12 Things to Do in Lucerne on a Budget

Walking around Lucerne feels like you’re in a fairytale land. 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.

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!

Overview

Here’s our list of the top 12 things to do in Lucerne on a budget:

  1. Walk across Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrucke), Lucerne’s iconic covered wooden footbridge
  2. Stroll along the Ruess River
  3. Walk across Spreuer Bridge
  4. Find the red Town Hall Clock Tower
  5. Admire the Fresco-covered buildings in Old Town
  6. Grab a beer at Jazzkantine, a cozy restaurant and bar that plays live Jazz music
  7. Climb on of Lucerne’s nine towers on the Musegg Wall
  8. Visit the Lion Monument
  9. Enjoy gourmet (but inexpensive) hotdogs at Bierliebe & Friends
  10. Take a day trip to Mount Pilatus
  11. Cruise on Lake Lucerne
  12. Go tobogganing in Frakmuntegg

The following map lays out the location of each of activity 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, where you can pick up the boat.

  1. Chapel Bridge
  2. Jesuit Church/Ruess Riverfront
  3. Spreuer Bridge
  4. Old Town
  5. Town Hall Clock Tower
  6. Jazzkantine
  7. Zyt Tower on Musegg Wall
  8. Lion Monument
  9. Bierliebe & Friends
  10. and 11. Boat Station

1. Walk across Chapel Bridge (Kappellbrucke)

Kapellbrucke (which translates to Chapel Bridge), is Lucerne’s iconic covered foot bridge across the Ruess River. Built in the 14th century, it is the oldest wooden covered bridge 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 possibly more beautiful at dusk.


Kapellbruck with Mount Pilatus in the background at dusk

2. Stroll Along the Reuss River

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.

Chapel Bridge and the Jesuit Church on the South bank of the Reuss River, with Mount Pilatus in the background

3. Spreuer Bridge

Spreurer 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, Spreurer bridge offers a different view of the city.

View from Spreuer Bridge

4. Explore Old Town

Spend some time meandering through the unique streets of Lucerne’s Old Town. Marvel 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.

Weinmarkt square with Château Gütsch in the background

5. Town Hall Clock Tower

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.

View of Lucerne from the South bank of the Ruess River
Town Hall Clock Tower in Lucerne

6. Grab a Beer at Jazzkantine

For a break from your exploring, stop into Jazzkantine for a beer. 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! Jazzkantine is located in Old Town, just a few minutes from Chapel Bridge.

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

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.

The Nolli Tower and Luegisland tower of the Musegg Wall

8. Visit the Lion Monument

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.

The Lion Monument in Lucerne

9. Enjoy gourmet (but inexpensive) hotdogs at Bierliebe & Friends

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 were 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. Day Trip to Mount Pilatus

Taking a day trip to Mount Pilatus is a must if you are staying in Lucerne! 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.

View from the top of Mount PIlatus

More on the day trip: The Ultimate Day Trip to Mount Pilatus

11. Go Tobogganing in Frakmuntegg

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 ski lift on the way down to Kriens. Otherwise, you can can get there by taking a bus to Kriens and then hopping on the ski lift up to Frakmuntegg.

12. Take a Cruise on Lake Lucerne

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 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..

Boat cruise on Lake Lucerne
View of Mount Pilatus peaking through the clouds from boat ride on Lake Lucerne

Getting Around

Lucerne is a relatively small city, so it can easily be explored mainly by foot. Part 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, check out our post *Tips for Traveling in Switzterland.

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 cheaper 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 like the one below 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.
Water Fountain in Lucerne

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 is a little bit out of the way but much less expensive than staying in Old Town or 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 $90 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!

View from our Airbnb

On the left 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!

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