Two days exploring Lucerne
Driving into Lucerne for the first time seemed much like the bustle of any modern day city. On first impression, it was difficult to imagine the medieval treasures that co-existed beside the frenetic pace of modern day Lucerne.
The many attractions of the picturesque city had enticed us to include this on the last few days of our four week European Road Trip.
We arrived in Lucerne on a blisteringly hot summer’s day . Settling into our boutique hotel perched high in the hills above the city, we took the vernicular down the hill to begin exploring the city.
Throughout our trip, my sister had acted as our tour-guide extraordinaire. Her research into what to see in Lucerne helped us to enjoy many of the major attractions during our brief two day visit.
From the glittering lake with the backdrop of Mt Rigi, to medieval history, exciting culinary experiences and local culture, it was hard to choose what to fit into a short time frame.
Stroll around Lake Lucerne
The glittering waters of Lake Lucerne, with the backdrop of the Alps and Mt Rigi greet visitors on arrival. A short walk from the main bus terminus brought us to Lucerne’s main attraction, the pristine waters around which the city buildings huddle.
Tourist boats and private pleasure craft cruised the waters. Pelicans, ducks and other waterbirds greeted tourists. Quite possibly in the hope of an easy feed.We could have sat all day relaxing and soaking in the scenery, but there was so much to see and so little time. Simply strolling around the lake and crossing the iconic bridges will bring you to many of the medieval landmarks.
You can also take a cruise around the lake, or simply sit back and enjoy the beauty and serenity of the surrounding scenery.
Walk along Chapel Bridge.
We joined the throng of tourists sauntering across Chapel Bridge in the hope of catching the “must have” selfie on the wooden crossing festooned with flowers. The central water tower, which once formed part of the city walls is one of the most photographed sites in Lucerne.
Chapel Bridge is probably the most famous landmark in Lucerne.
The wooden, roofed bridge was built during the first half of the 14th century as part of the city fortifications.
Painted ceiling panels dating back to the 17th century depict scenesfrom Swiss history and lives of Lucerne patron saints.
Much of the Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1993, so most of what remains is actually an excellent reproduction of the original.
A short way upstream, you will come across a second, original wooden bridge. Spreuerbrückeor or Mill Bridge zigzags across the Reuss. Constructed in 1408 as part of the city fortifications, the bridge features a series of medieval-style 17th Century paintings by Kaspar Meglinger titled “Dance of Death.”
It has a small chapel in the middle that was added in 1568
Explore the medieval town.
As you stroll along either side of the lake, it is literally impossible to miss medieval Lucerne. It is all around you. The ancient frescoed buildings within the historic fortifications have stood the test of time. Some are open to the public as museums or guest accommodation. Others are still used as commercial premises, administrative buildings or are privately owned.
Exploring the cobble-stoned streets you will frequently come across plaques outlining the history of many of the buildings. The sheer beauty of the shuttered stone buildings, frescoed facades and medieval architecture speak for themselves.
Sample the local produce
If you are lucky enough to be in Lucerne on market day, you will find the riverside full of market stallholders. The aroma of local cheeses, meats and street foods waft along the alleyways, luring you to sample the local produce.
Browse through flea markets offering antiques, bric-a-brac and tacky souvenirs. From vintage clothing, old vinyl records, teapots worthy of Aladdin himself, to estate jewellery and nick nacks, you have ample opportunity to haggle for a great bargain.
Swiss chocolatiers provide mouthwatering window displays. We did venture inside to investigate further. However with starving children in the world, we felt that AUD100 per kg was just a little obscene and contented ourselves with taking in the sweet aromas.
Visit the Jesuit Church
The Jesuit church is a prominent landmark on the Lucerne waterfront. The onion domed, riverside Jesuit Church was completed in 1677. It is the largest Baroque church in Switzerland. The church features a magnificent marble stucco altar and nave, frescoed ceilings
Visit The Franciscan church
The more discreet Franciscan church, with its more humble facade belies the exquisite interior which awaits visitors. The 13th century gothic church features a spectacular marble stucco side chapel. During the baroque period, the simple wooden ceilings were replaced with frescoed murals.
Lunch by Lake Lucerne
There are no shortage of restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy a relaxing lunch by Lake Lucerne. During our summertime visit, we took refuge from the sweltering heat in a courtyard cafe.
While the rest of the family decided on local pizza, my sister felt she only wanted a “light lunch” so opted for the antipasto platter.
The look on her face was priceless when a four tier platter of meats, cheeses, olives and sundried tomatoes was set before her. We really do need to brush up on our German next time!!
Walk along the Musegg wall
Enjoy the best views in Lucerne with a walk along the Musegg wall. In 38 degree heat it was a somewhat strenuous walk uphill, but very well worth the effort.
Started in 1178 as part of the town’s fortifications, nine towers remain and an 870 metre long walkway along the ramparts provide spectacular views over Lucerne.
Four towers remain open to the public, including the oldest city clock built in 1535 by Hans Luter, which chimes the hour one minute before every other clock in Lucerne.
Access to the wall is via two of the towers, so there is a steep climb. I must confess to descending the final ladder in a somewhat inelegant fashion, but the experience of walking along the ancient ramparts was well worth the effort.
Visit Dying Lion of Lucerne
Located at the eastern end of medieval Lucerne you will find the “The Dying Lion of Lucerne”.
Occupying a relative small space in a bustling medieval square, you can’t miss the crowds of tourists jostling for a selfie in front of the small pond at the foot of a solid rockface.
The famous memorial has been dubbed “the saddest lion in the world”. It commemorates the Swiss soldiers who died protecting Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution in 1792 and is carved out of the rockface of a former quarry used to build the city.
The latin inscription HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”
Danish sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen designed the sculpture in 1819. German stonemason Lucas Ahorn carved the sculpture from the sandstone rock in 1820-1821.
The sculpture was originally on private property and was purchased by the City in 1882 as a public monument.
Watch Surfing Lucerne Style
Surfing the river rapids was an unexpected local sport we watched during our riverside walk. During a heatwave, even by Australian standards, locals flocked to the river to cool down.
Many engaged in the local “sport” of throwing themselves into the rapids and rafting downstream, or “waterskiing” on a paddleboard holding on for dear life to a rope anchored to the riverbank.
You really would need to know exactly where you were going, as there would be no swimming back upstream against the raging current.
Visit the Swiss Transport Museum
It was raining on our second day in Lucerne, so a museum visit seemed the ideal activity. We spent most of the day visiting one of the largest transport museums in the world.
The Swiss Transport Museum exhibits everything from horse driven carriages to space ships and everything in between.
You can spend hours exploring trains, planes and automobiles. The auto section features a massive life-size “matchbox car” display, where you could choose your car, which would be winched onto a rotating platform for you to get a better close-up view.
For the technically minded, volunteers are on hand to provide informative demonstrations on matters mechanical.
Out in the central courtyard, children whizz around on miniature vehicles, or sail the lake on boats – all included in the family entry fee.
A large cafeteria provides a range of refreshments from coffee and cake through to schnitzel and apfelstrusel. You can dine inside, or al-fresco as you watch the children enjoying the activities in the courtyard.
Vintage diving suit at Lucerne transport museum
Taste test at Lindt Chocolate World
Located in the same building as the Transport Museum is the Lindt chocolate museum. Here you can learn everything about the production of Swiss Chocolate from the cultivation of the cocoa beans, to the manufacture of the final product.
My sister and I of course supported this excellent initiative by participating enthusiastically in the chocolate tasting. Much the same as the wine tasting we had enjoyed in the Burgundy and Chablis regions. Choose your chocolate and then stock up for the trip home.
Enjoy the view at Chateau Guetsch
Our accommodation for our two nights in Lucerne is worth a visit itself.
Sitting high on the hilltop with panoramic views over the glittering Lake Lucerne, the 19th century fairytale castle has an impressive list of former guests, including Queen Victoria herself, who once holidayed in the castle.
Originally built during the 1880’s as a private residence with an attached restaurant, the Chateau has been recently refurbished and is now a four star boutique hotel.
Each room is decorated in its own unique style, providing breathtaking views over the city. The rooms are all named after previous famous guests. For a premium price, you can even check into the exclusive “Queen Victoria Suite”
A vernicular takes you down the steep slope into town and the bus stop. Free public transport vouchers were provided for hotel guests.
Not exactly budget accommodation, but our stay here was a “treat” we splurged on at the end of our road trip. The outdoor parking area was also one of the few places in Lucerne where we could guarantee parking for a nine seater minibus.
The Chateau has an excellent restaurant bar and coffee lounge, all well worth a visit for the views over Lucerne.
With a longer stay, you would be able to fit in a day trip to the nearby Pilatus or Rigi mountains, or perhaps a steamship ride around Lake Lucerne. In just two days we were able to enjoy most of the notable attractions in the city centre itself.
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