best things to do in lucerne switzerland

Best Things to do in Lucerne in Winter | Itinerary for Lucerne in 2 Days (2024)

Looking for your next great destination in Europe? You’ve tried the gelato in Italy, the tinto de verano in Spain, eaten your weight in pain au chocolate in France — what’s next? Well, it’s a wonder it took me this long to make way to Switzerland. Lucerne, Switzerland to be exact. Even Lucerne in winter is delightful, as I discovered.

And it certainly left an impression on me. By the end of my short few days in Lucerne city I found myself thinking, I could logically live here. Lucerne just makes sense and with this guide to the best things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland you can begin planning a trip to see for yourself.

With its kind people, beautiful lake, stunning alpine views, many outdoor activities, central location and delectable chocolate you can sense the quality of life is high here. And all this from a short visit to Lucerne in winter!

Whenever I visit in summer months I’m sure my new love for this city will only grow. So, what are the best things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland? Let’s get into everything from where to stay to where to eat and explore with a weekend in Lucerne.  

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Guide to Lucerne in Winter

Why visit Lucerne, Switzerland?

First, why is Lucerne one of the best cities to visit in Switzerland? One of my grad school friends used to work and live here early in his career and recommended I visit.

But when I arrived I found out for myself some of what makes Lucerne so special. It is centrally located within Switzerland so Lucerne day trips are easy.

Lucerne itself is also charming and offers stunning city, lake and mountain views. Between this trifecta, Lucerne has something to offer everyone. 

Is Lucerne worth visiting in winter?

Short answer — yes. Lucerne’s central location within Switzerland makes it a beautiful, scenic destination all year. Plus, visiting the destination in winter shoulder season means less crowds and more affordability when it comes to travel expenses like accommodations.

Does Lake Lucerne freeze in winter?

No, Lake Lucerne does not typically freeze in winter months because the temperature is not consistently below zero during Lucerne winter. In other words, it is not consistently cold enough in Lucerne for Lake Lucerne to freeze in winter.

Weather in Lucerne, Switzerland

Lucerne offers fairly comfortable weather year-round. While it was chilly and a bit foggy when I visited I also managed to get some clear-sky, sunny days.

Temperatures in Lucerne tend to not drop below the teens (Fahrenheit) which is a great sign from this Chicagoan! They also tend to not get higher than the mid-70s, on average.

When to visit Lucerne, Switzerland?

Lucerne is worth visiting in any season. Enjoy winter sports like skiing and snowshoeing in Lucerne in winter or go for carnival in February. Go hiking and take a lake cruise in spring.

Try venison and observe the changing tree colors in autumn. Go swimming in the lake or enjoy outdoor drinks in the  summer.

Where to stay in Lucerne, Switzerland in Winter?

hotel lucerne switzerland where to stay

You can’t go wrong by staying at a hotel near the main train station in Lucerne. I stayed at Hotel Waldstätterhof Lucerne  and adored my time there thanks to its perfect location, quiet rooms, terrific onsite restaurant and kind staff.

The location was unreal, close to surrounding markets, restaurants and activities. The daily breakfast was fantastic and it’s also worth having dinner here at least one night! 

Then there is the nearby train station itself. As a solo female traveler I am very mindful of the areas where I choose to stay. In many cities, I would avoid the area near a main train station. But in Lucerne this train station was one of the highlights.

The station itself houses great shopping and food stalls, and is very well connected underground for transport between the local streets. 

Alternatively, explore the best hotels in Lucerne with a view for an idyllic escape.

How to get around in Lucerne, Switzerland

It is very easy to get around Lucerne by foot or using public transportation. I mostly walked as it’s my favorite way to get to know a European city and a great way to take in all the sights. I also took a taxi once when needed, and used the bus/train system for a day trip. 

For easy access to public transportation within Lucerne you can buy a visitor card. For public transportation throughout Switzerland, check out the Swiss Travel Pass.

Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland in Winter Itinerary (2 Days in Lucerne)

Walk Through Wochenmarkt in Old Town

lucerne things to do Wochenmarkt

Every Tuesday and Saturday morning, right near the Chapel bridge, you’ll find bread, cheese, produce, flower vendors and more selling delights from their stands located on both sides of the bridge.

Wander freely through Wochenmakrt and let your senses guide you. What sight, sound, smell are you drawn to indulge in the most?

For me, it was a bread stand. I consistently saw a long line at one stand in particular called eigenbrötler so I walked right up and asked them to point me to their most popular item.

They had sold out of it, of course. It was their sourdough. They instead guided me toward a small loaf of chestnut bread and it was exactly the snack I needed! 

Wochenmarkt lucerne

If you wander up into the Lucerne Old Town area you’ll find yourself in one of Lucerne’s shopping districts. I spent some time stepping in and out of shops and bought a warm headband to protect my ears from the winter chill in the air.

Admire the Jesuit Church

While you’re in Lucerne’s Old Town, stop to admire the Jesuit Church. You can’t miss it, and it’s the first large Baroque church north of the Alps in Switzerland.

Take a Lunch Boat Cruise on Lake Lucerne 

lake lucerne lunch cruise Vierwaldstaettersee Want an activity that’s great for couples, solo travelers and groups of friends? Try a lunch cruise on beautiful Lake Lucerne.

With Vierwaldstaettersee you can experience sweeping views of the Alpine landscape as you enjoy a relaxing, white tablecloth meal on the upper deck (the lower deck is for commuters). Step out onto the back deck for photos between courses, too!

lake lucerne boat cruise
Pier 1, board here

If you’re a solo traveler who is not comfortable eating alone in a restaurant then this experience is for you. As a solo traveler I did not feel out of place at all as I enjoyed my meal with the views during this experience.

You can book this experience here. Whether you’re celebrating something special or simply looking to add a special moment into your daily life, I can recommend this Lake Lucerne cruise for lunch! 

things to do in lucerne lunch lake cruise (1)

Explore the Swiss Museum of Transport 

I’m not usually a museum person, but visiting this one was definitely on my list of activities to not miss while in Lucerne — especially once I heard about its Swiss Chocolate Adventure! And I’m not alone — Verkehrshaus der Schweiz is Switzerland’s most visited museum.

lucerne swiss museum of transport

I recommend you book a full day pass, which includes the Swiss Chocolate Adventure mentioned below!

What makes the Swiss Museum of Transport so well-loved is in large part how interactive and fun it is. Every exhibit, from locomotive to outer space, offers opportunities for play-centered learning.

You’ll find virtual reality simulations as well as actual rides to enjoy. One could easily spend a full day here without getting bored. 

Sample Swiss Chocolate

Don’t miss the Swiss Chocolate Adventure ride in the Museum of Transport. We all know to love Swiss chocolate. But Switzerland doesn’t have the climate to grow cocoa, so how is their chocolate-making wizardry possible?

Without solid transportation systems in place, it wouldn’t be. Switzerland imports heavily from Ghana, and you’ll learn more about this through the Swiss Chocolate Adventure at the museum. 

Tip: an insider at the museum advised me to sit in the front row for this adventure so I now pass this recommendation on to you. Trust me.

I was almost seated as the third wheel in the second row with another couple! Thankfully I asked for my own pod so that I could sit in the front row, as advised.

Take a Guided Walking Tour 

There are three perspectives of Lucerne you should plan to experience — by lake, by city and by the mountains. With the lunch cruise on Lake Lucerne you’ve achieved the lake perspective. To get a solid grasp of the city itself, sign up for a walking tour with a local guide.

The city of Lucerne offers walking tours you can book here. My guide, Ursula, was wonderful. She helped me gain a much better understanding of the city of Lucerne, as well as the country of Switzerland as a whole, than I would have been able to achieve walking through the city on my own. 

lucerne walking tour

Together, we weaved in and around the runners in the Swiss marathon that happened to be taking place that day to access various areas of the Lucerne Old Town. I learned so much from Ursula, including: 

  • The country’s 4 national languages and where each prevails 
  • The history of the famous chain bridge (or rather, bridges)
  • How religious faith has evolved in recent years within Switzerland and Europe 
  • How Swiss work culture differs between Lucerne and Zurich
  • That nearby Mt Titlis has been the site of many Bollywood movie scenes
  • How COVID affected the Swiss watch industry 
  • That there is a 5th season in Lucerne — Carnival

If you want to gain a better understanding of any city you visit, nothing competes with a walking tour with a local.

Walk Through Chapel Bridge

Part of the walking tour took me through the historic Chapel Bridge in Lucerne. This is Lucerne’s most photographed landmark and definitely worth a closer look.

As you walk across Chapel bridge be sure to look up! The panels in the roof have paintings that depict the history of the city of Lucerne.

Ascend Mount Pilatus on the Steepest Cogwheel Railway in the World 

mount pilatus cogwheel lucerne switzerland

There are two cogwheel railways near Lucerne — one that ascends Mount Pilatus (the steepest) and one that ascends Mount Rigi (the oldest). Both are worthwhile from what I hear but Mount Pilatus was on my itinerary this visit.

You can either visit Mount Pilatus as a day trip, or choose to stay at one of the hotels at the top of the mountain for a bit. If I had had more time this trip, I would have loved to stay at the top to be able to experience the mountain while it’s quieter and to take in sunset views or even stargaze. If you have this option, take it! 

Check out Hotel Pilatus-Kulm or Burgenstock Hotels & Resort – Palace Hotel to book an enchanting experience!

Instead, this trip I visited as a partial day trip for the afternoon. If you’re like me and prefer a quieter scene, I recommend visiting as early as you can in the morning or later in the evening. 

Book your tickets here if you’re taking this trip directly from Lucerne. If you’re visiting from Zurich to Lucerne and Mount Pilatus you can book this option. Or, to make an experience out of this trip, book the famous golden round trip.  

You can usually arrive from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus by taking a direct train from the main station in Lucerne. While I was visiting there was construction along the line so they had buses running to a transfer station instead.

I found that Google maps provided reliable and accurate guidelines to follow so it should be fairly easy to figure out your best route. 

To make it even easier, consider booking this Lucerne to Mt. Pilatus day trip and have all of this taken care of for you!

mount pilatus cogwheel lucerne day tripsOnce you arrive you can buy your tickets for the cogwheel railway. To get on the cable car itself for your ride up, be prepared to wait in line (it was about an hour wait for me in the early afternoon, but likely less in the early morning or later in the evening).

Also prepare for a 30-min cogwheel railcar ride each way. Bring snacks if you’ll need them! If you’re also a solo traveler, consider bringing headphones and a downloaded podcast or audio book to pass the time. 

When it’s your turn to board, try to get a window seat so you can take photos and soak in the views as you ascend / descend — there are some spectacular vistas along the way. 

Once at the top, you can choose your own adventure. There are plenty of hiking trails to follow and different angles of views to take in. Or, you could find a place to grab a drink or bite to eat and sit to enjoy the view. In one area, there were even lounge chairs set up to soak in sun while taking in valley views. 

A word of awareness: the birds at the top are quite…friendly. They don’t scatter away from people as you might expect. Instead they fly slow and close and I saw them land on people’s heads multiple times! That was a big ‘no thank you’ for me but others were enjoying playing with them. Either way, you now know what to expect! 

Visit a Christmas Market

If you’re visiting Lucerne in winter don’t miss out on wandering through its beautiful Christmas markets! You can see a list of the markets, their locations and dates of operation here.

Enjoy the Lucerne Light Festival

One thing that makes winters tough in cold weather destinations is that all the holiday lights come down at the end of the year, leaving a couple brutal and dreary months to go!

I love that when you visit Lucerne in winter in January you can still take advantage of the holiday spirit. Lucerne in January means a chance to experience this beautiful light festival.

Where to Eat in Lucerne in Winter

Now you have a pretty good sense of how to plan your itinerary for activities when visiting Lucerne, but what about planning where to eat?

There are plenty of great food options awaiting you in Lucerne, and some traditional dishes you’ll want to be sure not to miss. Here are some restaurants in Lucerne, Switzerland to add to your itinerary: 

Restaurant Waldstätterhof

restaurants in lucerne switzerland zuri

In my opinion, one of the best restaurants in Lucerne was right under my nose at the hotel I was staying at. One evening, after a full day of exploration, I decided to stay close to home for dinner before an early bedtime.

I walked in, asked the waiter to recommend a traditional dish and proceeded to have one of the most fulfilling meals of my trip. I had a dish known as Züri gschnätzlets which is actually a traditional Zurich dish of thinly sliced veal in a cream sauce with mushrooms and crispy grated potato. It was divine. 

Restaurant Fritschi

Of course, you can’t go to Switzerland without trying the fondue there. I was warmly welcomed at Restaurant Fritschi despite the fact that they didn’t register the reservation I had made through Google maps.

They sat me at a lovely table and I took in my surroundings — plenty of quirky decor.

restaurants in lucerne

It wasn’t until I went on my walking tour the next day that I realized I had been dining in a historic carnival building! The decor then made sense. Here, I enjoyed fondue for one.

Later I also learned that it’s typical to enjoy fondue outdoors since the strong smell of the cheese can otherwise get in your hair / clothes as well as those around you! Oops. 

food in lucerne fondue


best restaurants in lucerne pfistern

While I myself did not eat here this trip, I took many pictures of this beautiful outdoor fondue space right on the river. It seems to be pretty well reviewed as well. Definitely an experience to consider during your visit for traditional food in Lucerne. 

Mount Pilatus Cafeteria 

Of course, you can’t take a day trip without stopping for food. There are several options at the top of Mount Pilatus and I went for the cafeteria on the upper level.

I decided to try something new and unique — Alpine macaroni. What is it? Swiss macaroni-and-cheese complete with cubed potatoes, fried onions and applesauce. Would you try this mix? I definitely recommend it!

food in lucerne alpine macaroni swiss

So, have you booked your visit to Lucerne yet? 

Lucerne in Winter Activities and Tours

Looking for even more ideas of things to do in Lucerne in winter and within the Lake Lucerne region? Explore all the Lucerne activities available to you in the realm of food and drink, day trips, cultural experiences and more here:

Conclusion: Things to do in Lucerne in Winter

There you have it! Whether you have 2 days in Lucerne or longer, visiting Lucerne in winter is worth it and you’ll find plenty to do, see, eat and enjoy when you visit Lucerne in winter!

Disclaimer: Thank you to Luzern Tourismus for sponsoring this post. As always all opinions, desires to uproot my life and move to this wonderful city, and other awe-inspired commentary are entirely my own. 

Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland Lake Lucerne Switzerland Winter and Beyond (1)

Best Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland in Winter

Lucerne Switzerland things to do