Visiting the City of Lights
I thought there was no way Lucerne could hold up, in real life, to the beautiful pictures in my guidebook. But, as always, Switzerland proved my doubts wrong.
Lucerne, alternatively seen as Luzern among German-speakers, sits along the banks of the river Ruess. The Ruess cuts through the city like an artery, flowing from Lake Lucerne, the geographic lungs of the city. The city can be explored in one day, but to really relax and enjoy the city I highly recommend a full weekend.
For those on a budget, the Ibis Budget provides small but stylish and clean rooms, and is extra good for those traveling in groups - the standard room includes a double-bed and a lofted twin bed.
I slept in the bunk, of course. I was traveling alone, but I'm a 5-year-old at heart.
This hotel does put you at about a 10-15 minute walk from downtown and the train station, but with several restaurants nearby and on the way to town, it's not a huge hassle.
For those looking for a more unique stay, the Hotel Jail may be what you're looking for. As you may have guessed from the name, this hotel gives you the unique opportunity to stay in a hotel built in 1862. The jail was used up til 1998 and then converted into a hotel. Expect the rooms to be, um, rustic. There's also a club on the first floor that can get noisy at night. But it's affordable and certainly gives you a story to tell!
I was fortunate enough to visit during the Blue Balls Music Festival (yes, the actual name - held every year in July), which took care of my evening entertainment and food. For those visiting the other 51 weeks of the year, small, affordable cafes and pizza stops as well as fancy, five-star restaurants are abundant.
As for the must-see spots? Several of them are right next to each other.
Lucerne's most famous site is Chapel Bridge, or Kappelbrucke, the gorgeous crooked wooden bridge that spans the Ruess. Chapel Bridge is indeed gorgeous.Notice the multiple “No Smoking” signs hung from the structure? Please adhere to them – about 80% of the bridge was burned in a fire in 1993. The bridge was constructed in the early 14th century and is the oldest wooden bridge in Europe.
Yeah, I was also surprised people actually keep track of those things.
However, Chapel Bridge isn’t the only awesome historic bridge in Luzern – I got a big kick out of Spreuerbrucke, a short walk down from Chapel. This bridge was created in 1408, and was renovated in the 17th century. The renovators decided that the populace needed a reminder of the fragility of life, and so commissioned a series of paintings by Kaspar Meglinger called the “Dance of Death.” Each of the paintings includes Death himself (typically a skeleton, and typically with a friend) whisking away us mere mortals. Interestingly and darkly humorous at times.
You might be thinking at this point, why would I want to visit a city just to see some stinkin' bridges? And macabre bridges at that? I don't know, ok, I just have a thing for bridges. Am I really the only one? Anyway, if you're over the bridges, how about some more historical fun?
The Dying Lion Statue (Lowendenkmal) a little further away from the main drag - likely a 10-15 minute walk if you don't get lost. I managed to get lost and then caught in a storm on the way to the Lion, so I’ve got a surplus of bridge photos instead, but I’m not complaining. Built as a memorial to Swiss guards who died at Tuileries in 1792, this site has been famously described by Mark Twain as the "most moving piece of rock in the world." While you're over there I recommend checking out some of the other nearby attractions while you're on that side of town. The Bourbaki-Panorama is one of only 30 panoramic paintings left in the world, though they were high-vogue entertainment in the early 19th century. Expect a 12 CHF entrance fee. Nearby Glacier Garden (Gletschergarten) shows off ancient stones polished by glaciers. Again, 12 CHF.
On the way back to town (or, if you get caught in a rainstorm and need to seek shelter like me), visit the Hofkirche, just off the banks of the lake. An impressive monastery, the church was mostly rebuilt in 1633 following a massive fire, but the towers date back to 750. Inside you'll find a breath-taking organ from 1650.
If you're totally over history at this point, shopping in Lucerne is prime. In addition to streets of tiny, high-end shops, there are several markets held throughout the year. For those staying over a weekend I highly recommend checking out the Flohmart (Flea Market). What starts as a flea market near the Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche) spreads into a farmer’s market along both banks of the Reuss, flower stands, and a fish market. Well worth a stroll on an empty stomach.
What are you waiting for, Nerds? The City of Lights is calling.