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City of the Middle Ages—Lucerne, Switzerland

by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer and WTA Member

Learn about Lucerne, Switzerland by reading City of Middle Ages—Lucern, Switzerland by Sandy Zimmerman, Travel Writer. It features a mini, but thorough tour of the destination, plus all you'll need to know to plan your trip including getting there, objective information on places to stay and eat, and things to do. At the end of the article, we've provided a summary of the contact information for your easy reference. Enjoy!

Looking across Lake Lucerne, the contrast of the style of buildings is suddenly and dramatically different. Lucerne’s historical Old Town has been preserved for everyone to enjoy. It is so beautiful and so charming that UNESCO has designated it as a World Heritage Site. A few steps across the bridge, the first stop is at the Chapel Bridge, built in 1330 as part of the cities’ fortifications. Paintings depicting Swiss and local history were added in the seventeenth century. The landmark Water Tower rises 111 feet into the air as part of the city wall. This is the most photographed monument in Switzerland and was formerly used as a prison, torture chamber, and treasury.

With one unique building next to another, you’ll wander through a maze of winding lanes and alleyways. The fresco paintings tell the stories of the past. You can enter these ancient buildings since they are still in use as restaurants, shops, hotels, and churches. Each building stands out; one is more dramatic than the other. Lovely statues and fountains dot the small picturesque town squares. Since most of the village’s wooden houses were burned down during fires, Old Town is predominately composed of stone buildings.

Chapel Bridge; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman
Chapel Bridge; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman

You can reach Old Town easily by using walking paths across several bridges. Two of the bridges, Chapel Bridge and Mill Bridge are historic, with other bridges built at later times. The busy sidewalk cafes along the river and throughout Old Town, the colorful buildings, and boats give us a glimpse of the way life might have been in the Middle Ages. Some of these beautiful buildings include the Franciscan Church with its typical medieval Gothic architecture of the 13th century and the 16th century Ritterscher Palace which is now the Cantonal seat of government.

Lucerne is filled with attractions, both modern and ancient. Visitors have a wide variety of choices of international cuisine. Stay a few days or stay a week in order to see as much as you can.

The Hotel, accommodations with murals on the ceiling; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman
The Hotel, accommodations with murals on the ceiling; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman

When a hotel is simply named “The Hotel” (, you know it is very special. Even their architect is special. Urs Karli, the owner of “The Hotel”, had a dream to build a hotel that would not fit into the usual hotel mold. Wanting the very best, he choose France’s most famous star architect Jean Nouvel and the result was spectacular. This is a blueprint for all to follow, the “look” hotels will strive to achieve in the future. Jean utilized mirrors and small windows at the bottom of the hotel’s outside walls as a surprising way to draw people’s attention to look down at their Bam Bou Restaurant. This seemingly unexpected “sneak peak” is appealing to the eye, breaking through the boundary of walls. Sitting in the lobby, the same effect brings guests views through the lobby floor above the restaurant. We can also look up from the restaurant to see the magnificent brightly colored painting in the lobby. We see out and they see in, as if on a stage. The accommodations are as exciting as the building’s design. A life-sized mural adorns the ceiling over the bed, with each room being different. A video of the movie scene sits on the dresser for their guests to view.

Dine outside on the terrace overlooking the River Reuss. The Restaurant Taube has an interesting regional menu with some original Lucerne dishes. They are celebrating 50 years as a restaurant, so you can be confident that you’ll find delightful dishes here. They continually prepare sausages because their guests eat 100 or more a week. Taube translates to “pigeon” and you will be surprised to find it on the menu as well. There is pigeon salad with veggies, fish, chicken, sausage, beef, or by itself. The chef prepares tasting plates if guests want to try a few items.

Mt. Pilatus- Alphorn group; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman
Mt. Pilatus- Alphorn group; Photo by Sandy Zimmerman

An excursion to the top of Mount Pilatus is great if you do it the easy way, without having to hike up the 7,000 feet. Take an exciting day tour from Lucerne, on the Golden Round Trip to experience everything they have to offer. 

Board a steam boat for a smooth cruise across Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad. An Alpine band keeps you entertained and their restaurant is open for snacks and meals during the one hour cruise. Alpnachstad is the gateway to Mount Pilatus. Take the Pilatus Railway, the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, up the steep mountain through tunnels, near streams, and around cliffs at a 48 degree gradient. The cogwheel is the train for steep mountains because it provides more traction and is designed with specially constructed tracks.

After reaching the summit, you are now above the clouds. They call this “360 degree Switzerland” with views of 73 mountain peaks. It’s exciting to see an Alpenhorn band playing their traditional music. Alphorns are ancient musical instruments which were originally used by farmers to communicate with each other in the Alps. The group’s Alphorns are 10 feet long, but the largest playable Alphorn in the world, 40’ long, is on display. Every weekend different musical groups come up to the top to play Swiss music for visitors.

You will be amazed to find the Hotel Pilatus-Kulm (1890), Hotel Bellevue (1960), seven restaurants, and five hiking trails at the top of Mount Pilatus. Enjoy a delicious traditional Swiss lunch in the Restaurant Taverne with wonderful views. 

For the grand finale, ride the aerial cableway, then a small panorama gondola down to the bus for the short 15 minute drive back to Lucerne. The Silver Round Trip includes a train ride from Lucerne instead of the boat.


Getting There

Swiss International Air Lines:

Tourist Information

Switzerland Tourism:

Notice: This information is current as of October 2009. It is recommended that you contact the numbers, and/or visit the websites above to determine any changes to the information.