Lucerne Old Town, Switzerland

Lucerne, Luzern Chapel Bridge and wassertum, Switzerland

Chapel Bridge on the Reuss River, Lucerne Old Town, Central Switzerland

Visiting Lucerne Old Town

Luzern (as it’s known in Swiss-German, the local language, aka Lucerne), was founded officially in 1178 and is arguably Switzerland’s best summer tourist destination, with a large range of sights and activities in the vicinity that will easily occupy a week or more (hiking, cycling, climbing, paragliding, ferry rides, activity centre), whereas Bern and Zurich, for example are day-trip destinations from Lucerne. We spent a week based in Lucerne and were never bored (and we do get bored easily! ).
Lucern is, like most Swiss cities, very safe and clean with many quirky architectural details, though it’s not cheap and stores don’t open on Sundays.

Lucerne Old Town Attractions

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge plague paintings, Lucerne, Luzern, Switzerland

Chapel Bridge plague paintings

Chapel Bridge’s ceiling is partially lined with 17th century paintings illustrating the history of Lucerne old town.

Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke) is Lucerne’s number one tourist attraction, an incredible piece of workmanship. Built in 1333 as a defensive structure it’s 204m long (670 ft). Unfortunately many of the magnificent paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1993. Chapel Bridge is free to enter and offers such great panoramas at different times of day that it’s worth returning there from time to time.

A little further downriver is another interesting old bridge, the Spreuer or Mill Bridge. Constructed in 1408, it also features medieval paintings but on the morbid subject of the Great Plague and titled ‘The Dance of Death’.


Lucerne, Luzern Wasserturm, Switzerland

Luzern’s Wasserturm or Water Tower, looking towards Lake Lucerne. It’s a fortification, not for water storage!

The Wasserturm is another sight indelibly connected to the Chapel Bridge, and one of Lucern old town  iconic sights; it was in fact mainly used as a watchtower, prison, torture chamber and treasury for most of its existence. The tower is on the Reuss River which is fed by Lake Lucerne.

The City Wall

Lucerne, Luzern city wall, Switzerland

The City Wall on the hill overlooking Lucerne, not more than a few hundred metres remaining, along with eight watch towers, but the views are good and it’s a pleasant stroll there, up through the old town.

Quirky architecture

Lucerne, Luzern quirky building, Switzerland

One of old Lucerne’s more quirky buildings, built in 1556.

Lucerne, Luzern, Hirschenplatz murals, Switzerland

And there is no shortage of colourfully embellished, well-maintained structures and murals everywhere in Lucerne old town. This is Hirschenplatz.

St Leodegar church

St Leodegar, Hofkirche, Lucerne, Luzern, Switzerland

A Christian knight on St Leodegar church door, Hofkirche.

Baptism mementoes in Hofkirche, Lucerne, Luzern, Switzerland

Like most Swiss churches the Hofkirche is not especially elaborate inside – unlike their Italian neighbours – but these baptism mementoes are unusual and cute.

Attractive timber buildings beside, Hofkirche, Lucerne, Luzern, Switzerland

Superb timbered buildings beside the Hofkirche.

Glacier Garden (Gletschergarten)

This museum was built around a natural glacial pothole from the Ice Age. It’s small but displays interesting worldwide Ice Age pictures, models, video, information and artifacts, as well as historic artifacts from Lucerne old town history and child-friendly exhibits such as a clever mirror maze.

Incorporated into the visit is a worthwhile stroll through the original mansion house and access to the Lion of Lucerne, below.

The Dying Lion of Lucerne

The Lion of Lucerne memorial, Luzern, Switzerland

The Lion of Lucerne, a memorial to a company of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 by French Revolutionaries. Photo by Maswadkar.

This sight is free to enter and just a ten minute walk from the center of town, is not to be missed. The setting and sculpture are magnificent and very moving. Tour groups visit it endlessly so try to pick a time when they are less likely to be massacring individual tourists, such as early, late or lunchtime.

Lake Lucerne

Lucerne lakeside tourists, Switzerland

Summer Sunday afternoon walking on Schweizerhofquai, Lake Lucerne’s shore (Lake Luzern Vierwaldstättersee).

Lake lucerne bicycle, Switzerland

Looking out onto Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstattersee) from Nationalquai, Lucern’s ‘new’ town. On the right is the shiny, black glass KKL, the overly modern Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre, along with the ferry port, train and bus station. KKL encompasses a concert hall and the Museum of Art Lucerne (Kunstmuseum Luzern). And there’s a nice shiny bicycle there awaiting reclamation by a bold visitor.

Things to do near/around Luzern

• take a boat trip around the massive Lake Lucerne.

• catch the Cog Railway up to the top of Mt Pilatus, then down the other side by Cable Car.

• Take a Luzern ‘Golden Round Trip’ and combine the first two!

• take the kids up to the forest activity centre at Pilatus rope park in Frakmuntegg, 5 minutes by cable-car from Pilatus peak, 30 minutes up from Kriens by gondola or about an hour’s walk if you’re fit.

• Head up to Mt Rigi or Rutli Meadow.

• Have a swim in the lake. There are a few bathing places around the lake edge such as near Weggis or more formally at Lido beach (walk there in half an hour or take a boat or bus).

• Rent a car or take a train for an easy day trip to Berne (first choice, small and very pretty) or Zurich (much larger but interesting). Swiss Federal Railways (Schifffahrt Vierwaldstättersee) travel to every major destination in Switzerland.

Getting Around Lucerne

Lucerne Old Town is compact and makes an easy, delightful walk, especially if you abandon the guide book at first and just wander. Other worthwhile sights outside the Old Town are just 10-20 minutes walk away too (such as the Swiss Transport Museum). City buses are frequent and efficient if the legs are not willing.

Bicycles are available for rent at the central railway station, including electric bikes. Cycle lanes can be found on most minor roads though some car drivers are impatient with cyclists who don’t really know what they’re doing.

Best Seasons

The best month to visit Lucerne Old Town is September with a daily average temperature of 14C (57F) and 9 rainy days. May offers wonderful spring flowers in the hills but daily average temperatures of 12. 5 C (55F) and 14 rainy days, while the three summer months are warm (15-18C) but have almost 2: 1 chance of rain. i. e. 13/14 days of rain per month.

The driest months are September and October, the coldest are December to February.