Walking around Lucerne feels like you’re in a fairytale land. There are plenty of incredible things to do in Lucerne, even on a budget – get lost meandering across the town’s wooden footbridges, marveling at the intricately painted medieval buildings, and admire the natural beauty that surrounds the city. Lucerne lies along the Ruess River and Lake Lucerne and serves as a perfect landing spot for easy access to the surrounding mountains, including Mount Pilatus and Mount Rigi.
Budget travel in Switzerland
Many people are discouraged from traveling to Switzerland because it is known for being one of the most expensive countries. However, it is possible to travel in Switzerland without breaking the bank – we managed to make it work while I was still in grad school and working only part time!
In this article, we’ll share some of our favorite and budget friendly things to do in Lucerne.
Things to Do in Lucerne
Here are our 12 favorite things to do in Lucerne, without breaking the bank!
- Walk across Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke), Lucerne’s iconic covered wooden footbridge
- Stroll along the Reuss River
- Walk across Spreuer Bridge, the smaller counterpart to Chapel Bridge
- Admire the fresco-covered buildings in Lucern’s Old Town
- See the red Town Hall Clock Tower up close
- Grab a beer at Jazzkantine, a cozy restaurant and bar that plays live Jazz music
- Climb one of Lucerne’s nine towers on the Musegg Wall
- Visit the Lion Monument
- Enjoy “gourmet” hotdogs at Bierliebe & Friends
- Cruise on Lake Lucerne
- Take a day trip to Mount Pilatus
- Go tobogganing in Frakmunteg
Planning Your Day
The following map lays out the location of each of the activities on the list. The first 9 stops can easily be accomplished in one day. The day trip to Mount Pilatus and boat cruise on Lake Lucerne both begin at Bahnhofquai (stop 10 on this map), where you can pick up the boat.
- To email this map to yourself for future use, click the three dots in the upper right corner.
- To view more details about each location, click on the marker on the map.
- Chapel Bridge
- Jesuit Church/Ruess Riverfront
- Spreuer Bridge
- Old Town
- Town Hall Clock Tower
- Zyt Tower on Musegg Wall
- Lion Monument
- Bierliebe & Friends
- Boat Station
- Mount Pilatus
1. Walk Across Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes
Kapellbrücke (which translates to Chapel Bridge), is Lucerne’s beautiful covered footbridge across the Ruess River. Built in the 14th century, it is the oldest wooden covered footbridge in Europe and one of the most iconic stops in Switzerland.
The bridge’s interior roof is adorned with paintings that depict the history of Switzerland, while the exterior is lined with beautiful pink and purple flowers. In 1993, the bridge caught fire and all but a small portion of the original bridge was destroyed. The bridge as it exists today was rebuilt shortly after in 1994, but remnants of the fire still remain.
Chapel bridge is located in the center of town, so be sure to stop back by later in your evening, as the bridge is even more beautiful at dusk.
2. Stroll Along the Reuss River
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes – 1 hour
There is nothing quite like Lucerne’s picturesque riverfront. Spend some time strolling through the shops, cafes, and restaurants that line the river. Be sure to see the Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirche), a huge Baroque church unmistakable with its double green domes, located on the south bank of the Reuss River.
3. Spreuer Bridge
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes
Spreuer Bridge may be smaller and less well-known compared to Chapel Bridge, but it is still worth visiting. Located only about a quarter mile down the river from Chapel Bridge, Spreuer bridge offers a unique view of Old Town and the Musegg Wall.
4. Explore Old Town
Cost: Free — Time: 1 hour
Spend some time meandering through the distinctive streets of Lucerne’s Old Town, marveling at the buildings adorned with colorful, intricately painted medieval frescos. From Weinmarkt square, you can see the beautiful white Château Gütsch across the river, a luxury hotel that looks more like a castle. The majority of Old Town is located on the north bank of the Ruess River.
5. Town Hall Clock Tower
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes
From the Ruess River you can’t miss the red roof of the Town Hall Clock Tower. To see it up close, walk just one block back from the river on the north bank to Town Hall square (Rathaus Stadt).
6. Grab a Beer at Jazzkantine
Cost: $10 – $20 — Time: 1 hour
For a break from exploring, stop into Jazzkantine for a beer, located just a 5 minute walk from Chapel Bridge. Jazzkantine is a cozy restaurant and bar that offers a selection of beer and wine and serves freshly baked sourdough. They even have live jazz concerts downstairs. We were pleasantly surprised to find a craft IPA on the draft list!
If you are looking for somewhere to stop for a drink and snack on the south bank of the Ruess, check out Wirtshaus. We stopped here for a local beer and a delicious quiche on their patio.
7. Climb one of Lucerne’s 9 Towers on the Musegg Wall
Cost: Free — Time: 1 -2 hours
There are a total of nine towers along the Musegg Wall, built in the 14th century to protect the city. Luegisland Tower is the tallest of the nine and (Zytuurm) Zyt Tower features the oldest clock tower in the city. You can climb several of the towers, including Zyt Tower, for free for a view of the city, river, and surrounding mountains.
8. Visit the Lion Monument
Cost: Free — Time: 30 minutes
Next, visit the Lion Monument, a rock relief statue constructed in 1820 to commemorate the Swiss guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution. The monument is one of the most popular in all of Switzerland and its magnitude is impossible to capture in a picture.
9. Enjoy gourmet (but inexpensive) hotdogs at Bierliebe & Friends
Cost: $15 – $30 — Time: 1 hour
Bierliebe & Friends is a casual restaurant right on the Reuss River that offers a selection of good beer and delicious “gourmet” but inexpensive hotdogs, perfect after a long day of exploring. The hotdogs are huge and cost between $11 and $15. You can even get a hot dog topped with gooey raclette and bacon. The sweet potato fries and cold beer made the perfect accompaniments! If you are looking for somewhere to eat with a view of the river and hardy food, this is the place to go!
10. Take a Cruise on Lake Lucerne
Cost: Free with Swiss Pass — Time: 1 – 3 hours
If you plan to hike or visit Mount Pilatus, part of your journey will include a lovely boat ride on Lake Lucerne to get to Alpnachstad. But if you don’t have time for the full day trip, we recommend at least riding the ferry on Lake Lucerne. The views from the water of the mountain region surrounding Lucerne are worth the ride. The best part, its completely covered by the Swiss Pass!
The boat makes several stops at different towns along the lake, including Beckenried, Brunnen, Flüelen, Meggen, Vitznau and Weggis, so you can choose to ride as long as you please. Once you get off the boat, spend some time exploring the town and then catch a train or bus back to Lucerne..
11. Day Trip to Mount Pilatus
Cost: $36 – $102 — Time: 4 – 6 hours
Taking a day trip to Mount Pilatus is a must if you are staying in Lucerne! With a peak almost 7,000 feet above sea-level, Mount Pilatus is one of the tallest mountains in the area and the summit provides unmatched views of the Swiss Alps high above the clouds.
If you don’t have a Swiss Pass, getting to Mount Pilatus is costly. To read more about the Swiss Pass, visit our Switzerland Travel Guide. With a Swiss Pass, the entire trip will only cost 36 CHF ($40) per person. Or to save a little money, you can opt to hike the whole thing or hike up and take the cogwheel train back down. The hike up from Alpnachstad to Pilatus is 8km.
Read more about visiting Mount Pilatus:
12. Go Tobogganing in Frakmuntegg
Cost: $10 — Time: 1 hour
Tobogganing, aka alpine sliding, involves sitting in a small cart that fits into a narrow track. You’ll zip down the mountain, passing by Swiss cows happily grazing with a perfect view of Lake Lucerne below you. If you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing a toboggan ride before, this will make you feel like a kid again!
If you are planning to take the day trip to Mount Pilatus, Frakmuntegg is a convenient stop off the cable car on the way down to Kriens. Otherwise, you can can get there by taking a bus to Kriens and then hopping on the cable car up to Frakmuntegg.
Planning Your Trip to Lucerne
Getting around in Lucerne
Lucerne is a small city, so it can easily be explored mainly by foot. A section of Old Town is foot traffic only.
The bus system in Lucerne is timely and efficient (like everything else in Switzerland!), and covered by the Swiss Pass. The ferries on Lake Lucerne are also covered by the Swiss Pass. For more on the Swiss Pass and transportation in Switzerland, visit our Switzerland Travel Guide.
Other tips for saving money in Lucerne
- Pack lunches! Its true that eating out in Switzerland can be costly. Packing lunches is an easy way to save money by avoiding eating out, especially if you are taking the trip to Mount Pilatus, where the restaurant at the peak is very overpriced. There is a Coop grocery store located in the train station, where you can get everything you need to make sandwiches for the day.
- Get a Swiss Pass. Seriously, if you are traveling in Switzerland for 4 days or more, this is totally worth it. The upfront cost may seem high, but you will end up saving money over your trip. Read more about the Swiss Pass here.
- Take the bus. In lieu of an Uber or Taxi, opt to the take the bus. Its easy, efficient, and covered by the Swiss Pass (although still cheap if you don’t have one).
- Skip the plastic water bottle. All fountains in Switzerland are clean, safe water to drink, unless explicitly stated otherwise. There are nearly 1200 potable fountains across the country. Even beautiful fountains that may appear to be only for show are safe to drink. So bring a reusable bottle and take advantage of having fresh, clean water all around the city.
Where to stay
We stayed in an Airbnb located up the hill behind the Church of Leodegar. This is a great area to stay on a budget. It’s a little bit out of the way but much less expensive than staying in Old Town or the city center. From the Chapel Bridge, we could walk in about 20 minutes or easily hop on a bus to save time.
We paid only $100 per night for an incredible Airbnb that had a mini kitchen, living room, dining room and balcony – it was way more space than we needed. I couldn’t recommend this place more. I mean, just look at the view from our balcony!
On the right hand side is the Church of Leodegar and that unmistakable mountain is Mount Pilatus. If you look closely, you can even see lights on at Hotel Pilatus-Kulm.
If you are planning a trip to Switzerland, visiting the charming city of Lucerne is a must! Planning a trip to Switzerland? We’ve put together an adventure-filled one week itinerary, with stops in Lucerne, Bern, Zermatt, Interlaken and Zurich:
For all things Switzerland: Switzerland Travel Guide
Have you been to Lucerne? Let us know your favorite experiences in the comments section below!
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