Time has really stopped for me over this magical weekend in Lucerne, Switzerland… Let me share with you more details about this love-at-first-sight city which has turned into one of my favorite trips ever.
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Let´s start with some practical highlights for those of you, who also plan to spend a weekend in Lucerne.
Where is Lucerne
Lucerne (called Luzern in German) is a beautiful city in Central Switzerland, known for its crystal lakes, the world´s oldest 14th-century Chapel Bridge, and inspiring Mountain views of the Alps. It is a perfect match for a quiet romantic trip or simply a laid-back vacation, where one can combine occasional sightseeing with exploring local nature.
The official currency in the country is the Swiss franc. However, you can pay with a card almost everywhere. I even paid with euros for a taxi ride (not sure if it is allowed, so do not report me to the police, but some local cab drivers clearly prefer euro cash over credit cards). You can always change money at the reception desk, but their rates are usually not very good.
The local population in Lucerne speaks German, however, in most restaurants and landmarks you can easily get around with English. Although, for some reason, I was expecting everyone to be completely fluent in English, almost bilingual, which was definitely a misconception. Probably, the fact that Switzerland has the fame of such an advanced country, has made me form that opinion. In reality, the majority of the locals do have very basic English skills, so I was eventually forced to german-it-up myself.
How to get to Lucerne
Lucerne is located 52 km from Zurich and 100km from Bern. The best way to make the most of your Lucerne weekend is to travel by train. For us, it was only 50 mins coming from Zurich (our flight was from Barcelona to Zurich). However, for some reason, the person selling tickets at Zurich Train Station sold us same-day return tickets as well, and we realized it on the train. So, in case you can – get your tickets online (or at least check the price, so that you know you’re being overcharged).
Another surprising detail of this Lucerne weekend was the fact that the train had 1st class and 2nd class seats (which no one had told us about while getting the tickets). So, apparently, we had purchased the 2nd class and took seats in the 1st (that eye of mine always spotting the best places lol). Anyway, someone from the train staff checked our tickets and sent us to the second class, which was obviously way more full (but at least we were not fined like in Cologne). I honestly felt like we spent more time finding our best spot in the first class, then again moving our suitcases and bags to the second class and finding seats, than on the ride itself (since it was only 50 min). Also, the train was running a bit behind schedule. Consequently, I lost count of time a bit…
When I finally got comfortable reading a new wanderlust travel book for a few minutes, my husband decided to make this weekend in Lucerne a bit more adventurous. Apparently, the same guy from the staff, who redirected us to the 2nd class, was passing by and warned us that the next stop was Lucerne (clearly, our chat with my basic German and his even-more-basic English has made him remember our faces). So, as I was reading, my reaction at the moment was a bit slow (however, since he said that both in German and English – I honestly should have suspected something). I turned to my husband for confirmation, and he replied with all certainty that the guy said something to someone, but it was NOT to us. Since I trusted his judgment, you can imagine my stress when I overheard the speaker announcing that the next stop on the route would be Lucerne, but the passengers should be really fast, as this stop would only last for a few minutes. We rushed all the way through the wagon to pick up the suitcases and literally got off at the last minute.
I know that my experience does not actually sound motivating enough to travel across Switzerland by train but don’t let this discourage you. Since you will be way more informed about all of this than I was – you will be completely fine.
How long to stay in Lucerne
I have come across the opinion that the Lucerne region has a fame for being boring. Well, I did not have this impression at all. The city was quiet and charming, but there were plenty of things to do in Lucerne during the weekend. With all the ideas I will be leaving for you at the end of this post – you can easily stay in the area for a week.
Since this weekend in Lucerne was my first time in Switzerland, let me share with you more of my impressions, expectations, and the actual reality that I discovered on this trip.
Switzerland has always been one of my top bucket list destinations. We all know that the standards of life are really high here: the country is pioneering in safety, stability, environmental cleanliness, public services, infrastructure, and government effectiveness. As a tourist, you immediately notice their safe&reliable public transportation network. Everybody around you looks very well off. Cheese, chocolate, wine, clocks, banks – it feels like everything in Switzerland comes with a quality tag.
But here come the pitfalls.
First of all, almost all the decent hotels in Lucerne (and Switzerland) are very expensive, if compared to other European countries (except Iceland, and Ireland perhaps). Especially if you are aiming for a weekend in Lucerne (on the weekdays the prices are slightly more budget-friendly).
Since we only had one weekend in Lucerne, we decided to break the bank and booked an old luxury hotel with history – Palace Luzern Hotel (now it is Mandarin Oriental Palace). Overall, it was a good experience: our hotel had several nice restaurants and amazing rooms with lake views. All the interiors were made with good taste, although it felt like the renovations were not recent. But I usually love this old charm across Europe anyway.
Even though it was not the most amazing hotel I´ve ever been to (especially for the price we had to pay for this stay), we really enjoyed our weekend in Lucerne, the hotel´s antique and elegant design, and the lakeside location.
Our Magical Weekend in Lucerne
Lucerne in Winter
This weekend in Lucerne took place in December. Since winter in Spain is quite sunny, we usually travel to Northern Europe for this snow-winter-feel. Plus, traveling to Switzerland in winter is a great opportunity to enjoy local Christmas markets, which are known as some of the most beautiful ones in Europe.
While Switzerland is not a budget-friendly destination, this fact doesn’t make it any less charming or beautiful. During our Lucerne weekend, we really loved its city-centered lake with snow caps at the backdrop. It honestly felt surreal for a city break in Europe.
The town of Lucerne was quaint, full of colorful houses and well-preserved medieval architecture. At the same time the transparent waters of the lake, full of swans, and surrounded by the alpine landscapes, altogether gave the city a storybook appeal.
However, in summer Lucerne, you will definitely have more nature-related activities to enjoy. The weather will be a better match for the long city strolls. So, I am not really insisting on winter Lucerne being the best time to visit. Yet, I absolutely loved it.
What to do in Lucerne: Tips & Ideas
While for this Lucerne weekendvwe did not have time for day trips, here you have my list of favorite things to do in Lucerne.
- if visiting in winter, get some handmade Christmas presents at the local Christmas markets; don´t miss the skating rink near the train station
- head to the Old City center of Lucerne with its tiny streets, beautiful shops, and charming architecture
- stop at Lucern´s visiting card – the 14th century Chapel bridge, also called Kapellbrucke
- visit The Jesuit Church, a Catholic Church built in the 17th century
- check the Lion Monument, another one of the most popular landmarks in Lucerne
- if you are into museums – visit the Transport Museum or the Rosengart Collection
- try the local cuisine, everything with Swiss cheese is delicious ( cheese fondue, alpine macaroni, rosti with cheese); don’t forget about the Gluhwine, chocolate, and gingerbread cake Luzerner Lebkucken
- the sunset at Lucerne Lake has made it to my list of the most beautiful sunsets around the world
- plan a boat tour – cruising Lake Lucerne is an epic experience (especially, in the summer months)
- explore the surroundings: Mt. Titlis, Mt. Pilatus, and Mt. Rigi are some of the best Lucerne day trips
- take some time to relax (or even swim in the summer months) at Weggis, the peaceful northern shore of Lucerne Lake
Unique experiences to book in Lucerne:
- Swiss Travel Pass – Unlimited Travel on Train, Bus & Boat
- Lucerne Private Walking Tour with a Local Guide
- Swiss Museum of Transport Entrance Ticket
- Lucerne Round-Trip Catamaran Cruise on Lake Lucerne
- History Walking Tour w/ Chocolate & Cheese Tastings
- Lucerne 1-Hour Historical Tour with Night Watchman
- Lake Lucerne 1st Class Cruise with Gourmet Lunch
- Lucerne eTukTuk City Tour
- Lucerne 1-Hour Cruise on Panoramic Yacht
Best day tours from Lucerne
The most popular day trip ideas from Lucerne include Mt. Pilatus Cable Car, Cogwheel Train & Lake Cruise, Classic Rigi Round Trip, Day Trip to Jungfraujoch: Top of Europe, Mount Bürgenstock by Ferry and Funicular, and Day Trip to Interlaken.
First time in Switzerland: My impressions
The awe-spiring landscapes and cityscapes of Lucerne are pretty obvious. No wonder that after the first stroll around the Lake during our Lucerne weekend, I was literally ready to pack up my bags and move to Switzerland.
But on the second day of our Lucerne weekend, especially after visiting local supermarkets, shops, and restaurants, this first impression of mine started to fade away slightly. While everything around me still looked extremely charming, I started to have second thoughts about living in Switzerland.
Cost of life
There´s another side of the coin to the unmatched Swiss calmness and beauty. The country is one of the world’s most expensive places to live, with its capitals, like Geneva or Zurich, frequently appearing among the costliest cities around the whole world. The actual price of hotels and rentals is only the first drawback your eye meets in Switzerland. But there’s more to the story here.
The percentage of the Swiss population living in extreme poverty (4.6%) is one of the lowest in Europe (18.6% average). For instance, only 9.7% of the Swiss can´t afford a week’s holiday abroad, while the European average here is 36.9%.
The Swiss wages are pretty high. But so are the prices.
Even though we mostly ate out and only shopped for local food souvenirs – you can’t even compare it to getting food gifts in Spain, for instance. I felt like grocery shopping in Switzerland can’t be budget-friendly at all – even with the local salaries (or so we were told by several cab drivers). Swiss retailers restrict their product offerings to Swiss brands: in most cases, you are not paying more for better quality or service, but for this made-in-Switzerland tag. I’m not sure how I feel about this, since I believe in healthy competition being the driving force of any progress.
Rules, Norms, and Regulations
Another thing about Switzerland, that might confuse a stranger, is the huge number of laws and regulations.
That’s something you might not even notice over a weekend in Lucerne, but if you stay around for a while – you will. Local friends told me that you could easily get fined for having your dog barking too loudly, or kids making noise after 10 p.m. It really gives me some goosebumps, cause with my kids – we´d literally need to settle down in a police office then.
However, I do get it now why so many celebrities move to Switzerland when they retire. It is as quiet, peaceful, and organized as it gets. Nevertheless, my first time in Switzerland has made me realize that being an expat in Spain with a certain amount of daily chaos is not necessarily a bad thing.
Sum up – Is Lucerne worth visiting?
Yes, yes, and yes. Despite all the train adventures, high prices, and controversial first impressions of Switzerland – this weekend in Lucerne was one of my most unique trips. The city, the lake, the architecture, the cheeses, the Christmas markets, and pretty much everything involving chocolate was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience for me. I would love to return to Lucerne one day, to test the city´s second-time charm.
Have you ever been to Lucerne or Switzerland? Did you enjoy it?
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