Ultimate Guide to 2 Days in Lucerne, Switzerland

Written by Teresa Bitler

July 17, 2023
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Lucerne combines the beauty of the Alps with its charming Old Town. Use this ultimate guide to 2 days in Lucerne to make the most of your visit.

About an hour’s train ride from Zurich, Lucerne (or Luzern) straddles the Reuss River, where it meets Lake Lucerne. It’s one of the most picturesque settings I’ve ever seen. Nearby, Mt. Pilatus and the Alps overlook the city while steamboats cruise the lake and covered bridges cross the river. Medieval architecture lines the pedestrian-only, cobblestone streets of Old Town. You could easily spend a week here.

I had just two days to explore Lucerne with my husband on a recent visit. While it’s far from enough time to see it all, two days should give you enough time to see some of the highlights. This ultimate guide to 2 days in Lucerne will get you started.

Historical Sights in Lucerne

Lucerne is filled with history. Start at Old Town, which contains some of Switzerland’s best medieval architecture. If you have more time, visit other historical sites, like the Lion Monument.

Old Town Lucerne

Originally a medieval town centered around the Benedictine abbey of Saint Leodegar, Old Town is a car-free area with cobblestone streets and town squares. Restaurants, hotels, and boutique shops line the streets, and you’ll likely encounter several group walking tours as you stroll the street. Download the Official Audio Tour Lucerne app before you head out. Or pick up the Official Lucerne City Guide from the visitor center and follow the walking tour.

One of our trip’s highlights was walking the city without a map or audio guide. But before we spent time in Old Town, we took the 40-minute City Train tour. This vehicle, designed to look like a train, offers a narrated ride through the city, including parts of Old Town. It’s well worth the CHF 15 (about $16.50).

Frescoed buildings line the streets of Old Town in Lucerne.

Frescoed buildings line the streets of Old Town. Photo by Terea Bitler

Chapel Bridge

Chapel Bridge, built in the first half of the 14th century as part of the city’s early fortifications, is considered Europe’s oldest covered bridge. It features a tower at its midway point that has served as a lockout, prison, torture chamber, and archives over the years. In the early 1600s, the famed panels depicting scenes from Swiss history and Christendom were painted inside the bridge’s cover.

Initially, the timber bridge contained 158 painted panels. Following a fire that destroyed two-thirds of the bridge in 1993, only 76 panels exist today, a combination of saved and reproduced panels. I couldn’t tell the difference.

Even if you are short on time, walk the bridge. The painted panels and views of Old Town make it worthwhile. Once on the other side, you can walk along the Reuss River to the History Museum and back to Old Town on the Spreuer Bridge. Also a timber bridge, its painted panels feature macabre scenes meant to remind its users that death comes for us all.

Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is considered Europe's oldest covered bridge.

Chapel Bridge is considered Europe’s oldest covered bridge. Photo courtesy of Makalu/Pixabay

Lion Monument

This memorial, created to commemorate the hundreds of Swiss Guards who died defending the French monarchy during the French Revolution, is one of Lucerne’s most famous attractions. It depicts a dying lion impaled by a spear and called the saddest stone in the world. Even author Mark Twain was moved by the sandstone monument.

The Lion Monument commemorates the Swiss Guard who died defending the French monarchy in 1792.

The Lion Monument commemorates the Swiss Guard, who died defending the French monarchy in 1792. Photo courtesy of pkh470/Pixabay

According to Google Maps, it’s a 10- to 15-minute walk from Chapel Bridge to the monument. We took the bus to the Lowenplatz stop. From there, it’s a few minutes’ walk to where you can view the lion from across the pond. The bus stop is also where you can pick up the City Train for a narrated tour of Lucerne.

Musegg Wall

The Musegg Wall was built in the 13th century as part of the city’s historic fortifications. Today, there are nine remaining towers. Four of these—the Männli, Zyt, Wacht, and Schirmer—are open daily from April 1 through November 1. You can see the city, the lake, and the surrounding countryside from the towers.

Several rare birds, bats, and lizards make their home along the wall, which stretches over half a mile (870 meters). In addition to wildlife, flora like small ferns, mosses, and lichens inhabit the wall.

Churches

There are several significant churches in and around Old Town worth checking out. The first is the Church of St. Leodegar, also known as the Hofkirche. It is a striking Renaissance-era church with two spires and boasts an organ that can reproduce the sounds of rain, hail, and thunder.

Another significant church is the Franciscan Church (Franziskanerkirsche). It was built in 1280 to house the monks who lived there until 1838. If you visit, go inside. The church features the most elaborate pulpit in Switzerland and frescos of flags from Lucerne’s military campaigns.

The Jesuit Church (Jesuiteenkirche) on the riverfront is the city’s first baroque building near the Franciscan Church. Not only is it still used for religious services, but its acoustics are so good that it sometimes doubles as a concert venue.

The double-spired Church of St. Leodegar is one of Lucerne's historic churches.

The double-spired Church of St. Leodegar is one of Lucerne’s historic churches. Photo courtesy of ksortore/Pixabay

Cultural sights in Lucerne

Don’t miss Lucerne’s cultural side. The city has excellent museums, including a history museum, natural history museum, and several art museums. If you must choose one, make it the Swiss Museum of Transport and spend a good chunk of your day to see it.

Swiss Museum of Transport

The most visited museum in Switzerland, the Swiss Museum of Transport, spans several buildings and contains aircraft, historic automobiles, trucks, trains, motorcycles, boats, and more. Come prepared for a very family-friendly experience with lots of interactive exhibits. If you need a break from the kids, the Hans Erni Museum (a museum within the Swiss Museum of Transport) is dedicated to Switzerland’s most popular artists.

Plan to spend an entire day or, at the very least, several hours there. In addition to the exhibits, the museum offers several experiences (additional fee), including the Swiss Chocolate Adventure, where you can see, hear, smell, and taste chocolate. There’s also a planetarium, film theater, and a virtual reality experience climbing the Matterhorn.

Planes, helicopters, and other aircraft fill the Aviation and Space Travel Building at the Swiss Travel Museum.

Planes, helicopters, and other aircraft fill the Aviation and Space Travel Building at the Swiss Travel Museum. Photo by Teresa Bitler.

Museum of Art

Housed in the city’s Culture and Convention Center, the Museum of Art Lucerne (Kunstmuseum) focuses on historic Swiss art, the art of the 1970s, and contemporary works by Central Swiss artists today. The exhibits rotate to keep the experience fresh.

Not familiar with Swiss art, especially Swiss contemporary art? The museum gives regularly scheduled guided tours and hosts talks with artists.

Rosengart Collection Lucerne

This impressive art museum features the works of Classic Modernist artists like Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee. The museum dedicates its entire ground floor to Picasso, with works arranged chronologically.  Even more Picassos, including five portraits of Angela Rosengart, grace the second floor while, in the basement, you’ll find 125 watercolors, paintings, and drawings by Paul Klee.

Picasso and Klee aren’t the only artists featured. The museum showcases the works of over 20 of the era’s greats, including Cézanne, Monet, Chagall, Braque, Kandinsky, Léger, Matisse, and Miró.

Lucerne straddles the Reuss River, where it meets Lake Lucerne.

Lucerne straddles the Reuss River, where it meets Lake Lucerne. Photo courtesy of Werni/Pixabay.

Richard Wagner Museum

The Richard Wagner Museum, the former home of the famed composer, contains 1,600 artifacts spread over five rooms. Some of Wagner’s clothes and furniture are on display, as is his Erard grand piano from Paris. Occasionally, the museum offers guided tours followed by a short concert on the Erard grand piano.

You can get to the museum on foot, by bus or boat. On foot, it takes about a half hour to walk from Chapel Bridge to the museum. By bus, it will take about 17 minutes. Boats leave the Convention Center area and take 10 minutes to reach the nearby Tribschen station.

Other Places to Check Out During Your 2 Days in Lucerne

Lucerne is surrounded by natural beauty. Take time to immerse yourself in it by visiting one of these attractions or simply walking along the lake’s shore.

Mt. Pilatus

Legend has it that Mt. Pilatus is a dragon’s lair, the home of giants, and possibly the final resting place of Pontius Pilate. Regardless, it offers incredible views of Lake Lucerne and 73 nearby Alpine peaks on clear days. Even when it’s cloudy, you’ll still have plenty to do. Visitors can ride the toboggan run, tackle a ropes course, and brave the zipline-like Dragon Glider.

Mt. Pilatus offers incredible panoramic views of Lake Lucerne.

Mt. Pilatus offers incredible panoramic views of Lake Lucerne. Photo courtesy of Sarah_Loetschere/Pixabay

The journey to the top is an adventure in itself. Visitors can take a cable car or cog railway to the Pilatus-Kulm area. A 10-minute hike continues to the summit of the Esel, the mountain’s central peak. Or, you can take a 30-minute walk to Tomlishorn, the highest point in the mountain range, for panoramic views.

Pilatus Kulm mountain peak with a view of Lake Lucerne.

Pilatus Kulm mountain peak with a view of Lake Lucerne. Photo by xbrchx via iStock by Getty Images

Glacier Garden Lucerne

This unique attraction invites visitors inside a mountain to see the progression of time, from the area’s petrified seashore to the present day. Of particular interest are Ice Age relics such as the glacier-polished rock, boulders left behind by the retreating ice, and the giant’s kettles (potholes) formed at the base of waterfalls of melting glacial ice.

In addition to the geological wonders, the attraction also has a museum featuring Alpine animals and rocks. It also contains some of the museum’s founders’ belongings. There’re also gardens outside, a gift shop, and an unaffiliated mirror labyrinth.

How to Explore Lucerne

The nearest airport to Lucerne is Zurich Airport (ZRH). From there, you can take the train to Lucerne. I recommend purchasing a Swiss Travel Pass instead of individual train tickets. The pass gives you free, unlimited use of all public transportation, including the train, bus, and boats, for three to 15 consecutive days. This pass is handy if you don’t want to stay in Old Town.

Centrally located, Old Town makes the ideal base for your visit. But there are advantages to staying elsewhere in the city. First, although you can walk from the train depot to Old Town, you’ll have to drag your bags across cobblestones to get to your hotel. Second, there’s more hustle and bustle in Old Town.

I stayed at the Hotel Hermitage. Located on the shore of Lake Lucerne, it offered Instagramable views and quiet. It is also right across the street from a bus stop, making it easy to head to Old Town. On the other hand, the hotel had only one restaurant, and we had to take the bus to Old Town for most meals.

We enjoyed lake views from the Hermitage Hotel

We enjoyed lake views from the Hermitage Hotel. Photo by Teresa Bitler

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Best Time to Visit

Any time is a good time to visit Lucerne. In the summer, temperatures average between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and you can dip in the lake. But it’s also the city’s busiest. Winter is best for those who want to ski nearby and attend the city’s Christmas markets or Festival of Lights (the first two weeks in January).

It’s hard to explore Lucerne in just two days. This ultimate guide to 2 days in Lucerne should help you maximize your time during your stay. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your trip to Lucerne, another European destination, or any 2-Day Ultimate getaway.

Written by Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Wine Enthusiast, and AAA publications. She’s also the author of two guidebooks (Great Escapes Arizona and Backroads and Byways of Indian Country) and a contributor to Fodors Arizona & The Grand Canyon. While Teresa would never miss a must-see attraction, such as the Statue of Liberty in New York City, her favorite travel experiences are the unexpected ones: KoolAid with a Hopi medicine man, lobster prepared by a local on a Belizean beach, or a ride in a World War II-era bomber.

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