In a country known for its neutrality, Lucerne evokes strong emotions. The city's storybook setting, nestled between Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus and bordering Lake Lucerne, awakens childhood memories of magical bridges and graceful swans.
Lucerne is the quintessential Swiss destination for many travelers, and its lovely setting and fascinating history provide ample activities for visitors.
Begin by strolling on the distinctive Kapellbrucke, a covered wooden footbridge that spans the Reuss River. In warm weather, flowers adorn the bridge and swans glide gently beneath in the water. Construction began in the 14th century and portions of the bridge, including the octagonal water tower, are original. A disastrous fire in 1993 destroyed parts of the structure, which have since been rebuilt.
Photographers should venture to the Museggmauer, the old city wall. Walk until you reach one of the nine watchtowers, which are great vantage points for panoramic views and beautiful pictures. In summer and fall, visitors can climb some of the towers, located just north of Old Town's center. The clock in the fifth watchtower was made in Basel in 1535 and chimes one minute before the rest of the clocks in town.
For a more somber experience, walk to the Lowendenkmal, the Lion Monument, which commemorates Swiss Guards who died in the siege of the Tuileries Palace during the French Revolution in 1792. The sandstone relief of a dying lion was designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and carved by Lukas Ahorn from 1820-21. When Mark Twain visited the sculpture, he called it "the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world."
Steamboats of all varieties ply Lake Lucerne, which extends 39 km to the town of Fluelen. Hop aboard for stunning views of the steep mountains on both sides. Culinary cruises offer Swiss delicacies during the peaceful ride.
When the weather is brisk, head indoors to the Sammlung Rosengart Museum. Father and daughter art collectors Siegfried and Angela Rosengart amassed more than 300 works from 19th and 20th century masters such as Cezanne, Chagall, Kandinsky, Matisse and Renoir. The museum emphasizes Classic Modernism and has many paintings by Pablo Picasso and Swiss artist Paul Klee. Picasso was a close friend of the Rosengarts. He painted five portraits of Angela, which can be seen among the collection.
The nearby Museum of Transport is the most visited museum in Switzerland. The collection includes extensive displays on rail transport, including miniature trains and a simulator that allows you to take control of a big locomotive. The Road Traffic Hall is decorated with 344 traffic signs from all regions of Switzerland, and the Aviation and Space Travel Hall has more than 30 historic aircraft.
Lucerne is slightly more than 30 minutes by car from Zurich and one hour from Basel, making it a convenient day trip.