wagner Museum
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Studio1521
The Richard Wagner Museum, once the abode of the artist, has transformed into a repository of his legacy. Between 1866 and 1872, Richard Wagner, along with his second wife Cosima and their children, inhabited the grand mansion at Triebschen on Lake Lucerne. Nestled in a park-like setting and positioned right by the lakeshore, this residence […]
Location: Richard Wagner Museum Lucerne, Richard-Wagner-Weg, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: The museum is open from Tue - Sun, 11am -5pm. | Price: Adults: 12.00 CHF | Website | Distance: 1.70km
Visiting Richard Wagner Museum

Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Transport Museum)

Verkehrshaus Der Schweiz Luzern
CC BY-SA 2.5 / Markus Giger
Switzerland’s preeminent museum, drawing the highest number of visitors, unveils a captivating exploration into the realms of past, present, and future mobility through a rich array of interactive and diverse exhibits. Beyond the museum’s confines, an array of distinct attractions, found nowhere else in Switzerland, beckons exploration. Among these are the film theatre, planetarium, Swiss […]
Location: Verkehrshaus der Schweiz, Lidostrasse, Lucerne, Switzerland | Hours: Daily: 10:00 - 17:00 | Price: CHF 62.– | Website | Distance: 2.10km
Visiting Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Transport Museum)

Mt. Pilatus

View Of Lake Lucerne From Mt Pilatus
CC BY-SA 3.0 / Clare66
Pilatus, often referred to as Mount Pilatus, stands as a commanding mountain massif that graces the skyline above Lucerne in Central Switzerland. This picturesque range comprises a collection of peaks, with the loftiest summit being Tomlishorn, soaring to a height of 2,128.5 meters (6,983 feet). The expanse of Pilatus encompasses a stretch from Lopper, directly […]
Visiting Mt. Pilatus

Lake Lucerne

Steamboat Lake Lucerne
Pixabay / Susanne Jutzeler, Schweiz 🇨🇭 suju-foto
Nestled amidst renowned mountain getaways, Lake Lucerne boasts Switzerland’s most diverse and picturesque lake scenery. While it evokes echoes of fjord landscapes, the region is imbued with a gentle lake climate. A journey aboard historic paddle wheel steamers and elegant salon motor vessels is the pinnacle of this area’s attractions. In summertime, basking in the […]
Visiting Lake Lucerne

Schloss Heidegg

Schlosse Heidegg
CC BY-SA 4.0 / Rosual
For numerous centuries, this feudal structure served as the residence for the esteemed Heidegg family. However, today it stands as the epicenter of history and culture in the Seetal valley. This living museum immerses visitors in the tales and traditions of noble families, and the essence of the past is further rekindled with a leisurely […]
Location: Schloss Heidegg, Heidegg, Gelfingen, Switzerland | Hours: The Castle Museum is open in 2023 from April 1st to October 31st. Tuesday to Friday 1:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m Saturday, Sunday and Easter Monday, Ascension Day and Whit Monday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m closed on Mondays Last admission 4.30 p.m | Price: Adult CHF 10 | Website | Distance: 18.70km
Visiting Schloss Heidegg

Best Time to Visit Lucerne

The ideal time to explore Lucerne is during the months of May, June, July, August, and September, which constitute the peak season. Please be prepared for some crowds during this period. On the other hand, from November to April, you can expect more moderate weather conditions. This makes it a good choice if you prefer to avoid large crowds.

Average Temperatures in Lucerne

  • January 8°C 13
  • February 9°C 11
  • March 13°C 10
  • April 18°C 13
  • May 20°C 20
  • June 25°C 20
  • July 26°C 20
  • August 26°C 20
  • September 23°C 13
  • October 20°C 14
  • November 13°C 12
  • December 9°C 14

How to get to Lucerne

Getting to Lucerne by Plane

Arriving by Plane Lucerne is most conveniently accessed via Zurich International Airport (ZRH), boasting a broader array of international connections compared to the two alternative airports, EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse (BSL) and Airport Bern-Belp (BRN).

Zurich Airport accommodates approximately 700 daily flights to over 170 destinations globally. As you clear customs, you can find ATMs and switzerlandinfo desks at arrivals 1 and arrivals 2. The airport features an extensive public shopping area with most stores open from 08:00 to 21:00. You can enjoy free Wi-Fi for the initial 2 hours; just connect your device to ‘ZurichAirport’ and follow the instructions provided by your browser.

Getting to Lucerne by Train

Direct trains to Lucerne depart from Zurich Airport every hour and take approximately 70 minutes. Slightly quicker connections are available if you make a brief transfer at Zurich HB. Notably, the train station is conveniently situated within the airport on level -2 of the airport center, where you’ll also find the primary shopping area and check-in 3. Train tickets can be purchased at the counters or from the ticket machines, which can be switched to English on the first screen, located next to the stairs leading down to the platforms.

Arriving by Train Lucerne’s primary train station is positioned right in the city centre, with the lake and KKL on one side and the old town merely a few minutes’ walk away. Both international and domestic connections arrive and depart from this station. Within the station, you’ll find ticket offices, tourist information, and shopping facilities. Buses and taxis operate directly in front of the station. Among the suburban train stations, the one at the Transport Museum (Verkehrshaus) is likely to pique your interest. Train tickets, along with tickets for Lucerne’s public transport and currency exchange services, can be acquired at the ticket office in the main hall. For timetables and tickets, refer to www.sbb.ch.

Getting to Lucerne by Bus

Arriving by Bus Lucerne has some international long-distance bus connections available. Since June 2018, Switzerland introduced domestic intercity buses, offering cost-effective but slower connections. Presently, only Basel and Ticino are well-connected to Lucerne. You can find buses arriving and departing at Inseliquai 10, located just east of the primary train station.

Driving to Lucerne

Arriving by Car Lucerne is conveniently accessible by car via the Swiss motorway A2, connecting to the Gotthard region and Italy to the south, as well as Bern to the north. The A14 motorway comes from Zurich. Traveling to Lucerne by car is straightforward, but it’s essential to note that parking can be limited and relatively expensive. For overnight parking, you may attempt to find a spot in the designated blue zone within residential areas. Parking in these areas is free from 19:00 to 08:00; remember to indicate your arrival time on your parking disk. In car parks, the daily parking costs range from approximately 20 to 50 Swiss Francs.

Driving in Switzerland is generally hassle-free. If you use the motorways, you’ll need to purchase a vignette for 40 Swiss Francs, which is available at petrol stations and post offices. Keep in mind that pedestrians at zebra crossings without traffic lights always have the right of way, as do trams. It’s mandatory for cars to have their headlights turned on at all times.

Tours and Activities from Lucerne