Lucerne has been described as Swiss perfection. Which is a big call in a picture-postcard country like Switzerland. This beautiful city, fringed by mountains and dotted with quaint alleys and lively squares, is mirrored in shimmering Lake Lucerne and is justly famous for its rich calendar of festivals and events.
The beauty of this small city – population 80,000 – was enough to bring celebrated British painter J.M.W. Turner here six times between 1802 and 1844 to study and capture the unique interplay of light and weather, lake and mountains.
The first-time visitor to Lucerne will quickly find their way to Lucerne’s centrepiece and most famous attraction – the world’s oldest covered wooden footbridge.
Dating back to the 14th century and part of the original fortifications, the Chapel Bridge was destroyed by fire in 1993 but rebuilt to its original form. Adorned with flower troughs over summer, it is decorated with pictorial panels initially installed in the 17th century, depicting historical scenes.
It’s hard to believe but the bridge’s octagonal water tower, more than 34 metres high, was once a prison and torture chamber below water level.
The Musegg Wall crowns the city. Lucerne was once protected by the stone curtain wall and the timber-clad covered battlements erected more than six centuries ago.
You can walk along the wall taking in wide-sweeping views of the city and visit three of its nine towers open to the public.
In the Zyt Tower you will find the oldest clock in the city, dating from 1535.
Lucerne is built for strolling. Check out the Needle Dam, built in 1859, where the water level of Lake Lucerne is still regulated manually by the removal or insertion of wooden “needles”.
Or take in an evening concert at KKL Luzern. This 1840-seat lakeside concert hall, with acoustics that have garnered international recognition, is regarded as an architectural masterpiece and stages more than 500 events a year.
A short bus ride or a leisurely stroll along the lakeside promenade will bring you to the Swiss Museum of Transport.
Switzerland has more museums per capita than any country in the world and this one is the most visited museum in Switzerland. Its brilliant highly interactive displays trace the development of transport around the world, including air and space travel.
Of course, no one does transport as well as the famously well-organised Swiss – and nowhere is this more evident than in the Lake Lucerne region.
The train conductress handed out bars of chocolate to all the passengers, most of them seniors and nearly all of them kitted out in hiking gear for a day on the mountain.
Nineteen vessels, including five vintage paddlesteamers, ply the lake, with a choice of round trips or a variety of excursions.
One of the most popular is the excursion to Mount Rigi, which boasts Europe’s first cogwheel railway, breathtaking 360-degree views and more than 120 kilometres of walking trails ranging from easy to demanding.
A half-hour train ride from Lucerne station takes you to Arth-Goldau station, where you transfer to the cogwheel train for the half-hour ascent to Mount Rigi.
The train conductress handed out bars of chocolate to all the passengers, most of them seniors, and nearly all of them kitted out in hiking gear for a day on the mountain.
Given how delicious the country’s chocolate is, it’s not surprising that the Swiss consume an average of 8.8 kilograms of chocolate per person per year.
At the top of the mountain the views are amazing. From there you can walk down, following the railway line, past restaurants and even a mineral bath and spa.
The train stops all the way along so when you tire of walking you can simply hop on board and ride down to village of Vitznau, where you can take the paddlesteamer back to Lucerne.
Other options in Lucerne include the opportunity to take the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. With a 48-degree gradient, it ascends up to Mount Pilatus. Operating between May and November, the ride takes about 30 minutes, passing through rugged rock faces and lush vegetation.
Not far from Lucerne is the 3062-metre Mount Titlis, home to Europe’s highest suspension bridge and the glacier chairlift Ice Flyer. To get up there involves a 30-minute ride on the Titlis Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car, travelling high above the alpine landscape.
IF YOU GO…
The German-speaking city of Lucerne is often mispronounced with many travellers calling it “Loosen”, as in the cattle feed, or “Loo-Sern”. It’s actually pronounced “Loot-Sern”. Most people speak English so getting around is generally effortless.
Getting there: You can fly with Swiss International Airlines to Zurich by flying Singapore Airlines to Singapore and then Swiss Air to Zurich – swiss.com
Getting around: Unless you intend to drive, buy a Swiss Travel Pass, an all-in-one travel ticket that will let you experience Switzerland by rail, bus and boat for three, four, eight or 15 days. It also includes rides on panoramic trains, public transport in more than 90 towns and cities and a 50 per cent reduction on most mountain excursions.
From Lucerne you can go by rail to other places such as Bern and Montreux. There is also a flexible travel pass for those who want to linger longer in cities and towns and free entry to 500-plus museums.
Trains leave from Zurich airport so you can step off the plane and on to a train – myswitzerland.com/rail
Where to stay: The Wilden Mann (Wild Man) has existed in the heart of Lucerne for 500 years, when the Inn Wilde Mann was documented for the first time in the files of the town. The glorious old character-filled hotel with twisting passageways filled with precious heirlooms has just 48 rooms and two restaurants – the fine-dining Sauvage and the Burgerstube serving traditional home-style fare.
Guests staying in Lucerne receive a guest card that entitles them to free rail/bus travel card within the city and 70-plus special offers and discounts on attractions throughout the year.