Visiting Lucerne Switzerland With a Small Dog!
There are few towns more idyllic and picturesque than Lucerne – or as the locals and Mom call it, Luzern (German). I have seen lots of places and, honestly, few pack the punch that this little town does. And never have I had so much to write about such a small area. I actually found the task of writing this post a little daunting. I had the same trepidation I feel when writing about mega-cities like Paris, Rome, or Zurich.
But, I took a deep breath, wiped my paws on the floor to ground myself, and closed my eyes. I coaxed up my memory of the day and revisited in chronological order what we did and saw along the way. Having already organized our photos of our visit certainly helped jog my memory when it failed me.
So this is how our day in Luzern went.
Dad and I were chillin’ about this visit because we had Mom as a private guide. She did one of her work trainings for her Hotel Management and Tourism degree in Luzern, so had lived in Luzern for 5 months. Still, that was over 20 years ago, so when we got off at the train station (conveniently near the lake and the old town), we did what we always do and stopped at the tourist desk and grabbed a booklet with a walking tour and map.
Switzerland is very good at these self-guided walking tours; I highly recommend them as a way to get your bearings if staying anywhere in the country. Our map even indicated where to find public washrooms – something I noticed the bipeds appreciated. (Oh, how lucky am I only to need a patch of grass and even in public at that!)
If you are more of a techy type, then you’ll be happy to know that Luzern has a free city guide app! This handy, offline city guide provides you with the most useful information about the town. You can download it on either iPhone of Android; just go to www.luzern.com/cityguide or the App store.
Once we were set, we stepped out of the train station, crossed the “drop-off-pick-up” street at the front of the station, and wandered under a great gate to Lake Lucerne. The lake is called “Vierwaldstättersee” in German, meaning “Four Forested-Cantons Lake.” Lake Lucerne is surrounded by four Swiss cantons or states.
It was grey and overcast that day (in the morning), so we didn’t follow the promenade that would take us to a dock for boat tours or to the casino or a grand hotel with terrace providing views of the lake and surrounding mountains. Instead, we followed the map’s directions and turned left towards the very famous wooden bridge known as the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge).
The Kapellbrücke is a covered wooden pedestrian bridge that crosses the Reuss River diagonally rather than straight across. Built in 1333, the bridge is named after the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel. Or it’s named for the tiny chapel at the bridge’s center point. No one could give us a straight answer.
In addition to crossing the river on an angle, the bridge is also unique because it contains a number of interior paintings. The paintings date back to the 17th century. Sadly, many of them were destroyed along with most of the centuries-old bridge in a 1993 fire.
The bridge was restored at great cost, and today, the Kapellbrücke remains the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe. It is also the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.
The bridge serves as the city’s symbol and is one of the country’s main tourist attractions so expect a crowd. The good news is that it is free to walk across the bridge and the bridge is, of course, pet friendly.
Be sure to have your camera. The bridge is beautiful with overflowing geraniums and a dark patina. You’ll want to photograph it. Trust me. The white swans that swim below the bridge just seem to add to its already overflowing charm.
The Kapellbrücke includes an octagonal 43 meters (140 feet) tall Wasserturm (water tower) as part of the bridge complex. The tower is not, however, a water tower in the usual sense. Rather, the name comes from the fact that the tower is standing in the water.
Interestingly, the tower predates the bridge by about 30 years. Throughout the centuries, the tower has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later as a municipal archive. I find that last bit amusing: a wood structure over water does not seem like a good idea for archiving. Although one could say that having to dig around in a municipal archive is another form of torture. In any event, other than the ground floor being a tourist shop, the tower is now closed to the public.
Once across the bridge, you’ll find yourself in the Altstadt (Old Town) with all of its amazing painted houses. People started painting the facades of their houses in the 17th century to show wealth. It certainly makes for an eye-pleasing environment. The area is compact, relatively flat, and easily walkable. The majority of the streets are pedestrian-only, making the stroll even more enjoyable. There are also several small squares, which, historically, were stops on trading routes through the Alps.
The Pfistern Zunfthaus (Guildhall) is located in the Kornmarkt (corn market). We stood and gazed at the beautiful fresco on the front of this building. The fresco is the Pfistern family tree. On the branches are local coats of arms of various families who lived in the city. It is an amazing piece of work.
The former Guild Hall, now a restaurant serving Swiss specialties, and the Rathaus (City Hall) are also in the Old Town. From what I could dig up, the first Rathaus was in the Fischmarkt (fish market) but folks wanted a place a little less “odorous,” so in 1447, the Rathaus was moved to its current location.
Oh, and I want to point out that in addition to sporting amazing and varied frescos, homes in the Old Town also offer a stunning collection of oriel-style windows. They were a real must-have at one time and were often added onto much older buildings, causing an occasionally disjointed look. And while looking up, see if you can spot the few remaining small statues on street corners.
Heading back towards the lake, we followed our map to the famous Lion of Luzern. Along the way we stopped at the lovely Stiftskirche (a.k.a. St. Leodegar Hofkirche). I had a BLAST running up the stairs that lead to the impressive front doors. I was allowed off leash for this and relished that freedom.
St. Leodegar is the most important church and a landmark in the city. It was built between 1633 and 1639 on the foundation of the Roman basilica, which had burnt down. This church is one of the few built north of the Alps during the Thirty Years War and is one of the largest churches of the German late Renaissance period. I was snuck in (again) and as I looked about from the safety of my sling bag (no one seemed to mind – honest!), I was struck by one single thing: the church is certainly very white. With no fancy paintings or frescos inside, it could come across as stark. But you know what, Dear Reader? Instead, the white, simple interior gives you a sense of lightness that is rather pleasant.
But onwards we had to go and so we did. After one false turn, we finally made it to the famous Lion. No dogs are allowed in the area around the Lion and his private park and man-made lake. So I was quickly popped back into the sling bag and snuck in. Once again, no one seemed to mind.
The Lion of Luzern is a sculpture designed by Bertel Thorvaldsen and hewn by Lukas Ahorn in 1821 from the rocky hillside. The Lion commemorates the Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution when revolutionaries stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris. Mark Twain praised the sculpture of the mortally-wounded lion as “the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world.” I have to agree. You could just … cry.
To the left of the Lion, you (but not your canine) can visit the Glacier Park. The entrance, a traditional Swiss Chalet, is hard to miss. And if museums are really your thing, then as you retrace your steps for a bit to continue your walking tour, you may want to pop in to see the Bourbaki Panorama. It’s a huge circular painting from 1881 illustrating events in Swiss history. Created by Edouard Castres, it is about 10 meters in height and 112 meters long. Sadly, canines are not allowed inside so a hand-off approach will be needed.
Where canines are welcome is on the Musegg walls! The city does not have a castle, Dear Reader, but it DOES have city ramparts complete with towers! Our little map clearly marked which tower gave access, so off we went! The stairway is crazy narrow so I was kept in my sling bag for this. And once on top, after stretching my legs a little, Dad noticed that although the railing would certainly keep humans safe, I could easily fit below. So he scooped me up and we had a “dad and son” moment while we walked the wall.
The wall was built in 1386 to protect the city from attack from the northwest after defeating the Habsburg Duke Leopold III in the Battle of Sempach for the independence of the old Swiss Confederation.
The rampart walls are almost fully intact with nine stone towers looking out over the Old Town and the lake. Three of the towers can be climbed for incredible views, and quite remarkably, although the Old Town crowds up below the city side of the wall, behind it is open green parkland complete with shaggy cows. It’s as if the city just stops at the wall.
The three towers that are accessible are:
- The Schirmer Tower at the top of the hill with a gate through the wall to the park beyond.
- The Zyt Tower (Time Tower), which gets its name from the clock designed by local glockmeister (clock master) Hans Luter, added in 1535 with a face and hands large enough for boatmen to spot from the lake and a chime which still rings one minute before all the other clocks in the city.
- The Mannli Tower (Little Man Tower) is named for the little iron man who stands atop.
The Luzern Musegg Wall and Towers are free to explore. They are open from May to October, so we were immensely lucky to arrive a week before they closed until spring.
Back near the Reuss, Dad made use of the public washrooms there (thanks to that handy map) before we crossed the river to visit the other more “modern” side.
Following the handy pedestrian orientation signs (yes, they are that organized) we made our way to the Ritterscher Palast and the hard-to-miss, twin-spired Jesuitenkirche (Church of the Jesuits). We quietly opened the big door, and practically on tip toes since there was an ongoing mass, we took in the … the … PINK!
There isn’t a ton of information about this Church, likely because it is a relatively young church, constructed in 1666 by Father Christoph Vogler. Its claim to fame is that it is the first large Baroque church built in Switzerland. The vault was decorated in the mid-18th century and the vestments of Brother Klaus, a famous Swiss patron, are in the inner chapel. But nowhere could I find out why the Church frescoes are … pink. Not that I have anything against pink. It just seems like an odd choice.
After all this walking we needed to sit and have a little snack. We crossed another bridge back into the pedestrian Old Town, found a massive patio, and settled in for some wonderful treats. Dad had a coffee and Mom a herbal tea, and they shared a massive bowl of Vermicelli—a very Swiss dessert of chestnut cream made to look like pasta, soaked in Kirsch, and sitting on a meringue. If that wasn’t enough of an indulgence, it was followed by a shared traditional Berliner. This fluffy pastry looks similar to a doughnut only without the hole and is filled with yummy strawberry jam. (There are also other non-traditional options.)
And then we returned to the train station, hopped on our perfectly-on-time-to-the-second train and headed back to Zurich where we enjoyed an evening meal of raclette at our B&B. Life, Freunde, is good.
In review: Luzern is a little town conjured into existence with pixie dust and magic. No. Not really, but it certainly feels that way! Everywhere you look, there is something beautiful to take in: the Old Town and its painted houses, the bridges, the tragic Lion, and the city’s magnificent setting and backdrop—a gorgeous lake and monumental mountains. Luzern will have you grinning ear to ear by the end of your visit. It’s a gem with a LOT to offer human and canine visitors alike. For LOTS of photos visit my FB page album here!