LUCERNE, SWITZERLAND: Lucerne was completely different from what I had imagined it to be. After looking at some Google images, I knew it would be surrounded by the Alps, has a lake, and some nice views. Of course it has the giant Alps guarding the city from different directions and deep blue Lake Lucerne being a huge home for lots and lots of elegant and friendly white swans. But the city itself is charismatic and charming as well as loaded with Swiss history and a feeling of medieval city life. In addition to that, the location is great to explore other nearby Swiss cities like Zurich, Berne, Basel, Interlaken and regions, like French Alsace, German Black Forest, and finally, the mighty Alps.
The main attractions in Lucerne are within walking distance. Taking a stroll or just chilling by Lake Lucerne is half the fun here. The official language of the city is German, but I’ve heard people speaking French and most of the locals are very fluent in English as well. One thing to remember when driving on autobahn and entering Basel (or Switzerland) is that you have to pay 40 CHF to get a toll ticket. The ticket is valid for one calendar year indicating on the sticker. There are few garages close to The Chapel Bridge or the old town, don’t have to take any risk of parking by the curbside.
TIME OF TRAVELING: We drove to Basel during first week July, 2012. It was a nice and scenic 5 hours of drive from Tervuren, Belgium. From there, we came to Lucerne for a day trip, which was about an hour drive from Basel. The weather was extremely cooperative, not too hot, not too cold, and luckily, no rain.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in Dorin Hotels & Resorts in Basel. The hotel didn’t have free breakfast but free Wi-Fi and paid car garage were perfect for us. The best part of the hotel was that they gave us free tram pass for 4 of us for the duration of our stay which we could use both in Basel and Lucerne. Also the location of this hotel was perfect. It was only 7/8 minutes tram ride from Basel city center and about an hour drive to Lucerne.
WHAT TO EAT AND BUY IN LUCERNE: Of course, Swiss chocolates are something to eat and buy in Switzerland. Other than Lindt, “Villars” is a good brand of Swiss chocolates. Additionally, Swiss knives, watches (if you have some extra cash to spare), and cowbells are some of the popular souvenirs to take back home. Buying Swiss watches from Switzerland doesn’t mean that you will get them cheaper here, these cost about the same anywhere else in the world. There are tons of Swiss watch stores in Lucerne and some of them are actually open on Sundays too.
PLACES WE HAVE VISITED: We spent a whole day in Lucerne and saw all the things we wanted to see in our list. Here are all the places we could explore in a day:
1) Mt. PILATUS: If you want to enjoy the breathtaking view of one and only Alps, consider going to Mt. Pilatus for that and it is a one of a life-time experience. A trip on Mt. Pilatus involving the cogwheel railway (world’s STEEPEST cogwheel railway) or various cableways is an experience not to be missed. Mt. Pilatus offers a spectacular view of Lucerne Bay on a clear day. If its cloudy and you can’t see the bay, don’t worry, looking at soothing greenery up on the mountains, listening to Swiss cows clinging their bells as they roam around the hills, hugging the clouds, and enjoying fauna & flora are just some of many things to do and see here. This is a great adventure for all ages and visitors get a good impression of the rocky and wild side of Alps.
This is a great place for hiking for the pro-hikers. The fantastic trails offer everything from easy to alpine. We really didn’t hike, but took some short walks with the kids to admire different parts of the mountain. Even if you don’t prefer hiking, plan to spend at least couple hours on Pilatus. I would highly recommend taking a fleece or light sweater when going 8000 ft. high in elevation. The weather is very unpredictable here, it kept changing from hot to cold and hot again.
There are several different options to go on top of Mt. Pilatus. We took the cogwheel ride from bottom of Mt. Pilatus and within 30 minutes we were on top of the cloudy mountain. For the round trip of cogwheel ride we paid 70 CHS per adult, 35 CHS for our 6 years old and nothing for the 2 years old. There are few restaurants on top of Alpnachstad. Visit www.pilatus.ch to see all the options and packages are available for the visitors to make this trip a really great experience.
2) THE CHAPEL BRIDGE (KAPELLBRÜCK): This is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe and a must see landmark in Lucerne. Built in the 14th century, the bridge served as rampart and town fortification during that time. Chapel Bridge was burnt down in 1993 around midnight, which unfortunately, also damaged a lot of the paintings there dating from the 17th century. But you can still see the remaining paintings while crossing the bridge.
Walking over the Chapel Bridge is a fantastic experience. During the summer, it is decorated with beautiful flowers on both sides. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the surrounding jaw-dropping view from the bridge. We were standing there surrounded by many white swans with the Alps on one side, old town and medieval buildings lined by the water on another side (which kind reminded me of Venice), and several gorgeous architectures on the other side. Jesuitenkirche, with its green twin towers, is an example of one of those beautiful buildings that can be seen from the Chapel Bridge. I am sure anyone will instantly fall in love with the view from the bridge after seeing such splash of colors all around it. Don’t forget to buy some souvenirs from the store right on the bridge.
3) HOFKIRCHE: This can easily be recognized by its twin towers. You have to climb some stairs to go inside the church. Interior is very nicely decorated with giant white columns and furniture in dark wood. There are several old large paintings here. The cemetery outside the church is very peaceful and calm. Also the view of the city from up the stairs near the church is simply lovely.
4) LOWENDENKMAL (THE LION MONUMENT): Also known as the Lion of Lucerne, is a sculpture of a mortally wounded lion, situated in a very calm and serene place shaded by lots of green trees. This mourning lion commemorates the Swiss mercenaries who, in the service of Louis XVI King of France, were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The inscription “Helvetiorum fidei ac virtruti” means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”. This stone-curved sculpture is 6 meters high and 10 meters long. Many writers have praised this sculpture in their works, one of them is Mark Twain, who said “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
5) ALTSTADT (OLD TOWN): This is a fascinating place to get lost and connect with Swiss history. The old town is rather small but remarkably well-preserved. Enjoy small squares like Weinmarkt, Kapellplatz, Theaterplatz and Lucerne Rathaus (City Hall) in Kornmarkt with its maroon clock tower. Its narrow streets, passages, and murals on buildings are truly admirable. You can also see Lake Lucerne and The Chapel Bridge once in a while thru those old buildings. Overall, the old town of Lucerne takes you back to past centuries and leaves you with a pleasant feeling.
6) TRIP TO BASEL: Basel is less than hour drive from Lucerne. It makes a great day trip to get some taste of Swiss city-life. The public transportation system in Basel is extremely well. Please check out my page on Basel on the right to get more travel information on this city.