Currency is the Swiss franc (£1 = CHF1.45). Lucerne is one hour ahead of GMT, and is a one-hour 40-minute flight to Zurich, plus a one-hour train journey from there.
Swiss (swiss.com) operates several daily flights from London Heathrow to Zurich, from which Lucerne is a one hour train ride.
Easyjet (easyjet.com) flies from London Gatwick to Zurich.
Swiss National Tourist Office (myswitzerland.com) and Lucerne Tourism (luzern.com) provide information on visiting the city and the surrounding region.
Cheese: Slices of Swiss Culture by Sue Style (Bergli Books, £34) details cheese-making throughout the country.
Lucerne charms easily. With its turn-of-the-century architecture, medieval wooden bridges and poetic setting on a glistening lake ringed by snow-capped peaks, it’s little wonder that it attracts visitors aplenty. A stream of festivals celebrating everything from classical music to comics means that you won’t be the only one seeing the sights – especially in summer – but escape from the hordes of flag-following tour groups and you‘ll quickly be seduced by this pretty little city.
What to do
Queen Victoria is to thank for the character of Lucerne today – her visit in 1868 triggered an influx of well-heeled Brits seeking fresh mountain air and wellness spas, and with them the centre boomed. Rows of late 19th-century houses stand aside timber-fronted, medieval buildings in the Old Town, and from the banks of the Reuss river you can still spot the hillside white mansion in which the monarch stayed (though it’s not open to the public). The city’s medieval bridges are hard to miss. Spreuer, which was constructed in 1408, and Chapel, built in the 14th century (though it was reconstructed after a fire in 1993), both boast original wooden panels painted with historical scenes. The water tower is even older – built around 1300 as part of Lucerne’s fortifications, it now contains a museum. On the north side of the Old Town, scale the Musegg Wall, a former fortification, and visit the city’s oldest clock (dating to 1535) in the Zyt tower. South of the river, pop into the white and gold interior of the Jesuit church, or check out the Franciscan church and the imposing theatre. There’s enough to occupy culture vultures; the Sammlung Rosengart Museum (rosengart.ch) has an excellent collection of Picassos, with works by other artists such as Klee, Monet and Miro, and the new Jean Nouvel-designed KKL (kkl-luzern.ch) has both a good contemporary art museum and a concert hall. The enormous Bourbaki Panorama (bourbakipanorama.ch) provides a snapshot of the 19th-century Franco-Prussian War. The Lion Monument is a must-see; hewn out of a cliff face in the 1820s as a memorial to Swiss Guards killed during the French Revolution, it’s both moving and impressive. The Swiss Transport Museum (verkehrshaus.ch) will especially thrill science or history geeks, while everyone will enjoy a boat ride around the blue expanse of Lake Lucerne.
Where to stay
There is no shortage of places to stay in Lucerne. Hotel Montana (00 41 419 00 00, hotel-montana.ch), built in 1910, is decked out in art deco interiors, with a prime placement overlooking the lake. There’s a nice terrace, and a bar with an extensive collection of Scotch whiskies – as an added bonus you get to ride one of the world’s smallest funiculars to reach the hotel lobby. Love Jean Nouvel’s work on the KKL? He also designed the slick, modern The Hotel (00 41 41 226 86 86, the-hotel.ch).
Where to eat and drink
Nearly all of Lucerne’s stores close at 4pm on Saturdays and don’t reopen until Monday, so plan your time accordingly if you want to make the most of the excellent shopping.
Zunfthaus zu Pfistern (00 41 410 36 50, restaurant-pfistern.ch) is located in a beautiful frescoed building on the river banks. On the main floor, dig into Swiss specialities like fondue or raclette. Opt for the top floor – the Pfisternstube – for a more refined experience, with platters of local ham and Entlebucher cheese, a great Swiss wine selection, and Lucerne speciality Lozärner Fritischiaschete: a puff pastry case with veal and a cognac and mushroom sauce. Restaurant 1871 (00 41 41 422 18 71, 1871.ch) serves Italian-inspired dishes with a lovely view over the lake, and a solid grappa selection. The city has a number of food shops – stop at Chäs Barmettler to stock up on cheeses, wines and kirsch. This being Switzerland, there’s going to be chocolate – head to a branch of Heini (heini.ch) or Bachmann (confiserie.ch) for all manner of cocoa delights. Small boutique Max Chocolatier (maxchocolatier.com) even milks its own cows.
Time running out?
Head into the great outdoors to take the world’s steepest cogwheel railway on Mount Pilatus, or ride a cable car up to a glacier 3,000m above sea level on Mount Titlis.
Average daily temperatures and rainfall
This article was published on 1st June 2013 so certain details may not be up to date.