How To Spend Less Than 24 Hours in Lucerne, Switzerland
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Lucerne is one of the most popular places to visit in Switzerland, and is best known for its beautiful covered wooden bridge, medieval architecture, and position along Lake Lucerne. Although many visitors choose to spend 2 days in Lucerne, it’s quite possible to see the majority of the city in less time. We made a short stop here with our camper van before heading off to Mount Titlis, so we spent less than 24 hours in Lucerne. However, the main attractions in Lucerne are within walking distance of one another so we managed to do a lot in a few hours.
Some of the best places to visit in Lucerne have a lot of history behind them. The city’s history began in the 8th century, when it grew out of a Benedictine monastery, but it wasn’t until the 12th century that a city was chartered. From then on Lucerne grew to be an important trade centre throughout the next few centuries, and today it stands as one of the most visited cities in Switzerland. Whether you’re planning a day trip to Lucerne or want to spend a little longer here, there are a lot of great points of interest to add to your Lucerne itinerary.
If there’s one thing that Lucerne is known for, it's the Chapel Bridge. This impressive covered wooden footbridge is Lucerne’s main landmark, and is one of the most photographed spots in all of Switzerland. Its length as well as the stunning paintings inside the bridge draw in visitors year round. It was originally built in the 14th century, making it one of Europe’s oldest covered bridges, but in 1993 a devastating fire caused the bridge to be rebuilt. You can’t spend 24 hours in Lucerne without walking across Chapel Bridge.
Photo tip: Arrive at Chapel Bridge near sunrise to avoid large crowds, especially in the summer months. Rathaussteg is another pedestrian footbridge that runs parallel with Chapel Bridge and is one of the best spots to capture a full length photo of it.
Among the most prominent historic sites in Lucerne is the Jesuit Church. It was built to resemble the Church of the Gesù in Rome and was completed in 1677. The Jesuit Church stands proudly along the River Reuss, being the first baroque sacred building to be built north of the Alps, and you can get an amazing shot of it from the Rathaussteg. There’s no entry fee so it’s a great attraction to visit in Lucerne on a budget.
Although the Chapel Bridge gets a lot of people’s attention, the Spreuer Bridge is another iconic covered wooden bridge in Lucerne that’s worth taking a walk through. Inside you’ll also find beautiful paintings that date back to the 17th century. The bridge was built in 1408 and gets its name from the fact that the town’s flour mills used to dump their waste into the river from it. Spreuer Bridge is located downstream from Chapel Bridge, at the edge of Mühlenplatz, and is a must-visit if you’ve got less than 24 hours in Lucerne.
From this bridge you can also see the iconic Musegg Wall, which was erected in the 14th century and is what remains of the old town walls. Unfortunately the towers were closed when we visited, but some are usually open to the public.
Located close to the Spreuer Bridge is an interesting point of interest called the Needle Dam, also known as the Reuss Weir. This dam was built in the mid-19th century and was at the time a marvel of engineering. Needle Dam is still worked manually, by inserting and removing timber “needles” to help regulate the water level of Lake Lucerne. It’s an interesting attraction in Lucerne to visit and can easily be viewed from Spreuer Bridge.
If you have the time during your one day in Lucerne, I would highly recommend taking a stroll along the shore of Lake Lucerne, which sits directly opposite Chapel Bridge. There are a lot of boat tours in Lucerne to choose from, which are very popular with tourists. But if you can’t squeeze that into your itinerary you can enjoy the views from Schweizerhofquai and Nationalquai, two popular areas of the lakeside promenade.
Lucern’s old town is beautiful to walk around, even on a cloudy day. One of the most impressive historic squares we came across was Weinmarkt, which was previously used as a fish market. Today the buildings surrounding the square have stunning frescoes painted on them, and there’s a picturesque water fountain sitting in the middle of the square too. It’s the perfect place in Lucerne to get some unique photos!
The Kornmarkt is another must-visit historic square in Lucerne’s old town. Apart from the quaint shops and eateries that line the streets leading up to the square, there’s a lot of history to unpack here. The main feature of the Kornmarkt is the Town Hall, which is considered to be one of Switzerland’s prettiest Renaissance public buildings. And of course, there are a lot of beautiful frescoes on the outside of the buildings in this square to admire as well.
Hidden among the shopping streets of the old town is Hirschenplatz. This square is yet another that offers visitors some incredible painted frescoes, and it may be worth going on a guided tour in Lucerne to learn more about the history of them if you have some spare time. The square gets its name from a hotel that once stood here, and you can still see the lighter paving stones where it was located. There are a lot of details in these frescoes so you’ll probably want to spend a bit more time here than in other squares.
Church of St. Leodegar
If you’re interested in Renaissance architecture, then you’ll want to take a short walk from the old town to visit the Church of St. Leodegar. It’s considered to be the most important church from this time period in the country, although it has a history dating back to the 8th century when a monastery was founded on this site. Visiting this church is one of the best things to do in Lucerne if you love learning about history, and it can easily be added to your itinerary.
Besides the old town, one of the most visited attractions in Lucerne is the Lion Monument. For those of you who are spending less than 24 hours in Lucerne, you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss this. The Lion Monument is quite literally carved into the stone and looks incredibly lifelike - it’s also massive. It was made to commemorate the Swiss Guards who tragically died in 1792 during the Storming of the Tuileries in Paris, and was completed in 1821. The monument sits within a quiet park area which is nice to sit in and relax for a while.
Grab something to eat at Le Piaf
There are a lot of nice places to eat in Lucerne, but if you want to go somewhere popular with locals, who use products from local producers where possible, then I would recommend stopping at Le Piaf, located next to the train station. This self-service cafe has a great selection of snacks, lunch dishes, and some tasty dinner options too. We were meant to visit for dinner but unfortunately we got the booking mixed up (oops!), so we only had time to try a couple of their homemade cakes, but they were very good! Everything at Le Piaf is freshly prepared and regardless of what time of the day you visit you’ll love the unique food options.
Many people choose to spend a weekend in Lucerne or a few days during the week so they can explore this fascinating lakeside town thoroughly and enjoy the surrounding areas. But if you have less than 24 hours in Lucerne to spare, you’ll have no problem seeing all of the main attractions on foot. There are a lot of fun things to do in Lucerne, and there’s something for everyone too. The old town is quite busy with tourists, but you’ll notice a completely different atmosphere compared to the larger cities such as Geneva or Zurich. For first time visitors to Switzerland you can’t go wrong with a day trip to Lucerne.
Have you had the opportunity to visit Lucerne before? This was our first time here and we loved walking around the old town, even though the weather was less than ideal. Let me know what you thought about Lucerne in the comment section below, or get in touch via Instagram. Don’t forget to follow along with my travels too!