On a last minute whim (honestly, just because we happened to wake up at 6am in Basel and had no solid plans), we decided to take a day-trip to Lucerne. It was the best last minute decision we’ve ever made and hands-down, Lake Lucerne is one of the most beautiful relaxation spots in Europe!
Lucerne is a small city located in the centre of Switzerland surrounded by the Swiss Alps. Although we didn’t have time to take a trip to the famous Mount Pilatus, we did manage to fit in several of the major sights including the Chapel Bridge, Lion Monument and Glacier Garden, we even managed to squeeze in a (slightly traumatic – more on that later!) peddle boat ride.
We’ll be honest, it was a pretty pricey trip, but that’s what you have to expect in Switzerland – rated the most expensive country in the world. It doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to save money, but we considered the experience to be well worth the cost.
Here’s our top 5 tips for making the most of your time in Lucerne:
1) Arrive early
This is an obvious one if you want to make the most of your time. But, what we really mean is: get there before it gets seriously busy!
Lucerne is a very popular tourist attraction and rightly so. We visited just after the first wave of the Coronavirus (August 2020) and it was still super busy! So make sure you arrive before the crowds to get some beautiful views, especially of Chapel Bridge, which can get extremely crowded.
2) Don’t try to do everything!
We’ve travelled with lots of different types of people in our lives, and we have both agreed that the worst kind of trip is where someone wants to rush from one major sight to the next just to take a picture and tick it off their to-see list. What enjoyment will this bring other than the comments of ‘wow, you saw a lot on your trip’ from unsuspecting friends, or even worse, strangers on the internet? (we joke).
However, the best thing to do is SLOW DOWN. Choose carefully; if you have time to plan. If not, choose quickly and just go for it. There is no point living with regrets. Choose what you think you will enjoy most and dedicate time to it, rather than having the same experience of a city that you could get from looking up pictures on Google images!
We knew we wouldn’t have enough time to enjoy Mount Pilatus, so we decided not to go. Do we regret it? Not at all! Switzerland isn’t going anywhere, if it mattered that much, we can always come back! However, if you have more time in Lucerne, we would recommend that you definitely dedicate a day to the Mount Pilatus.
3) Plan your route carefully around the city
It doesn’t take a lot of time to do and it can certainly save you a lot of wandering and wasted time if you have to stick to time constraints.
We suggest doing a quick google search of the things you’d like to see. Once you’ve made a quick list, use google maps to figure out what is where and the most logical route around to your destinations. Make sure to quickly check relevant websites for opening times and entrance fees. We managed to sort our entire trip on the hour long train journey from Basel to Lucerne.
To save you time, we have included our route below:
The train station opens up straight onto the beautiful lake Lucerne. Of course, this is where Chapel Bridge is located so it made sense to see that first.
We had checked the walking time between here and our next destination; the Lion Monument (11 minutes). We walked through the beautiful backstreets of Lucerne and picked up some fresh fruit from a street vendor to add to out picnic lunch that we planned to have at the Monument.
We arrived at the monument, which turned out was way too busy to peacefully settle down and eat lunch at, so we went straight to the Glacier Garden (Lloyd’s request) as it is located right next to the Monument.
Note: there is a co-op very near to the monument if you want to pick up some bits for lunch. We fancied an easy light lunch so got some fresh giant cous-cous to go with our fruit. Also, we were running out of money at this point and couldn’t afford a restaurant meal!
We ended up eating back at the lake as it was much less crowded. Whilst we were there, we spotted pedalo boats for hire. We had enough time left before our return train so decided to hire one for a couple of hours.
We always like to leave a couple of hours totally free during any trip. This allows for two things: one – any mishaps, e.g. getting lost, waiting in long queues etc., and two – time to do something unexpected. We had no idea about the pedalo boats and we were so glad that we had the time to rent one (Lloyd less so once we actually went on it!).
4) Make the most of your time spent in transit
We love the journey, often as much as the destination itself. The train we took from Basel to Lucerne has some spectacular views of the luscious green countryside and crystal blue lakes.
Other than making the most of the time by staring out the window and taking in the beauty of the trip, you can also use this time to plan, as mentioned in point 3.
Note: be super careful about the ticket you buy!! We had a massive hole in our pockets after buying two tickets we hadn’t realised were for a dedicated time and had to re-purchase tickets once on the actual train. The conductors are on it! Be careful!
5) Take time to speak to the locals
You will save an unbelievable amount of time by simply speaking to people! If you need directions, advice, any sort of help, don’t be afraid to communicate with people.
We have never actually come across someone who is not happy to help and more often than not, people go above and beyond, going completely out of their way to show us the right route to take or with suggesting places to eat and new foods to try! You will be amazed how much you will learn.
You will find that there might be a language barrier as German is most commonly spoken, followed by French. However, people are so keen to help, so be open minded and don’t give up if the first person you ask can’t help due to the language barrier.
In our honest experience, we have found asking random people on the street to be a much more delightful experience than asking people who are actually paid to provide information for help.
For example, we could barely get two words out of the boat attendant who sold us our tickets but luckily we managed to find out the best places to stop and swim from other people who were returning their boats.
So… what the hell happened on that boat trip?
Click here to read…