Home Europe 1 Day in Lucerne – A Self-Guided Walking Tour Itinerary

1 Day in Lucerne – A Self-Guided Walking Tour Itinerary

by Valerie Vanr

A one-day visit to Lucerne is perfect to explore the sites and medieval architecture of this central Switzerland city beside beautiful Lake Lucerne.  The nearby snow-capped mountains are great day trips from Lucerne.  

One Day in Lucerne Itinerary

This itinerary makes a great 1-day visit to Lucerne.

On a 2nd day in Lucerne, visit anything missed on the first day OR take a day trip to the local peaks near Lucerne.

Lucerne Map – The Best Things To See in Lucerne

Lucerne map walking routes starred attractions
Click on the map for an interactive version.

Lucerne Walking Tour

The best way to see the architecture of Lucerne’s colourful Altstadt (old town) is on foot.  This 2-kilometre walking route travels through both Neustadt (new town) and Altstadt.  It takes about an hour to walk, depending on the time spent at each spot.

Begin at the Bahnhofplatz, the huge transit hub with a parking garage beneath.  The Zentralstrasse, Lucerne’s main train station, is to the south and the main dock for Lake Lucerne cruises is to the north.  For help with tourist passes to Lucerne attractions or tourist information, visit the Lucerne Tourist Information centre in the train station.  There is a large shopping mall beneath the station and a sizable food court for grab-and-go food.

The original train station was destroyed by fire in early 1971.  Its grand main entrance was saved and stands in the middle of the Bahnhofplatz, like a gateway to the city.

Tall building side with triple arch walkway through
The former front entrance of the original Lucerne train station acts like a gate in the middle of the Bahnhofplatz. The train station was destroyed by fire in 1971.

To the east of the plaza is a huge building, one of the few modern-looking buildings in this part of the city.

Lucerne Culture and Convention Centre

Opened in 2000, the Kultur und Kongresszentrum Lucerne (or KKL Lucerne) has three parts: an 1840-seat concert hall, multi-function Lucerne Hall and the convention centre.  There are a number of restaurants and cafes which are convenient to the dock on the lake.

The striking, glass-and-steel building’s design has won international praise for the concert hall’s amazing acoustics.  Its unique ceiling, special sound-absorbing doorways and an inaudible ventilation system create complete silence enriching performance sound.

Modern building roof covers walkway water
The KKL Lucerne opened in 2000 to rave reviews about the accoustics of its concert hall.

The architect designed the building to be in the middle of the lake but the city didn’t agree.  To achieve the appearance of being surrounded by water, lake water flows in channels through the middle of the building.

The Lucerne Arts Museum is in the building’s convention centre.

Detour: Visit Inseli Park, just to the south of the KKL. This is a local summer hangout.  Enjoy the lakeside grassy area or play ping pong at outdoor tables.  Locals and tourists alike frequent two summer patio bars.

Walk back to the Bahnhofplatz and continue west along the river to the 14th-century Kapellbrücke, one of Lucerne’s most recognized landmarks.

Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)

The winding, wooden, covered bridge is over 200 metres long. It was built across the Reuss River as part of the city’s defensive system. Partway along the bridge, the 8-sided, stone Water Tower is original and older than the bridge. Over the centuries, the tower was used as the city treasury, dungeon prison and archive.

Covered bridge across river stone tower
The Chapel Bridge, or Kapellbrücke, was originally built in the 14th century across the Reuss River as part of the city ramparts. In 1993 a fire destroyed all but the ends of the bridge and the stone Water Tower. The bridge was rebuilt in eight months.

A 1993 fire began in a boat moored to the bridge.  The fire spread to the bridge destroying a large portion of it.  Both ends of the bridge survived as did the stone tower.  The tower’s gabbled roof was destroyed.

Walk across a portion of the bridge to see the triangular roof panels.  The original panels were painted in the 17th-century, recording the development of Lucerne and Switzerland up to that point.  The 1993 fire burned 81 of the 111 panels.  The panels found in the centre are originals which were in storage during the fire.

Triangular painting hung in roof angle
The triangular panels, painted by local Hans Heinrich Wägmann, record the development of Lucerne and Switzerland up to the 17th century.

The paintings were sponsored by wealthy families. To recognize their charity, the family coats of arms were added to the paintings.

The Rosengart Collection is in the gallery at the corner of Pilatusstrasse and Theaterstrasse.  This is a must-do for Picasso fans.  Either detour to the gallery, walking 3 blocks south along Theatrestrasse, or visit later in the day.

Follow the river west to the Jesuitenkirche.

2 Onion domes atop building bridge river front
The beautiful onion-dome towers of the 17th-century Jesuit Church were added about 200 years later.

Jesuit Church

The large, 17th-century church was the first Baroque church in Switzerland.  Its two, onion-domed towers were added in 1893.  It is dedicated to Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit order.  While the exterior is Baroque, the interior was redone in the mid-18th century in Rococo style.  The interior is beautiful.  The ceiling murals celebrate Xavier’s life and afterlife.  The church’s large organ is used by Lucerne’s music school.  Enjoy the music if they happen to be practising.

Gilded altar at front of sanctuary
The interior of the Jesuit Church was redone in the Rococo style. The style is lighter and less serious than Baroque using gilding, whites and pastel colours and scroll work.
Pipe organ near ornate ceiling
The colour of beautiful pipe organ at the back of the Jesuit Church fits perfectly with the rest of the sanctuary.

Walk west on Bahnhofstrasse to the next intersection.  To the left, at the end of the street is the Franziskanerkirche.

Franciscan Church

The beautiful, 13th-century, Gothic-style church has a large pipe organ and stunning paintings.  Over the centuries the interior has undergone extensive renovation but has kept its 17th-century choir stalls and the wooden pulpit.

Return to Bahnhofstrasse and continue west.  Turn right onto Pfistergasse.  Walk to almost the next major cross street.  Turn right and walk through an arched entrance along a covered walkway. This leads to the next covered bridge.

The Historisches Museum and the Natur-Museum Luzern are on either side of the walkway, on the south side of the river.

Water dam weir channel river under covered bridge
The Depot History Museum and the Natural History Museum are on either side of the walkway which crosses Spreuer Bridge in the centre. This area was the site of a number of mills which harnessed the river’s power until the late 19th century.

Spreuer Bridge

This 15th-century, covered, pedestrian bridge is original.  It is smaller Chapel Bridge and has avoided fire for more than 6 centuries.  Its roof panels are a series of paintings, called Dance of Death by Kaspar Meglinger, created to remind the townspeople, who crossed the bridge daily, that death cannot be escaped regardless of social class.

The far end of the bridge was designed for wagons delivering supplies to three mills nearby.  Since the middle ages, there have been mills in this area harnessing the power of the river.  A fire in 1875 destroyed all but one.  It was removed in 1890 making way for the city’s first hydroelectric power plant.  Those turbines generated power for 90 years.  They were replaced by the current power plant in 1996.

Channelled river water over dam
Electricity has been generated for the use of the citizens of Lucerne since 1890.

Look toward the lake.  It receives its water from snow melt.  A movable dam was designed in the mid-19th century to control lake levels and protect lakeside towns from flooding.  In the spring, the dam is opened by removing wooden pickets, allowing the river to flow.  As the lake’s water level drops, the wooden pickets are put back in place extending the dam across the river and slowing the flow.  We visited in late May and the dam was partway across the river channel.  By winter, the dam is entirely in place, cutting the flow to almost nothing across the main river channel.  This keeps the lake level high enough for some boats.

From the bridge, walk to the right into the pedestrian square called the Muhlenplatz. This is the start of the old town. At the top of the square, turn right and walk a block to Weinmarktgasse.

Weinmarkt

Walk a block to the pretty city square, the Weinmarkt.  This was a marketplace for wine.  The 15th-century fountain has carvings of soldiers. They were to remind citizens that the town was tough and strong.  Enjoy the beautiful paintings on building fronts in the square.

Man standing by fountain city square painted building behind
This fountain in the Weinmarkt was last upgraded in 1957. Since its installation in the square in 1481 all parts of it have been replaced. Its water is municipal drinking water. Help yourself.

Continue up the street to the Hirschenplatz. This square got its name from the Hirschen Hotel which is long gone. Its sign still hangs in the square.

Turn right, walk a block then turn left onto Kornmarkt.  Walk to the square outside the Rathaus Stradt beside the Town Hall clock.

Lucern Old Town Hall (Rathaus Stadt)

The first town council meeting was held in this late Renaissance-style town hall in 1606. The building continues to be used for council meetings.

Buildings patios along river clock tower background
Enjoy the restaurants, bars and coffee shops that line the northern bank of the Reuss River. In the middle is the Old Town Hall. The Clock Tower is visible above the roof of Town Hall.

Walk Furrengass to St. Peter’s Chapel.  The bridge was called Kapellbrücke due to its proximity to church.

The Fritschibrunnen is in the plaza to the north of the church.  Locals gather at this fountain early in the morning on the first Thursday seven weeks before Easter to start the Fasnacht festival.  This is Lucerne’s annual Mardi Gras and one of their biggest parties of the year.  There are parades, dancing, singing and drinking through the entire seven-day festival.  Locals often take time off and visitors are encouraged to join in.

Man washing hands colourful statue
The city’s Mardi Gras festival, Fasnacht, begins before dawn at 5 am on the Thursday before Lent. Everyone meets at this fountain for a uniform “gun” salute from dozens of brass bands and the party starts.

This is the end of the town walking tour.  There are several options for the rest of the day.

  • Return to the Bahnhofplatz. Enjoy lunch along the lakeshore or on a Lake Lucerne Cruise, or
  • Explore one of the great Lucerne museums, or
  • Continue walking and explore several more Lucerne attractions.

Self-Walking Tour of Lowenplatz and the City Walls

Lucerne’s oldest tourist attractions, from the early 17th-century, are in Lowenplatz to the northeast of Old Town and the old city walls.

Begin from Bahnhofplatz or continue from St. Peter’s Chapel at the end of the Lucerne Walking Tour.  

From Bahnhofplatz, walk north across the Seebrucke, the bridge over the mouth of the Reuss River.  From St. Peter’s Chapel, walk east along the river to Lake Lucerne.

Walk the sidewalk north and east following the lakeshore.  The main street, Löwenstrasse/Route 4, turns left.  Follow it, turning immediately right onto St. Leodegarstrasse.  Walk to the church with the beautiful bell towers.

Hofkirche St. Leodegar

The beautiful, 17th-century late-Renaissance church has twin, Gothic, bell towers. The church was part of a monastery founded in 750.  A 1633 fire destroyed all but the bell towers.  Inside, see the beautiful, white stonework and the vaulted ceiling.  The 17th-century organ is one of Switzerland’s finest.

Walk back out to the main street, Löwenstrasse, and walk north about 4 blocks to the Lowenplatz and the Bourbaki Panorama.

2 steeples behind building by lake
The bell towers of the St. Leodegar Church are visible high above the surrounding buildings. The towers are all that remains of the first monastery on the site.

Bourbaki Panorama Lucerne

The 10-metre-tall Bourbaki Panorama was painted in 1881 by Edouard Castres.  It portrays, in a very lifelike, 360-degree view, the surrender of French troops to the neutral Swiss.  At the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, the French troops refused to surrender to the winning Germans. 

The panorama was touched up in the year 2000.  Many panoramic theatres were built in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. 

Walk to one of Lucerne’s more well-known tourist attractions, the Lowendenkmal, about a block north, on Denkmalstasse.

Lion Monument

The sculpture of a dying lion was carved into the stone, cliff-face in the 1820s.  It is 10 metres long and 6 metres tall.  It memorializes the Swiss soldiers who died defending King Louis 16th in the 1792 Paris attack during the French Revolution. This beautiful park was a sandstone quarry when the lion was carved.

Adjoining the park to the north is the Gletschergarten.

Glacier Garden of Lucerne

Sixteen potholes, called kettles, were revealed when glaciers melted in the area 20,000 years ago.  In 1873, the Amrein family built the Glacier Garden around the kettles.  Enjoy walking the paths through the rocks and plants.

The Amreins collected all manner of items which are displayed in the museum’s eclectic collection.  A mirror maze recreating Granada Spain’s Alhambra was created for the 1896 Geneva National Exhibition. It was moved to the garden in 1899.

Walk back down Denkmalstrasse to Lowenplatz.  From the square, continue 2 blocks south to Hofstrasse.  Turn right onto Museggstrasse.  This street runs parallel to the watchtowers and old walls of the city constructed around 1400.  Veer right onto Schirmertorweg and climb up to the Museggmauer.

Medieval wall tower city buildings below
This guard tower, the Mannliturm, is one of the towers along the city walls. Climb up for beautiful views over the city.

Musegg Wall Lucerne

Walk the path on top of the old city ramparts, for stunning views of the city and Lake Lucerne.  There are 9 stone towers, some open to the public.  The wall and the towers (including the Schirmerturm, Männliturm, Wachtturm, Zytturm) date back to late 14th century.

Covered bridge buildings city wall tower high on hill
From the south bank of the Reuss River, see the Spreuer Bridge with the Mannliturm Tower and city wall high above it.

Lucerne Museums

These are several of Lucerne’s interesting museums.

Sammlung Rosengart

The Rosengart Collection is the personal art collection of Siegfried and Angela Rosengart.  The father and daughter were art dealers and personal friends of Pablo Picasso and many other artists. 

The collection includes works by major 19th and 20th-century artists. See works by Paul Cezanne, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee and a large number by Picasso.  In addition to these works, see photographs by American David Douglas Duncan.  He documented the last 17 years of Picasso’s life with his family. For lovers of Picasso, this is a must-see collection. 

Swiss Museum of Transport

The Verkehrshaus, a favourite with young and old, is Switzerland’s most popular museum.  The transportation museum has interactive exhibits and shows.  The complex is massive and covers most modes of transport, everything from stagecoaches to space capsules.  Walk the 1:20000 scale map of Switzerland.  It’s easy to spend an entire day at this museum.

The Transport Museum shares the site with three other attractions: the Swiss Chocolate Adventure, a planetarium and the Filmtheatre.  Each is an additional cost.

The museum is 10 minutes from the city centre by car, bus or boat to the Verkehrshaus-Lido stop.  Walk to the museum along the lake in about 30 minutes.

Depot History Museum

Explore the history of Lucerne and the region in one of Lucerne’s oldest surviving buildings dating from the 16th century.  The collection of artifacts is huge.  Shelves have barcodes to scan for the history of the artifact.

Four storey building blue doors shutters
Lucerne’s History Museum is packed full of artifacts. Scan their barcodes to read the history of the artifact.

Lucerne Natural History Museum

The kids will enjoy this interactive natural history museum.  Exhibits include all the regional flora and fauna.

Lucerne Arts Museum

The Kunstmuseum Luzern presents Swiss art from the Renaissance to the present, focusing on 19th-century works.  It attracts impressive temporary exhibits to enhance its permanent collection.

Cruise on Lake Lucerne

Enjoy a cruise on Lake Lucerne for an afternoon or an evening, seeing beautiful scenery and lakeside towns.  Many cruises offer culinary delights to add to the experience.  Take a cruise on a paddle steamer from the beginning of the 20th century or one of the many other options. 

There are three charter companies licensed to operate on Lake Lucerne.  For more information visit their websites (Charles Bucher, St. Niklausen Schiffsgesellschaft (SNG), and Lake Lucerne Navigation Company).  Often tickets can be purchased at the dock beside Bahnhofplatz.

Lake Lucerne is an irregular-shaped lake with sharp bends and 4 “arms”.  At its maximum, it is over 200 metres deep but the average depth is about 100 metres.  It is possible to circle the lake by both train and road.  For hundreds of years, communities on the lake could only be reached by water. The lake does not freeze allowing lake transportation companies to operate year-round.

Strong river flow through partial dam bridge tower background
The flow of the Reuss River at Lucerne is controlled by a movable dam. During the spring, the dam is almost removed to allow the maximum amount of water to leave Lake Lucerne. Gradually through the spring, summer and fall the river flow is restricted by extending the dam. This keeps lake levels high enough for boating even in the winter. This photo was taken in late May with the dam halfway across the river.

Day Trips from Lucerne

Several central Switzerland mountain peaks are perfect day trips from Lucerne.

Rigi Kulm

Almost due east of Lucerne across the lake, Mount Rigi is a long ridge, 1795 metres high.  On a clear day, this is a great vantage point to see Central Switzerland, Germany and France.  At the summit, Rigi Kulm, there is an information office and a snack shop.  The Rigi Kulm Hotel serves full meals.  There are more than 60 miles of hiking trails for all levels.  For more information, check the Mount Rigi website.

To get to the Rigi Kulm summit, enjoy a scenic boat ride from Lucerne to either Weggis or Vitznau at the base of the mountain.  From the Weggis dock, walk 15 minutes up to the cable car station, the Luftseilbahn, and ride the cable car to Rigi Kaltbad.  Catch the cogwheel train to Rigi Kulm.  From Vitznau, catch the cogwheel train and ride all the way to Rigi Kulm. 

For maximum enjoyment, travel to Vitznau on the boat, take the cogwheel train to the summit and return via cable car to Weggis catching the boat back to Lucerne. Allow at least 6 hours for the trip to and from Lucerne (excluding time at the summit).

Mount Pilatus

At the top of the almost 2130-metre summit, southwest of Lucerne, see the 19th-century hotel and stunning views into the valley below.  The visitor centre has information, souvenirs and several restaurants.  There are hiking trails at the top.  In the winter, sledging through the snowy woodlands is an option. Detailed information is available at the Mount Pilatus website.

From Lucerne travel to either:

  1. Kriens by bus.   Ride a gondola to Frakmuntegg at 4600 feet and then cable car to the summit station, Pilatus Klum.  The energetic can hike from Frakmuntegg up a steep, partially roped 2.8 kilometre scramble to the summit; or
  2. Alpnachstad by ferry or train.  Board one of the steepest cogwheel trains in Switzerland (48% gradient in places) and ascend through 4 tunnels up the mountain’s east side to Pilatus Klum.

For maximum enjoyment, travel one way up and the other way down.  Allow at least 4 hours for the trip to and from Lucerne (excluding time at the summit).

Mount Titlis

This is the highest mountain in Central Switzerland, over 3,000 metres high.  At the top, explore the ice cave lit by neon lights.  From the top, the view is filled with glacier-topped peaks.  The Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau are all visible. Walk the Cliff Walk, a 100-metre-long, cable-supported walkway.  It was Europe’s highest suspension bridge when it opened in 2012.  Hikers can climb to the summit at 3240 metres (sturdy shoes are needed).  The Glacier Park has snow tubes, scooters and sledges all year long.

For more information check the Mount Titlis website.

From Lucerne, either drive or ride the Engelberg Express Train to Engelberg.  Take the gondola to Trubsee (staying on at the Gerschnialp stop).  Ride another gondola to Stand.  At Stand, board the revolving Rotair, the world’s first revolving cable car, and ride over the Titlis Glacier to the summit.

Allow at least 3 hours for the trip to and from Lucerne (excluding time at the summit).

While in Engelberg visit the 12th-century, Benedictine monastery.  It was rebuilt after a fire in 1729.  The grounds are open to the public daily and include a dairy.

Couple Chapel Bridge Water Tower behind
The backdrop of our photo is one of Lucerne’s most recognized tourist attractions, Kapellbrucke.


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