Lucerne lies at the heart of central Switzerland. With its picturesque wooden bridge, its baroque Jesuit church and its pretty painted houses, it is a major Swiss tourist attraction. It is also a great base for discovering some of Switzerland’s stunning mountain panoramas, including Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus, and for taking a steamship cruise on Lake Lucerne. Below you will find some ideas of things to do in and around Lucerne.
1. Take a walk on Chapel Bridge
No visit to Lucerne would be complete without a stroll along one of Lucerne’s most famous landmarks: Chapel Bridge. This covered bridge was built in 1333 as part of the city’s fortifications. The tower itself served as a dungeon, treasury vault, torture chamber and archive over the years. In the 17th century the bridge was adorned with over one hundred paintings depicting Swiss history. In 1993, a fire broke out on Chapel Bridge, burning down 81 of the 111 paintings. Only those on either extremity of the bridge survived and can be viewed today. The bridge is beautifully lit up at night.
2. Visit the Rosengart Collection
Assembled by Siegfried Rosengart, an art dealer, and his daughter Angela, it puts emphasis on classic modernism presenting some truly exceptional works. Father and daughter did not set out to build a collection, it just came together over the years, as Angela Rosengart says: “we don’t have a collection we have nice pictures.”
The ground floor is entirely dedicated to Pablo Picasso with emphasis on his later works. The Rosengart’s enjoyed a friendship with Picasso who actually drew five portraits of Angela. Angela first met Picasso in Paris when she was just 17. Siegfried also became friends with Chagall and Matisse.
Only in Switzerland would you house an important art collection in a former bank! The Rosengart collection, worthy of any leading art museum, is housed in the former premises of the Lucerne branch of the Swiss National Bank. This impressive collection features 220 works by leading artists who contributed to moving art into abstraction, with Picasso and Klee as the main presented artists.
The first floor is devoted to more than 20 artists who shaped the impressionist and classical movements, including Braque, Chagall, Matisse, Modigliani and Renoir. I loved the framed, heavily-used palette from Marc Chagall, an unusual sight, which was actually handed personally to Siegfried Rosengart by Chagall himself. My favourite was a painting by Miro entitled Danseuse II. The lower-ground floor is entirely dedicated to Swiss artist Paul Klee.
3. Join a “Tasting & Making” workshop at Max Chocolatier
This is an absolute must for all chocolate lovers. Max Chocolatier has the prettiest chocolate boutique right next to the Hotel Schweizerhof where it makes and sells over 7 tons of chocolate every year. Decorated with lots of wood and a lovely palette of pastel colours, this artisanal shop is really worth a visit.
Max Chocolatier prides itself on producing handmade, fine chocolates using the best grand cru chocolate from Feldchen and local, organic ingredients whenever possible. They use milk from their own cow called Pralina, local fruit, honey from Lucerne bees and alpine herbs from the local pastures.
If you have time, sign up for their 90-minute “Tasting & Making” workshop. You get to try your hand at making your own creations, under the guidance of a professional chocolatier. And most importantly, you get to taste some of their wonderful and inventive creations. Whilst I didn’t get a chance to join this workshop, I did enjoy an incredible “behind-the-scenes” private visit of the workshop which I thoroughly enjoyed.
4. Discover the Queen of the Mountains
I can testify that even on an overcast day, this trip is worth it as the sweeping views from the top of Rigi Kulm, often referred to as the “Queen of the Mountains” (1797 m) over Lake Lucerne and central Switzerland are just so pretty! You can access Rigi by train from Vitznau, Goldau or by gondola from Weggis. The gondola ride itself is pretty spectacular as you rise steeply above the lake from Weggis.
If you have time I would recommend taking a one-hour hike along the “Floral Trail” from Rigi Kaltbad to Rigi Kulm. It’s a gentle and steady climb along a picturesque path with up to 200 different plants signposted along the trail, some species being incredibly rare. From the top of Rigi Kulm you can see more than 13 lakes and enjoy a 360 degree mountain panorama. There’s also a hotel and restaurant at the top.
5. Relax at Rigi Kaltbad Mineral Bath & Spa
People have been bathing in the mineral-rich waters of Rigi Kaltbad for 600 years. Sitting on a sunny terrace at 1433 meters overlooking Lake Lucerne, Rigi Kaltbad today offers super modern and design thermal baths. It’s the perfect place to stop off after a hike and take a dip in the mineral baths whilst enjoying the superb alpine landscape.
Designed by the famous Swiss architect Mario Botta, the building features a striking 30-meter long grey stone structure in the pool area of the spa, with a series of 6 alcoves with bubble loungers and massage jets. The grey stone theme can be found throughout the spa making for a very slick design.
It offers indoor and outdoor pool areas, a whirlpool, massage jets, bubble loungers, a fantastic herbal steam room, a large sauna, a relaxation area and a sun deck. You can also book a range of treatments here. Swimwear, towels and bathrobes can all be rented from reception. Also, good to know, the baths are reserved for guests staying at the Hotel Rigi Kaltbad from 9 to 11am and they organize once a month, in the summer, night-bathing events. I must add that I found the spa and the changing rooms super clean.
6. Ride a cog-wheel train up to Mount Pilatus
There are lots of different itineraries taking you up to the top of Pilatus on offer combining boat, train and gondola. For the ultimate experience book the 5-hour golden round trip from Lucerne.And the view on a clear day!
Enjoy this incredible ride on the world’s steepest cog-wheel railway. It’s 129 years old and its trains tirelessly rumbles up to the summit of Mount Pilatus (2128 meters) passing green meadows and craggy tunnels at a gentle pace of 9 kilometers an hour reaching a gradient of 48%! It really is a very steep ride and you can’t help to hope that the technology simply won’t fail on the way up. On an average working day your Pilatus driver will go through a difference in altitude of 20’000 meters. At the top, the views are breathtaking – so I am told… sadly it was raining and foggy when I went up. Clearly, if you are after spectacular views, then save this trip for a sunny day. If you just want the experience of riding the steepest cog-wheel train, then don’t let the rain stop you.
7. Take a sunset cruise on a historical paddle-steamer
If you really want to discover every last corner of Lake Lucerne then go on a sunset cruise that will take you to the heart of the alps. Navigating on a traditional, historical paddle-steamer you can dine on a three-course meal whilst enjoying spectacular views of the peaks rising above the lake. We went on the “Unterwalden”, sadly on a not-so-sunny evening, as two of the pictures above testify. The ship, which dates from 1902, has been beautifully restored. It is one of five historical ships navigating on Lake Lucerne. It features an elegant dining room on the top deck with wood carved panels and a painted ceiling. You feel like you’ve been transported to a bygone era when people dressed up in their Sunday best for a boat trip. The experience is truly worth it and the views are unforgettable.