After the constant cacophony of streets and people in London and Paris, we were looking forward to some fresh air and quiet during our visit to Lucerne, complete with a view of the famed Swiss Alps. We weren’t sure which town in Switzerland would be best to visit and debated between Bern, Zurich, and Lucerne. Zurich had a big city reputation, and getting to Bern was more expensive from a transportation perspective. We happily settled on Lucerne – it has big mountains of its own, a lake, and was close to the typical Swiss mountain towns like Grindelwald that we were dying to see.
Switzerland itself it a bit of an oddity – a mixture of several European cultures that surround its borders, yet it retains its own distinct identity and sense of national pride. The country has four official languages, and depending on what region you visit, one language could be prevalent – in Lucerne, it’s all German, as it is not too far from the Bavaria region of Germany. In the Southern part, close to Italy, people speak Italian, and so on.
We hopped off at the train station and we were immediately impressed. Lucerne was clean, efficient, quiet, with breathtaking scenery in every direction. No graffiti or dirty underground stations to deal with, no bothersome street vendors pushing cheap Eiffel Tower replicas on you as you walked around. Just immaculate cobblestone streets, up-kept historical squares, Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus to look up to, and a beautiful waterfront.
The highlight of the waterfront is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke), a medieval-era wooden bridge that was built in 1333 – a beautiful and unique piece of architecture and history. It is the oldest truss bridge of its kind in the world, although extensive renovations were done after it narrowly survived being burnt down in 1993 – the photos of it burning are heartbreaking. Taking a stroll over the bridge gives you a great view of the old town, and also highlights the 17th century triangular paintings on the inside, which depict the long history of Lucerne.
We enjoyed the slower pace of Lucerne – which for being one of Switzerland’s larger cities, still has a distinct small-town feel. We walked down the hill every morning from the quaint neighborhood where we were staying, the locals saying hello as we passed. We stopped on our route often to take in the famous Lion of Lucerne, an amazingly life-like lion that was sculpted into the cliff in the 1820s, and tucked away in a secluded little park – hard to find if you don’t already know where it is. Mark Twain wonderfully articulated the beauty of the sculpture – in 1880 he wrote:
“Around about are green trees and grass. The place is a sheltered, reposeful woodland nook, remote from noise and stir and confusion — and all this is fitting, for lions do die in such places, and not on granite pedestals in public squares fenced with fancy iron railings. The Lion of Lucerne would be impressive anywhere, but nowhere so impressive as where he is.”
We spent our time in Lucerne relaxing along the waterfront, wandering around the cobblestone squares, cruising the lake, took a day trip to Jungfraujoch, and explored the medieval Nine Towers – all this with only street signs and bus schedules in German. Although Lucerne was a budget-buster for us, it was one of the most beautiful places we stayed in Europe – Switzerland definitely exceeded all expectations, scenery-wise. Budget-wise, now we know, and can plan for our next visit accordingly!