11 things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne. Attractions.

Lucerne is a small, but VERY beautiful city in Switzerland! I recommend to visit it, even if you have only half a day or a day for it. Of course, that’s very little. But even in a few hours this little town at the foot of the Pilatus Mountain and Lake Lucerne has time to impress you.

It was founded back in Roman times. The first mention of Lucerne in the chronicles dates back to 840. Although officially the year of foundation of this city is considered 1178 – when the church parish was transferred from the monastery of St. Leodegar to Gough Lucerne.

Lucerne was the first city that joined the Swiss Confederation, and it had every chance to become the capital. But its inhabitants voted against the federal constitution in 1848, so that Bern eventually became capital of Switzerland.

Lucerne thus lost its political influence in the mid-19th century, but it later became the cultural center of all Switzerland thanks to the development of tourism.

Picturesque Lucerne

By the way, at one time Leo Tolstoy visited Lucerne and wrote a separate story about it (to be fair, on the first day the writer really liked the nature, but the city itself – no; however, in the following days he changed his mind about it, too). The city has changed considerably since then. But there are still plenty of places to be inspired. Shall we take a walk?)

Lucerne. What to see in 1 day.

For convenience, I made a circular route in Lucerne for 1 day. If you want, you can walk it all in half a day, if you don’t go to museums. The route is on the map at the end of the article.

The main attractions Lucerne – old wooden bridges over the river Reuss. They are most often depicted on tourist postcards.

Clock Bridge – a calling card of Lucerne

Clock Bridge (Kapelbrücke)

The Kapelbrücke Clock Bridge is the oldest covered wooden bridge in Europe, one of Switzerland’s main tourist attractions and a symbol of the city of Lucerne. It was built in 1365. Its length is 204.70 meters. Originally, the bridge was built as a defensive corridor within the city fortifications and connected the old and new parts of the city separated by the river Reuss.

Kapelbrücke is famous not only for its antiquity and scenic beauty, but also for the paintings inside. Under the roof ridge all along the covered bridge are 111 triangular paintings telling about the most important moments of Swiss history.

In the middle of the bridge is the octagonal brick water tower Wasserturm, built before the bridge was built in 1300. The tower served as a watchtower, dungeon, torture chamber and fire tower. Today Wasserturm houses a souvenir shop and the hall of the Artillerymen’s Association Guild.

Wasserturm and Chapel Bridge

The Chapelbrücke was badly damaged by a fire on August 18, 1993, which broke out, presumably from an unextinguished cigarette. Most of the bridge was destroyed, killing 78 of the 111 paintings. Wasserturm Tower was not damaged in the fire. The bridge and some of the paintings were rebuilt from the surviving inventory. The Kapelbrücke reopened on April 14, 1994. Visitation, of course, is free.

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Spreuerbrücke Mill Bridge

The Mill Bridge Spreuer-Brucke is the second “oldest” wooden bridge in Lucerne. It was built in 1408 and decorated in 1626-1635 with paintings by the artist Caspar Megglinger on the theme of the “Dance of Death” (it is a figurative story of the fall of man and a picture of the terrible trial awaiting every sinner at the end of life). The paintings are original and surviving.

Mill Bridge in Lucerne Paintings on the Mill Bridge

A small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in the middle of the bridge in 1568.

Chapel on the Mill Bridge

Ice Garden

The Ice Garden in Lucerne, aka Glacier Museum, is one of the oldest and best known natural wonders. It is a natural monument of glacial potholes, testifying to the fact that Lucerne was once covered by glaciers.

In this museum you can learn many interesting facts about ice and glaciers and about Central Switzerland during the Ice Age.

The address of the ice garden is Denkmalstrasse 4.

  • for adults CHF 15.
  • for children ages 6 to 16 CHF 8.

For current prices and opening times please visit the museum’s official website.

The sculpture “The Dying Lion”

This world-famous sculpture commemorates the valour of the Swiss Guard who fell in resistance to the storming of the Tuileries Palace on the day of the Rising of August 10, 1792.

This rebellion is one of the key moments of the Great French Revolution. Paris rebels besieged the residence of King Louis XVI, the Tuileries Palace. Regular troops at that time were no longer under the control of the king and went over to the side of the rebels. Loyalty to Louis retained only the palace guard – the Swiss Guard Regiment, the total number of just over a thousand men.

The Guardsmen steadfastly defended the palace and gave a decent repulse to the enemy. However, Louis XVI forbade the shooting of cannons at the crowd. The rebels had a significant numerical advantage, the palace was seized, the king was arrested. During the storming about six hundred Swiss soldiers were killed, sixty guardsmen were executed, two hundred more were taken prisoner. Many of them died in prison of their wounds. Only 350 soldiers and officers out of one thousand one hundred and ten escaped death.

One of those who escaped was Karl Pfüfer von Altishofen. He was in Lucerne at the time of the uprising – at home on leave. Karl decided to perpetuate the memory of his heroic friends. But this was not possible until 24 years later – when Switzerland gained its independence.

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Charles had the idea of erecting a monument in the form of a dead lion, pierced by a spear and falling to the ground, and for a long time he looked for a sculptor for it, as he did not like any sketch. Until, in 1818, Carl Pfüfer wrote to the famous Thorvaldsen. The Danish sculptor was interested in the proposal, but decided to depict a dying lion rather than a dead lion in high relief.

The Dying Lion in Lucerne

The work was finished on the 7th of August 1821. Three days later, on the 29th anniversary of the Tuileries storm, the monument was unveiled, to which veterans of the tragic events were invited.

The nine-meter statue is located in a niche 13 meters long and 6 meters high. The dying lion lies with its head resting on its right paw resting on a shield with an image of a lily, the symbol of the King of France, who was defended by heroic guardsmen. At the lion’s headboard is another shield with the coat of arms of Switzerland. The lion’s left shoulder is pierced with a spear.

Above the bas-relief in the rock is a Latin inscription “To the Loyalty and Courage of the Swiss”, and below are the numbers 760 and 350, corresponding to the number of fallen and surviving soldiers. At the foot of the monument in stone are carved the names of the soldiers and officers who gave their lives in the name of duty.

Hofkirche

The Hofkirche, or St. Leodegaard Church, is one of the city’s symbols.

The modern building was built in 1638, since the original structure had burned down five years earlier. The cause of the devastating fire on Easter Sunday evening was the ineptitude of one of the roofers. He was trying to drive the birds off the church roof with shots, which caused it to ignite. The church burned to the ground in one night. It was immediately decided to rebuild it. The main dimensions of the burnt building were preserved, and the towers that had survived the fire became a part of the western facade.

The address of the church is St. Leodegarstrasse 6.

Schwanenplatz square

The name of the square means “Swan Square”. It is also often called the “heart of Lucerne”.

There are many famous souvenir, jewelry, and watch stores on Schwanenplatz. There are also wonderful pastry shops and cafes where you can sample a variety of handmade Swiss sweets and the famous Swiss chocolate.

House with a Fasnacht mural

In Europe, it’s not uncommon to find houses decorated with murals. And Lucerne is no exception. In its Old Town you can find a picturesque house with frescoes depicting the characters of the local carnival. For carnival here every year congregates masses of tourists, but if someone has not managed to see this spectacle, he can always imagine it by looking at the colorful frescoes on this house.

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House with murals in Lucerne

Hirschenplatz

Translated into Russian, this place is called “Deer Square”. There is nothing surprising in the origin of this name. The fact that this name was given to the inn, the sign of which survives to this day. By the way, there is now a restaurant in the building. The sign with the image of a deer, made of forged metal with partial gilding, was so memorable that it gave its name to the entire square.

At the corner is the former building of another inn, famous for being the place where Goethe stayed, to which one of the facades has a thematic painting. Its signboard is also noteworthy. In the middle of the square there is an old fountain with a peasant and two geese.

Lucerne’s Old Town Hall

The town hall was built between 1602 and 1606 as a shopping arcade. The high tower was not added to it until two centuries later. That same year, the town council moved into the spacious building.

The town hall is now open to the public. The interior has preserved the meeting and court rooms, the reading room, and the hall unchanged. In these rooms one can admire the Versailles parquet and the wooden wall panels. In the chancellery the archive cupboards are of particular value. And in the open arcades is still a market place.

The address of the Town Hall is Kornmarkt 3.

Old Town Hall in Lucerne

Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier

The Jesuit Church of Francis Xavier is a Catholic church located on the embankment of the river Reuss in Lucerne. It is the first church in Switzerland built in the Baroque style (17th century) .

The Jesuit order attached great importance to education in its activities, so already two years after its appearance in Lucerne in 1574, the monks began to teach students in a gymnasium. The number of students was growing and it was decided to build a large church to accommodate them.

The foundation stone was laid on the left bank of the Reuss River on December 3, 1666, the feast day of Francis Xavier, the Catholic saint who was the most successful Jesuit missionary in the East (India, Japan and China). A statue of the saint still adorns the facade of the temple, and inside there are drawings of scenes from his life.

A few years later the large-scale temple building was completed. Later, in 1893, two more towers were added to it. This is how we see the church today.

The Jesuit church in Lucerne

The interior of the church was mostly decorated at the end of the 17th century. Since then it has been restored several times, but without significant changes in appearance. The last restoration of the ceilings dates back to the middle of the XVIII century.

After the dissolution of the Jesuit order in 1773, the educational institution of the church continued to operate. Today, it is used by professors of theology, the local music school and concerts of church music, and, since 2006, the Jesuit prefect has been the new prefect.

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The room has excellent acoustics, which is why concerts are held in the church on major feast days. The organ dates from 1982. In its construction, elements of the former instrument from 1897 were used.

The address of the Jesuit church is Bahnhofstrasse 11A.

St. Mary’s Franciscan Church

The Franciscan Church of St. Mary is a Catholic church and one of the oldest buildings in Lucerne. It is part of the Swiss section of the Santiago Way.

The first Franciscans appeared in Lucerne back in the 13th century. In the same century the construction of the church also began, after the order was able to buy itself a plot of land with donations from Countess Guta von Rothenburg.

The Church of the Franciscans (Church of the Barefoot Men) was built directly behind the city wall according to the standard plan of those times and is stylistically among the oldest buildings of the Franciscan order. It was the largest church in the city until the Jesuit Church was erected.

In the XVII-XVIII centuries, not only the area around the church, but also it itself was often used as a place of burial mainly for wealthy citizens (during the restoration work in it was found about a hundred graves).

Since 1895, the Church of the Franciscans became a parish church. At present, daily services are held there.

The address of the Franciscan church is Franziskanerplatz 1.

Muzggmauer Wall

The architectural complex of the Muzggmauer castle wall with its line of nine towers is one of the symbols of Lucerne. Construction of this city fortification began as early as the 13th century. The oldest part of the wall is the Lugisland Tower. It was built in 1367.

The beginnings of the fortress wall

In the mid-19th century, by order of the authorities, some sections of the wall were destroyed. The authorities believed that it hindered the normal development of the city transport network. The fortress wall is now 870 meters long and 1.5 meters wide. Only 40 meters of the fortification survived. This was due to the fact that the fortress is located in the northern part of the city, where it has little effect on the urban transport network. It was the only thing that saved Muzgg wall from complete destruction.

Because of the uneven distribution of the towers, it is difficult to determine the exact height of the structure. On average it is 9 meters.

As already mentioned, the architectural complex of the Museggmauer unites nine towers:

  • Allenwinden (Tower of All Winds);
  • Dahli (Pyramid Tower);
  • Lugisland (Watchtower);
  • Manley (Iron Manley);
  • Noli (Red Tower);
  • Pulver (Powder Tower);
  • Hoy (Watchtower);
  • Cit (Clock Tower);
  • Schirmer (Defense Tower).
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In the past, each tower could be accessed through an interior entrance. Now these passages are closed. Three towers – Schirmer, Cit, and Manly – are now available to the public. But only from April 1 to November 1 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The rest of the time you can only walk around the fortress wall.

Alpacas often graze near the castle walls in Lucerne.

Schirmer tower – a watchtower – was built in 1420. Through it there is a gate, which was laid in the 17th century, but re-opened 200 years later.

The name Cit Tower comes from the word Zeit – time. It’s not hard to guess that this tower has a clock – the largest and oldest in Lucerne. So it has the privilege of chiming the hour one minute earlier than everyone else in the city. It’s also believed that its dial is so big that fishermen from the Firwaldstätte Lake can see the time.

Manly Tower has a single-pitch roof, on which rises the figure of a “jolly soldier.” Every tower once had such roofs, but they were rebuilt in 1513-1597.

Manly Tower in Lucerne

You can read more about the towers and the castle wall on the official website (use the google translator if necessary).

Itinerary for 1 day in Lucerne

I chose the Ice Garden and the sculpture of the Dying Lion (point 1) as the start of this itinerary. This decision was due to the proximity of parking (at the Löwencenter Luzern), as we were by car. If you come by train, start your route from the Chapel Bridge and the Jesuit Church (points 7-8). They are very close to the Railway Station, you’ll walk around the circle and come back to the same place (if you’re leaving the same day).

View of Lucerne from the fortress wall

Our start, on the other hand, was from the Dying Lion (point 1). After it we saw the Church of St. Leodegaard (point 2). Then we walked through Swan Square (point 3), looked at the house with frescos (4), Deer Square (5), went down to the Town Hall (6) and then along the embankment we reached Chapel Bridge (7). On the other side of the river the Jesuit and Franciscan churches are very close (point 8). After seeing them on the Mill Bridge (item 9) we crossed to the other side of the Royce. From there we went to the Fortress Wall (points 10-11), and along it we returned approximately to the beginning of the route. Note that the wall runs on hills, so some physical effort to climb it will have to be made.

A map of the Lucerne hiking trail:

You’ll find a few more sights on the map, just in case you have more time to spare.

If you are interested in guided tours, look out for offers for joint walks from expats and locals:

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