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City break: Lucerne

The ‘city of lights’ makes for a sparkling Swiss getaway 

Overhead shot of Reuss River in Lucerne

With its cobalt-blue lake surrounded by mountains, sunny piazzas, and impeccably preserved medieval Old Town, European cities don’t get more picture-perfect than Lucerne—especially when the weather is good. Often referred to as the Swiss Riviera, the ‘city of lights’ and its famous lake are embedded within an impressive alpine panorama.

It’s not all about tradition, though Lucerne has also earned a reputation for its cutting-edge art art, architecture, food, and music scenes. As the gateway to central Switzerland, Lucerne is also the ideal starting point for many excursions up one of the region’s beautiful mountains, such as the Pilatus or Rigi, or an onward journey to Ticino on the Gotthard Panorama Express.

Old Town in Lucerne Take a stroll through the Old Town

Switzerland isn’t short on beautiful old towns, but many travelers agree that Lucerne’s central district is the finest example in the country. It’s all thanks to the impeccably preserved mix of medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, and Neoclassical merchant houses that line the narrow streets and boulevards, characterized by their steeply pitched roofs and fresco-painted facades. None are more impressive than Pfistern Guild House on Kapellplatz, a historic guild house featuring a sprawling fresco of a family tree.

Board a steamboat on Lake Lucerne

Encircled by majestic mountains, Lake Lucerne, or Vierwaldstättersee in German, enjoys incredible scenic variety. Trips aboard a traditional paddle-wheel steamer or elegant salon motor vessel count among the undisputed highlights of the region. Boats can also connect you to excursion destinations and mountain cableways, including the Rigi, Pilatus, Bürgenstock, and Klewenalp; and are great before a walking route, such as the Weg der Schweiz (Swiss Path). Several cycling and skating paths, as well as numerous bathing areas, are provided along the lakeshore. 

Taste the local produce with a trip to the market

Fresh vegetables at Street Market

Withdraw plenty of Swiss Francs, grab a tote bag, and arrive hungry to experience the rich markets of seasonal produce that’s farmed, caught, and produced in the hills and waterways surrounding the city. Known locally as Wochenmarkt, artisans set up stalls along both banks of the Reuss river every Tuesday and Saturday from 7am to midday (be sure to cross the river using the magnificent wooden Chapel Bridge or ‘Kapellbrücke’Of course, Swiss cheese should be at the top of your shopping list with the nutty Gruyère, smooth Emmental, hole-filled Appenzeller, and parmesan-like Sbrinz being particularly special in these parts. Meat eaters will be drawn to the smell of St. Galler Bratwurst and Lucerne veal sausages being grilled and placed in buns; and for something sweet, pick up a slice of Bündner Nusstorte—a buttery short crust tart filled with caramelized walnuts.

Gondolas in Lucerne

Ascend Mount Pilatus

This perfect mountain adventure for the entire family ascends Mount Pilatus in Alpnachstad. It’s where the world’s steepest cog railway starts its impressive climb past forest, meadows, and cliffs—all while tackling a maximum gradient of 48%. With the aerial cableway Dragon Ride, travelers are now practically flying up to Pilatus—it takes a mere 3.5 minutes to reach Pilatus (6,983ft above sea level) from the intermediate station Fräkmüntegg. Thanks to spacious seating, a cockpit-like structure, and large windows, the cableway offers a magnificent view of Lucerne and the lake as you ascend. 

Travel back in time at the Swiss Museum of Transport

Opened in 1959, Switzerland’s most popular museum features numerous fascinating exhibitions and simulations. With its collection of more than 3,000 objects, set across comprehensive exhibition areas of road transport, rail, sea navigation, and aviation, it presents one of the most extensive museums for mobility in Europe. Further attractions include the Swiss Chocolate Adventure, the Swiss Museum of Transport Film Theater—featuring the biggest screen in Switzerland—the Planetarium, and Media World. 

Get active in Engelberg 

Located 16 miles south of Lake Lucerne is Engelberg-Titlis, the largest winter and summer holiday destination in central Switzerland. It sits in a wide mountain valley at an altitude of around 3,350ft, with a charming village and famous Benedictine monastery at its center. Special kids’ activities, from a summer toboggan run and adventure playground to treasure hunts and barefoot trails, will keep little explorers entertained, while 311 miles of hiking routes offer everything from leisurely strolls for families to more strenuous routes for more intrepid adventurers. 


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