Lucerne is revered as one of Europe’s most beautiful cities, and deservingly so. It has sort of that magical old European city charm that you’re looking for when you visit Europe. With its preserved medieval architecture, colorful buildings, and charming covered bridges all sitting beside a beautiful lake amid the giant snow-capped Alps, what’s not the love? But what really makes Lucerne stand apart from other European cities in our opinion was its cleanliness. The place is spotless! The first thing we noticed when we drove into the city was that it was extremely clean! The streets were free of trash and graffiti which plagues so many other European cities. This alone, ranked Lucerne up there in the top European cities we’ve visited, and we hadn’t even seen anything yet!
You can easily spend a whole day in Lucerne, however being on time and budget constraints due to other plans we had around the country, we planned to spend only a few hours here. Fortunately, Lucerne’s most popular attractions are completely FREE! Here are some of the ones we recommend.
Löwendenkmal – “The Lion Monument”
This is an absolute must if you’re in Lucerne! It’s simply amazing. Situated in a beautiful park, the monument of a giant dying lion sits over a pond carved into the side of a sandstone rock wall. The monument is a tribute to the Swiss mercenary soldiers who died while protecting the French royal family (Louis XVI and his family) during the “August Insurrection” during the French Revolution. 760 Swiss soldiers were killed during the insurrection and 350 survived. History states that one of these soldiers who happened to be home in Lucerne on leave when the insurrection broke out, felt obigated to have a memorial erected in honor of his fellow soldiers. The giant sculpture is 20 ft (6 m) high, and 33 ft (10 m) long, and since it’s inauguration in 1821 has become one of Lucerne’s largest tourist attractions. Mark Twain was quoted from his 1880 travelogue as saying the monument was “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
After seeing it with our own eyes, we were obliged to agree with him. It was absolutely stunning and life like and definitely grabbed at our heart strings. Besides just being mournful and moving, the work was incredibly detailed. It was the most impressive sculpture we’ve ever seen.
Kapellbrücke – “Chapel Bridge”
The Kapellbrücke is a famous covered wooden pedestrian bridge that spans the river Reuss. It is one of the most popular and recognizable icons of the city. The bridge connects Lucerne’s old city, or “Alstadt” with the new city. Originally built around 1333, the bridge is stated to be the oldest covered bridge in all of Europe! It stood virtually unscathed for over 650 years until unfortunately was destroyed by fire in 1993. Locals set out to have the bridge restored and in 1994 it reopened looking exactly like the original. One of the unique features about the bridge are the numerous triangular paintings that are displayed on the bridge’s roof trusses. Many of these paintings date back to the 17th century as some were destroyed in the fire.
Spreuerbrücke – “Mill Bridge”
While not nearly as famous as the Kapellbrücke, the Spreuerbrücke is another covered wooden pedestrian bridge that is a quick 6 minute walk from the Kapellbrücke (0.5 km down river). The Spreuerbrücke (below) is not as long, nor as famous as the other, however is actually 426 years older because of the fire which destroyed the Kapellbrücke in the 1993. This makes the Spreuerbrücke much more authentic.
The Spreuerbrücke also has 17th century triangular paintings attached to its roof trusses, however all 67 of these are original dating from 1626 to 1635. These paintings all have a common theme known as “The Dance of Death”. Fun right? It was interesting to say the least. Every painting has a scene related to death in some way. It was extremely creepy! My family and I walked across the bridge in both directions and naturally stopped to take a dozen pictures or so. The bridge offers excellent views of the old town as well!
Alstadt – “Old Town”
This is the medieval town of Lucerne. It is a pedestrian only zone, so it’s very pleasant to walk around and not have to dodge traffic in the process. The streets are lined with colorful buildings which contain shops and restaurants and also has the occasional street performer to keep you entertained. Several buildings in this area have decorated facades dating back to the 19th and early 20th century. There are plenty of little plazas in the old city that are worth checking out as well. And if you’re into seeing medieval churches, there are plenty down here to keep you busy, with the Jesuit Church being the most famous in Lucerne for its baroque style architecture.
Museggmauer – “Musegg Wall”
The Musegg Wall is part of the old city rampart walls of Lucerne. The wall dates back to 1386 and is still mostly intact. The wall has 4 towers visitors can climb into including the clock tower. The clockworks mechanism is all exposed on the inside too which is pretty cool. One other neat thing about this clock is that by local law, every hour the clock bells are allowed to chime 1 minute prior to the hour, therefore prior to every other city clock.
Lake Lucerne / Mt. Pilatus
If you enjoy boating or just taking a leisure cruise on the lake, Lucerne has this too. Easily from downtown you can reserve a dinner cruise out on the lake below the snow-capped mountains, or you can take a sightseeing cruise across the lake on your way to Mt. Pilatus. Lucerne is the staging point for excursions to Mt. Pilatus, and this is where we left from on ours as well – only we got there by train. I will discuss more about Mt. Pilatus and other sightseeing things around Switzerland in another post.
How to get to Lucerne
If you’re arriving by train, as many who visit Switzerland do, Lucerne has an upscale massive train station. The station has what seemed like a mall on the lower floors with plenty of restaurants and the tracks are on the upper floors. From the train station it’s a 5 minute walk to the Old City, and everything mentioned above.
If you’re coming by car as we did, I recommend parking at the Löwencenter Parking Garage. It is an underground garage which sits under a shopping center. From here you have access to everything I mentioned above which is in easy walking distance. Also, on the upper floor of the shopping center is a decent self-serve type restaurant where you can eat before you head out.
If you have any questions on Lucerne or traveling in Switzerland, please feel free to let me know and I’ll be happy to share what I know with you from our experience. Thanks for reading my blog!
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