Lucerne, a tiny Alpine town in Switzerland is a popular tourist draw and one that can be easily visited on a day trip, thanks to the amazing train service in Switzerland. I did the same while on a business trip to Basel , where I had some time to spare on my last day and thus hopped on to a south bound train to experience the magic of this Swiss town. There are plenty of free things to do in Lucerne and you can read all about what to do in Lucerne in a few hours by scrolling down this post of mine. From historic attractions to a great place for a bite to eat, this day trip to Lucerne post does cover quite a bit, so let’s get started!
a) Things to do in Lucerne: Lake Lucerne and Chapel Bridge
If you take the train for a day trip to Lucerne, the first thing that will greet you once you get out of the station is the glimmering waters of Lake Lucerne smack in the center of the city and the Chapel bridge, a wooden bridge spanning across it. Although swarming with tourists busy taking selfies on the bridge, one look up will reveal a series of painted triangular wooden blocks dating back to the 17th century by local painter Hans Heinrich Wägmann, which depict events from Lucerne’s history. This is the oldest surviving “truss bridge” of Europe comprising of both strutted and triangulated trusses of moderate span, supported on stacked trestles. The famous water tower of Lucerne is right next to the bridge and is a complete misnomer because it was once used as a torture chamber. Although closed to the public right now, it is home to a gift shop and an local artillery association. Lucerne boasts of three wooden pedestrian bridges, all of which pretty much connect the new portion of the city to the old one. You can stand on any of these connectors and take photos of the Swiss Alps in the distance, the beautiful buildings lining up the waterfront and the minarets of castles peeking from far away.
b) What to do in Lucerne: Visit old town
Once you cross the Chapel bridge, you’ll be heading towards old town with its typical European city offerings of old building facades with painted murals, cobbled streets and bustling squares. Strolling through old town is one of the best things to do in Lucerne since there are quite a few attractions tucked in here. Owing to the military roots of the city and Catholicism, (read more on Wikipedia here about the origins of Lucerne), many of the murals that you’ll encounter here depict holy figurines or war soldiers. The charming restaurant Mill’Feuille is a great place to grab a bite or refuel for exploring Lucerne on foot. Remember to make a stop by the town hall to admire its architecture and if you are in luck, you might even stumble upon a beautiful Swiss wedding as did I.
c) Day trip to Lucerne: The Dying Lion
The dying lion, which the famous American author, Mark Twain described as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world” is also known as the Lion monument /Lion of Lucerne. This rock relief in Lucerne was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and sculpted in 1820–21 by Lukas Ahorn. It honors the valor the Swiss Guards who were killed in 1792 during the French Revolution, when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Post the monument viewing you can walk along the fortified city walls, or climb up one of the many winding bylines to get a glimpse of the new part of the city from afar. Stay clear of the branded shops and stop by “Change Makers” a small boutique in the city to pick up a Swiss/local souvenir (I sure did) or stop by any of the bakeries or Swiss chocolatiers (Laderach or Max) to pick up some yummy Swiss goodies for friends and family. For museum lovers, there are several options (see here), one of them being the famous Kunst Museum of Art adjacent to the train station. After a good four hours of having my fill of things to do in Lucerne and clicking umpteen photos, I retraced my steps to the train station and returned to Basel, tired yet glad of a day well spent. Scroll down below for further tips for planning your day trip to Lucerne. If you have more time, do explore other cities in Switzerland such as beautiful Geneva, with this handy guide on things to do in Geneva to get you inspired.
Tips on planning a day trip to Lucerne from Basel
Switzerland is extremely well connected by trains and if you are leaving from Basel, then the Basel SBB train station is the best option to catch direct trains to Lucerne on their way to Locarno. Download the SBB app on your smartphone and buy tickets electronically, at the kiosk or at the information center (if you do not have a debit card). The one advantage of buying tickets at the latter is that your round trip will be valid for one whole week and not simply for that day of purchase. Wear sturdy shoes since the roads are cobbled and try to get a map of the city to gauge local attractions. I always chat up with the locals and ask them for food and sightseeing recommendations, so if you are a chatty person, don’t hesitate to ask the friendly Swiss folks! Finally, Mount Pilates is a mere 45 minutes away and if you have enough time on your hands (I did not due to a late start), do try to visit it as a day trip from Lucerne. There are several options to get you there but the best one is the steepest train ride in the world via the cogwheel train (details here or better still read this blog post by Everywhere Forward about her adventure). Finally, why just stop at Lucerne? Here is a list of 25 best things to do in Switzerland for you to explore this beautiful country!
I hope you liked this post on things to do in Lucerne on a day trip and have gotten inspired to do the same. Lucerne is less than two hours away from Basel by train; if you are visiting Basel then read these fantastic guides on things to do in Basel and 20 ideas for things to do Basel penned by my fellow blogger friends. If you have more time on your hand, explore these must visit places in Switzerland by train! For a stress free travel planning through Switzerland, read this excellent Switzerland travel planning guide! Besides Switzerland, here are some other beautiful countries to explore in Europe via the ultimate Europe Bucket list.