How to Make the Most of a Long Winter Weekend in and Around Lucerne Switzerland

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Alpine Houses
Many people would see a business trip to Zurich in the middle of winter as an inconvenience; hibernating in the hotel and only emerging into the cold to make the dash to the office and back again. I saw it as an opportunity. The mountains for which Switzerland is famous are less than an hour away. We took the opportunity to do a weekend break in Lucerne (about an hour by train from Zurich). Of course, I paid for the personal part of the trip myself and added on one vacation day, but still, the plane ticket was paid for. A subsidized weekend in the Swiss Alps was just what the doctor ordered after a busy week at work! In this post, I'll cover some of the sights in and around Lucerne that made our 3 day weekend memorable.

The Chapel Bridge

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - The Chapel Bridge
Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) is the single most iconic site in Lucerne. The bridge was originally built in the 1300s as part of the city's defenses. A number of paintings from the 17th century line the interior. Many were destroyed in a fire back in 1993 but the restored paintings are still very atmospheric. Kapellbrücke is the world's oldest covered bridge and oldest remaining Truss bridge.
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - The Chapel Bridge

Fantastic Fountains

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Colorful Fountain

Wandering around town, we were struck by the beauty of Lucerne. This was especially typified by the colorful fountains dotted along the streets.

Fabulous Facades

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Whimsical Facade

The facades in the old town were quite atmospheric as well. Many were colorfully painted and whimsical.

A Roof with a View

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Rooftop View from Manor

Manor department store features several levels of shopping. More importantly, however, there is a cafeteria style restaurant on the top floor from which you can get out onto a rooftop terrace for sweeping views over Old Town and Lake Lucerne.

The Weeping Lion

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Weeping Lion Memorial

The weeping lion war memorial was an unusual monument considering that Switzerland is known for its neutrality. In days of old, Swiss soldiers sometimes served as mercenaries. In this case, those mercenaries served in the royal household of Louis XVI and were killed during the French Revolution. Regardless of the historical context, this slain lion carved from the rock is a stunning display.

Lakeside Walk

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Coots on Lake Lucerne

The centerpiece of Lucerne is its lake. A lovely paved path meanders along Lake Lucerne. We spotted plenty of birds (there seemed to be a coot storm while we were there) with a picturesque backdrop of the Alps. 

Warm Up with a Bottle of Swiss Wine

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Swiss Wine

We visited in February so that walk along Lake Lucerne was cold. After walking for about an hour, we definitely felt the need to warm up and stopped by a Swiss supermarket for a bottle of Swiss Pinot Noir. Switzerland is not as well known for wine as some of its neighbors (e.g., France, Germany, Italy) but there is no finer way to warm up than with a glass or two of the local offering. Switzerland has a reputation for being outrageously expensive but there were plenty of wines for less than 10 CHF (about $10 at the time of writing). That's cheaper than we can typically get a bottle of wine for in Dublin!

Listen to the Water Flow over the Locks

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Lucerne Locks over the River Reuss

Lake Lucerne flows into the Reuss River in the middle of town. There is a second covered bridge a bit further on from the Kapellbrücke. It's a great spot to stand and listen to the water flow over the locks. The Reuss River is also home to an old-fashioned needle dam where slats of wood are inserted or removed to regulate the flow of water. The sound of rushing water is simply very zen. 

Invest in a Tell-Pass (or aim to get one for free)

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Panoramic Gondola

It's all about transportation in Switzerland, expensive transportation! We took the train from Zurich to Lucerne which was easy enough but once we got to Lucerne we really wanted to explore the various mountain communities and resorts nearby.

Each train, bus, cable car, and funicular has its own ticket which can be quite expensive. A one way ticket from Engelberg to Mt. Titlis is 63 CHF! Of course, that's not the only place we wanted to visit so you can see that the prices were likely to add up fast. The Tell-Pass is priced at 170 CHF for 2 days of unlimited travel on trains, buses, boats and aerial cableways across the Lake Lucerne Region. 170 CHF is still pretty expensive. However, the city was running a promotion when we were in town. Certain hotels were sponsoring Tell-Passes for their guests.

We stayed at Cascada Hotel, a lovely boutique accommodation centrally located near the train station in Lucerne. As part of our 3 night stay, a 2 day Tell-Pass was included for free. Definitely check for these sorts of deals if you do visit the region. The Tell-Pass made many of the experiences that I'll share next that much easier to access.

Cruise Lake Lucerne

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Cruising Lake Lucerne

We activated our Tell-Pass and hopped on a cruise of Lake Lucerne. The temperatures were near freezing and the skies were gray but that didn't stop me from sitting outside and drinking in the lovely alpine scenery.

Mind the Goldilocks Effect on Mount Rigi

Our lake cruise dropped us off at Vitznau where we transferred seamlessly to the alpine train headed for Rigi Kulm (aka the top of the mountain!). As we slowly made our way up the mountain with visions of snowshoeing and sledging running through our minds, we noticed that the weather seemed to be shifting. By the time we got to the top, it was snowing hard, like painfully hard. The wind was blowing like crazy and there was simply no way we could do any activities. After stopping for a brief lunch inside the cafeteria at the hotel on the top of the mountain, we retreated on the next train down the mountain.
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Storm on Top of Mount Rigi

That's when I had a revelation! These mountains are subject to a Goldilocks effect due to the altitude. As we descended, the skies cleared and the winds calmed. By the time we got to Rigi Kaltbad, the weather seemed 'just right' so we hopped off the train for a short hike. We admired the scenery, had a bit of a snowball fight and even made a snow angel. Perfection!
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Snow Angel Rigi Kaltbad
From Rigi Kaltbad, we descended via Gondola to Weggis to experience the opposite end of the Goldilocks spectrum. It was warm and rainy at the bottom as we waited for the ferry to take us back to Lucerne.
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Weggis Ferry Dock

Cordon Bleu Interlude

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Cordon Bleu

After a long day of exploring, we decided that our dinner should also be just right and took time for a cordon bleu interlude at Restaurant Unterlachenhof. The cordon bleu was cooked to perfection and paired perfectly with frosty mug of Eichhof beer.

Hang on by a Thread on Mount Pilatus

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Cable Car to Mount Pilatus
We resumed our alpine adventures on Day 2 of our Tell-Pass. We started the day early and were on the cable car to Mount Pilatus before 10 am. I watched in a combination of awe and trepidation as we slow made our way up the mountain in a small chamber connected only by what felt like a small thread.
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - View from the Mount Pilatus Gondola
Up, up, and away! Again, Pilatus also suffered a bit from the Goldilocks effect. It wasn't snowing today, but the weather at the top of Mt. Pilatus featured forceful winds and a bone chilling cold. We didn't stay long but instead went about halfway down the mountain for a more palatable temperature and hike.
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - View of the Gondola and Lake Lucerne on Mount Pilatus

Take the Train to Titlis

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Engelberg train station
Taking full advantage of our Tell-Pass, we took the train from Lucerne to Engelberg. The journey itself was stunning because the sun had finally come out in all its glory revealing snow capped peaks against a pristine blue sky. Today was our day!

Slip and Slide on a Sledge

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Riding a sledge on Mount Titlis
We spent the rest of the day exploring the sights on Mount Titlis. The mountain features a series of cable cars and gondolas that culminate at the top of the mountain. We're not skiers but wanted to partake in some snow sports on our trip. Included in the price of admission (in our case covered by the Tell-Pass), we got free use of sledges and tubes to sled down a small slope. So much fun! There is even a little escalator to take folks back to the top for another go.

Go to the Top of Mount Titlis

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Frozen map on top of Mt. Titlis

When we visited, The peak of Mt. Titlis was simply frigid as you can see from the ice crystallized on this map of the mountain. We were seriously impressed by the hard core (and highly skilled!) skiers who were planning to ski their way down the entire mountain. Since we are most definitely not skilled skiers, we came up to the top to check out the scenery instead. We had to wait about 15-20 minutes to get onto the rotating panoramic gondola and also had to take another harrowing ride in a tiny cable car (including a 5 minute 'pause' in the ride while buffeted about by a strong wind) to get to the top. However, it was totally worth it. Just look at these amazing alpine views!
Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Alpine Views from Mount Titlis

Conquer Vertigo on the Suspension Bridge

Long Winter Weekend Lucerne Switzerland - Cliff Walk Suspension Bridge on Mount Titlis
We also checked out the Cliff Walk, the highest suspension bridge in the world. I don't like heights and the bridge is buffeted about quite a bit in the wind. Still, I managed to walk about halfway out onto the bridge before turning back. The landscape out here is absolutely stunning!

Yodel with the Locals

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped at one of the chalets for a beer. We soon heard music wafting over to the bar and so we picked up our glasses and staked out a table to have a closer look. What a way to end our fantastic long weeked in Lucerne; with a bit of yodeling and other traditional tunes from what appeared to be a family band. I'll leave you with this video...

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Sidewalk Safari: How to Make the Most of a Long Winter Weekend in and Around Lucerne Switzerland
How to Make the Most of a Long Winter Weekend in and Around Lucerne Switzerland
Learn more about things to see and do in and around Lucerne, Switzerland on a long winter weekend break. Written by travel photoblogger Jennifer (aka Dr. J) from Sidewalk Safari.
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