Nestled in the Alps of central Switzerland alongside a beautiful sky blue lake, Lucerne would be a stunning location in any case. But when you add in gorgeous architecture like the Chapel Bridge, St. Peter's Chapel, and the Altes Rathaus, you've really got something special.
Plenty of famous people have realized the sheer beauty of Lucerne, with giants like Goethe, Wagner, and Mark Twain all falling in love with the city. You can do the same, wandering the narrow streets of the Old Town, dining on Swiss dishes like fondue, taking cable cars to nearby peaks to soak up the views, or sailing on the lake.
Attend world-class music festivals, tour huge art collections, shop for luxury clothes, or just take it easy and breathe the fresh air of the Alps in one of Europe's most beguiling destinations.
The city of Lucerne is built around a lake of the same name, which stretches for miles and miles into corners of the Alps, providing a paradise for sailing fans. The rich turquoise of the lake, the red roofs of the city, and the snow-capped Alps beyond form an enchanting vista that no visitors will forget.
Since 1938, Lucerne has hosted one of the world's most prestigious classical music festivals, which has both Easter and summer versions.
The Chapel Bridge across the River Reuss is the centerpiece, but you can also climb the towers of the Museggmauer (city walls). Don't miss Bertel Thorvaldsen's Lion Monument as well, which Mark Twain once described as "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."
Take the cable car to the peak of Mount Pilatus, go skiing at Engelberg-Titlis, or visit the farthest tip of the lake with the William Tell Express.
Aside from Thorvaldsen's Lion Monument, the Sammlung Rosengart offers 50 Picassos (and 125 works by Paul Klee), while the Lucerne Art Museum is one of the country's leading exhibition spaces for Swiss art.
Lucerne has winter and summer attractions, and there's no bad time to go. If you love music, Easter is an excellent choice, as the Lucerne Festival gets into gear. Summer brings sightseeing crowds, but idyllic weather to see the lake and the valleys nearby. Winter offers opportunities for skiers, but the cold weather isn't ideal for enjoying Lucerne's urban attractions.
Lucerne doesn't have its own international airport, but Zurich Airport has connections to North America and is around an hour away by road or 45 minutes by train. You could also fly into Geneva, which is around two hours' drive away.
Most travelers arrive at Lucerne's main station, which has a striking design by superstar architect Santiago Calatrava. The city has excellent connections with other Swiss cities like Geneva, Zurich, or Bern and to northern Italy via the Gotthard railway. It's also centrally located, so finding your accommodation won't be hard.
If you are driving from Zurich, take the A4 before switching to the A14 at Zug. From Geneva, the best route is to take the A1 to Bern, the A6 to Thun, then the A8 straight into Lucerne. Those driving from the Italian border just need to follow the A2 directly to their destination.
Some of the most luxurious hotels in Lucerne are right next to the lake, as you might expect. High-end options that never disappoint include the Grand Hotel National and the Palace Luzern, both of which offer elegant surroundings and traditional services. Waldstätterhof is an excellent option near the main station, the Hotel des Alpes has superb views of Chapel Bridge, while Backpackers Lucerne is a cheap, friendly place for budget travelers.
The Old City - Lucerne's tourist attractions are clustered around the Altstadt (Old City). This compact neighborhood of cobbled streets, 17th-century homes, and gorgeous churches is home to the iconic Chapel Bridge, the city walls (whose towers can be accessed by tourists) and the Sammlung Rosengart, the city's best art gallery.
Lido - located across the water from the Altstadt, Lido is as close as Switzerland comes to a beach resort. It's also a great place to base yourself, with camping grounds, the Swiss Museum of Transport and minigolf to enjoy - and wonderful views of the old city.
Tribschen - just south of the city center you'll find Tribschen, home to the superb Richard Wagner Museum, which is dedicated to the legendary German composer who lived in the building between 1866 and 1872.
Lucerne's network of buses and trains is more than sufficient to reach all parts of the city, although the center of town is best seen on foot. The best option is to buy a pass for Zone 10 (including most of the city), which costs CHF8 for one day. However, they don't work on night buses, where you have to pay the driver the CHF10 fare, so have some change handy.
Taxis aren't hard to find in Lucerne, but they can be a little expensive. The meter drop is set at CHF6 by the city government, then it's around CHF5.50 per mile after that.
If you want to see the beautiful alpine valleys of central Switzerland or have the option of visiting Zurich, renting a car is a great option. Local companies include Avis and Europcar, and rates can be as low as CHF70 per day.
Shoppers will be delighted by the range of luxury stores in central Lucerne. If you want to pick up a high-quality Swiss watch, Bucherer in the city center is the best place to visit, closely followed by Chronoswiss. The souvenirs at Schweizer Heimatwerk are a cut above typical tourist items, while chocolate lovers will fall in love with stores like Max Chocolatier, where you can see candy being made in person. Most of the best stores are in the Altstadt, where the window shopping is fantastic.
Visitors can also pick up everyday groceries from supermarkets like Aldi, Spar, and COOP, which is handy as food prices in Lucerne tend to be quite high. Expect to pay at least CHF4.50 for a gallon of milk or CHF5.80 for 12 eggs.
As you would expect from such an elegant, high-end destination, the food in Lucerne is spectacular. Some favorite spots to find gourmet food in the Altstadt include Restaurant Scala at the Hotel Montana and Hofgarten, which specializes in seasonally caught wild game, but there are Indian restaurants like Gourmindia to choose from as well. And there's no shortage of chocolatiers or patisseries either. The Confiserie Bachmann is the place to head for a decadent chocolate cake and coffee in between museums or churches. Eating out isn't cheap, though. Expect to pay around CHF40-50 at gourmet restaurants.