This lakeside city captures the essence of Switzerland
Lucerne, with the magnificent Alps at its doorstep, nestles up to Lake Lucerne, which offers spectacular lake views, convenient boat transportation and numerous leisure activities.
Just a little over an hour away from Zurich Airport by rail, Lucerne, population 81,000, is an international draw for tourists, commanding important sites of religious significance as well as a beautiful setting.
Located on the River Reuss, the city lies on the Way of St. James, the popular pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The area was the 15th century home of Brother Klaus, a visionary, politician and Switzerland’s only saint. A museum dedicated to the spiritual leader is in Sachseln, about 30 minutes from Lucerne.
A nexus of economics, transportation and culture, Lucerne is a lively community that presents a rich tapestry of religious life dating back hundreds of years. The town began as the 8th century Benedictine monastery of St. Leodegar. Ornate wooden pews as well as simpler pews are a reminder of the different classes of worshipers who attended the Church of St. Leodegar centuries ago.
The landmark church, built in the 1630s, is renowned for its gilt statuary and altars and art from the German Late Renaissance. St. Leodegar is noted for introducing the Counter Reformation to Switzerland.
Other important churches include the 13th century, Gothic-style Franciscan Church, which once doubled as Lucerne’s city hall, and the Jesuit Church, the first large Baroque-style church built north of the Alps. The cornerstone of the Jesuit Church was laid in 1666; its twin onion-domed towers dominate the city-scape near the River Reuss.
St. Paul’s Church, dating to 1912, features exquisite glass paintings, and St. Matthew Church was the first Protestant church in Lucerne, designed around 1860.
The 656-foot-long (200 m) Chapel Bridge, the world’s oldest truss bridge and the symbol of Lucerne, is a must-see; thirty 14th century paintings depict historic events in the town’s history. The adjacent tower predates the bridge itself.
One of the most visited museums in all of Switzerland is the large and multi-faceted Swiss Museum of Transport. The country’s first diesel locomotive is on display, along with other historic trains, 30 aircrafts, a fleet of automobiles from all eras, ship exhibits and an IMAX theater.
In Engelberg, a 50-minute train ride from Lucerne, the 12th century Benedictine monastery features Switzerland’s largest church organ, an impressive collegiate library, a museum, a dairy and manor house. Engelberg, in the Uri Alps, is a mountain resort town known for its alpine character. Mt. Titlis, a 10,020-foot-high (3,200 m) peak near Engelberg, offers downhill skiing and boasts the highest suspension bridge in Europe. Also nearby is Brunni, another popular mountain that attracts families and the sports-minded in both in winter and summer.
Other Lucerne-area attractions include 6,982-foot-high (2,128 m) Mt. Pilatus, called the Dragon Mountain. The train to the top, the world’s steepest cogwheel railway, has a gradient of 48 percent. At the top you can enjoy a meal or stay overnight in a hotel. The first run of the mountain railway was in 1871, and steam locomotives still operate today on occasion. Numerous hiking trails thread the mountainside.
The boats of Lake Lucerne Navigation Company, including majestic paddle-wheel steamships, serve 33 communities in the region. Regularly scheduled and special excursion boats, many offering beverages, snacks and complete meals, run daily all year round.
Lucerne’s Dazzling Light Show
Since the late Middle Ages, Lucerne has been known as the City of Lights, and the Lilu Festival of Lights celebrates that aspect of its heritage from January 9-19, 2020.
In January 2020, the popular city-wide festival will take place every evening between 6 and 10 p.m., with an array of Swiss and international artists showcasing light in all its fascinating facets. Residents and visitors will be enthralled by stunning luminous artworks in town squares, Old Town alleyways and various locations around Lucerne.
For information about events taking place in Lucerne, visit www.luzern.com/topevents.
By Don Heimburger