Self-guided walking tour of Lucerne, Switzerland
Lucerne in Switzerland also known by local German name as Luzern located at the Lucerne Lake and on the river Reuss is a compact, lively town. There are lots of things to do in Lucerne. With its location at the lake also called the Vierwaldstättersee, Lucerne is an ideal starting point for boat trips, including Gotthard panorama tour. The nearby mountains of Rigi, Stanserhorn, Bürgenstock, and Pilatus attract thousands of visitors every year. Lucerne is the economic, social and cultural centre of central Switzerland. The city has a population of about 80 000.
When visiting Lucerne, you will soon notice its blue and white flag. The symbolism of the blue and white is lost to history, but in modern popular culture, the blue represents lakes and the white represents snow-capped mountains. If you are using public transport to get to Lucerne, most likely you will arrive at Lucerne train station. So start your self-guided city walking tour from there.
Lucerne train station
After the fire of 1971, the whole station area has been newly built. Lucerne’s new terminus station was officially inaugurated in 1991. The historic entrance portal, which was re-erected facing the lake, honours the legacy of the old station and welcomes you to the city. The portal is crowned by a sculpture named «Zeitgeist» by the most famous Swiss sculptor of the day, Richard Kissling. The west facade of the station features a monumental painting titled North and South by Maurice Barraud. Don’t forget to pop into the Lucerne Tourist Information Centre located in the station to get useful advice for your travel and sightseeing. As the station is next to the lake, you will soon admire the views of it.
Lake Lucerne, also known as the Vierwaldstättersee or “Lake of the Four Forest Cantons,” may be the most beautiful lake in Switzerland. It’s certainly among the most spectacular, surrounded with mountains from all sides. If you pick only one lake for cruising by boat in Switzerland, make it Lake Lucerne. The main sailing season runs from June through late September. Turning left and then right you will cross the bridge, and famous wooden Chapel Bridge will be on your left again. So head to it.
Chapel Bridge serves as a symbol of this Switzerland’s medieval town. Also referred to as Kapellbrücke, this wooden pedestrian bridge spans the Reuss River. Named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, it dates back to the 14th century and is one of the oldest wooden bridges in Europe. Currently, it is 170 meters long. It was built as part of the fortifications of Lucerne. When walking the bridge, make sure you remember to look up to admire the paintings placed below its roof. They are triangular and depict events from the history and Legends of Lucerne, from the painting that represents life and death of Lucerne’s patron saint St. Leger to legends of the city’s other patron saint St. Maurice. They were painted in the 17th century by a local Catholic painter. Unfortunately, the fire of 1993 destroyed two thirds of paintings. From 147 paintings, only 30 were successfully restored. Part of the bridge is “Water Tower”, having this name because it stands on water. The tower is older than the bridge and was used as a prison and also as an archive. Notice the building of Lucerne Town Hall from the bridge.
Lucerne Town Hall
Built in the early 17th century in Italian Renaissance style and covered with a Bern farmhouse roof for weather purposes. The open arcades facing the Reuss river still serve today as a weekly marketplace. The City Parliament holds its meetings in the distinguished town hall premises. Its walls are adorned with valuable paintings. Cross the bridge and follow your way to Jesuit church.
The first ideas to construct a church next to the Jesuit College go back to the 1630’s. The church was consecrated in the second part of the 17th century. The onion topped towers were completed only in the late 19th century. Lucerne’s Jesuit Church is the first large baroque church in Switzerland. The main organ was built by Swiss organ manufacturers Metzler in late 20th century, using parts from an older organ dating back to the 18th century. Jesuit Church is frequently used for organ recitals. After admiring the interior of this majestic church, continue your way to the Spreuer Bridge.
Like the even more famous Chapel Bridge, Spreuer Bridge is an old, covered wooden bridge. “Spreu” means chaff in English, and it comes from the custom of throwing chaff from the wheat and leaves into the river from this bridge. The original Spreuer Bridge was erected around the early 15th century and rebuilt in late 16th century. The small chapel on the bridge also dates back to that time. Under the roof of Spreuer Bridge, 67 paintings dating from the 17th century represent the “Dance of Death”. Lucerne’s Dance of Death was designed by chief painter Kaspar Meglinger. It links the Museum of History and the Museum of Natural History with Mühleplatz right beneath the Musegg Wall. After crossing the bridge, continue your way to walk the Musegg Wall.
Musegg wall and its nine towers
Once a symbol of power, the Musegg Wall and its nine towers are part of historic fortifications; they form a striking crown around the Old Town of Lucerne. The 800-metre-long wall, erected in the early 15th century, is considered one of the longest and best-preserved defensive walls in Switzerland. You will start your walk from Nolliturm. While walking the walls, admire its eight other towers, including the ‘Zyttower’ (Zyt meaning time) that has the city’s oldest clock and therefore the privilege to chime one minute before all other town clocks, and ‘Wachtturm’, the former storage tower for gunpowder.Opening hours
The Musegg Wall and Männli, Zyt, Wacht and Schirmer Towers are open to the public from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. between 1 April and 1 November.
When you’re done with your wall at the ninth tower, be ready to visit the iconic dying Lion Monument.
The Dying Lion of Lucerne
The Dying Lion of Lucerne was carved out of stone on site and commemorates the fallen Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 while serving the French king Louis XVI during the French Revolution. The Lion Monument was inaugurated in 1821. The monument soon became one of Lucerne’s major tourist attractions. The Latin inscription HELVETIORUM FIDEI AC VIRTUTI means “To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”. The Lion Monument was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen, a Danish sculptor, and stonemason Lucas Ahorn carved it out of the sandstone rock.Do not miss the Bourbaki Panorama on your way to the last object of your tour.
The Bourbaki Panorama
Soldiers dying by the wayside, civilian refugees with their possessions and an army that gives up its weapons at the Swiss border: the Bourbaki-Panorama has it all. The story goes that in 1870, the French parliament voted to declare war on Prussia and shortly after that French forces invaded German territory. The German army mobilised its troops quickly and rapidly invaded northeastern France. A series of swift Prussian victories in eastern France left the French army completely defeated. In the winter of 1871, General Bourbaki’s Eastern French Army with 87000 soldiers crossed the border into Switzerland to save their lives. The Bourbaki-Panorama in Lucerne is a humanistic portrayal of this event. The 112 meter by 10 meter large painting is one of the last giant panoramic paintings of the 19th century that have been preserved. The painter of the Panorama, Edouard Castres, experienced the war as a Red Cross volunteer himself. Castres employed a team of painters to execute this work in 1881 in Geneva. A few years later the painting was transferred to Lucerne. Address: Löwenplatz 11. Open daily.
Finish your self-guided tour at Hof Church.
The Hof Church, dedicated to the city’s heavenly patron St. Leodegar, is on the north shore of the lake, and the prominent pointed spires of its bell towers can already be seen from the distance. It was founded in the mid-8th century, part of the monastery which in turn founded Lucerne. A Gothic church preceded the existing German Renaissance building but was largely destroyed by fire in the early 17th century. Only the towers, St. Mary’s altar and a few religious objects remain in the current 17th-century building. The carved choir stalls and gothic altars have a particular beauty to them. The Hof Church is famous for its organ concerts.
Address: St. Leodegarstrasse 6.
If you have more time, check out the many colorful and painted buildings of Lucerne. I just name the two that drew my attention the most.
Eck House, or corner house, with the sign that in medieval times, at this spot was a gate that provided access to important north-south trading routes. The gate was built in the late 13th century and ultimately demolished in 1856.
Address: Franciskanerplatz 3
Restaurant Fritschi building
The colourful frescoed building in the heart of the old town dates back to the early 17th century. The impressive painting is a replica fitting to the restaurant inside. The rustic decor with carnival masks on the walls represents how a visitor may perceive the Lucerne of old. The restaurant name refers to the legend of brother Fritschi who left some money to the Safran guild on condition that during the carnival they serve wine to the poor for free.
Address: Sterneplatz 5
Lucerne is close to Zurich airport with good train connection. You can reach it in about one hour from there. The rail station is at a walking distance from the beautiful old town center. If you stay overnight, get your free visitor card to Lucerne from your accommodation. Once you have received the link from your hotel, you can download your personal digital Visitor Card to your smartphone or print it out. The Visitor Card gives you free use of buses and trains within zone 10 of the city network, as well as a range of discounts for cableways, mountain railways, museums and excursions in the Lucerne Region. You can also take advantage of ‘Free WiFi – LUZERN.COM’ hotspots around the city.
Note about the map below. Google Maps did not allow me to make a walking route next to the Musegg wall and its towers, but I hope you already understood from my pictures that is perfectly possible to walk right there.Like it? Pin it!
What did you think? Have you been to Lucerne? Or perhaps you’re thinking of visiting there in the near future? Either way, I’d love to hear from you so please add your comments below.
Author: Anita Sane