The Swiss Alps: Lucerne, Switzerland

A lake, a river, snowcapped mountains, beautiful bridges, an attractive old town, and city walls on a hill from which to appreciate it all. There aren’t many cities in Europe that offer all of the above in one place, but Lucerne (or Luzern in German) is maybe the best example. Conveniently located in the center of Switzerland and on the edge of the Alps, Lucerne is a well-known tourist spot and for good reason. Most people spend a day (or maybe two) here, but we decided to spend three and with hindsight are very happy we did. We stayed at the Altstadt Hotel Krone’s apartments on Weinmarkt; one benefit of staying in a hotel here is they can provide visitor cards for the length of your stay which provides free public transport within the city and discounted rates on tons of attractions and excursions.

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Spring weather can be unpredictable around here, but we were fortunate enough to have temperatures in the 80s (high 20s for our non-American readers) with almost uninterrupted sunshine. This is the kind of place where the good weather makes a big difference. Lake Lucerne beckoned so we rented a little paddle boat from SNG Bootsverleih and rode around the lake’s northwestern nook, even getting a chance to dip our feet into the refreshingly chilly water. We spent a morning and early afternoon on our last day at the local Lido, a pleasant 40-minute lakefront walk from the old town (or an easy bus ride from Schwanenplatz). We rented chairs and tanned our bodies with a view to the snow-capped Alps in the distance; certainly not your typical beach experience! We also got a couple of nice swims in (summers in the frigid North Atlantic off the coast of New England built up our tolerance to cold water I guess!). Britt has started to sketch more when we travel which is a nice way to bottle up and save our memories; the setting of the lake and mountains was too pretty not to commit it to paper.

Back in town, we spent lots of time appreciating the River Reuss, which drains the lake and is dotted with charming pedestrian bridges, most famous of which Chapel Bridge. This impossibly picturesque bridge gets incredibly crowded during the day, so we recommend walking along it early in the morning. Make sure to look up to appreciate the paintings! Spreuerbrücke is another covered bridge a bit further down the river; it’s not quite as beautiful but it’s not as crowded either! You’ll probably notice the Nadelwehr, a series of wooden paddles that set the width of the river, while you walk along the river. It’s a clever system used to regulate the level of the lake and feed water to a hydroelectric plant. Swiss engineering! The small lakeside square off of Im Zöpfli is a perfect place from which to appreciate all of this (and in Britt’s case, to draw inspiration for another sketch).

A helpful way to orient yourself when you first arrive is to walk the city walls (Museggmauer) and up to the top of the towers that are open to the public. We stumbled upon Hofbeiz Hinter Musegg, a restaurant and produce shop set on a farm with goats, pigs, and chickens, on the other side of the walls. While we didn’t grab anything, we enjoyed hanging out with our new friends. Back down in town, we visited Hofkirche St. Leodegar, a Roman Catholic church whose site has been occupied since at least as far back as the 8th century. Lucerne’s Lion Monument, a moving 19th-century relief sculpture memorializing the Swiss guards killed during the French Revolution, is a short walk from here and worth a quick stop.

Mount Pilatus, a 6,982-foot peak only a few miles from the city, is an easy day trip from the city. We grabbed the #1 bus from Schwanenplatz to Kriens and walked a few minutes to the cable car station from there. There’s also a cogwheel railway from Alpnach if you prefer that mode of transportation. The cable car from Kriens travels in two legs, first to Fräkmüntegg then to the summit. We stopped halfway up to ride down Switzerland's longest alpine coaster at Fräkigaudi. It was our first time and we had a blast! Once up at the summit we walked around some of the paths, including one that took us around to a series of caverns dug into the rock. The views, especially on this clear day, were incredible.

We grabbed easy breakfasts at our hotel each day. Lunch at Lido Gastronomie was surprisingly good on our beach day and there was no shortage of options on Pilatus (we had Swiss macaroni and cheese from Hotel Pilatus). River- and lakeside dinners from Mill'Feuille (peanut chicken with mango sauce and ravioli), Vincafé La Barca (schnitzel and chicken wings), and Seebistro LUZ (burger and Caesar salad) were all delicious and in amazing settings. Finally, you can’t visit Switzerland without having some chocolate. We enjoyed amazing treats from Läderach Chocolatier each evening.

From Lucerne, we took the scenic GoldenPass train to Interlaken before venturing deeper into the Alps to our next home base of Mürren. Stay tuned for stories and pictures from this unbelievably beautiful corner of the world!