It’s one of the most attractive cities in Switzerland so it’s not surprising that you are planning to visit Lucerne.
With a backdrop of Alpine mountain peaks, a sparkling lake at its feet, and plenty of interesting sights, there are many reasons to spend a day in Lucerne, Switzerland!
Of course, you won’t be able to see everything in the city of Lucerne in a day (or even in two days), but in this article, you’ll find my suggestions for the perfect one-day Lucerne itinerary.
You’ll also find ideas for how to spend 2 days in Lucerne, where to stay in the city, when to visit, and tips for what to pack for Lucerne for a smooth trip!
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Good to Know: this guide to 1 day in Lucerne comes to us from Carolyn Schönafinger, the founder and editor of Holidays to Switzerland.
Carolyn fell in love with Switzerland on her first visit over 30 years ago and now returns annually in her quest to explore every inch of this beautiful country.
Essential Travel Resources for 2021 & 2022
These are my favorite companies that I use on my travels.
Find the best deals on hotels & vacation rentals on Booking.com.
For road trips and ground transportation, rent a car through Discover Cars.
Find the best city tours, day tours, bus tours, & skip-the-line tickets on GetYourGuide.
For packing and travel essentials order via Amazon.
Get reliable travel insurance through World Nomads.
Where to stay in Lucerne
With so many things to do in Lucerne you really could stay for a few days or more and still not see everything. Do try and stay at least one night so you have a full day to enjoy the best of Lucerne.
Whatever your budget, you’ll find somewhere central to stay. There is a wide range of hotels in Lucerne to choose from. My top recommendations include:
Budget: Barabas Hotel Luzern
Once a prison, Barabas Hotel Luzern has been converted into a hotel offering basic but comfortable accommodation right in the heart of the Lucerne Old Town.
A choice of accommodations is available from dormitory-style rooms with shared facilities (the first choice of backpackers in Lucerne) to twin or double rooms with private bathrooms (great for family and friends traveling Lucerne on a budget).
There’s also a community kitchen, lounge, and library.
Mid-Range: The Hotel des Alpes
Just a two-minute walk from Chapel Bridge, the Hotel des Alpes offers a range of rooms sleeping from one to four guests.
Some rooms have private balconies and the hotel also boasts an outdoor terrace restaurant which has lovely views over the river.
Guests rave about the hotel’s beautiful location claiming that it’s one of the best locations to stay in Lucerne.
Luxury: The Hotel Schweizerhof Lucerne
If you can afford to splurge, you won’t be disappointed with the 5-star Hotel Schweizerhof Lucerne.
Located just a five-minute walk from Chapel Bridge, the hotel features all of the luxury appointments you’d expect from a 5-star property.
Rooms can accommodate between one and five guests and the hotel offers a range of facilities including a sauna and spa, two restaurants, and a bar.
About Lucerne, Switerlzand + Lucerne Travel Guide
Here are important Lucerne travel tips to plan your trip!
How to Get to Lucerne
First, you’ll need to get to Lucerne and the good news is that it is easily accessible from all over Switzerland.
Lucerne is situated in central Switzerland and there are excellent road and rail connections right across the country.
If you plan on visiting numerous cities and towns in Switzerland and prefer to travel by public transport, the Swiss Travel Pass is a great value.
It covers all of Switzerland’s extensive public transport network which includes trains, trams, buses, boats, and even some mountain railways and cable cars.
Zurich Airport is where many travelers start their Swiss travels, and Lucerne can be reached from the airport in about an hour by either train or car.
Alternatively, if you are already in the center of Zurich, twice-hourly trains depart from the main station and will get you to Lucerne in just 46 minutes.
If you are renting a car, allow about one hour to drive between the two cities.
Alternatively, if you want to travel by car but do not want to drive yourself, you can arrange a private transfer from Zurich to Lucerne.
Should you be coming from Geneva, where Switzerland’s other major international airport is located, the train journey takes around three hours and it’s about four hours by car.
Get a quote for a Swiss rental car through Discover Cars.
When to Visit Lucerne
Lucerne makes a great destination all year round with average temperatures ranging from 38°F in January to 76°F in July.
Visiting Lucerne in winter is a delight! As a base for skiing in winter, Lucerne is ideal with eleven different ski resorts within easy reach.
While your Lucerne winter itinerary will be enjoyable all ski season, Lucerne in December is always a good idea.
The Christmas period is popular with visitors who come to enjoy the Christmas markets and the huge fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
From mid-August, the month-long Lucerne Summer Festival hosts the world’s top orchestras for a classical music event, whilst longer daylight hours during the summer are perfect for swimming in Lake Lucerne.
Mountain excursions and lake cruises can be enjoyed year-round.
The Perfect Lucerne One Day Itinerary
Whether you’re visiting on a day trip to Lucerne or coming in for a night or two, get ready to enjoy the best of Lucerne in 1 day!
Get a city overview on an eTukTuk tour (9:00 am)
After a hearty Swiss breakfast at your hotel, head to the Congress and Culture Centre (KKL) right next to the train station to join a private eTukTuk tour of the city.
This is an excellent way to get your bearings whilst learning more about Lucerne and its history from your private guide.
During the one-hour tour, you’ll pass by the Chapel Bridge, then visit the 17th-century Hopfkirche and the Dying Lion Monument, as well as exploring the Old Town.
Admire the interior of the Jesuit Church (10:30 am)
After finishing your eTukTuk tour back at the KKL, stroll beside the right bank of the River Reuss to the Jesuit Church with its twin onion-domed towers.
This church might look fairly plain on the outside but looks can be deceiving! Inside you’ll find a stunning painted ceiling and plenty of white marble.
Completed in 1673, the church was Switzerland’s first large church built in the Baroque style.
Stroll across the Chapel Bridge (11:00 am)
You caught a glimpse of Lucerne’s most famous landmark earlier but now it’s time to see it up close.
First, though, make sure you admire the tower with the red octagon-shaped roof (known as the Water Tower) that was once part of the city’s fortifications.
Beside it, the medieval wooden footbridge, Chapel Bridge, crosses the river from almost in front of the Jesuit Church to the Old Town.
Originally built in 1333, the eaves of the bridge’s roof feature numerous 17th-century pictorial paintings. Sadly, a devastating fire in 1993 destroyed most of the bridge and the pictorial panels, but the few remaining ones are still on display.
In summer, the flower boxes that line the sides of the bridge burst with color, making the already Instagrammable bridge even more photogenic.
I also enjoy seeing the bridge and water tower’s roofs dusted with snow, giving them a real-life fairytale appearance.
Explore the Old Town (11:30 am)
After stepping off the bridge, you’ll find yourself on Rathausquai, a pedestrian-only street alongside the river. From here, narrow alleys and cobbled squares lead into the heart of the Old Town which is filled with cafes, boutiques, shops, and restaurants.
Be sure to look up as you wander the ancient streets as many of the buildings in Lucerne’s Old Town are adorned with painted frescoes and oriel windows.
Of particular interest are the houses which line the historic Weinmarkt Square, where wine was once sold.
Although many of these attractive buildings are now home to hotels and boutiques, they were once guildhalls and their pretty facades are evidence of their former importance.
The Old Town is the perfect place to stroll if you are in the mood for shopping. Here you will find everything from shops selling souvenirs and Swiss watches to department stores and international brands.
One store to visit for great views is the Manor department store on Weggisgasse. The top floor restaurant serves delicious meals at great prices and the outdoor terrace provides wonderful views of the city and beyond.
Lunch at HEINI Cafe (12:30 pm)
After a busy morning of sightseeing, it’s time to refuel. HEINI have a number of locations in Lucerne but the cafe near the main station is the most conveniently located for your afternoon activities.
If you walk from the Old Town across Seebrucke (the main traffic bridge), you’ll find the cafe at Bahnhofplatz 3, across the road from the train station. The cafe serves a range of light meals as well as delicious cakes and pastries.
Enjoy a Classic Rigi Round Trip (1:30 pm)
You’ve seen the city by TukTuk and on foot, now it’s time to see it from above – on Mt. Rigi. But first, there’s a relaxing lake cruise to enjoy.
The Classic Rigi Round Trip is a self-guided excursion to the top of Mt. Rigi that includes transport by boat, mountain railway, and cable car – the perfect way to appreciate the excellent Swiss transport network.
Your excursion starts at the Lake Lucerne pier (next to the train station) when you board a lake cruiser or paddle steamer (summer only) for the hour-long cruise from Lucerne to Vitznau. From there, it’s simply a matter of boarding the waiting rack railway for the leisurely journey to Rigi Kulm.
The Mt. Rigi line is the oldest mountain railway in Europe – it was first opened in 1871 – and to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2021, one of the original steam engines has been restored.
Free time at Rigi Kulm (3:00 pm)
The best reason for visiting Mt. Rigi is to enjoy the magnificent views. From Rigi Kulm, at 1,798 meters above sea level, you have the most amazing 360-degree panoramic view.
On a clear day on Rigi Kulm, you can see 25 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons, 620 alpine peaks, and more than 13 lakes! You can even see as far as the Black Forest in Germany and Mont Blanc in France!
You’ll probably never tire of the views but there’s plenty more to enjoy on Mt. Rigi. There are numerous hiking trails and vantage points to explore or you can grab a drink or a bite to eat at Rigi Kulm Hotel Restaurant.
For those a little more energetic, why not hike down from Rigi Kulm to Rigi Kaltbad (around 30 minutes) to enjoy a soak in the thermal spa or indulge in a crepe from the creperie?
Start your descent to Lucerne (5:00 pm)
If you can drag yourself away from the stunning views, it’s time to head back down to Lucerne. I recommend you take a different route on the return journey for different – but equally picturesque – views.
Start by boarding the rack railway for the short ride to Rigi Kaltbad (if you haven’t hiked here already) where you transfer to a cable car for the 10-minute ride to Weggis.
Then you’ve got time to grab a drink or a snack before boarding the 6.05 pm boat for the 40-minute trip to Lucerne.
Dinner at Rathaus Brauerei (7:15pm)
The high-altitude air of Mt. Rigi has probably made you hungry so head straight to Rathaus Brauerei beside the river on Rathausquai (you were here this morning).
The restaurant and brewery is housed in the former Town Hall and offer a range of traditional Swiss dishes and sausage specialties.
Also on the menu are soups, salads, and vegetarian dishes which can all be washed down with a quenching ale brewed on the premises, a glass of wine or something non-alcoholic.
With its ideal location beside the river, this is the perfect place to relax and reflect on your day in Lucerne.
What to Do with 2 Days in Lucerne – More Things to Do in Lucerne
If mountain excursions aren’t your thing or you have more than one day in Lucerne, there are plenty of other things to see and do. Here are a few suggestions:
Walk the City Walls – the northern section of Lucerne’s medieval city walls is called Musegg Wall. This 850-metre section features nine well-preserved towers, four of which are open to the public and offer wonderful views (1 April to 1 November).
Swiss Transport Museum – no matter your age, you’ll find something to interest you at the fantastic Swiss Transport Museum. As well as the huge range of cars, trains, planes, cable cars and more on display, there are rides and simulators, a planetarium, an IMAX theatre, and even the Swiss Chocolate Adventure.
This is Switzerland’s most-visited museum and you could easily spend a whole day there and still not see everything.
Art Museums – Lucerne is home to a number of art galleries and museums including the Rosengart Collection which features the work of Klee, Picasso, Monet, Matisse, and more.
On the top floor of the KKL (Convention and Congress Centre) building, an exhibition of 18th- and early 20th-century Swiss paintings are on display.
With so much to see and do in the city and surrounding area, I really hope you have more than one day in Lucerne to make the most of your visit. However you decide to spend your day, Lucerne is sure to leave a lasting impression on you.
5 Things to Pack for Your Trip to Switzerland
It can be hard to find big, international guidebooks once you land (or they’ll be way overpriced). Get yours ahead of time, either a hard copy or on a Kindle.
An Unlocked Cell Phone so that you can use a Swiss sim card while here to help navigate public transportation and when you’re on the road.
Backup Charging Bank for your cell phone since you’ll be using it as a camera, GPS system, and general travel genie.
A Waterproof Passport Holder so that if something happens when you are near the water, your passport and important IDs don’t get wet.
I’ve seen people denied boarding on flights due to wet passports, and you can technically not be allowed to go over the border.
A Great Day Bag so you can carry what you need with you (like your camera, snacks, water, sunscreen, cash, etc).
My current favorite is the Pacsafe Citysafe, which is especially great for Nashville because it has many anti-theft features designed to deter pickpockets.
It also transitions to a night bag more easily and won’t embarrass you if you go to dinner directly after sightseeing all day.
More Switzerland Travel Resources
Here are more Switzerland travel guides to help you plan your complete Switzerland trip!
Switzerland Country Guides
Love chocolate? Check out the best Switzerland Chocolate Factory Tours.
Swiss City Itineraries
Use these itineraries to plan your time in Switzerland:
Included in These Round-Ups
Don’t Forget about Travel Insurance Before Visiting Switzerland!
Whenever I go on a trip, I always make sure to get travel insurance!
The company World Nomads is the travel insurance company I always look to first, and I happily recommend them!
I always make sure to get travel insurance whenever I’m going to be in a foreign country.
While I feel safe traveling through Europe, I know that being in foreign cities can make you an easy target of pickpockets, and outdoor activities can end in injury.
I don’t want either of these scenarios to ruin my trip or come for my wallet!
It makes my life easier knowing if something should happen, I’ll be able to take care of it!