Lucerne – the heart of Switzerland

Lucerne is the capital of the canton of Lucerne and part of the district of the same name. With a population of about 81,057 people, Lucerne is the most populous town in Central Switzerland, and a nexus of economics, transportation, culture, and media of this region.

Owing to its location on the shores of Lake Lucerne (German: Vierwaldstättersee) and its outflow, the river Reuss, within sight of the mounts Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city’s famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (German: Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century.

The official language of Lucerne is (the Swiss variety of Standard) German, but the main spoken language is the local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect.

The banks, watches, and cheese country inhabitants classify themselves the Switzerland cities as follows: Lucerne is the heart of the country, Bern is its head, Zurich is its wallet. And the point here is not the Lucerne location, although the city is really located in the very center of Switzerland. The city stands at the crossroads of three roads that go to different country parts. It is located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland formally, local residents believe, that one can feel the Swiss people unity in it. In addition, the Swiss city of Lucerne, founded during the Roman Empire, was the first city included in the Confederation – it consisted of rural communities only before that. The city foundation’s formal date is considered to be 1178 when a church parish was established in it.

The Lucerne main “professions” are the resort and tourist center. This specialization leaves its mark on any historical or natural beauty. So you have to put up with the fact that the Lucerne Lake surface (its German name is Vierwaldstättersee) is plowed not by wooden fishing boats, but by modern boats and yachts. Expensive cars are streaming through the streets, especially in the city’s new part, and noise and buzz are heard from numerous street cafes. And if Leo Tolstoy complained about the abundance of English in Lucerne (it was because of the English people that his story shows the city in a rather unattractive perspective), the Lucerne is filled with Chinese at any time of the year now. Considering that the Celestial Empire inhabitants move with exceptionally large noisy groups, it can be understood that the chances of taking a melancholic leisurely walk along the streets of Lucerne in the daytime tend to zero.

However, this does not detract from the beauty of Lucerne, a city in which man-made sights are neatly framed by natural ones.

Tourism and main attractions

“The Dying Lion” – a masterpiece that overshadowed the other Lucerne attractions. The French Revolution, which had been going on for three years, demanded new bloody sacrifices on August 10th, 1792 – the revolutionaries decided to seize the king’s residence – the Tuileries Palace. The palace’s garrison totaled 5,000 people and could well repel the assault on the Paris militia theoretically. However, the French, who were allegedly loyal to the king, fled, and the Tuileries had to defend the 1,100 Swiss who were part of the royal guard for generations. If we recall the events of the novel by A. Dumas “Twenty Years After”, then D’Artagnan and Porthos deftly disarmed the Swiss at the end of the story to escape from the Cardinal Mazarin arrest, capturing their offender at the same time.

The Swiss have done their duty to the end. Having accepted the battle, they even went on a sortie and captured several guns. However, the forces were too unequal. The Swiss were defeated in the end. Only a few survived – the brutal citizens and national guardsmen killed even the wounded and doctors in the infirmary.

One of the survivors was Lieutenant Karl Pfyffer von Altishofen, who was away during these tragic events. He made a good civil career, and his proposal to immortalize his comrades’ memory was supported in Lucerne. Pfyffer wanted the dead lion to be the monument, but the famous sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsen decided that the lion should be dying. He created the model, and Lukas Ahorn carved it from the stone.

It turned out, without exaggeration, a masterpiece that overshadowed the other Lucerne attractions. The figure carved in the rock simultaneously conveys the doom of the lion and the nobility with which he suffers death pain. As he dies, the lion closes the shields with Switzerland and France’s heraldic arms. The fallen guardsmen’s names are carved under the lion.

Vierwaldstättersee or Lucerne Lake. The Swiss statehood was born around this lake, sometimes called Lucerne. The lake is quite vast, Lucerne stands on one of its narrow bays’ banks.

The mountains that surround the lake descend almost steeply to it sometimes and then form gentle shores. They are covered with forest, which forms a continuous green veil in summer. Trout are found in the lake, and thousands of waterfowl live on its shores. Swans dominate among them. However, they do not displace other species and peacefully coexist on the Lucerne water surface with wild geese, ducks, and other birds. The birds are absolutely not afraid of people on the shores, noisy children only can arouse them.

There is a solid resort infrastructure built at Vierwaldstätters. There are the most interesting Lucerne places on its shores. you can ride on boats, yachts, water skiing and other floating crafts on the lake. Hiking trails and bike paths laid on the banks. The equipment you need for outdoor activities is easy to rent.

Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). The history of the original Kapelbrücke covered bridge ended in 1993. A two-hundred-meter wooden structure connecting the Reuss River banks since the mid-14th century burned down for an unknown reason. It is believed that the bridge caught fire from an outstanding cigarette butt. Stone supports only remained from Kapellbrücke.

They restored the bridge a year later, trying to give it an authentic look. They put copies of paintings depicting glorious pages in the Lucerne and Switzerland history under the roof. A stone tower stands at the Kapellbrücke southern end. It is believed that it gave a name to Lucerne – there was a lighthouse (lucern) at its top, which guided the fishermen returning home.

The Lucerne Lake chic view has not changed after the fire, fortunately. And the bridge continues to be a Lucerne symbol and one of the most photographed sights of the whole country.

Spreuerbrücke. Lucerne’s toponymy is unpretentious. If the bridge leads to the chapel then we call it from the “chapel” word. They dumped garbage in Reuss – let’s call the bridge from the word “garbage”. So Spreuerbrücke got its name – it was closest to the river mouth at the time of construction in the XV century, and in order not to pollute the city, garbage was dumped into the river, which carried it into the lake. However, how much garbage was in the XV century? A glass bottle, not to mention paper, was a luxury then.

Spreuerbrücke, like Kapellbrücke, is not original. But the first bridge built here in 1408 died, at least for a good reason – it was destroyed by the flood. They restored the structure in the XVI century.

If this expression is appropriate, then the bridge was decorated later with a series of paintings entitled “Dance of Death”.

The artist Kaspar Meglinger with his canvases illustrated the equality of all people before death – sooner or later it will come to all.

Lucerne Central Square and Town Hall. The Lucerne central square of Kornmarkt is yet another practicality evidence of this Swiss city toponymy. Grain (korn) was traded on this square in ancient times, as you might guess. However, the trade has not gone away – colorful fairs take place on the square twice a week.

Kornmarkt Square is surrounded on all sides by houses built with minimal clearance between them. The tour can be completed independently – there are frescoes on each building with drawings and text telling about its history. However, such frescoes decorate buildings not only on Kornmarkt.

The main building on the square is the Town Hall. Once it was a simple grain warehouse. The building was ennobled and crowned with a clock tower with two dials in the XV century.

Unlike other Swiss cities, Lucerne’s local authorities are located elsewhere now, and there is the Toy Museum in the Town Hall, and the exhibition and concert halls are located on the upper floors. Shops and cafes are located in the Town Hall part overlooking the river.

Richard Wagner Museum. Lucerne is frankly poor at attractions associated with prominent cultural figures. Of course, famous writers, musicians, and artists visited the city. However, the purpose of their visits was not creativity. On the contrary, Vladimir Nabokov, Charlie Chaplin, and the same Leo Tolstoy came to Lucerne in order to relax or gain some impressions.

Richard Wagner can be considered an exception, although the German composer lived for six years not in Lucerne itself, but in its Tribschen suburb. Wagner and his family lived in a house surrounded by a park from 1866 to 1872, fleeing creditors. It was here that Wagner wrote the Twilight of the Gods and Siegfried. He considered later the years spent in Switzerland to be the best in his life.

The house was rented to holidaymakers after Wagner’s departure. The city of Lucerne represented by Stadtrath (as the Lucerne City Council is called) bought it in 1931 in order to improve the city tourist attractiveness. A museum was set up in the house. Its main exhibit is the Wagner “Erard” grand piano. The exposition includes manuscripts, scores, drafts of Wagner, his personal belongings and clothes also. Rare photographs and paintings adorn the walls, and the busts of Wagner, as well as Friedrich Nietzsche and King Ludwig II of Bavaria who spent a long time at Wagner house crown the exposition.

Jesuit Church. The Jesuit Church is on the Reuss bank between the Spreuerbrücke and Kapellbrücke. The order appeared in Lucerne at the end of the XVI century. The brothers founded a school immediately as usual, which became very popular quickly – the Jesuits gave a very good education. The school needed to be expanded, and the Order decided to construct a large building in which there would be a place for both the church and the school. They built it in 1666 – 1777.

The church building exterior looks quite simple, the corner towers and the statue of St. Francis Xavier only, considered the most successful Catholic missionary in history, enliven the view.

The church interiors are amazing. Murals, frescoes, and sculptures, devoted to the Francis Xavier activities mainly contain a huge amount of gilding and bright colors. All sculptural decorations are made of pink marble. Six tall columns frame the colossal altar. Even those places at the entrance with holy water bowls are decorated with elegant stucco molding.

The Jesuit Church creators took care not only of the interior luxury. The temple is beautifully lit through the windows even in cloudy weather despite its size. The church acoustics is great. The city authorities’ decision to install an organ in the church was absolutely fair. The temple is rarely used for its intended purpose now but it hosts many concerts.

Hofkirche – the Lucerne City Main Church. If the Jesuit Church is built in the Baroque style, then the main church Hofkirche is of the late Renaissance example. The temple with two towers stood on a hill from the XII century, but its main part was destroyed by a fire in 1633. A new building was added to the surviving towers, which housed relics and interior items that were saved from the fire.

The church facade is decorated with a clock and a Saint Maurice sculpture. The building exterior walls are covered with stone carvings depicting the various acts of the saints. The church is surrounded by an arched gallery in which there are sculptural groups illustrating various scenes from the Holy Writ. Only after seeing facade decoration and paying attention to the clock golden hands, you can understand what awaits visitors inside.

Hofkirche was built before the Jesuit Church, but it seems that this temple creators competed with the Jesuits in luxury and won. Absolutely unimaginable gilding and marble amount, carving on any suitable surface, huge paintings, luxurious altars (there are several of them – two main and side ones)… Even the door bolts are decorated with plot carvings! The Hofkirche has an excellent organ in addition. You can listen to it both during public worship and during special concerts.

Museggmauer Fortress Wall. Most of the Lucerne fortress wall has survived since the Middle Ages. Those sections only that interfered with the growing city transport connectivity were destroyed.

The 1.5 meters thick wall average height is 9 meters. There are 9 towers in the wall at uneven intervals.

One of them has the oldest city watch – its mechanism was launched in 1535. This watch is superior to other urban watches in size in addition to age. The tower clock has an interesting feature – they beat the clock a minute earlier than the rest clocks. Museggmauer’s tallest tower has a height of almost 53 meters.

The Pilatus Mountain Massif and Pilatusban. The Pilatus massif is located about 10 kilometers from Lucerne. However, 10 kilometers in the plain are very different from 10 kilometers in the mountains. You can take a special tour to get to Pilatus in the summer. A ship departs from Lucerne, which takes tourists to the special railway station in about an hour. The train – it’s called Pilatusban – climbs uphill for about half an hour due to a huge slope.

This route does not work in the winter, but the cable car works. Mountain climbers can spend 4 hours climbing on foot.

Pilatus offers superb views of the surroundings. Locals say they are the best in all of Switzerland. In any case, a special observation deck is never empty. Two restaurants and a souvenir shop are attached to the observation deck. There are organized walks of varying difficulty from Pilatus.

You can also enjoy the views of Reichenbach cascade waterfall and Aare Gorge which are located in about 20 minutes distance by car.

Transport and how to get to?

Nearest airport – Zürich Airport (50 km distance.

Lucerne boasts a developed and well-run transport network, with the main operator, Verkehrsbetriebe Luzern (VBL), running both the trolleybuses in Lucerne and a motor buses network in the city and to neighboring municipalities. Other operators, such as PostAuto Schweiz and Auto AG Rothenburg, provide bus services to other towns and villages.

Lucerne railway station is one of Switzerland’s principal railway stations situated in the middle of the town and just next to the lake, and enjoys excellent connection to the rest of Switzerland via railway services operated by Swiss Federal Railways (SBB CFF FFS) and the Zentralbahn (zb). Two other stations are located within the city boundaries, with Lucerne Allmend/Messe railway station close to the Swissporarena in the south of the city, and the Lucerne Verkehrshaus railway station adjacent to the Swiss Museum of Transport in the east.

Lucerne’s city transit system is fully integrated into the coherent and integrated fare network system called passepartout encompassing all kind of public transport in the cantons of Lucerne, Obwalden, and Nidwalden.


The Manor is the department store in Lucerne. Manor is also one of the largest department store groups in Switzerland. Its premises at Weggisgasse 5 in Lucerne offer an immense large choice of products on six floors, including beauty products, sporting goods, toys, household goods, electronics, souvenirs and fashion from well-known brands. Lucerne is considered the group’s birthplace: this is where, in 1902, Léon Nordmann opened the very first outlet.

Main information

Area: 37.5 sq. km

Population (2017): 81 600

Coordinates: 47°3′N 8°18′E

Language: German

Currency: Swiss franc

Visa: Swiss

Time: GMT +1

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