50km (31 miles) S of Zurich; 90km (56 miles) E of Bern
Lucerne is a tourist favorite partly because it embodies the storybook image of a Swiss town. Located at the north end of the Lake Lucerne and not far from Zurich and Bern, the city abounds in narrow cobblestone streets, slender spires and turrets, covered bridges, frescoed houses, and fountains. Its residents are quick to remind you you're "never very far from the snow." It's a fact you can't deny, when Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus form the southern gate to the city, as the snowcapped Alps loom in the distance.
Things to Do
Amble across the Kapellbrücke, a charming covered footbridge over the Reuss River and the symbol of Lucerne. Admire the triangular 17th-century paintings lining its ceiling -- several remain empty, a reminder of fire that destroyed part of the bridge in 1993. Next, head toward the Löwenplatz area to the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), a sandstone relief of a dying lion that's an homage to Swiss soldiers who died during the French revolution.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Beer lovers should seek out Rathaus Bräuerei, a tavern that brews its own refreshingly light Pilsner and a rich and malty Bockbier on-site. Or take in a show featuring folkloric Swiss entertainment like alphorns, cowbells, national costumes, and yodeling at the wood-lined Stadtkeller. Both are located in the Altstadt (Old Town). For more sophisticated entertainment, head for the Kultur und Kongress Zentrum (KKL), Lucerne's postmodern performing arts center, known for state-of-the-art acoustics that rank among the best in the world.
Restaurants and Dining
One of the most photogenic buildings in Lucerne, the half-timbered Old Swiss House near Löwenplatz is a prime spot for traditional fare such as veal in cream sauce served over grated and fried rösti potatoes. For belly-warming dishes, the Fondue House in the Altstadt offers several meat and cheese fondues (including one with vacherin, Gruyère and garlic), as well as raclette -- melted cheese over boiled potatoes, served with pickled onions and cucumbers.
In summer, head east of the city center to the Lido for a refreshing dip in Lake Lucerne. The most rewarding activity, year-round, is the walk along the Museggmauer (old city wall), running along the north side of the Altstadt. As you stroll along the walkways between the Museggtürme (its nine ancient watchtowers), you're awarded with panoramic views of Lucerne's rooftops, the lake, and the surrounding Alps.