Located in the alpine scenery of central Switzerland, Lucerne makes a good place to explore the country. Travelers would do well, however, to spend some time in this pretty city before hopping a train to some place else. Whether visitors want to cruise on a gorgeous blue lake (Lake Lucerne), see colorfully painted medieval homes, listen to some great classical music or just gaze at mountains, Lucerne is the place to indulge the senses. Lucerne has been praised by many tourists, including Queen Victoria and Mark Twain. Today Lucerne’s attractions provides plenty of opportunities for tourists to add their own praise.
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Richard Wagner was a famous 19th century German composer, known for his operas, particularly the four-part The Rings of Nibelungun. Perhaps even more famous is his Bridal Chorus from the opera Lohengrin that is played as the bride walks down the aisle. Wagner lived on Lake Lucerne for six years where he composed other important operas. Visitors can learn about his life and music through memorabilia at the Richard Wagner Museum that is located on his country estate, Tribechen. The museum is closed December to April and on Mondays.
Musegg Wall gives travelers a chance to walk on history while, at the same time, enjoying panoramic views of Lucerne. The wall, an important part of Lucerne’s fortifications, was built in the 13th century and is largely intact today. Musegg Wall has nine towers, though only a few are accessible these days. Perhaps the most famous open tower is Zyt; it contains the oldest clock in Lucerne. This 1536 clock isn’t just any clock, however. It rings on the hour one minute before all the other city clocks can ring. Views from the accessible towers are pretty fantastic, too.
With exhibits covering land and space travel, the Swiss Museum of Transport is Switzerland’s most popular museum. Built in 1959, the museum is home to train locomotives, motor vehicles, ships and aircraft. It also houses the large EURECA satellite, launched by Europe and the United States in the 1990s. But the Swiss Museum of Transport is more than transport. It also has a planetarium and an extensive collection of works by Lucerne sculptor and painter Hans Emi. Located on Lake Lucerne, the museum contains an aerial photography of Switzerland. Chocoholics will enjoy learning more about their favorite sweet in the museum’s Chocolate Adventure.
The Lion of Lucerne is a sad, touching tribute to Swiss soldiers who tried to protect the royal family during the French Revolution. The memorial features a dying lion carved into sandstone at a pond at the east end of Lucerne. American author Mark Twain called the statue “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” It memorializes the more than 800 Swiss guards who died protecting King Louis XVI and his family at Tuileries Palace or who later died in a French prison. Only about 100 soldiers managed to escape the massacre.
Hofkirche, or the Court Church of St. Leodegar, is the main cathedral in Lucerne. It was founded as a Benedictine monastery in the eighth century, with the monks later founding Lucerne. Fire destroyed the original church in 1633; a few religious objects, the towers and St. Mary’s altar, with a panel dating back to 1500, are about all that remains of that church. Gilt statues adorn the white stone interior of the replacement church. Ornate and plain pews represent where the rich and poor worshipped separately. Hofkirche is the most important Renaissance church in Switzerland.
Lake Lucerne, the country’s fourth largest lake, offers travelers many ways to enjoy its fjord-like beauty with mountains that descend right to the shoreline. They can drive the A2 motorway or take a paddle boat steamer from Lucerne and between villages on the lake. The lake is especially scenic on a pretty summer day or a winter night to see Lucerne’s Christmas lights twinkle. More energetic visitors can bicycle around it or hike the 34-km (21-mile) Swiss Path, built to commemorate Switzerland’s 700th anniversary in 1991. The elongated follows a complicated path, with arms and sharp turns along its route.
Lake Lucerne is surrounded by mountains, but few are more spectacular than Mount Rigi. The “queen of the mountains.” Is known as a massif because it was formed when the earth’s crust moved. Visitors give it high marks for its stunning beauty, but warn to only visit it on a clear day. Mount Rigi is unique because it sits on three lakes: Lucerne, Zug and Lauerz. A cogwheel train is a popular way to reach the top of this 1,797.5-meter (5,897-foot) high peak, but visitors can also get there via a gondola and cable car. Mount Rigi offers hiking in the summer and snow sports in the winter.
Another mountain massif, Mount Pilatus is actually made up of several peaks that overlook Lucerne. The highest peak is Tomlinson at 2,128 meter (6,982 feet) in elevation. Mount Pilatus is considered an icon of the city. Getting to Mount Pilatus is an adventure in itself: Travelers ride on the world’s steepest cogwheel railway that operates between May and November. Or they can opt for gondolas or aerial cableways any time throughout the year. Summer visitors can take the “Golden Round Trip” that involves a boat ride across Lake Lucerne and then the ride up the mountain.
Compared to other European towns, Lucerne’s Old Town (Aldstadt) is tiny, but that just makes it easier to walk around. It’s located of the right bank of the River Reuss that is crossed by the most famous tourist attraction in Lucerne; the 14th century Chapel Bridge. Surrounded by the city wall, Old Town is very well preserved with squares with fountains and cobblestone streets. As visitors stroll through Old Town, considered one of the prettiest in Switzerland, they’ll find murals painted on numerous buildings. Travelers also will come across medieval burghers’ brightly painted, wood-timbered houses. The Italian Renaissance Town Hall was built in 1602.
The medieval Chapel Bridge, or rather its replacement, is probably the most photographed site in Lucerne. The landmark bridge was built in the 14th century and, until it burned in 1993, was considered the oldest wooden bridge in Europe. The bridge was promptly rebuilt and is as picturesque as ever. The restored bridge features more than 100 pictures of Lucerne life in the 17th century hanging from the rafters. These pictures also include patron saints. The covered bridge crosses the River Reuss diagonally. Named for nearby St. Peter’s Chapel, the bridge also is known as Kapellbrücke.