5 Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland

Located on the shore of Lake Lucerne and within sight of Mounts Pilatus and Rigi, Lucerne has plenty to offer besides just spectacular scenery.

Chapel Bridge
Walking across a bridge may not sound like the first thing to do when you hit a town but the Chapel Bridge with its tower fortification from the 13 century, is the iconic landmark that is flocked to by every tourist who visits. It’s a gorgeous wooden structure across the Reuss River which flows into Lake Lucerne. Originally erected in 1333, this is the oldest covered bridge in Europe, though much of it was replaced after a fire in 1993. The inside features a whole series of beautiful paintings depicting events in Lucerne’s history. You just can’t return from Lucerne without at least one picture of its bridge. Okay, I have about fifty.

The Swans
Lucerne is also famous for their swans. They glide majestically along the shores around and under the Chapel Bridge and are not timid at all. They will walk right up the shore for your petting and picture taking pleasure. While I had visions of the Ugly Duckling tale from my youth, the wife petted away. Yes, I have dozens of pictures.

The Lion of Lucerne
To be honest, I thought this would be an interesting sight but was not prepared for the sheer beauty of the thing. Located just a few short blocks away from the center of town this monument was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and carved into a former sandstone quarry by Lukas Ahorn in 1820-21. It is carved into the face of a cliff and is dedicated “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss.” Actually it is dedicated to “Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti” but I didn’t think you would get that. The monument is a dying lion, impaled by a spear, covering a shield bearing the fleur-de-lis of the French monarchy, with another shield beside him bearing the coat of arms of Switzerland. This honors the 760 Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis XVI in 1792 during the French revolution. It is tradition, for good luck, to toss a coin over your shoulder into the pond fronting the cliff. I’m not really sure why such a somber memorial would offer good luck but I tossed a few in just to be safe.

Shop till you Drop
The old town area right off the bridge will afford many opportunities for shopping. Okay, maybe “Afford” isn’t the best word to use here but the quality is unmatched. If you’re looking for Clocks, watches, chocolate or Wenger Swiss Army knives, this is the place to be. We also saw some pretty amazing beer steins, but a four foot tall beer stein is a little hard to get into your carry-on for the trip home. The currency is the Franc, not the Euro, and your exchange rate is a little, though not too much higher. They charge a Value-added Tax to everything but if your purchase is high enough (usually more than 400 Francs) and you show your passport to confirm you’re not a local, most stores will refund that on checkout.

You head south, around the lake to Stans to get to what the locals call “The Friendliest Mountan.” There you board an open wooden carriage on a funicular rail line, slowly climbing up lush green meadows toward the peak. You half expect to hear yodeling and you probably will hear cowbells. At the mid- station you climb on board the shiny modern CabriO which is a modern double-decker, gondola type cabin with an open air top deck. The view up top is stunning as you arrive at the Rondorama revolving restaurant on the top of Stanserhorn. The view of Lake Lucerne, the surrounding peaks of the Alps and the villages lying all around will make you yodel as well. The conductors on both legs are just about the friendliest folks you’ll find anywhere, as everyone in this area is, making you want to return as soon as possible.

by Michael Ryan