The small city of Lucerne is centrally located in the Swiss-German speaking region of Switzerland.
Roughly one-fifth the size of Zurich, Lucerne is a microcosm of the rest of the country with its namesake lake reflecting the towering peaks of Mount Pilatus and Mount Titlis. The River Reuss flows through the outstandingly preserved and charming squares of the Old Town.
Lucerne is the perfect place to spend 48 hours, especially if it’s your first visit to Switzerland. The city has a booming tourism industry, and its location serves as a base for visits to other parts of the country via the Swiss Federal Railway. But first, you’ll want to discover the beauty and history of lovely Lucerne.
If you’re planning a trip to Lucerne, this is your 48-hour travel guide. Are you ready?
A 48-hour guide to exploring Lucerne
Getting to Lucerne, Switzerland
There are no public airports in Lucerne, but the very efficient Swiss train system runs from all the major airports in Switzerland. The nearest is the Zurich airport. The train runs every hour and takes around 45 minutes. The capital city of Bern is about an hour away by train, and it takes three hours to get to Lucerne from the Geneva Airport.
Accommodations in Lucerne
For a small city, Lucerne has an abundance of options. For budget accommodations, try the Lion Lodge Luzern next to the Lion Monument. Backpackers Lucerne has dorm rooms with kitchen privileges and is close to Old Town and the lake. The Hotel des Alpes is a good mid-range option and offers rooms with a balcony overlooking the lake. For luxury accommodations, the Hotel Palace Luzern has old world charm, elegance, and modern comforts.
Getting around Lucerne
You won’t need a car while visiting Lucerne. The Old Town is small and a joy to walk around. You can also rent a bike with a baggage clamp at the train station, and Lucerne drivers are typically polite to cyclists. For places further out, like the Swiss Transport Museum, buses are available in front of the railway station with runs scheduled every hour.
Budgeting for Lucerne
Switzerland uses the Swiss franc (CHF) for currency. The current exchange rate is CHF .95 for one USD and CHF 1.07 for one Euro. Switzerland is more expensive than in many other places. Plan to pay up to CHF 100 per day for a hostel for one person and around CHF 200 for a typical double occupancy hotel room.
The train rides from the airports are around CHF 30. Budget CHF 10 for local public transport. Taxis are expensive; expect to pay around CHF 6.50 for a one-kilometre ride, but as noted above, they aren’t necessary. For each day, budget CFL 45 for food, and 16 CHF for alcoholic beverages. The attraction prices vary. The Swiss Chocolate Adventure is CFL 15.16 and the Swiss Transport Museum charges CHF 56 for a day pass. Tip: A Swiss Travel Pass gets you unlimited train travel and free admission or discounts to many attractions.
Places to eat and drink whilst in Lucerne
For cheap eats…
- Erdem Kebap has delicious meat dishes with roots in Middle Eastern cuisine
- Migros and Coop are supermarket chains with budget prices
- At least once during your 48-hour stay, you must sample some hearty, traditional Swiss dishes. Try the signature old-world cuisine at the Wirtshaus Taube. In the summer, they serve their original recipes on a terrace overlooking the River Reuss.
For drinking and partying on your night in Lucerne…
the Das Weisse Schaf and Das Schwarze have you covered. Literally, under one roof!
- Das Weisse Schaf, or “white sheep” is youthful and professional with contemporary decor except for an old painting or two. The atmosphere is relaxed and the cocktail menu is long.
- Das Schwarze, “black sheep” is more on the wild side with a dance floor featuring hypnotizing projections on the walls.
- If you prefer sports-type bars, you’ll like Bar Capitol featuring over 150 spirits and live soccer.
The best things to do in Lucerne Switzerland
1. Lucerne Old Town
You should make it a priority to visit the Old Town in any Swiss city, and Lucerne is no exception. The Old Town is situated between the River Reuss and the city walls. Stroll the streets and admire the architecture, monuments, and quaint old bridges. You’ll pass numerous cafes and restaurants along the way. Don’t miss sampling chocolates at one of the chocolatier shops.
2. Pedestrian Bridges
You’ll see the Chapel Bridge and the Spreuer Bridge while touring the Old Town. The iconic wooden Chapel Bridge dates back to the 14th century and features a stone water tower and restored paintings underneath the roof. The Spreuer Bridge, another pedestrian bridge, is from the 15th century. It’s smaller than the Chapel Bridge but has paintings along the way, some of them from centuries ago.
3. Lake Lucerne
Lake Lucerne is the city’s main attraction and impossible to miss. Lucerne is built on the banks of this mammoth lake, Switzerland’s fourth-largest. Experience the lake with a boat or ferry ride, or book a romantic ride on a steam cruiser in the evening with dinner and drinks on the lake.
4. The Rosengart Collection
Lucerne has several fascinating art museums. Since your time is limited, it’s easy to pop into the Rosengart Collection near the train station. The neo-classical building houses the private collection of Angela Rosengart along with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, and Monet.
5. Swiss Museum of Transportation
The Swiss Museum of Transportation is one of the most popular attractions in the Lucerne area, so book your ticket in advance. This very unique museum has everything related to transportation from horsedrawn carriages to rockets. It’s also conveniently home to a 3D movie theatre and the Swiss Chocolate Adventure.
6. Lucerne History Museum
There’s no better way to learn about the history and culture of a city than visiting the local history museum. While near the Sprever Bridge, check out the Lucerne History Museum. You won’t need a guide. Simply scan the QR codes placed along the way. You’ll see fascinating exhibits such as a 15th-century Gothic fountain and 3,000 or more artefacts from the region.
German for Swan’s Square, Schwanenplatz is a square in the Old Town next to Lake Lucerne. You’re likely to spot graceful swans bobbing in the water and along the shore, and the view is unparalleled. Check out the cluster of high-end shops for Swiss luxury watches like Rolex and Patek Phillipe and stop in one of the many chocolate shops for delicious Swiss chocolate.
It wouldn’t be a Swiss trip without visiting an ancient house of worship. Hofkirche is a 17th-century church, and with its twin bell towers is a familiar part of Lucerne’s landscape. Goggle at the Gothic exterior and step inside to admire the Baroque interior. It’s a bit away from the city centre, but worth the trip.
9. Lion Monument and Glacier Garden
You’re sure to spot the Lion Monument while in the Old Town. A wounded lion is carved into the side of a cliff for a breathtaking work of art. The monument commemorates the Swiss soldiers massacred during the French Revolution. Next door, visit the Glacier Garden, a unique museum built around a glacial pothole. You’ll learn about the geology of Switzerland and Lucerne and have lots of fun in the Maze of Mirrors.
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