Lucerne is one of central Switzerland's most charming medieval cities, located about 35 mi southwest of Zurich. The Old Town has many interesting sites, which you can easily see on foot. If time permits, go high up in the hills on the other side of the lake (opposite Lucerne) to Burgenstock, an old-world-style resort area with charming hotels and outstanding views of the lake.
Sights—Europe's oldest covered wooden bridge, the Kapellbrucke; the charming streets of the Old Town; the Lion Monument honoring fallen Swiss Guards.
Museums—The Sammlung Rosengart collection; the beautifully preserved home and lovely gardens at the Richard Wagner Museum; breathtaking landscape paintings at the Kunstmuseum.
Memorable Meals—Wiener schnitzel; the local specialty, chogalipaschteli (veal and mushroom pie); the brandy-soaked cherry sponge cake.
Late Night—Beers along the lakeside Rathaus Brauerei; live music in barn-turned-venue Schuur.
Walks—Strolling through the cobblestoned streets of Old Town; a hike up Mount Pilatus for stunning alpine views.
Especially for Kids—Verkehrshaus der Schweiz (Swiss Museum of Transport) for an entertaining look at trains, planes and automobiles
Like nearly everything in Switzerland, dining can be a shockingly expensive experience, but Lucerne's wide variety of cuisine sets the city apart from its big city neighbors, Zurich and Geneva. The near-constant stream of international travelers has helped Lucerne evolve from a meat-and-potatoes only town.
Nearly all traditional Swiss dishes are heavy and warm—meant to be served on frosty winter nights. These dishes often include a melted cheese component (such as fondue or raclette), sausage (wurst) or veal liver (kalbslaber) and potato hash browns (rosti). Pastries and kirsch (cherry-flavored clear brandy) are often an afte- dinner treat.
Since 98% of Swiss wines are not exported, visiting Switzerland is one of the only ways to try locally produced wines. The three most common wine grapes are pinot noir, Chasselas (white) and gamay (red). Try a vin des glaciers, a sherry-style wine popular locally.
As opposed to the rest of Switzerland, Lucerne restaurants tend to stay open on Sunday, then close on Monday.
Most travelers will reach Lucerne by train, either after having flown into Zurich Airport (a one-hour train ride from Lucerne) or arriving from another Swiss city.
With Lucerne spread around the lake and split in half by the river, it is easy to orient yourself when lost. Most streets in Old Town, historical squares and bridges are car-free, making Lucerne a pedestrian haven. Still, the public transportation system is easy to use and navigate. Public transportation in Lucerne is on the honor system, so be sure to manually buy a ticket at one of the freestanding kiosks before boarding a bus. Better yet, buy a day pass or week pass if you think you will be hopping on and off buses. Keep the tickets on you at all times. Police intermittently check tickets and the penalty for riding without a ticket is steep.
With well-connected trains, buses and boats, there is no need to rent a car in Lucerne or even take a taxi. The trains are always on time and certainly more affordable. Should you want to take a day trip, head to a train station ticket kiosk before arranging private transportation. Buying tickets in person is the best way to avoid getting on the wrong train or paying the wrong price—often there are promotional prices for international travelers. Most train tickets are valid for a few days, making spur-of-the moment decisions to stay longer in one town or another tempting. After riding on the efficient railway system you'll better understand the phrase "runs like a Swiss watch.
To Mount Pilatus. This is hands-down the most popular day trip from Lucerne because of its easy location, jaw-dropping scenery and bizarre history. Legend has it that dragons with healing powers have lived on the mountains since 1420 when a "dragon rock" fell from the heavens. Locals believe that a petrified man stands guard at the mouth of one of the dragon's caves—probably the Biblically significant Pontius Pilate for whom the mount was named. Pilate's body was buried in a small lake on the mountain and some locals believe his ghost re-emerges every Good Friday to wash the blood of Christ from his hands.
Begin your journey in Kriens, which connects to Lucerne via the S5 train or No. 14 bus. Both journeys are less than 15 minutes from Lucerne. From Kriens, take the aerial panoramic cable car on a 30-minute, scenic journey to Frakmuntegg, where you can take a moment to enjoy the lush, forested area just south of Mount Pilatus. The gondola runs daily November-April 8:30 am-4 pm, April-October 8:30 am-5 pm. Another small gondola connects to Mount Pilatus' 7,000-ft peak and is open daily at 8 am depending on the weather. Or hike the remaining 2 mi/3 km (about one hour) alongside the Swiss. Either take a picnic lunch for the peak (the Krienseregg park has a picnic area with tables, benches and a playground), or stop for a white tablecloth lunch at the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm.
To Mount Rigi - another popular summits is 6,000-ft. The incredible peak has been called the "queen of the mountains" since at least the 1470s, when a local priest drew the first known map of the area and included the nickname in his notes.
Mount Rigi is best reached by first taking the 30-minute boat ride from Lucerne to Weggis. Because Mark Twain spent three months in the town of Weggis (and climbing Mount Rigi), you'll notice mentions of the American writer throughout the journey. Twain called it the "charmingest" place he had ever seen.
Well-marked hiking trails and a constant stream of hikers make getting lost nearly impossible. From Weggis it is a three-hour hike (about 6 mi) to the peak. Or take the gondola halfway up the mountain to Rigi Kaltbad and hike the remaining hour (about 2 mi) to the peak. Hikers should take a picnic lunch to enjoy while stopping at one of the many awe-inspiring views of Lake Lucerne.
A third option includes almost no hiking: Take the gondola from Weggis and then a 10-minute cogwheel train to the peak. Two trains are easy to find on foot from the gondola—one runs from Goldau and another from Vitznau. The adorable red cogwheel train from Vitznau was the first of its kind in Europe when it opened in 1871. The train runs every 10 minutes daily 9 am-8:30 pm.
No matter what the path, visitors will enjoy scenery ranging from forests and waterfalls to farmland and wooden cottages. From the summit, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the Mittelland Alpine region. Stop for an aperitif or lunch at Rigi Kulm next to the train station. This rustic wooden chalet serving fondue and other local specialties is something right off of a Swiss travel poster. Return to Weggis either by foot, train, gondola or all three and return to Lucerne by boat.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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