Planning a Trip
Lucerne lies at the junction of four major rail lines, which connect it by fast train with every other major city in Switzerland. Travel time from Bern on one of the many express trains is 65 minutes; from Zurich, 50 minutes. Call tel. 0900/300-300 for rail schedules.
If you're driving from Bern, take Route 10 north and east. From Zurich head south and west along E41, turning southwest and following the signs at the junction with N14.
The Lucerne Tourist Office is at Zentralstrasse 5 (tel. 041/227-17-17). It's open April to September, Monday to Friday 8:30am to 6:30pm, Saturday and Sunday 9am to 6:30pm. During October to March, hours are Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5:30pm, Saturday 9am to 5pm, and Sunday 9am to 1pm.
Most arrivals are at the railroad station, on Bahnhofplatz, where trains pull in from Zurich and other parts of Switzerland. This train depot is on the left (south) bank of the Reuss River.
If you cross a bridge from the station square, you'll be on the right (north) bank of the river at Schwanenplatz (Swan Square), which is the center of Lucerne. Also on the north bank of the Reuss is Altstadt (Old Town), containing many burghers' houses with oriel windows and old squares with fountains. The only way to explore this neighborhood is on foot.
Kapellgasse is a major shopping street that leads to the Kornmarkt (Corn Market) where you'll find the Altes Rathaus (Old Town Hall), dating from 1602. To the west of the Kornmarkt is the Weinmarkt (Wine Market), a lovely old square with a much-photographed fountain.
The Grand Casino Luzern, a casino-and-restaurant complex, stands at Kurplatz on Nationalquai, the major quay of Lucerne facing the lake.
From Kurplatz, Löwenstrasse leads to Löwenplatz, site of the Panorama, a famed canvas depicting the retreat of the French army during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). Nearby stands the even-more-famous Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument). Carved directly into the rocky face of a low cliff in the heart of town, it's Lucerne's second most-famous attraction, surpassed in visibility only by the Kapellbrücke, the geranium-fringed covered wooden footbridge.
Lucerne has an efficient network of local buses, one ride on which costs from 1.80F to 5.80F ($1.50-$4.75/80p-£2.45), depending on the distance you ride. Buy your tickets at automatic vending machines before you board. A 24-hour ticket costs 9.50F ($7.80/£4.05), and there's also a 6-day ticket selling for 48F ($39/£20). For more information about bus routes within Lucerne, call tel. 041/369-65-65.
Bikes can be rented at the railway station for 32F ($26/£14) per day June to September between 7am and 7:45pm daily; October to May Monday to Saturday 7am to 7:45pm, Sunday 9:30am to 7pm. A bike trip along the north shore of Lake Lucerne can be one of the scenic highlights of a visit to central Switzerland. This trip can easily absorb a whole day (take along a picnic lunch). The tourist office will provide a map and you can set off from the Lucerne train station heading for St. Niklausen and Kastanienbaum in the direction of Tribschen. If you have time, visit the Richard Wagner Museum. The most beautiful stretch is along the lake to Winkel-Horw beach, where you can go for a brisk lake swim if the temperature is right. The duration of this 13km (8-mile) ride, including the return to Lucerne, should take about 1 1/2 hours.
The Lucerne Festival of Music is held from the second week of August to the second week of September. For more information, contact the Festival of Music, which also sponsors the Festival Easter Lucerne, another popular event (tel. 041/226-44-00; http://e.lucernefestival.ch). There's also the Lucerne Piano Festival, which focuses more on classical piano music, conducted every year during a week-long period in November.