Luzern is truly a year-round destination, so it's important to know all the things you can do in Lucerne all year round. Sprawling green grasses and wildflowers cover
the surrounding mountain slopes in the summer, making the region a bucket list destination for hikers, cyclists, climbers and outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. But wintertime is just as entertaining and maybe even a teeny tiny bit more majestic – and that is a term we don’t typically use because it’s ultra-corny - but that’s really the best way to describe it.
With snowshoeing, outdoor ice-skating rinks, sledding, tobogganing and of course skiing and snowboarding options nearby, the snow capped mountains above Lucerne are likely the reason people even starting using the term “winter wonderland.” And we haven’t even talked about the picturesque lake yet. Lake Lucerne is the fourth largest in all of Switzerland and it was formed by prehistoric glaciers, giving it a greenish-blue glacial hue. It’s a major attraction that you can enjoy no matter what time of year you visit.
Because Lucerne is pretty compact and all the major attractions are centrally located, it’s easy to sightsee in a short amount of time. You don’t even need a car, but there’s a great bus system if you’re not much of a walker.
Here’s our list of things to do in Lucerne all year round.
1. Kapellbrücke or Chapel Bridge
Welcome to the star of the show. This gable-roofed bridge is not just the most famous site in Lucerne, it’s one of the most photographed places in all of Switzerland. The hexagonal water tower was built sometime between 1290 to 1300 and has served as a maritime lookout, a prison, a treasury and an archive. There’s actually still an armory situated above the dungeons you can visit.
Unfortunately, the bridge’s timber caught fire in 1994 and most of the wooden structure was destroyed and had to be rebuilt. Also lost in that fire were priceless paintings from the mid-1600s. The triangular panels were hand painted and hung in the roofline of the bridge, depicting the town’s ancient history and heritage. Of the original 158 panels, less than 50 remain, but those that do are still proudly on display.
2. Lake Lucerne
The greenish-blue lake was formed at the end of the Ice Age 12,000 years ago and is obviously a showstopper in Lucerne. It’s the fourth largest lake in Switzerland with an average depth of 341 ft (104 m) and a maximum depth of 702 ft (214 m) making it perfect for aquatic pastimes like different boat tours for all weather, paddle boats and even submarining.
You read that correctly. In 2021, the P-63 submarine was licensed for the first ever commercial use in Swiss lakes, so you can now explore Lake Lucerne’s ancient wrecks on Switzerland’s only passenger submarine. If you prefer to hike or stroll, there are plenty of trails and promenades around the shoreline.
3. The Lion of Lucerne
One of the most famous attractions in Lucerne is the depiction of a dying lion carved into the wall of a sandstone quarry. It was carved in 1821 and commemorates the lives of fallen Swiss Guards during the French Revolution. Although, the agonizing look that was so expertly carved onto the lion’s face might also reflect the modern-day controversy still surrounding the monument.
No matter which side you’re on, it’s a true work of art and was even mentioned in the 1880 travelogue by Mark Twain, “A Tramp Abroad.” He noted that it was “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.”
The old city wall, or Museggmauer, was built as a line of defense in the 14th century and is often referred to as the Crown of Lucerne as it sits perched above the Altstadt neighborhood.
There are still nine towers remaining and you can tour them, or event rent them for your private event. The view from here is outstanding on a clear day, it’s worth the hike up the hill alone just for the view.
5. Hotel Chateau Guetsch
Another place with a great view is the Hotel Chateau Guetsch. While we recommend staying in the Altstadt neighborhood because of the historical significance, charm and central location, you should also get above the city and head up to this beautiful hotel for lunch or a cocktail on the terrace. You will be hard pressed to find a better place to watch the sunset, but even if the weather is overcast, you can still have a good meal in a luxe setting.
6. KKL Luzern or the Culture and Convention Center
An architectural masterpiece and the venue for live music and art, the KKL Luzern is a modern lakeside jewel. The dedicated art museum showcases contemporary rotating exhibits from artists all over the world and is considered one of the most important museums in the country. While the state-of-the-art concert hall hosts orchestras, symphonies, concerts and everything in between.
7. Visit the churches
The Jesuit Church was the first large baroque church in all of Switzerland, opening in 1667. It was built by French and Italian architects and is often referred to as the most beautiful baroque church in Switzerland.
The Hofkirche St. Leodegar is on the opposite side of the Reuss and was rebuilt in 1639 after a fire destroyed the original 8th century structure. The church’s organ was originally constructed in 1640 and has been expanded over the centuries to 7,374 pipes and weighing in at 30 tons.
8. The Glacier Garden
The Gletschergarten, or Glacier Garden, gives you an idea of what Lucerne looked like some 20,000 years ago. It’s a small place with a museum and a fun mirror maze, but it’s still worth a stop to see such a unique offering.
The kettle basins date from the last Ice Age, and you can see fossilized shells and palm leaves from 20 million years ago.
9. Go shopping
Lucerne has really great shops. The Schwanenplatz is a famous street in the old town that sits right next to the lake. It’s known for selling luxury goods like fine jewelry from Cartier and Swiss watches, with a beautiful multi-level building housing Bucherer and Rolex.
Inside the building is one of the world’s largest indoor marble run clocks, spanning all four floors of the building at 38 ft (11.6 m) high and nearly 20 ft (6 m) wide. There are also antique stores, clothing boutiques, gift and souvenir shops and fine chocolatiers nearby.
10. The Grand Casino Luzern
If you’re looking for Lucerne’s version of nightlife, you can find it at the elegant Grand Casino. The neo-baroque palace was built in 1882 and while it is a small casino, the view is incredible with sweeping panoramas across the lake and the mountains.
The place is dripping in opulence, with intricate dentil moldings, painted frescoes, lavish crystal chandeliers and candelabras and polished roulette tables. They also offer blackjack, baccarat and slot machines, fine dining at Restaurant Olivo, a couple bars and a live music venue.
Things to do near Lucerne
Although technically not in Lucerne, we’d be remiss not to mention the unique and incredible experiences to be had just outside the city limits. While in Lucerne, you’ll be surrounded by a towering mountain range and at some point, you may want to make the trek up to one. The one caveat you need to think about is the weather.
Lucerne is often draped in a thick blanket of cloud cover, so the conditions have to be just right in order to really get the full experience of how incredible the views are from the nearby summits. But if you get a clear day, you are guaranteed one of those vacation moments that become emblazoned into your memory for the rest of your life. Here are two nearby mountains you should check out while you’re visiting Lucerne.
Mt. Pilatus sits high above the town of Lucerne, and it’s a great place to spend the day, if the weather is nice. There are hikes, toboggan runs, paragliding, rope courses, biking and so much more in the summer months; and in the winter, they offer snowshoeing, sledding, cable car rides and astronomy events. There’s even a hotel with five different restaurants in case you’d like to spend the night. Mount Pilatus is accessible by the world's steepest cog railway.
You have to cross Lake Lucerne to get to Mt Rigi, which is a fun excursion in itself. Although you can technically drive or take the train around, who wouldn’t want to hop a boat for a quick jaunt across that beautiful water?
Once you arrive in Vitznau at the other side of Lake Lucerne, you’ll hop a train or a cable car and ride on Europe’s oldest railway. Mount Rigi is less commercialized than Mount Pilatus, but there are still lots of things to do. There are many hiking trails, restaurants and scenic vistas that will absolutely blow you away.
If you’re looking for a spa experience, the Rigi Kaltbad is in the mountain village of Weggis and has an indoor/outdoor heated pool, a crystal spa, steam room, sauna and mineral bath.
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Ashley Oñoz-Wright has been a travel writer and editor based in Las Vegas, NV for the last ten years. Her work has been featured in Manifesting Travel, Modern Luxury, Sophisticated Living, Greenspun Media Group, Vegas.com and LasVegas.com. She holds a degree in Sociology & Anthropology from DePauw University.