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Fairy-Tale Living with Two Days in Lucerne
Fairy-Tale Living with Two Days in Lucerne
The fairy tale view from our hotel room balcony.
Lucerne is a town straight out of a fairy tale. If we hadn’t known better, we could have believed we were in Fantasy Land at Disneyland rather than in Switzerland. There are crooked wooden bridges with centuries old paintings crossing a river dotted with white swans. A church with a white-faced clock and gold hands reminded us of It’s a Small World. An old apothecary shop which surely had eye of newt and toe of frog, along with its bay window turret could have been Snow White’s Castle. While Lucerne (or Luzern) could easily be visited on a day-trip from Zurich, it is so much better to spend two days in Lucerne and live in the middle of this fairy-tale land, if just for a short time. Plus, two days in Lucerne allows for a day-trip to one of two nearby mountains for a dose of Swiss nature.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Lucerne
The reason Lucerne could be visited on a day-trip from Zurich is that all of the highlights of the town can literally be visited in half a day. The train trip from Zurich to Lucerne is just under an hour (made easy with the Swiss Travel Pass). We arrived in Lucerne from Zurich on a late morning train, dropped our luggage at our hotel, Hotel des Balances, and then took off for our self-guided walking tour of Lucerne, which we completed with time for a nap before dinner.
Switzerland Tourism has created a pretty marvelous app, the Luzern City Guide, which includes a city tour of Lucerne and a tour of Musegg Wall. It has a map with places of interest, a short explanation for each stop, and a photo of the attraction so you know what to look for. Even better, the app can be used offline.
Chapel Bridge is the symbol of Lucerne. It can be difficult wading through the sea of tourists along Bahnhofstrasse and Rathaus Bridge taking photos of each other with Chapel Bridge in the background. (Another reason to spend two days in Lucerne, so you can visit the bridge at night when the crowds are gone.) It’s easy to see why Chapel Bridge is so popular. Chapel Bridge is a wood bridge built in the 14th century that crookedly crosses the river at a diagonal.
Paintings are scattered through the bridge, hanging from the ceiling, that wereadded in the 17th century and which illustrate Swiss and local history. Unfortunately, Chapel Bridge burned in 1993 and only a handful of the 100+ paintings were saved.
In the middle of Chapel Bridge is the Water Tower (Wasserturm), which is part of what makes Chapel Bridge such a sought after photo. The water tower is an octagonal wooden structure built around 1300 and used for many things, including archives, a treasury, a prison, and a torture chamber. Now it houses a pretty good gift shop, which could still be viewed as a treasury to some and a torture chamber to their spouses.
Farther down the river is another wooden bridge, not quite as long, but also filled with paintings. While not as popular as Chapel Bridge, Spreuer Bridge is older, having been built in 1408, and is all original, unlike Chapel Bridge.
Spreuer Bridge also provides a view of the Water Spikes which are used to regulate the water level of the river.
Another landmark of Lucerne that demands attention is the Jesuit Church that looms over the water. The Jesuit Church was built in 1666 and was the first Baroque church in Switzerland.
Unlike the sparsely decorated Protestant churches of Zurich, the Jesuit Church is richly decorated with paintings and reliefs on the ceiling.
A short walk away is the Franciscan Church which is built in the Gothic style and contains the most ornate pulpit in Switzerland. The flag frescoes are very medieval and represent Lucerne’s conquests during the Middle Ages.
Farther afield is the Hof Church, a cathedral and Benedictine Monastery. This church has a picturesque façade with the aforementioned white-faced clock and gold hands. Hof Church is the most important Renaissance church in Switzerland and was rebuilt in 1645 after a fire destroyed the previous church.
Just up the road from Hof Church is the Lion Monument. So admittedly, we had never heard of the Lion Monument before, but it is a very famous monument in Switzerland. The monument is of a dying lion, being shot with arrows, carved out of the side of a hill of rock. It was created in memory of the death of Swiss soldiers in Paris.
Steps away from the waterfront, we found some unique squares surrounded by fresco-painted buildings. These squares are found along the right bank and include Weinmarkt, Hirschenplatz, and Kornmarkt.
Up on the hill above the town of Lucerne is Musegg Wall, Lucerne’s historic ramparts with nine towers. The building of Musegg Wall started in the 13thcentury. The start of the walk along Musegg Wall is near Spreuer Bridge at Nolli Tower. This round tower was built in 1513, but an archway for traffic was added in 1901.
From Nolli Tower, a trail leads uphill along Musegg Wall to Mannli Tower, Luegisland Tower, Wacht Tower, Zyt Tower, Schirmer Tower, Pulver Tower, Allenwinden Tower, ad Dachli Tower. While part of the trail follows along Musegg Wall, part of the exploration of the wall is up a tower and across the top of the wall. Mannli Tower is open for climbing and Wacht Tower provides entry to the top of the wall. The exit from the wall is through Schirmer Tower.
Day-Trip to the Mountains
A popular thing to do when staying in Lucerne is to take a day-trip to the mountains. The more popular trip is to Pilatus. Part of the reason for its popularity is because it has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, traveling for 30 minutes up a 48-percent gradient. However, our trip to Switzerland was in April, and the cogwheel railway only operates mid-May to November. We could have still chosen Pilatus, but there was another option and we were torn.
We asked for some guidance at the front desk of our hotel, Hotel des Balances, and were told that, because of the time of year, we might want to choose Mt. Rigi because the elevation was lower and therefore it would not be as cold and might have better visibility. Another selling point was that that roundtrip would include three modes of transportation: boat, cogwheel train, and aerial cable car. Better yet, this entire trip would be covered by our Swiss Travel Pass.
We had already used our Swiss Travel Pass to travel by train from Zurich to Lucerne, but our trip to Mt. Rigi was when we really started to see the beauty of the pass, especially because our passes were for first class. We boarded the boat to travel from Lucerne to Vitznau and went up the stairs to the top deck, set aside for first class passengers. As we sat and drank our coffee and ate our chocolate croissants, we watched the scenery go by in the most leisurely fashion.
Once we arrived in Vitznau, we boarded the cogwheel train, not the steepest in the world but still unusual and fun, and chugged up the mountain to the peak, Rigi Kulm, at 1797 meters above sea level with views of 13 lakes and countless mountain peaks.
After spending time at the peak, we hiked down the mountain, following signs in order to take the scenic route down to Rigi Kaltbad-First. Here we boarded the aerial cable car down to Weggis, then boarded a boat back to Lucerne.
We stayed at Hotel des Balances, a former Guild Hall and what surely must be the best hotel in the city, even if it’s the only one we stayed in. Hotel des Balances truly is in a prime location right on the Reuss River.
Our glorious room was on the top floor with a spacious balcony overlooking the river, Chapel Bridge, and the Jesuit Church. Hotel des Balances also has a fine-dining restaurant and lounge with a riverside terrace.
We loved everything about the hotel, the gorgeous room, the most comfortable bed in Switzerland, the delicious restaurant, and the lounge with its specialty cocktails and live piano music.
But our absolute favorite part was sitting outside on the balcony and drinking in the views, watching the people and swans, and sometimes listening to the music of street performers across the river.
The hotel also happens to be one of those fresco-painted buildings.
Rathaus Brauerei, located under the arches of Lucerne Town Hall, provides views of Chapel Bridge and tastes of artisan beers brewed using the pure water of Mount Pilatus. The unfiltered house beer is golden yellow, cloudy, and tangy. Rathaus Brauerei also brews seasonal beers, including a wheat beer, a Christmas beer, and a March beer.
One of the nicest fine-dining establishments in Lucerne is Restaurant Balances at Hotel des Balances. Chef Andy Fluri is a 14 Gault Millau point award winner. Menu items can be ordered ala carte and five and seven-course menus are offered as well.
For more traditional fare, we dined at Wirtshaus Taube. Wirtshaus Taube takes regional dishes and makes them just a little bit modern, though my e riese schweinerei, similar to chicken cordon bleu but with pork, was as homey as you can get.
Our two days in Lucerne were like living in a fairy tale, from our gorgeous hotel to the quaint and picturesque town to the mountain views of snow, lakes, peaks and green that only Switzerland can provide. Lucerne is worthy of at least a night or two and will be a precious memory indefinitely. Thank you to Hotel des Balances and Switzerland Tourism for hosting our time in Lucerne and making this post possible. As always, all opinions are our own.