For my first few years coming to the Alps, I thought of Lucerne as something of a quick stop on a larger tour of Switzerland – a place to see, but not necessarily to linger. But the more time I spend here, the more I realize just how much this whole area has to offer.
Lucerne has made me feel foolish. It’s a beautiful lakeside city, very walkable, surrounded by medieval city walls, and filled with interesting sights. While the Chapel Bridge and Lake Lucerne are often the largest attractions in the area, there are also many excellent scenic excursions that can easily be taken from the city center as a quick half day or a more leisurely full day adventure. From Lucerne, the mountains of Titlis, Stanserhorn, Pilatus, and Flüelen are all just a short train, bus, or boat ride away. Each has its own charm, and unique methods of transportation that add to the adventure.
Hop on a direct, 43-minute train from Lucerne to Engelberg, a small town tucked in the mountains of Central Switzerland, and you will quickly find yourself in a U-shaped, glacier-carved valley at the foot of Mt. Titlis. After a short 10 minute walk from the train station, you can take a high-speed gondola that will bring you on a scenic journey, a 3-stage tour of the foothills of this great mountain. The first 2 stages take you by gondola to Trübsee and Stand.
Once you reach the Stand station you’ll walk across the platform to the new Titlis-Rotair cable car. The Titlis cable car whisks you to the upper station while the entire car rotates 360° allowing you to get an incredible view of the sweeping glaciers and peaks no matter where you end up in the car. After the 5-minute trip, you reach the top station at 3030 meters (9940 ft).
Once up top, you can enjoy the Cliff Walk – 150 steps along an airy suspended bridge 500 meters above the ground. Or touch a glacier and walk through the ice cave dug through the glacier that the upper station sits on.
The trip from Engelberg costs CHF 92 for a round trip tour including the Rotair cable car. Half fare discount card and Swiss Pass holders can enjoy a 50% reduction on their tickets if using their pass on the day of travel.
If you’re looking for a slightly shorter journey with another uniquely Swiss cable car, look no further than the CabriO Stanserhorn open-air cable car. A short 13-21 minute journey to nearby Stans (there are both faster and slower trains) brings you to the foot of a historic wooden funicular cable car. Jump into this car and watch as the open meadows of grazing cows gradually give way to sweeping panoramic views of Lucerne and the different areas of the lake nearby.
Once you arrive at the top of the funicular, transfer to the CabriO cable car for a breezy and exciting journey. Have you ever thought, “This cable car is nice, but I’d rather be on the roof”? Here’s your chance! The World’s first double-decker, open-air cable car will whisk you to the upper station with the wind in your hair and the fresh mountain air. And don’t worry… if the open air is not your thing, you can stay downstairs and enjoy the scenery through wall-to-wall windows.
Either way, you reach the top at 1900 meters (6233 ft), where you enjoy extensive views of the major peaks of Switzerland and a gorgeous view of Lake Lucerne. There is a revolving restaurant here, and plenty of hiking trails.
The trip from Stans costs CHF 74 for a round trip tour including both the funicular and the CabriO cable car. Half fare discount card and Swiss Pass holders enjoy a 50% reduction on their tickets if using their pass on the day of travel.
If you’re looking for a longer journey to one of the Lucerne region’s scenic high points, a trip up Mt. Pilatus is the way to go. Pilatus is the local mountain, a dramatic part of the skyline, and a worthwhile viewpoint. There are a couple ways to get to Pilatus, and the Golden Roundtrip gives you a little bit of everything… boat and cogwheel train to the top, gondola and bus back down.
Start with a lake boat ride from Lucerne to Alpnachstad. Lucerne’s boat station is just in front of the train station, and the boats take about 50 minutes to reach Alpnachstad (you can also get there in 17 minutes by train). Here you board the steepest cogwheel train in Switzerland, doggedly pulling you up the 48 percent grade to the rocky summit at 2132 meters (6994 ft). The cogwheel train takes about 30 minutes, and you’ll arrive at the summit station with hiking options to fit all moods and ability levels. Scenic panoramic views can even be found from inside the Pilatus station if the weather changes quickly or you just need to grab a bite to eat before continuing to explore.
For the descent, take the cable car down to Fräkmüntegg, a very pleasant stop half-way down where you can enjoy a nice local restaurant, the Pilatus rope park, alpine summer luge slide or an excellent playground for children.
From Fräkmüntegg, you’ll connect to the gondola that will drop you into Kriens, where there are regular bus connections back to Lucerne (follow the painted footsteps from the gondola station to the bus stop at the bottom).
The roundtrip from Lucerne to Pilatus costs CHF 72. Swiss Pass holders can enjoy free travel throughout the Pilatus travel network for the rest of 2017, and a 50% discount starting in 2018. Half-fare card holders receive a 50% discount.
What scenic trip to Lucerne would be complete without a lake cruise? The town of Flüelen is nested at the far southern corner of the Urnersee (the farthest arm of Lake Lucerne), so you’ll be crossing the entire lake to get there. Plan to spend 6 hrs for a round trip boat ride to Flüelen, although there are many shorter options available. A ride on the lake includes many stops on both sides as many locals use these steam powered paddle boats to go on short hikes or just to grab a bite to eat in a nearby village. Simply hop off at the stop of your choice and hop back on another boat when you’re ready to move on to the next stop or to head back to Lucerne. For a shorter trip, you might stop in Weggis, 40 minutes from Lucerne, and in itself a well-known lake resort, and 40 minutes is enough to get a feel for lake boat cruising. Or take the 2.5 hr boat ride to Flüelen and return by train, 1 hr, with departures hourly.
Every lake cruise will give a cool breeze, scenic views and plenty of people watching for those who just want to head out on the water. 1st class passes and tickets allow you to go on the upper deck, which is a nice perk. Several villages and points of significance in Switzerland’s history can be seen from the boat including the Rütli meadow, the birthplace of the original Swiss Confederacy and the origin of Swiss National Day on August 1st each year.