Secret Lucerne: Hidden highlights of this traditional Swiss city

With its glorious lakeside location, surrounding billow of mountains and enchanting old streets, stay for a while in Lucerne, to drink in its charms and to uncover some of its hidden corners…

Sarah Baxter
25 July 2019

According to legend, one night, way back when, an angel appeared with a lantern and led a group of villagers to a place among the mountains. They subsequently built a monastery there; a settlement grew around it, which eventually became a city: Lucerne – meaning ‘lamp’ or ‘luminous’. Whether or not this tale is true, Lucerne certainly feels heaven sent – with its glorious lakeside location, surrounding billow of mountains and enchanting old streets. Stay for a while, to drink in its charms and to uncover some of its hidden corners…


The old city walls of Lucerne (Lucerne Tourism Board)

1. See the city on foot

Walk the picture-pretty Chapel Bridge (Lucerne Tourism Board)

The best way to see Lucerne is at walking pace. The city is conveniently compact and has the sort of side-alleys and secrets that encourage wandering at will. The best way to get acquainted with Lucerne is on an expert-led walking tour. You’ll get your bearings and be introduced to both highlights and lesser-known areas. Walk across the famed Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), which has spanned the river for over 650 years – though had to be significantly rebuilt after a disastrous fire in 1993. Stroll the lakeside promenade past the boat jetties, cafes and striking Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), visit the baroque Jesuit Church and admire the poignant Lion Monument, a moving memorial hewn into the cliffs. Don’t miss the medieval Musegg Wall – four of the towers that once formed part of Lucerne’s defences remain, and offer great views across the city.

Enjoying a coffee in one of Lucerne’s neighbourhoods (Switzerland Tourism Board)

2. Explore the hippest neighbourhoods

The Lake Pool is a historic lido in Lucerne (Lucerne Tourism Board)

Lucerne is small, but it’s not all the same – the various quarters of the city have different vibes. Take the Hirschmatt-Neustadt neighbourhood, just south of the Kapellbrücke, which encompasses some of the city’s finest architecture, both old and new. Begin at the Lucerne Theatre and stroll along boutique-lined streets such as Hirschmattstrasse, through Vögeligärtli park and past the Kleintheater (an innovative venue for up-and-coming acts) to reach tree-lined Helvetiaplatz, a lovely spot to spend a warm summer’s evening. A little west is the Bruch quarter, the former cattle market turned trendy residential district that’s now lively with coffee shops, bars and small stores selling unusual and handmade crafts. Seek out Madeleine, a speakeasy-style venue with a cool bar and regular cultural performances.

The mirror maze at the Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden)

3. Go for a dip

Admiring art on the top floor of the KKL (Lucerne Tourism Board)

With all this tempting water around, it seems rude not to go for a swim. Lucerne has some lovely spots, not least the Seebad (‘Lake Pool’). Completed in 1885, this historic lido has two lake-water swimming pools, where you can take a refreshing dip with views of the surrounding mountains. Seebad is open until 8pm, so you can even go for a post-swim drink and watch the sun set. At Lucerne Lido there’s a 300m-long soft, sandy beach and a heated pool to choose between. Or go where the locals go: at popular Ufschötti Park you can laze on the tree-dotted lawn, grab lunch from one of the little cafes, play a game of boules or take a dip straight from the beach.

Riding the train through Switzerland

4. Get into glaciers

Diners spilling out onto the pavements enjoying the summer atmosphere (Lucerne Tourism Board)

Opened in 1873, the Gletschergarten (Glacier Garden) is a Lucerne institution. This wonderfully eclectic museum crams in all sorts of treasures, from a mirror maze to an alpine park to a traditional Swiss House that tells the story of mountain exploration. However, the most dramatic side of the site is a geological adventure through the grooves and channels once hewn by an enormous glacier; you can walk along footbridges and amid the ancient rock, learning more about how these great tongues of ice work.

A boat on lake Lucerne at sunset (Lucerne Tourism Board)

5. Appreciate art

Located on the top floor of the glittering KKL, the Kunstmuseum Luzern (Museum of Art Lucerne) is one of the country’s finest repositories of art. Its collection comprises many Swiss masterpieces as well as international works, with constantly changing thematic displays. In summer 2019, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Lucerne Art Society, a special exhibition will focus on JMW Turner, the English Romantic painter who was enchanted by Switzerland. ‘Turner: The Sea and the Alps’ will include some of the dramatic landscape paintings and sketches he created during his six visits to the country between 1802 and 1844. Wander the exhibition, then pop to the fourth-floor cafe for excellent cake and an equally delicious view.

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6. Eat well

You won’t go hungry in Lucerne. The city’s location, in the heart of the country and the heart of Europe, ensures a varied mix of dishes, from international to typically Swiss. While you’re here, a few local specialities to indulge in include birewegge (pear bread), buttery pastry packed with pears, plums, figs, walnuts and raisins, and chügelipastete, a creamy vol-au-vent-style pie dating back to the 18th century.

What’s more, as Lucerne is so perfectly situated, it’s easy to eat and drink with an incredible view. In summer especially, cafe tables spread out onto the pavements and waterfront promenade, and rooftop bars and clubs serve sundown drinks with glittering lake panoramas. There’s even a ‘Fondue Ship’ from October to December, on which you can cruise the lake while eating unlimited melted cheese. For a more in-depth tasting experience, head out on a foodie walking tour or get hands-on: it’s possible to join a chocolate crafting session with an artisan chocolatier, descend into a cheese cellar for an expert-led tasting or even take a sausage-making seminar at Langerlen Farm in Schwarzenberg to learn to make the perfect wurst.

7. Make a break for the lake

Lucerne is the launch-pad for adventures all around its namesake lake. There are multiple ferry routes plying the waters and, once you disembark, the possibilities are almost endless. Historic and ingenious cable cars, cogwheel trains and funiculars soar to great mountain heights. Walking and cycling trails lead into lush valleys and forests. Mountain huts and chalets perch amid the hills, serving farm-fresh cuisine. There are so many options that it’s easy to find a place away from the crowds. For instance, you could follow the old pilgrimage trail up Mount Rigi, seek out pine martens in the woods of the Burgenstock, soar up Pilatus on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway or just find a quiet spot and get lost in the loveliness of the lake.

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