Switzerland may be best known for the incredible mountain ranges of the Alps, but another destination which few people will miss if they can help it, is the city of Lucerne. Sitting just north of the Alps by lovely Lake Lucerne, this picturesque city easily wins visitors over. Take one look at the sights along the Reuss River with the mountains as a backdrop, and it’s not hard to understand why Lucerne is considered one of the best places to visit in Europe.
Unlike some of Switzerland’s bigger cities, you don’t need long for all the best places to visit in Lucerne. Even planning to see most of the city of Lucerne in 1 day isn’t hard. You may not have time for all the interesting places around Lucerne, but a quick stop here will certainly work. To make the most of your day here, be sure to follow our Lucerne itinerary which will guide you around this scenic city.
Best Time to Visit Lucerne
While timing is often crucial to a single day visit, Lucerne is pretty much a year round destination and there’s really no bad time to visit. That being said, the best time to visit Lucerne will depend on what exactly you’re looking to get from your visit.
In the summer months of June through August, Lucerne sees its tourist numbers at their highest. However, because the city sits in the Alps, summers here are quite mild and pleasant so you don’t have to worry about the heat. Summer is the most expensive and busiest time of year, but perfect if you want to do any outdoor activities.
Winter isn’t too much quieter in Lucerne as the city acts as a convenient base for snow sports. That means that from November through March accommodation can still be expensive, even though the city is fairly quiet while everyone is up on the ski slopes. The quiet period comes in April, May, and September when shoulder season hits. Prices will be at their lowest these months, although some hotels and certain amenities like cable cars shut down at this time of year.
How to Get Around Lucerne
Lucerne is not a large city and you shouldn’t have a particularly hard time getting around. Your day in Lucerne will mostly be spent in and around the compact Old Town, so you won’t be traveling great distances during your sightseeing. Some of the city’s attractions are positioned on a small hill but even that is easily walkable. Ultimately, you should have no problem getting around on foot while visiting Lucerne.
The only form of public transport which runs in Lucerne is city buses, but again, it’s unlikely you’ll have a need for them. In the off chance that you do, you can purchase tickets at machines at the bus stops. A standard ticket for the central zone 10 lasts one hour and costs 4.10 CHF.
Where to Stay in Lucerne
Thanks to Lucerne’s compact size and focus on its riverside Old Town, understanding its layout is pretty easy. When looking at where to stay in Lucerne, you’ll want to choose a spot as close to the Chapel Bridge over the Reuss River as possible. Most of Lucerne’s hotels are within walking distance of the bridge so you should find great accommodation quite easily.
Directly overlooking Lake Lucerne, the Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern is one of the best places to stay in Lucerne if you’re after comfort and luxury. This 5-star hotel boasts beautiful room decor alongside helpful and attentive staff all of which will make your stay a delight.
If you’re looking for a nice mix of affordability and comfort, then the Boutique Hotel Weisses Kreuz is a great choice. This adults only 3-star hotel offers guests gorgeous boutique rooms and is barely 2 minutes from the iconic Chapel Bridge.
Switzerland is an expensive destination, so there aren’t a lot of great budget options in Lucerne. However, backpackers will be glad to find Backpackers Luzern, which not only has relatively cheap dorms and private rooms but they are also clean and the hostel has plenty of communal spaces.
For more accommodation options in Lucerne check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Lucerne Itinerary
Not every destination is able to be properly explored in a single day, but Lucerne is the perfect size for this kind of short stop. With our Lucerne travel itinerary as your guide, you’ll have no problem seeing the very best of Lucerne during your brief time there. The best things to do in Lucerne touch upon several different facets of the city, giving you a quick but nicely-rounded understanding of what Lucerne is about.
However, before we get to our Lucerne itinerary we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it. We recommend World Nomads.
Even if you don’t get travel insurance with World Nomads, please make sure to get travel insurance from somewhere.
With that underrated topic covered, let’s dig into what to do in Lucerne in 1 day so that you make the most of your trip to this gorgeous Swiss destination.
Recommendation: If you want to learn a little bit more about Lucerne’s history, consider booking a walking tour. This 2-hour walking tour takes you through the historical old town and to the most famous sights in the city.
Easily the most iconic sight of Lucerne, the Chapel Bridge is a must for any visitor to the city. A fixture of the city’s waterfront scenery, chances are that if you’ve looked at a photo of Lucerne it had this bridge in it. Dating from the 14th century, the Lucerne Chapel Bridge is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe. While incredibly pretty when viewed from elsewhere along the Reuss river, it’s only once you step onto the bridge that you learn its true value.
As you walk down the wooden planks and past the window boxes blooming with flowers, take a moment to look up. Within triangle frames up by the roof, this bridge is lined with artwork from the 17th century which tell stories from Lucerne’s past. Sadly, a fire in 1993 destroyed all but 30 of these paintings, making what remains even more special.
Lucerne actually once had three bridges like the Chapel Bridge with paintings that lined their interior. While one no longer exists, the other is the Spreuer Bridge. Generally overshadowed by the Chapel Bridge, this 16th century construction is still worth walking across. The paintings along the Spreuer Bridge are quite fascinating as they feature skeletons in various scenes in an artistic style known as the Danse Macabre. They’re meant to remind people that death is inevitable, rather a cheerful way to decorate a bridge!
A short walk back along the riverfront will bring you to another eye-catching landmark of Lucerne, the city’s Jesuit Church. Built in a series of phases from the 16th to 19th centuries, it’s hard not to notice this church by the Reuss River, especially with its onion-shaped towers. The real highlight of this church though is evident once you step inside to see its delicate and ornate interior. The Jesuit Church was founded in Lucerne to help keep Swiss Catholics from converting to Protestantism, making this church an important player in that troublesome time.
As nice as it is spending all your time in Lucerne by the river and lake, it’s also a good idea to go wandering through the Old Town. Walking through its network of narrow streets and alleys on the north side of the Reuss River, you may be surprised with what you see. There’s no shortage of traditional Alpine houses here, as well as a few half-timbered houses, not to mention all the painted frescoes which decorate their front facades. Most of these frescoes have faded a little over the years, but there are also the occasional modern murals which are equally eye-catching.
Leaving the Old Town behind, it’s time to walk up the gentle slope into the modern part of Lucerne in search of its iconic Lion Monument. A truly moving memorial, this monument features a carved relief of a dying lion above a still pond. Created in 1821, this gorgeous monument commemorates the Swiss Guards who were killed on duty during the French Revolution of 1792. It’s a touching tribute to the fallen soldiers and one sight not to miss in Lucerne.
Old City Walls
Next it’s time to venture over to what remains of Lucerne’s Old City Walls. Running across a small hill at the northern end of Old Town, 9 towers are joined together by these preserved medieval walls. Four of the remaining towers, including the Zytturm clocktower, are freely accessible by tourists. Once you’ve climbed up one of the towers you’re able to walk along a short stretch of the city walls and see Lucerne from its best viewpoint.
Up there, you can not only see all the city’s rooftops and landmarks, but you also get some superb views of Lake Lucerne and the looming Alps around. Männli tower, which is closest to the river, actually has a viewing platform putting you even higher up for better views.
Although people often don’t think of Lucerne as a cultural hub, the city does have quite a few museums sprinkled around. The easiest to reach and perhaps the most interesting, is the Sammlung Rosengart art museum, mainly because it houses a collection of artwork by Pablo Picasso. While Picasso is the museum’s main focus, there are works by many other artists from the Impressionist and Modernist periods.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Lucerne?
With 24 hours in Lucerne you’ll definitely see much of what the city has to offer, but that doesn’t mean you can’t spend longer in this beautiful destination if you have the time. While you may have explored the sights of Lucerne, there are still plenty of places to visit and see immediately surrounding the city. The Alps are right on the city’s doorstep and there are some incredible Alpine landscapes to discover by staying a little longer.
Lake Lucerne Cruise
After spending a day sightseeing by the lake and admiring its beauty, one thing to do is to simply take a cruise. There are all sorts of cruises on Lake Lucerne to choose from based on your budget and how long you want to spend out on the water. Our favorite cruise is this one. This 1-hour cruise is onboard a panoramic yacht and allows you marvel at picturesque landscapes, historical monuments, and famous attractions. Alternatively, you can hop aboard the different ferries which connect Lucerne with the lake’s many villages. Interesting places to visit around the lake include the Meggenhorn Castle and the Rütli Meadow, considered by many to be the birthplace of the Swiss Confederation.
It’s difficult to be so close to the Alps and not be tempted to go up one of the mountains, so Mt Rigi is likely your nearest option. Rigi also sits along the banks of Lake Lucerne and its summit reaches 1,798 meters above sea level. Part of the appeal of visiting Mt Rigi is the journey there. The best approach is to take a ferry across the lake to the town of Vitznau, before ascending the mountain on the historic Rigi-Kulm cogwheel railway. During your trip on Europe’s first mountain railway, your pass by a great deal of idyllic mountain scenery. There are also opportunities for hiking and paragliding here so Mt Rigi caters to those wanting to spend more of their visit in the outdoors.
Another big mountain destination, even closer to the city of Lucerne, is Mt Pilatus. Known for its series of peaks along a jagged crest, the highest peak of Pilatus is the Tomlishorn at 2,128 meters above sea level. With Pilatus, you have your pick of how to reach the awe-inspiring views from the observation platforms at the top of the mountain. One way is to ride the cable car up from the town of Kriens just outside of Lucerne. A more exciting approach though is to take the world’s steepest cog railway from the town of Alpnachstad. If you’re looking to experience it all, the Golden Round Trip takes you by ferry to the cog railway and lets the cable cars bring you back. Again, there are hiking trails all the way up Mt Pilatus but the trek won’t be easy.
Recommendation: We can also highly recommend this guided tour to Mt Pilatus. Ride to the top of Mt. Pilatus by aerial cable car to take part in easy hikes through the Alpine scenery. Descend the mountain on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, and then cruise back to Lucerne by boat. It’s quite an awesome trip and shouldn’t be missed.
There you have it – how to make the most of your 1 day in Lucerne. By following this itinerary you can be confident that you’ve seen the city’s most important sights and will likely agree that this is one of the prettiest places you’ve even seen.