Your first glimpse of Lucerne might just make you swoon. With quaint buildings set around the glacial blue waters of Reuss river and beautiful mountains standing guard nearby, Lucerne is easily one of the most beautiful little cities in Europe – if not the world. The gabled Chapel Bridge snaking across the river is considered the oldest covered wooden bridge on the continent, and seeing it lit up at night with reflections shimmering on the water below is particularly charming. Churches and town squares lined with frescoed houses stud the city, and amid the old buildings the architecture of the Culture and Convention Centre stands out as a highlight. The city is also a gateway into central Switzerland, and from here it’s easy to venture off into the mountains or on a steamship cruise on Lake Lucerne. The only problem is, you’ll be so enamoured by this enchanting city you may never want to leave.
A wonderful way to learn about ancient Swiss history is to cross the famed Chapel Bridge. It was originally built in the 14th century, and the illustrated panelling added to it in the 1600s depicts scenes from the city’s past and biographies of its patron saints.
Switzerland is known for its timepieces, so it’s no surprise that the oldest clock in town is a celebrated attraction. Built in the 16th century on Musegg Wall, part of the old rampart walls that were erected several centuries earlier, the clock chimes every hour with one unusual quality – it rings exactly one minute before all the rest.
Step back in time at the Glacier Garden, where you’ll view potholes from the last Ice Age and fossils dating back 20 million. For something more modern, search out the country’s most popular museum, the Swiss Museum of Transport. Among trains, planes and automobiles it houses a satellite and other space objects.
When you peer up at the mountains surrounding Lucerne you can almost hear elegant string music floating through the air. Such a romantic place calls for an engaged arts scene, and festivals, many dedicated to classical music, take place throughout the year. Imagine perusing little shopping stalls down by the lake while listening to live music, before fireworks blaze through the night sky. Many concerts also take place at the prestigious Culture and Convention Centre, known as KKL Lucerne, and the chance to witness a world-class performance should not be missed.
Water has been a vital component of Lucerne’s past, for it was once a small fishing village. Take to the lake on a charming old paddle steamer and learn about the way the city has relied on water as a food source, means of transportation and recreation.
Hiking trails abound in the region, as do fun activities taking place on ice and snow. Climb aboard a train and zip to Engelberg, less than an hour away. From here, ride the world’s first rotating cable car to the top of the Titlis Mountain and glide over a glacier in the Ice Flyer Chairlift.
The world’s steepest cogwheel railway departs from the town of Alpnachstad, near Lucerne. Ride it up to Pilatus, where you can see 73 alpine peaks on a clear day, and pick up the pace with tobogganing – even in the summer
It may be tucked in the centre of Switzerland, but Lucerne’s restaurants offer excellent international cuisine. That’s not to say they don’t do local food superbly as well. At the weekend, treat yourself to a Swiss-style high-tea at the neo-classic Palace Luzern, or take a gourmet boat cruise on the lake and enjoy raclette while looking out at the mountains.
If you feel the great peaks calling you, make a trip up to the rotating restaurant at Stanserhorn for lunch amid the grandeur of the Alps. At 1900 metres above sea level it offers views over 100 kilometres of the alpine range, 10 stunning lakes and an alpine-flower reserve.