Lying at the edge of the Vierwaldstättersee (lake of the four forest cantons) and overlooked by the majestic peaks of Mounts Pilatus, Rigi and Stanserhorn, the charming city of Lucerne has grown over the last 1,000 years from a tiny fishing village in the Middle Ages to a thriving resort and centre for culture and trade, losing none of its natural beauty in the process. Just an hour away from Zurich by train, Lucerne marks the gateway to central Switzerland and makes for an utterly charming and picturesque holiday destination, be it as a day trip from the financial capital of Europe, as a city break in its own right or as part of a multi-centre holiday through Switzerland.
Lucerne enjoys a rich heritage, with palaces, churches, bridges and squares dating back to the 14th century and best exemplified by Chapel Bridge, the oldest preserved wooden bridge in Europe which formed part of the inner city fortifications alongside the Musaggmauer (wall) and the octagonal Water Tower (formerly a records office, city treasury and prison). Other must-sees include the Lion Monument, built in memory of the Swiss mercenaries who were slaughtered whilst protecting the French King and the Jesuit and Franciscan churches, both fine examples of Baroque and Gothic architecture respectively. And yet Lucerne is also gaining a name for its modern architecture with the futuristic Culture and Convention Centre (KKL), one of the highlights of the city.
Of course Lucerne’s natural beauty offers opportunity aplenty for sightseeing of a different kind. Take a trip across Lake Lucerne by paddle steamer or motorboat and enjoy the stunning mountain panoramas. Board the Wilhelm Tell Express for a journey along the Gotthard Pass via Lake Lucerne, or climb to the summit of Mount Pilatus on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, offering breathtaking vistas over the Alps and the Swiss Plateau. We particularly like the sound of the cherry road, leading out from Lucerne through a landscape punctuated with cherry trees and kirsch!
On a cultural note, Lucerne is home to many interesting museums including the Swiss Museum of Transport, the most comprehensive museum of its genre in Europe and reputedly Switzerland’s most popular museum in terms of visitor numbers. Make time also to visit the Richard Wagner Museum, housed in the composer’s former home and exhibiting a veritable treasure trove of historical musical instruments in addition to the fascinating Rosengart Collection, a superb ensemble of 19th and 20th-century art including over 200 paintings and drawings by the likes of Cézanne, Monet, Matisse, Chagall and many others.
And from a festival perspective, Lucerne holds its own with an annual collective of extravaganzas to impress. Coming up in November (9th to the 17th) at the Grand Casino Lucerne is the 19th annual Lucerne Blues Festival whilst during the rest of the year, calendar highlights include:
- Luzerner Fasnacht (27th February to 4th March 2014), one of Switzerland’s most colourful carnivals
- Fumetto, the International Comix Festival devoted to the art of comics (5th to 13th April)
- Ruderwelt, the Rowing World Cup Lucerne (11th to 13th July 2014) taking place on Lucerne’s Rotsee
- Blue Balls music festival on the shores of Lake Lucerne (18th to 26th July) playing host to a well-known line-up of acts – this year’s event included Elvis Costello, Morcheeba, Bush, Alt-J, Damien Rice, John Legend, James Morrison and Skunk Anansie
- Lucerne Festival in Summer, one of the leading classical and contemporary music festivals across the continent