Lake Lucerne, Vierwaldstaetter See in German, is Switzerland’s fourth-largest lake, located in the center of the country. The lake is unusual because it has a very irregular shape, with many bends and turns and four arms. The shores of Lake Lucerne are partly formed by steep mountains like the Rigi and Pilatus, bordered by fabulous towns like Lucerne and Weggis, and are the site of Switzerland’s oldest history. The three original cantons which formed the Swiss Federation on August 1, 1291, Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden, touch on the lake, all of which makes for some of the most beautiful landscapes in Switzerland. You can go on train rides up the Rigi mountain, boat trips on original paddle steamers on the lake, excursions to historic sites of Lucerne, walks in the woods, and visit the location of the famous shot of William Tell. A great variety of things to do and see for every taste and level of fitness.
Lake Lucerne is best reached by train, just 50 minutes from Zurich. Stay in Lucerne and travel around from there.
1. Discover The Charm Of Lucerne
The river Reuss flows through Lucerne, and of course, Lucerne is bordered by the lake of the same name. Start by exploring the Old Town, which nestles between the river and the old city wall. Be prepared for a lot of walking and climbing many, many steps, but it’s all worth the effort. For a great overview, make your way to the 14th-century Musegg Wall. Nine towers are interspersed in the wall, the most remarkable being the Zytturm, with an ancient clock and a museum of one-of-a-kind timepieces.
Back in the old town and by the river, you need to walk the length of Europe’s oldest covered, wooden bridge, Chapel Bridge. Stop at the tall stone water tower and enjoy views over the city and river, and even glimpse the lake. A few years back there was a fire, but the city of Lucerne has done a splendid job of restoring woodwork and the paintings. The bridge’s interior is covered by colorful paintings depicting scenes of Switzerland’s most important history. There is another wooden bridge called Spreuer Bridge. It’s somewhat shorter but is an alternative to get from one side to the other. This one is also full of paintings.
Learn about history by looking at the Lion Monument. It’s a wounded lion, lying on his side, carved into a cliff. The lion symbolized the Swiss soldiers that were killed during the French Revolution. Nearby is Lucerne’s charming Kornmarkt, a quaint little square with a clock tower and plenty of shops and restaurants. Make sure to look up as nearly all buildings are beautifully painted.
A unique work of art is the Bourbaki Panorama. It’s a massive cylindrical painting created by Edouard Castres in 1881, reflecting the flight of the French Bourbaki Army to Switzerland in 1871 and their fate. A unique combination of history, art, culture, and politics will keep you glued to the huge canvases for hours to study the thousands of details.
Other interesting places to visit in Lucerne, depending on your tastes and interests, are the 17th-century Jesus Church with an incredible Baroque and Rococo interior, the Swiss Transport Museum, or the Schwanenplatz, famous for an array of exquisite watch shops. If you fancy one of the most precious (and expensive) Swiss watches, this is the place to come.
Not to be missed is the Glacier Garden, a museum built around a glacial pothole. It reopens in January 2021.
2. Be Awed By Mount Rigi
Rigi is the ‘house mountain’ of Lucerne, clearly visible from the city. Summer or winter, a trip up Mount Rigi is an awesome experience. The steep mountain is surrounded by three lakes: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug, and Lake Lauerz. The trip up is already half the fun as you can go either by cable car or cog rail. Once on top, enjoy one of the most impressive views in all of Switzerland, ski in winter, hike, and sit in the sun in the summer.
3. Relax In Weggis
Located on the northern shore of Lake Lucerne, at the foot of Rigi Mountain, Weggis is the second most popular tourist destination in the canton of Lucerne. South facing, the charming village gets a lot of sunny days with a mild climate and even enchanted Mark Twain on his visit in 1897. You can walk along the promenade bordering the lake, enjoy the view and the lush vegetation. Before the construction of cable cars and cog rails, Weggis was a favorite starting point for wealthy travelers who wanted to reach the summit of Mount Rigi. The only way was to be carried up by sedan chair bearers.
Plenty of spas are found in Weggis, too, if only for a few hours of pampering. If you manage to visit in September, you can visit two typically Swiss events: On September 4, the Alpine Wrestling Festival, and on September 25, a Cattle Show and Autumn Market. All the animals are adorned with flowers and bells.
4. Go On A Boat Trip
The peculiar shape of Lake Lucerne means that you can enjoy a lot of different sights and places on a boat trip around the lake. The most romantic way of doing so is on board one of the five historic art deco paddle steamers. They depart from Lucerne to Fluelen. There are many more, including departing from Weggis and of different lengths. You can even have a candlelit dinner. The choice is yours, and after all the hiking, stair climbing, and walking you will have to do on land, you’ll appreciate a few hours of gliding along on the water, resting your feet.
5. Hike The Swiss Path In Morschach
High above Lake Lucerne in a glacier moraine nestles the village of Morschach. It is a fabulous location for summer and winter activities. You can combine a walk along the Swiss Path reliving the oldest and most important history of Switzerland. The seven-section path was built to celebrate the 700th anniversary of the Swiss Federation’s formation on the southern shore of Lake Lucerne. Each section is easy to reach and to walk separately. If you head to Morschach and the Swiss Park, a popular resort complex, you come through the hometown of Swiss national hero William Tell. In fact, the whole area is steeped in history, including the legend of the Tell jump and him shooting an apple from the head of his son with a crossbow.
The different sections are all family-friendly should you travel with kids. Despite the steep mountains forming this part of Switzerland, the terrain is not too difficult to manage. In Morschach, you can also ride the Fronalpstock open cable lift, but the views are vertiginous, so the trek is not suitable for travelers suffering from vertigo.
6. Ascend Mount Pilatus
As you can see, your adventures around Lake Lucerne involve water and plenty of mountains. Mount Pilatus is a massif above the lake, which actually comprises several peaks of which the highest is called Tomlishorn at 7,000 feet. It’s not only breathtakingly beautiful but also the site of many legends. Supposedly Pontius Pilatus is buried here. Also, a stone giant stands guard at the entrance to a secret cave, and it was the home of a magic dragon. The entire massif offers hiking trails but is also popular with mountain climbers and gives you an overview of all three lakes and many more mountains.
A cable car takes you up from Lucerne, and if you want an even bigger thrill, make your way to Alpnachstad and go on the world’s steepest cog railway.
7. Indulge In Fondue And Raclette
Any travel experience includes food and drink, and here, you have the opportunity to sample the two most popular Swiss cheese specialties: fondue and raclette. Both originate from the French-speaking part of Switzerland but are particularly good around Lake Lucerne because of the cheese's quality and strong flavor. Fondue is cheese, melted in a special copper pot with white wine and eaten by dipping croutons on a long fork into the hot mixture. Raclette is a lump of cheese, slowly melted in a special oven, then portions are scraped off as they seep out and are eaten with potatoes, pickled onions, and gherkins. For the best raclette, try the Zunfthausrestaurant Pfistern in Lucerne.
Unless you just want to stick to boat trips and walks along the lake promenades, you need to be in reasonably good shape to do all the walking and hiking. The language is German, and the currency is the Swiss Franc, but English is no problem.
The real insider tip is not to drink white wine with fondue or raclette, but hot tea instead. This way, the cheese won’t sit like a stone in your stomach and give you indigestion. It’s further helped along with a strong schnapps at the end of your meal, either a Kirsch of a Pfluemli.