I visited Geneva, Switzerland early in my travels, and knew that I wanted to come back and explore another part of this small but gorgeous country. Lucerne was the Swiss city that best fit my fall travel route, and I had heard that it was a beautiful place. Indeed it is!
I spent just two full days in Lucerne, but the city is fairly compact with good public transportation, so I was able to see quite a lot. Not only did I explore the city by foot, but I also enjoyed the sights by cable car and by ferry…essentially viewing the city and surrounding area by air, land and water! If you have the chance, I highly recommend that you do the same. Each perspective is different and absolutely breathtaking.
There’s no question about it…in addition to being beautiful, Switzerland is expensive. However, I was still able to enjoy visit to Lucerne without going too far over my daily travel budget. My Eurail Pass, which I purchased before I left the U.S. and activated in early October, saved me quite a bit on the pricey mountain and lake visits. I was also able to find a reasonably-priced hostel outside Lucerne’s city center with breakfast included and a full kitchen for cooking my other meals.
Here are the air, land and water highlights from my trip to Lucerne.
AIR: Mount Pilatus Cableway
There are three different mountain ranges surrounding Lucerne: Titlis, Rigi and Pilatus. I chose to visit Pilatus mainly because it was located within a short walk from my hostel and because I knew I would get about $20 off the approximately $70 ticket price by showing my Eurail Pass, making the ride a little more affordable.
It’s still a pricey excursion for a budget traveler, but for me the experience was well worth the expense. To reach the top of Mount Pilatus, I had what looked like a brand-new “aerial panorama gondola” all to myself. The gondola carried me to the Fräkmüntegg summit, where I joined a group of other visitors on the large “aerial cableway car.”
The cableway car delivered the group of us to a beautiful visitors’ center with a restaurant, coffee counter, gift shop, seats and panoramic windows looking out over the breathtaking beauty of Mount Pilatus. The visitors’ center also has a two-level outdoor viewing area. The weather was cold and snowy, but I must have stood there looking at the beautiful snow-covered mountains and the view of the city below for at least an hour before going inside to warm up…and then coming back outside again.
Several small trails branch out from the visitors’ center, which might allow even better views in the summertime. During my visit, the trails were snowed over and the routes closed. Still, I spent about three hours just taking photos and admiring the awe-inspiring views.
LAND: Old Town Lucerne
With its covered bridges, interesting squares and stunning old-world architecture, Lucerne is a pleasure to explore. Even though it was raining on the day when I visited, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk around this beautiful town.
One of the highlights of my old town tour was rather unexpected. I saw the “Lion Monument” noted on my free map from the tourist information center and figured I’d skip it, thinking “That sounds…umm…boring.” But while wandering around town, I saw several signs pointing in the direction of the monument and figured I’d might as well check it out.
Wow. Photos don’t really give the full perspective, but this monument is dramatic and moving. The “dying lion” is carved into a huge sandstone cliff with a pool of water at its base. The carving was completed in 1821 in recognition of the Swiss Guards who died in Paris in 1792 while trying to save Marie Antoinette. Don’t skip over this sight (like I almost did) when you visit Lucerne.
The covered footbridge known as Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, is a prominent feature in the old town and a symbol of Lucerne. It was constructed in 1333 but severely damaged by fire in 1993. It has since been reconstructed, and it’s quite interesting to walk along the bridge and admire views of the city as well as the paintings hanging from its arched roof.
The stone pathways of Lucerne are also filled with restaurants, tea and coffee shops and stores of all types.
WATER: Lake Lucerne Ferry Boat
On one afternoon during my visit, I walked to the pier in Lucerne where the ferry boats dock, hoping to find an inexpensive ride. At the ticket window, I asked for the cheapest rate. To my dismay, it was about $55 for about a 4-hour ride.
“Is there any discount with a Eurail Pass?” I asked, fully expecting a “no.”
“Yes, with a Eurail Pass, it’s free.”
When you order a Eurail Pass, a first class pass is the only option if you’re over 26 (which, obviously, I am!). That seems like a bit of a scam, but in this case it worked out wonderfully. I spent the entire ride on Lake Lucerne on the 1st Class deck at the top level of the ferry with comfortable seating, a heated restaurant with white tablecloths, and truly amazing views.
The ride was cold, but I spent as much time outside as I could stand. It was one of those experiences when I couldn’t believe that what I was seeing was actually real. The views were absolutely breathtaking.
I felt a little like a thief because I got the ride for free (though I did pay for the rail ticket), but the ferry ride on Lake Lucerne is definitely worth paying for, even if you decide to go second class.
Though I only spent two days in Lucerne, I had such a wonderful and memorable visit. Don’t shy away from Switzerland because it’s expensive. If you plan to cook for yourself and save money where possible, you’ll find that the splurges on truly unique experiences are worth the expense.