“Have you been to Lucerne yet?”
“Are you planning on visiting Lucerne?”
These questions were fired at us by members of our Jungfraujoch tour group, which is why we decided on a swelteringly hot June day to take a visit to this highly recommended city, 70km north east of Interlaken. Sitting on the shores of Lake Lucerne, the pretty city is surrounded by jagged snow-capped mountains, notably Pilatus and Rigi. The River Reuss dissects the city, and the old town sits on the north bank of the river.
Our first impressions of the city aren’t particularly positive. Mainly because we’re struggling to find somewhere to park, and get ourselves stuck in traffic moving from one side of the city to the other. All the parking seems to be on the opposite side of the road. Which makes sense, as one side is a lake. Eventually though, after doubling back on ourselves, we see the signs for a multi-storey at Löwencenter. This’ll do nicely. The temperature is just tipping over 30°C. Before we do any sightseeing it’s time for lunch.
The lakeside restaurants don’t yield anything which costs less than a small chateau. There doesn’t appear to be such thing as a “tourist menu” in Lucerne. I remember seeing a Burger King as we drove in and I keep this option in reserve. We check menus here and there as we wind our way along the waterside and into the old town. Cute alleyway restaurants are matched with not-so-cute menu prices.
All we want is somewhere we can sit, have lunch and a drink, and not pay 50 CHF for the privilege. Mr Fletche and I have already shared pizza and nachos so far this holiday. I’d like to eat off my own plate. With my own knife and fork. But everywhere seems to be 25 CHF+, just for a burger. That’s almost £20 in our money. For a burger. And chips are extra. We eventually find a craft beer house, Rathaus Brauerei, overlooking the river and Kapellbrucke. It’s 24 CHF for a sharing plate of sausages and sauerkraut. I still don’t get my own plate but I do get an Aperol Spritz. So all is well. I can add Switzerland onto my list of countries in which I’ve imbibed an Aperol Spritz.
Appetites sated somewhat, it’s time to have a wander around town. We cross the bridges that span the River Reuss, taking photos from every angle of Kapellbrucke (Chapel Bridge). It’s the oldest covered bridge in Europe dating back to 1333 and is connected to an octagonal water tower. It’s not all original though – part of it was burned down in 1993 and rebuilt.
This part of Switzerland is German-speaking and the architecture is also reminiscent of Germany, with half-timbered houses and beautifully painted exteriors. We don’t spend too long wandering around the back streets though, shady as they are. Instead we keep finding ourselves back at Rathaus (City Hall), with a bustling food market nestling in it’s arches. We briefly contemplate climbing to the city walls for a vantage point over the city and lake but it’s much too hot. Another covered bridge, Spreuer Bridge, crosses the river. By the ferry terminal and Kunstmuseum there are a couple of food stalls and street food trucks. This is the place to come for cheaper eats.
Wilting in the heat, we take a slow meandering walk back across the river. I had spotted the most wonderful looking ice creams earlier, so we stop at the Gelateria Bäckerei am Quai where I have strawberry cheesecake in a cone the size of a bucket. We sit near the Pavillon am Nationalquai, shaded by the avenue of horse chestnut trees, overlooking a swathe of aquamarine.
Lucerne is a beautiful city indeed, but after the relative tranquility of the Interlaken and Jungfrau regions, the hustle, bustle, traffic and oppressive heat exhausts us. We had a similar feeling in Florence, after the car-free pleasure of Venice. And it’s expensive. More so than other places we visited. We visited Thun the day after, and Mr Fletche and I both enjoyed this mini-Lucerne more. But Lucerne is still worth a visit. If only for one of those giant ice creams.
We visited Lucerne as a day trip from our base in Interlaken. The 75 minute drive took us past Lake Brienz, over Brienzwiler Pass and to the road above Lungerne, with spectacular views over Lungernersee. There are a number of tunnels along the way, intersecting the mountains and providing a more direct route than the winding mountain road. One of the tunnels is 5km long. I like to play a game where I close my eyes and try and open them at the same time we reach the end of the tunnel. This is only recommended if you are not driving.
Our car parking challenges may have been made easier if I’d researched parking beforehand. I’ve since found this handy Car Parking in Lucerne website.
The nearest airport is Zurich, a 60 minute journey by car or 45 minutes by train.