Destination Guide: LucerneInspiration
The City. The Lake. The Mountains – A Guide to the Lucerne – Lake Lucerne Region
Written by Jenny Tough
Produced in partnership with Switzerland Tourism and Lucerne Tourism
When you imagine Switzerland, what do you see? Glacier-topped Alps, beautiful green lakes, rolling meadows, historic towns, modern cableways, delicious raclette, and centuries-old history, perhaps? Lucerne is the superlative region for all of the above, and overwhelms with opportunities for adventure.
Nowhere else will you find so much Switzerland in such a small area. The Lake Lucerne region is a mountain sports paradise both in summer and winter. Hiking, cycling, skating, skiing, canoeing – the opportunities are abundant. Here, in the heart of Switzerland, you will find the postcard-perfect views of the Swiss Alps, charming villages, indulgent culinary experiences, and charming hospitality. With so many activities on offer, choose your own adventure, and then relax and indulge in unforgettable hotels and restaurants. Lucerne has it all: the City, the Lake, the Mountains.
The City: Lucerne ranks among the world’s prettiest cities, and is easily explored on foot. Begin your Lucerne adventure here, in the heart of the region, exploring old and new on the city streets, before setting your sights on the incredible surroundings.
The Lake: Paddle steamers and motor vessels offer easy and enjoyable access to the mountains, but Lake Lucerne deserves a bit of time to be explored in its own right. Stunning blue waters reflecting the surrounding peaks are just about as Swiss as it gets.
The Mountains: The mountains of Central Switzerland are abundant in adventure, and accessible through feats of engineering like mountain railways, cableways, and a funicular railway – as well as endless trails.
New this summer, the Tell-Trail is the perfect challenge to explore Lucerne. With eight stages, this long-distance route takes walkers through the very best of picturesque Lucerne, taking in glittering mountain lakes, historic villages, world-famous destinations, and the ‘Big Six’ of the Central Swiss mountains: Stoos, Rigi, Pilatus, Stanserhorn, Titlis, and Brienzer Rothorn. Walk amongst some of the Swiss Alps’ best flora and fauna, and refuel and regenerate in charming and unforgettable towns.
Each of the stages is an achievable but challenging hike that takes walkers through the best of the region, always starting and ending in a convenient and picturesque location. In numbers, the 8 stages take in 156km of hiking, 7,126m of elevation gain, 6 mountains, and 11 lakes.
Engelberg – the perfect Alpine experience
If you are looking for the perfect place for Alpine experiences, this is it. Summer in the high valley of Engelberg is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. From the valley floor at 1,000m altitude, to the soaring peak of Titlis at 3,238m or Hahnen at 2,606m, Engelberg is a landscape of natural wonder. Lush meadows, deep forests, and wildly romantic Alps contrast with the more rugged altitudes and peaks covered with snow year round. The big mountain moments are all found here. This is Switzerland at its best.
Just a short drive south of Lake Lucerne and easily accessible from Zurich, Engelberg is the largest year-round holiday destination in Central Switzerland. Engelberg town, nestled between the mountains in the steep valley, possesses a distinct and rustic character. The Benedictine monastery was founded in 1120 and to this day has a significant impact on the life of the village. Monks still live, work, and teach in the grand abbey that was finished in 1740. Around town, much of the architecture remains from the Belle Epoque, and reflects quintessential Swiss flair, lending the village its very own charm.
Favourite tours and activities in Engelberg
Engelberg boasts six via ferratas, where everyone from beginners to professionals can experience vertical walls and that thrilling sensation of air beneath their feet. Start your climbing journey in Engelberg with a Rock & Safety Days, where local mountain guides will show you the ropes (or cables), and then progress on your own with or without a guide.
The ‘Queen of the Engelberg via ferratas’ is without a doubt the Via Ferrata Fürenwand, which requires strength, endurance, and an appetite for heights. This spectacular route is steep and extremely exposed, and features an infamous rope ladder that is both the highlight and key section of the climb. From the top, enjoy a hiking trail descent, or relax and take the scenic cable car back down.
Engelberg has established itself as the premier mountain biking destination in Central Switzerland in recent years. The high valley and the fantastic mountain scenery offer varied trails for every biking style and ability. An abundance of e-bike tours offers everything from accessible routes through the mountains to flowing cross-country rides, all the way up to challenging enduro trails that will thrill expert mountain bikers.
Take a Ride & Skills Days with a local bike guide who can introduce you to the local terrain and ensure you’ll have even more fun on your bike, and then take on some classic Swiss downhill at Jochpass. With a chairlift for bikers, a Trail Day at Jochpass is endless fun, with bike-only trails to suit all abilities and ages. Technical features like bends, waves, and jumps have been expertly designed on these trails to ensure that beginners and advanced riders can all experience the same level of enjoyment, making it a perfect activity for families and groups. Start with the popular Jochpass Trail, which meanders from the cableway terminus 4.5km down to Lake Trubess, descending 440m en route.
Where to eat and drink in Engelberg
Hotel and Restaurant Alpenclub has a traditional atmosphere with a twist – the Engelberg Alpenclub is steeped in tradition, and combines its well-established cosiness with modern features. The element of fire is celebrated throughout the building, from cooking over open flames and sitting by the fireplace through to enjoying a fondue. Indulge in regional specialities and warm hospitality. Friendly and comforting – a home away from home. Welcome to the Alpenclub!
Cheese Experience: Not all cheeses are alike. When you visit the cheese factory in the monastery, you will be amazed at how many varieties there are in Engelberg alone. A raclette or fondue evening is almost a must during your next vacation in Engelberg – why not even during a horse-drawn carriage ride?
Andermatt – an immersion in nature
When you arrive in Andermatt, you will instantly feel the embracing welcome of this community that is famous for its hospitality. Uela is the local dialect word for ‘hello’, and the culture here is truly unique. Sitting at the crossroads between several regions of Switzerland, linked via the passes of Gotthard, Furka, and the Oberalp, Andermatt is a mosaic of people, and has always been a place where cultures come together. It almost goes without saying that hospitality is deeply ingrained in the local population.
Then there is nature. Andermatt is the birthplace of the rivers Rhine, Reuss, Ticino, and Rhône. Snow-capped peaks feed crystal-clear lakes, banked by steep cliffs and Alpine meadows. The region truly is a feast for the eyes, and its remarkable climate offers activities year round, from winter skiing to summer hiking and biking. Boasting 1,829 hours of sunshine throughout the year, a visit to Andermatt is always a good idea.
Historically, Andermatt was the location of the Swiss Federal Army’s high command, and served as headquarters in World War II, largely thanks to the strategic location in the mountains. At one time, this picturesque village was station to 80,000 Swiss soldiers, which may be hard to imagine as you stroll the quaint streets today.
After the Swiss Army moved most of its operations away, much of the town was turned over to development as a year-round holiday destination, and today benefits from modern infrastructure, world-class hotels and restaurants, and endless opportunity for outdoor adventure.
Favourite tours and activities in Andermatt
From Andermatt, you can hike right up to the source of the mighty River Rhine. Two options are available: the family friendly route, with 460m of vertical gain, which takes about four hours; or the more scenic route over Pazolastock with 900m of vertical gain for a five- to six-hour trip. From this trail, you will be able to see Lake Toma, the official source of the Rhine, and on a hot summer’s day you may be tempted to cool off in the beautiful Alpine lake, or stop in the small hut en route for some cake and schnapps.
Some of the best Alpine passes in all of Europe can be found here, spoiling the avid road cyclist. Take on Oberalp, Gotthard, Furka, Susten, or Grimsel – with multiple route options linking them together, you can tailor the ride to your ambition. For one of the toughest challenges, try the final stage of this year’s Tour de Suisse: Andermatt – Furka – Grimsel – Susten – Andermatt.
Where to eat and drink in Andermatt
Swiss chalet meets Scandinavian design at Andermatt’s brand-new Radisson Blu Hotel Reussen. The modern rooms feature large windows to afford unlimited views of the scenery in the distance, and the unique alpine village a little closer by. The in-house restaurant is an enticing mix of modern and traditional, with a focus on local specialties.
For possibly the best cheese fondue you’ll taste – and, really, you must have at least one fondue while in Switzerland – head to Restaurant Ochsen. Fondue, raclette, and speck are the highlights of the menu, and the experience is as enticing as the cheese itself.
Pilatus – the home of mountain legends
Legends tell that the three peaks of Pilatus are home to dragons who possess healing powers, and presided over Lake Lucerne for centuries. The logo of Pilatus, which you will spot throughout the area, is indeed a fire-breathing dragon, but despite this perhaps menacing icon, the legend is one of flightless dragons and a therapeutic mountain. Even Queen Victoria once climbed Pilatus (on a pony), persuaded by her doctors, and quoted her wonderment at the ‘glorious scenery’ in her diary.
Tomlishorn, at 2,128m high, is the tallest peak of the ‘home mountain’ of Lucerne, and these jagged dragon peaks offer plenty of adventure. Stay overnight in a tree tent, suspended above the forest floor, or play between the trees in Central Switzerland’s biggest rope park, offering 10 different routes for adults and children. Above the forest, breathtaking hikes will carry you to stunning views of the Swiss Alps, Lake Lucerne, and the Black Forest. Nature lovers relish this playground, where wildlife such as ibex – and perhaps even dragons – roam the mountains.
Favourite tours and activities in Pilatus
Try the Dragon Glider (Fly-Line) and explore the biggest rope park in Central Switzerland. With 10 different routes for adventurers of all ages, the rope park offers excitement for all abilities, welcoming families and groups. While you’re enjoying keeping your feet far off the ground, you can even stay overnight in tree tents, suspended above the forest floor.
Go looking for dragons or simply admire the panoramic view over Lucerne. Mount Pilatus hosts an extensive network of hiking trails, but the classic tour from the city to the peak is Stage 4 of the Tell Trail. Starting from the city of Lucerne, hikers can opt to take the local bus to Kriens, where the hike begins with an idyllic walk through the Chrienser Hohwald forest. From there, the path becomes rougher as you circle the Klimsenhorn, up countless hairpin turns, skyward to Pilatus. After your climb (approximately five hours), enjoy a refreshment at the restaurant at the top, then take the world’s steepest cogwheel railway down to Alpnachstad.
Where to eat and drink in Pilatus
Hotel Bellevue offers a self-service restaurant that lives up to its name. Tuck into gourmet Swiss fare while admiring the panoramic views from the mountain.
Stay overnight in the historic Hotel Pilatus Kulm, over 2,000m in altitude and with incredible 360-degree panoramic views, untouched nature, and even a local ibex population.