Julie Switzerland 37 Comments

Lucerne (also spelled Luzern) is a gorgeous Swiss city that sits at the foot of the Alps. This is the perfect kind of town to explore in one day. The city center is compact with just a few key places to visit. The best things to do are to wander the old town, eat, drink, shop, and enjoy the views of the lake. With one day in  Lucerne, you also have enough time to ride the cableway up to Mt. Pilatus for stunning views of Lucerne and the Swiss Alps.

One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

For the best experience, plan to visit Mt. Pilatus in the morning and then tour the city of Lucerne during the afternoon and evening.

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (best things to do, restaurants, hotel recommendations). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

Mt. Pilatus

Mt. Pilatus is a jagged mountain that overlooks Lucerne. Cable cars and a cogwheel railway whisk visitors to the top, where you can go hiking, ride Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan, and take in the view from a handful of viewpoints. There is so much to do on Pilatus that you can spend a full day here but for this itinerary, plan on leaving by 2 or 3 pm so you still have time to explore Lucerne.

There are four options to get to the top of Mt. Pilatus: by hiking, by cableway, by cogwheel railway, or by a round trip ride on the cogwheel train, cableway, and boat.

Cableway

From Kriens, ride a series of two panoramic gondolas and a cableway to get to the top of Mt. Pilatus. Along the way, you will pass through two mountain stations. At the first station, Krienseregg, there is a small ropes course perfect for young children.

At Fräkmüntegg, the second station, you can walk on a more advanced ropes course (perfect for adults and older kids) or ride Fräkigaudi, the longest toboggan run in Switzerland.

Mt Pilatus Ropes Course

We rode the toboggan and it’s awesome! At 1,350 meters in length, it’s a long ride to the bottom. As you are towed back to the top of the run, enjoy the mountain scenery and drift past the nearby cows, munching on grass, their bells creating a sort of alpine music that just seems so…Swiss!

Photography is not permitted on the toboggan, so I don’t have photos to share, but this is worth it if you are looking for a short thrill ride.

We did this in the early afternoon and waited in line for about a half an hour for our turn. Children 8 and younger must ride with an adult.

Cost: Adults CHF 9, Children 6 to 16 CHF 7

From Fräkmüntegg, you will take the cableway to the top of Mt. Pilatus (Pilatus Kulm). This is called the Dragon Ride, since you get the sensation that you are flying.

You can book tickets for the full round trip journey to the peak or only go as far as Fräkmüntegg if you like. However, it’s worth going to the very top of Pilatus if the weather is clear.

Cost: round trip from Kriens to Pilatus Kulm: adults CHF 72, children 6 to 16 CHF 36

Cogwheel Railway

This cogwheel railway is the steepest in the world. It takes 30 minutes to climb to the top of Pilatus with an average gradient of 48°. Wow!

You can combine the cogwheel railway and cable car route into one round trip journey. This is called the Silver Round Trip. You start at the Lucerne railway station, ride the cogwheel train to the peak, take the cableway and gondolas to Kriens, and then ride a bus back to the railway station. If you don’t have a car, this is perfect because your transportation to and from Lucerne is included in your ticket price.

Cost: adults CHF 85.20, children CHF 42.60

Golden Round Trip

The Golden Round Trip combines the cogwheel railway and cable cars with a boat trip on Lake Lucerne. The boat takes you from Lucerne to Alpnachstad where you will board the cogwheel railway. To get back to Lucerne, ride the cable cars to Kriens and then a short bus ride takes you back into the city.

Cost: adults CHF 103.60, children 6 to 16 years CHF 52.20

Hiking to the top of Mt. Pilatus

There are several hiking routes from Lucerne to the top of Mt. Pilatus. These are tiring, strenuous climbs. They sound spectacular, but if you want to have time (and energy) to tour Lucerne in the afternoon, your best bet is take the railway or cable cars.

What We Did

We rode the series of panoramic gondolas and cableway from Kriens round trip. We went directly to Pilatus Kulm, ate a quick lunch, did a short hike, and then rode the cable car down to Fräkmüntegg. After racing down the toboggan we took the gondola back to Kriens.

If we did it again, we would do the Silver Round Trip so that we could ride both the cogwheel railway and the cable car.

Hiking on Mt. Pilatus

Once you are on top of Mt. Pilatus, you have tons of options to fill your time. There are restaurants and hotels, so you can even spend the night here if you desire.

Clustered around the station are short, uphill climbs to several viewpoints. You could spend about an hour visiting these viewpoints if you want to see some spectacular views without expending a lot of energy.

We climbed up to Esel. From here, you can look down at Lucerne and out across the Alps. I’m a bit bummed that it was so cloudy at the top but sometimes that’s just the way it goes!

Bellevue Hotel Pilatus

The Esel viewpoint is the rocky prominence behind the Bellevue Hotel.

 

View from Esel

Mt Pilatus Switzerland

View from Esel Viewpoint | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

There are also some wonderful, short hikes you can do as well. Since you are already on a mountaintop, the elevation gain is minimal so these hikes are relatively easy.

Inside of the station, you can visit the information desk, get a copy of the map, and have one of the guides give you a quick run down of the hikes. Or, you can click here, to visit the official Pilatus website and read about all of the options.

Hiking to Tomlishorn on Mt. Pilatus

If you are looking for a short, scenic walk along the jagged peaks, this is a good one to do.

This short hike is really more of walk. Most of the trail is paved with asphalt. It’s only at the very end of the hike that you walk on a rough, rocky trail. There are a few short climbs and a series of steps but it’s not difficult. Allow about 40 minutes for this hike.

We really enjoyed this walk. Unfortunately, there was one clump of clouds that hung over Pilatus during our visit, so we didn’t get the spectacular views of the Alps we were hoping for, but even so, it was a very nice walk. My favorite part was hearing the ringing of the cow bells in the valley below.

On the Trail

Trail to Tomlishorn | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

 

Hiking Mt Pilatus

Pilatus Kulm

Looking back towards Pilatus Kulm from the trail | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

 

Tomlishorn Trail

Another view looking back along the trail.

 

Final Climb

The final climb up to the viewpoint.

 

Tomlishorn

More Information

For more information on visiting Mt. Pilatus, including updated pricing and hours of operation, visit the official website.

Switzerland Travel Guide

Best Things to do in Lucerne

Spend the afternoon and evening touring Lucerne. Most of the main sites are located in or near the Old Town.

Here are the best things to do with one day in Lucerne.

Wander the Old Town

Sitting along the Reuss River and the edge of Lake Lucerne is the old town. Medieval buildings rub shoulders with modern shops and restaurants.

Kornmarkt is the heart of the old town. This medieval square is where you can see the town hall and it’s tower.

If you like to visit churches, the best ones to visit are the Jesuit Church and the Church of St. Leodgar.

Church of St Leodgar

Luzern Tower

Kornmarkt

Lucerne old town | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

PRO TRAVEL TIP: Shops close surprisingly early so if shopping is on your list, you may need to finish up by 4 pm! We were here on a Saturday and most places closed between 4 and 5 pm. Many shops are closed on Sunday and they may only stay open as late as 6:30 pm on weekday nights.

Walk Across the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke)

Kapellbrücke is the largest wooden covered bridge in Europe. Dating back to the 17th century, this medieval bridge contains paintings that depict Lucerne’s history.

In 1993, the bridge almost completely burned down. Two-thirds of the interior paintings were destroyed in the fire.

Sitting next to the bridge is the Wasserturm, which was once used as a prison and torture chamber. The tower is not open to the public.

Kapellbrucke

Chapel Bridge | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

 

Chapel Bridge Artwork Lucerne

Lucerne Itinerary

Lucerne Old Town

View from Chapel Bridge | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

 

Lucerne Jesuit Church

Lake Lucerne

I think the views across Lake Lucerne are spectacular. A crystal clear lake with a backdrop of the Alps…this is a gorgeous setting for a city.

Lake Lucerne

Lake Lucerne | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

While standing on the edge of the lake I couldn’t help to think what a nice place this would be to call home.

You can simply ogle at the view, like we did, or rent one of the paddle boats if the weather is nice.

Walk along the Medieval Walls

Located on a hilltop just a short ways from the old town are the medieval walls and towers, also called Museggmauer.

To get here, it’s a short, uphill walk to get to the base of the walls, but it’s worth it. Once on top of the walls you are treated to a beautiful view of Lucerne.

Walking to the walls Lucerne

Muggemauer Lucerne

View from the Medieval Walls | One Day in Lucerne and Mt. Pilatus

You can also climb the towers for even higher views, but in many of the towers, the windows are blocked with a mesh grate or a glass that can make photography tricky.

The walls are free to visit.

Visit the Lion Monument

The Lion Monument is a carving of a lion in a sandstone quarry near the old town of Lucerne. On this list, this monument is the site located farthest from the city center. However, it’s only a 15-minute walk from the old town if you would like to see it.

Where to Eat

Here are some top picks for restaurants located within walking distance of the old town.

Stern Luzern. Mid-priced restaurant offering a modern twist on Swiss food.

Restaurant La Cucina. Consistently rated as one of the best Italian restaurants in town.

Bolero Restaurante. This Spanish restaurant serves the best paella in town.

Restaurant Olivo. Enjoy views of Lake Lucerne while you dine on French food and seafood at this upscale restaurant.

Khoua Vientiane. This Asian restaurant serves great food at budget prices.

Where to Stay in Lucerne

LUXURY: Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern. This family-run 5-star hotel is located right on Lake Lucerne in the old town. Each room is individually decorated according to an actor, writer, or musician who has stayed at the hotel.

UPSCALE: Seehotel Sternen. This property is located on Lake Lucerne but it is a 5-minute drive from the city center. However, the setting is gorgeous. If you like the idea of getting out of the city and staying in a quiet hotel with wonderful views of Lake Lucerne, this one is worth considering.

MID-RANGE: Hotel Anker Luzern. This hotel opened in 2016 so it is almost brand new. The rooms are beautifully decorated with a modern flair and some rooms offer balconies.

BUDGET: Hotel Restaurant Stern Luzern. Located in the old town, this conveniently located hotel offers rooms that can accommodate up to four people. And this is also the location of one of our restaurant recommendations, Stern Luzern.


Do you have questions about how to spend one day in Lucerne and add on the visit to Mount Pilatus? Let us know in the comment section below!

More Places to Go in Switzerland:

ZÜRICH: For things to do on a quick visit, check out our article One Day in Zürich. 

JUNGFRAU REGION OF THE BERNESE OBERLAND: What exactly is the Jungfrau region? Find out in our Guide to the Jungfrau Region, which includes maps and important travel planning information. We also have articles about the best things to do in the Jungfrau region as well as the top hikes in the Jungfrau region. Riding to cable car to Schilthorn and the Mürren Via Ferrata were two of our favorite experiences in this part of Switzerland.

JUNGFRAUJOCH OR SCHILTHORN: Jungfraujoch and Schilthorn are two high alpine excursions in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland. If you only have the time for one, which is better, Jungfraujoch or Schilthorn?

LAUSANNE: Lausanne is another beautiful Swiss city with lots of great things to do and it also is a great home base for day trips in the area, such as Gruyères and Montreux, Vevey, and Chateau de Chillon.

SWITZERLAND ITINERARY: If your visit to Zermatt is part of a bigger trip to Switzerland, check out our Switzerland Itinerary, which has suggestions on what to do if you have 7 days, 14 days, or even longer.

BEST OF ZERMATT: For more great things to do, read our article Best Things to Do in Zermatt.

Read all of our articles about Switzerland in our Switzerland Travel Guide.

You Might Also Like:

 

Lucerne and Pilatus One Day Itinerary

Switzerland Travel Lucerne Mt Pilatus

 

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Comments 37

  1. Avatar for Tina Davis
    Tina Davis

    We wasted about an hour trying to buy the silver package online, so I am posting this to save others the trouble. The only way we found to to this is to use the SBB app and enter Pilatus Kulm as your destination, including whichever location in Switzerland as your departure. It will sell you a round trip ticket using all of the modes of transport up the mountain that this article describes, other than the boat and went very smoothly for us all the way from Lausanne. The main downside is that it is very expensive, but the only way to save money is to buy some of the parts, such as the cogwheel train and use it in both directions.

  2. Avatar for Chester
    Chester

    Hi Julie,

    This is such an amazing read as always!
    Would it be possible to hike all the way from the bottom of Mt. Pilatus to the summit? (I wouldn’t consider myself an experienced hiker but I’m physically fit and do have good stamina, do hikes more than 1000m once every few months. Also, I’d be hiking alone.)

    Thank you!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      1. Avatar for Chester
        1. Avatar for Julie Post
          Author
          Julie

          That I don’t exactly know, since we didn’t do it. You might have to search around online a bit more to see if there is a hiking trail from the Kriens side. Cheers, Julie

  3. Avatar for Abir Michel
    Abir Michel

    Hi. I’m a lady from Egypt and I intend to visit Switzerland for 19 days. Can you please send me your e-book or 21 days itinerary for Switzerland as I will be travelling on my own for the first time to Switzerland after 2 weeks from now. What are the attractions that needs reservation prior my visit? Transportation, etc. Will appreciate helping me with most helpful details you can send.

    Thank you

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Hello Abir. Unfortunately, we do not have an eBook version of our Switzerland itinerary. You can save it as a PDf and print it to take with you (from your browswer, press CTRL+P or command+P to bring up the printer dialog box and from here you can save it). What needs to be reserved in advance really depends on what activities you plan to do, but the long scenic train rides should be reserved in advance and if you plan to visit Jungfraujoch, book your tickets 2 to 3 days in advance once you know the weather. Cheers, Julie

  4. Avatar for Kevin Chase
    Kevin Chase

    So grateful I found this post. We’re visiting in early August and I’m taking a copy of this and your One Day in Zurich, so Thank You. A question: we are thinking of staying at the Hotel Pilatus Kulm — would you recommend? Our plan is to spend a full day in Lucerne, overnite (perhaps at this hotel), and then do most of the next exploring the scenery in the Jungfrau. It seems like a great place to wake up at/explore, but seems like a trek to get there? Or maybe the trek is the point. Would love your thots. Cheers.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      I think it would be awesome to stay in that hotel. You can get there by cable way and the cogwheel train, so you won’t have to hike there. But once at the top of Mt. Pilatus/the hotel you can hike the trails that start there. The only downside to staying at Hotel Pilatus Kulm that I can think of the is the travel time to the Jungfrau area. You will have travel time to Lucerne, then travel time to the Jungfrau area (which, added up, can take several hours). If you only have one day in the Jungfrau area, it might be better to stay in Lucerne, to minimize travel time. But if you have several days in the Jungfrau area, then I think staying on top of Mt. Pilatus is a great idea. Cheers, Julie

  5. Avatar for Julie theedam
    Julie theedam

    I was there 41 years ago this month with a 1 yr old and a 4 yr old and husband Never been back. I will get back soon it was snowing at the top when we arrived. Fantastic

  6. Avatar for Stephanie
    Stephanie

    Hi there! This is such a great guide. What stop along the cable car route is the hike to Tomlishorn off of?

    Thank you

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      The hike to Tomlishorn starts at the top of Mt. Pilatus, so ride the cable car to the final station. Cheers, Julie

  7. Avatar for Marilyn
    Marilyn

    My sister and I will be there in early November. How far is the walk between the cog train and the cable car on Mt. Pilatus? I have a bad knee and was wondering also if there were stairs to get on either.

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      Both the cable car and the cogwheel train arrive in the top station on Mt. Pilatus, so the walk here is minimal. I don’t recall if there are any stairs. If there I, it shouldn’t be many. In places like this, there are typically elevators as well as staircases. If you book the Silver or Golden Round Trip, your transportation to the cogwheel station at the bottom of Mt. Pilatus is included. Cheers, Julie

  8. Avatar for ET
    ET

    I am taking your advice to plan Mt Pilatus and the rest of the Lucerne attractions into one day!

    Would you be able to share – Approx what time did you start the day? You start your return journey from Mt Pilatus at approx what time? Thanks!

    1. Avatar for Julie Post
      Author
      Julie

      We drove to Lucerne from Colmar, France. If I remember correctly, we made it to Lucerne by 10 am and were probably on Mt. Pilatus no later than 11 am. We spent a few hours on Pilatus and the remainder of the day in town (maybe by 2 pm we were in town again). An earlier start would be better, to give you more time. And hopefully you will have clearer skies than we did. Cheers, Julie

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