Julie Switzerland 23 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.


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

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

Hiking Mt Pilatus

Pilatus Kulm

Looking back towards Pilatus Kulm from the trail.


Tomlishorn Trail

Another view looking back along the trail.


Final Climb

The final climb up to the viewpoint.



PRO TRAVEL TIP: The ropes courses and toboggan are only open during the summer months. However, you can still go hiking on Pilatus. Learn more here.

More Information

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

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


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.


Chapel Bridge Artwork Lucerne

Lucerne Itinerary

Lucerne Old Town

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

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

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.

APARTMENT: Penthouse Apartments Lakeside. These apartments are located near the waterfront and they are very close to the Lucerne railway. These large one bedroom apartments come with a kitchen, washing machine, and views of Lucerne. Several apartments have a terrace. The apartments can accommodate up to five people.

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 Information for Your Trip to Switzerland:

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

You Might Also Like:


Lucerne and Pilatus One Day Itinerary

Switzerland Travel Lucerne Mt Pilatus


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Comments 23

  1. 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!

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      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

  2. I am traveling to Lucerne and definately want to make it up to Mt. Pilatus. I have a few questions. I know it might be a little different because you went in the summer. If you want to buy tickets the day of, where do you go to buy these tickets? Does the ticket include a way to get from Kriens back to Lucerne? What website would you recommend buying tickets on? Also, if i do buy the tickets ahead of time, where do i go in order to start the journey? Confused with all of the options. Thank you so much!

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      Hello Nicki. To buy tickets the day of your visit, you can do so right at the cable car station in Kriens (that’s what we did). You will have to get to Kriens by car (if you have one) or public transportation. Here is the link on how to use public transportation to travel from Lucerne to Kriens. Here is the link to the official website. You can buy your tickets online ahead of time on this website. This website also has an interactive map where you can see Lucerne, Kriens, Mt Pilatus, and more…it will help give you an idea of how everything works. If you take the Golden Round Trip, your visit will start and end in Lucerne. If you just ride the cable cars, like we did, your visit will start and end in Kriens. Cheers, Julie

  3. Absolutely loved reading this about Lucerne and the Alsace region in France. We would love your thoughts on length of stay in Colmar and if it’s with giving up a day there to spend a day in Lucerne on way to Zermatt for our Glacier Express train to St. Moritz.

    Option 1:
    •Day 1 – Arrival at Zurich airport around 1:30pm (Wednesday 3/25)- head to Colmar via either train or rental car from airport? Explore a little but early night due to jet lag.
    •Day 2- Explore Colmar and other towns along wine route in Alsace (overnight in Colmar)
    •Day 3 – More exploring of Alsace (overnight in Colmar)
    •Day 4- more exploring of Alsace or head to Lucerne and explore that area for the day? If head to Lucerne instead- we would overnight there.
    •Day 5 – Head to Zermatt via train (if we didn’t
    overnight on Day 4 in Lucerne, would we have tome to go for a few hours before training to Zermatt if we left early morning? We want time to explore Zermatt too and would hate to have to choose between the two!
    •Day 6- Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz (overnight in St. Moritz)
    •Day 7- Regional train to Tirano (and then onto Florence to visit daughter studying abroad.) Overnight in Florence.
    •Explore Florence for a few days before flying home from FLR airport.

    I’d love your thoughts/suggestions on this itinerary- especially the time in Colmar vs Switzerland. We don’t want to feel rushed but want to maximize our time in both places. Your blog is one of my favorites and love your itineraries so I’m anxious to hear what you think.
    Thank you!

    1. Post

      Hello Jeanna. Thanks for writing in to us! Your itinerary looks great. I recommend renting a car in Zurich so you have it for France. It’s best to have a car in the Alsace. You can return the rental car either in Zurich or Lucerne when you return to Switzerland. Most likely, it will be cheaper to return it to Zurich, to avoid a drop fee in Lucerne, but you can run the prices both ways. If it’s just a little bit extra, it might be worth the expense to return it to Lucerne since it will save you some time (and if you return it to Zurich, don’t forget to factor in the price of the train from Zurich to Lucerne).

      You have two full days in the Alsace, with the option to add a third day. It’s a tough question…another day in the Alsace or Lucerne? I’m leaning towards Lucerne. It is a very pretty city and we loved the trip up Mt. Pilatus. You also have the option to go up Titlis. Then, on day 5, go early to Zermatt. Keep your fingers crossed for good weather and you should have time to go up Gornergrat, our favorite experience in Zermatt. In March, I don’t think you will be able to do much hiking in Gornergrat, but the views of the Matterhorn are beautiful!

      This looks like a lovely trip…some of our favorite places in Europe. That’s wonderful that your daughter is studying abroad in Florence. In just a few years, Tyler and Kara will be in college and I can’t help but wonder where they will study abroad…and then we can visit them and they can show us around. 🙂

      Cheers, Julie

      1. Thanks for your quick response Julie! I will definitely plan on all your suggestions. I have no doubt your kids will pick an amazing place to study abroad- you have already given them the best gift already- the gift of travel and seeing the world. What wonderful memories you’ve created with your family. I’m truly jealous!

  4. Thank you – thank you – thank you! My daughter and I will be in Lucerne Sep 30 and Oct 1 and everyone has told us that we’d have no time to get to Mt. Pilatus. I had given up trying to plan it, but your post here has made it all possible! Just one question: we’ve heard that bad/cloudy/snowy weather can ruin any view from Mt Pilatus. Your thoughts? Should we also be planning a backup trip to Mt. Rigi in case the weather at Mt. Pilatus isn’t good?

    1. Post

      Yes, if there is bad weather (rain, low clouds, etc) there is no point to going up Mt. Pilatus, because you will only see the clouds. So keep your fingers crossed and you can keep Rigi as a back up option. Cheers, Julie

  5. Amazing ! I love your blog! It’s ideal for people like me who like to pack in more things in a day. I just did your Bruges and Ghent in one day trip and now looking at This Trip – Lucern and Mt.Pilatus. Sounds great
    Thank You so much

    1. Post
  6. Hello! Thank you so much for this article. This is the best one I’ve found about traveling to Lucern and Mt Pilatus. We’re looking to do the silver package because my husband really wants to go on the cog railway. I really want to ride the toboggan ride. Are we able to accomplish both with the silver package??

    1. Post

      You’re welcome! Yes, you can accomplish both with the silver package. The silver package takes the cog railway to the top. When you are ready to head back down the silver package has you taking the cable car down to Fräkmüntegg. This is where you can ride the toboggan. Once you are done at Fräkmüntegg then the silver package has you take the gondola down to Kriens and a bus back to the Lucerne railway station. Note that the toboggan website states that it runs from mid April until mid October. Have fun! Tim

  7. The information are really helpful! I will be visiting Lucern in December. Do you recommend taking this golden round trip during Winter?

    1. Post
  8. Thanks for the great info! We will be arriving in Lucerne (from Zurich) in the evening and plan to spend the entire next day in Lucerne. My daughter was there a couple years ago, but will be the 1st time for the rest of us. We will have a car. Do you know if you HAVE to book the Mt. Pilatus tickets (rail, gondola, etc) in advance or if we can get the tickets that day. Is it cheaper to purchase a package ahead of time or just buy tickets when we get there. I think we will skip the “golden” tour (skip the lake cruise) but go up the mountain, make the stops, do the toboggan, hike around a little. This will give us time in afternoon for old town, seeing other quick sites. Did you buy tickets in advance for the trip up Mt. Pilatus? Thanks!

    1. Post

      Hello Rebecca. We bought our tickets the same day. Our visit was in early August so it was during peak season and we had no problem getting tickets. We did have to wait in lines for the cable cars but if you get there early you could avoid the crowds (we drove down from Colmar so we didn’t get to Lucerne until 11 am). Check the official website to see if there is a discount to purchase your tickets in advance. Have fun in Lucerne! Cheers, Julie

  9. Very helpful information about Lucerne. I will be going there next week and I am excited to visit the country of my dreams.. I always wanted to visit Switzerland and I am looking forward to having a great experience.

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  10. We have so many treats here in Switzerland – so far Switzerland offenes my favorite outdoor hiking experiences with kids (big and small)! I hope you have a chance to visit soon – perhaps to experience Trotti Scooters down the side of a mountain or Paragliding!

    1. Post

      We hope to visit Switzerland in the near future. It looks amazing. In fact, Tim and I are considering racing Ironman Switzerland sometime in the next few years and then afterwards do a grand tour of Switzerland with our kids. Cheers, Julie

  11. Awesome! Out of curiosity, what has been your favorite and or most beautiful country you have visited so far? If you could only hike or do any other outdoor activities in just one country for the rest of your life, which one would it be? Thanks!

    1. Post

      Hi Frank! I’m tossed between 2 countries: Norway and New Zealand. We just spent about 2 weeks in northern Norway and Svalbard this summer, our second visit to Norway, and while we were there, we were dreaming about returning again soon. The hiking in Norway is spectacular, the Norwegians love the outdoors and have a lot of respect for the land, and Norway is just the kind of place that we feel at home. New Zealand is just as awesome. Its scenery is similar to Norway, especially on the south island, with fjords and mountains. We joke (kind of) that we could live in Queenstown, NZ and Tromso, Norway. We have an article about the 10 countries we would visit again, written 2 years ago, that you may be interested in. Happy travels! Cheers, Julie

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