Quite possibly the prettiest city in the world, Lucerne in Central Switzerland is a fairy tale combination of culture, lake and mountains. What’s more, it’s reachable in just an hour on board a super-efficient direct train from Zürich’s international airport. The warm summer months see tourist families and tour buses arrive en masse attracted by Lucerne’s charming cobbled lanes, street entertainers and popular al fresco dining options. As the weather turns the crowds move to the higher ground of Switzerland’s renowned Alpine ski resorts leaving the city in a distinctly refreshing and relaxed state where the low season traveller can experience reduced rates on top accommodation and some winter fun with a more local mix of clientele. Snow lovers won’t miss out though. Lucerne’s unique location means day tripping to the peaks is totally possible without the cost of staying in pricy ski resorts.
The Historic Centre
You can easily wander this compact city on foot, taking in the beautiful balustrades, charming details and fascinating old frescos that cover many of the buildings. The old town is a pedestrian zone of attractive squares and a riverside promenade dotted with cafes and bars. Here, in the low season months there’s a winter atmosphere and festive lights. Big draws are the gorgeous 14th century covered wooden bridges, spanning the River Reuss in the old centre. Visit the huge sandstone Lion Monument, a memorial to the Swiss soldiers killed during the French Revolution. Check out the beautiful Jesuit Church, a stunning Baroque edifice or the more simple Franciscan Church in the Gothic style. If you are feeling energetic climb the 800 metre long Musegg Wall, the medieval fortifications with nine watch towers. The effort is well worth it for fabulous views over the mountains of Central Switzerland. Besides you will build up an excellent appetite for a bowl of sticky cheese fondue served all over the city during the winter months.
On the city’s south-eastern side lies beautiful Lake Lucerne. Lovely to gaze over from the shore, but even better once you get out onto the water. Yachts and motor boats take passengers out year round, but a favourite option is to travel by one of five vintage paddle steamers. These offer warm inside seating or on deck areas, full food service and bar, or you can take your own picnic. The boat dock is easy to find, right outside the train station and the departure schedule operates with typical Swiss efficiency. The routes are planned so you can get off at nearby villages or lakeside hotels en route to the surrounding mountain access points which link up brilliantly with the mountain railways and cable cars. A new shuttle stops at Bürgenstock where you can access a beautiful hiking trail along the cliff edge with sweeping views back across the lake.
Wrap up warm, cross the lake and get out of the city. It is a great way to spend a few hours in the crisp air or make a day of it with plenty of places to stop for lunch. Mount Rigi is a popular trip and home to Europe’s first ever mountain railway, built in 1871, while nearby Mount Pilatus claims the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. Mount Stanserhorn boasts the world’s first double-deck open-top aerial cableway or you can take the world’s steepest funicular railway to the village of Stoos. If getting there by these fascinating vintage feats of engineering isn’t adventure enough, there are some great hiking trails along the mountain paths or hire a sledge and get some snow action.