You could easily spend days strolling around each stunning Swiss city, but what if you only have a few hours? On our latest trip to Europe, we were only given an afternoon to explore all of Lucerne, Switzerland. It was a daunting task, but if you know anything about us by now, it’s that we’re efficient travelers and are up to any challenge! Since we were confined to the center of the city due to a lack of time, we were unable to experience a lot of the sights of Lucerne that are a bit farther outside the city. If you have more time, be sure to explore and see all that Lucerne has to offer! But without further ado, here are our top recommendations for an afternoon in Lucerne, Switzerland!
Lucerne is a mix of modern and traditional architecture, with historic homes near innovative and state-of-the-art buildings. This dichotomy adds to the charm of the city, as it allows you to read the deep history of the town as you walk by its buildings and landmarks. Both the old and the new are worth mentioning, but traditionalists as we are, we stayed mostly in Old Town Lucerne (Altstadt). If you’re looking to dive into the history of the city, the first place to go is the medieval Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke). This covered bridge crosses the Reuss River in the middle of town and is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. It was built in 1365, and my favorite part about this bridge is the paintings on the triangular boards near the ceiling. These detailed masterpieces depict the history of Lucerne, and were painted in the 17th century.
Also for the history-lover is the Museggmauer, the old city wall. Built just after the
Chapel Bridge in 1386, the still-intact wall includes nine different watchtowers. Four of these towers are still available to explore, and if you are willing to climb to the top, you will be rewarded with beautiful panoramas of the city. Be aware through that the only way up and down the towers is by climbing up a lot of very narrow and very steep stairs. It could potentially be challenging to get to the top if you’re traveling with little kiddos or if it is a busy day at the towers.
Random fun fact: when we were walking to the towers, we were mistaken for locals. I don’t know why that makes us so excited, maybe the fact they thought we looked Swiss or that we appeared confident heading towards our destination. Maybe it’s just the fact that we didn’t look like typical tourists. Don’t get us wrong, we love visiting all of the touristy sites and taking the cliché photos, but we also love experiencing the local culture, even if it’s just for a few hours. We think part of traveling is being able to shed your own customs and come in open minded, ready for whatever adventure comes your way. The ability to travel is a gift, and we want to be respectful of the incredible people we get to meet, the amazing places we get to visit, and the unique culture we get to experience.
Anyway, off my soapbox 🙂
Lucerne also has its share of beautiful churches, including the baroque Jesuitenkirche and the gothic Hofkirche St. Leodegar. The Lucerne Jesuit Church was the first large baroque church built in Switzerland north of the Alps. Today, it mostly serves as a concert hall (though it’s the prettiest one I’ve ever seen) and if you’re lucky, you can get a glimpse of the choir practicing for their next performance. The Jesuit Church is no longer the religious center for the city, that title now goes to the Hof Church. This church is iconic with its twin spires and also includes the St. Leodegar and St. Maurice religious center.
There are many more things to see and do in Lucerne, including browsing the Reusssteg Flea Market, paddling along Lake Lucerne, and hiking through the mountains, but there is one more can’t miss sight – the Lion of Lucerne. If you only have 5 hours, or even 5 minutes, in Lucerne, this is the one thing you have to see. This massive lion statue is carved out of a sandstone wall above a nearby pond. But this isn’t the typical strong, unstoppable, fierce lion you’re used to seeing. No, this one has been wounded, and lays dying on its stone pedestal, as a memorial for the Swiss mercenaries who lost their lives serving King Louis XVI during the French Revolution. This was the most emotional sight we saw in Switzerland, as there seemed to be a somber feel in air as everyone looked on the monument dedicated to the lives that were lost all those years ago. Even Mark Twain felt the emotion of the sculpture, as he wrote about it in his book A Tramp Abroad and called it “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
Lucerne is a beautiful city, full of history and art. There is so much more to see than we were able to in our short time, and we are sure to be back soon to be able to explore the rest of the city. Have you been to Lucerne? If so, what do you recommend we visit on our next trip? Let us know in the comments!