32 Best Sights in Luzern and Central Switzerland, Switzerland

Ital-Redinghaus

Fodor's choice

Schwyz has several notable baroque churches and a large number of fine old patrician homes dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, not least of which is the Ital-Redinghaus with its magnificent interior, antique stoves, and fine stained glass. A visit to this grand house includes a peek inside the neighboring Bethlehemhaus, the oldest wooden house in Switzerland, dating from 1287. There is no parking on the grounds; park on the nearby town square and walk 50 yards to the entrance off Reichstrasse.

Jesuitenkirche

Fodor's choice

Constructed in 1666--77, this Baroque church with a symmetrical entrance is flanked by two onion-dome towers, added in 1893. Inside, its vast interior, restored to its original splendor, is a dramatic explosion of gilt, marble, and epic frescoes. Nearby is the Renaissance Regierungsgebäude (Government Building), seat of the cantonal government.

Kapellbrücke

Fodor's choice

The oldest wooden bridge in Europe snakes diagonally across the Reuss. When it was constructed in the early 14th century, the bridge served as a rampart in case of attacks from the lake. Its shingle roof and grand stone water tower are to Luzern what the Matterhorn is to Zermatt, but considerably more vulnerable, as a 1993 fire proved. Almost 80% of this fragile monument was destroyed, including many of the 17th-century paintings inside. Nevertheless, a walk through this dark, creaky landmark will take you past polychrome copies of 110 gable panels, painted by Heinrich Wägmann in the 17th century and depicting Luzern and Swiss history; stories of St. Leodegar and St. Mauritius, Luzern's patron saints; and coats of arms of local patrician families.

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Kultur- und Kongresszentrum

Fodor's choice

Architect Jean Nouvel's stunning glass-and-steel building manages to stand out from---as well as to fuse with---its ancient milieu. The lakeside center's roof is an oversized, cantilevered, flat plane; shallow water channels thread inside, and immense glass plates mirror the surrounding views. The main draw is the concert hall, which opened in 1998. Although the lobbies are rich in blue, red, and stained wood, the hall itself is refreshingly pale, with brilliant acoustics. Among the annual music events is the renowned International Music Festival. A museum focuses on rotating exhibits of new international artists.

Mt. Pilatus

Fodor's choice

To reach the mountain by cable car, get a bus from the train station in Luzern to the suburb of Kriens, where you catch a tiny, four-seat cable car that flies silently up to Fräkmüntegg (4,600 feet). From there, change to the sleek, multilevel 55-passenger cable car that sails through open air up the rock cliff to the summit station (5,560 feet). A 10-minute walk takes you to Esel, one of the central peaks that make up Pilatus. From a platform here, views unfold over the Alps and the sprawling, angular Lake Luzern. Once you reach the top, glorious views are everywhere. The flat main trail on the top leads in and out of the mountain, and comes replete with striking cavern windows that offer drop-dead-gorgeous vistas. The main view takes in Luzern, which looks like a toy village. The refurbished Hotel Pilatus-Kulm, once graced by Queen Victoria, features 27 rooms and three suites in Alpine-chic style. Meanwhile, it still feels like the 19th century in the restaurant, where the food is spiced up by the views just outside the elegant sash windows. There's also the simpler Hotel Bellevue in a more modern building; it has 20 rooms.

A super variation for the trip from Mt. Pilatus to Luzern involves riding one of the steepest cogwheel trains in the country—often down gradients inclined nearly 48%—through four tunnels that pierce sheer rock, to Alpnachstad. From there, take the train or the ferry, which leaves from the jetty across from the train station, back to Luzern. The trip to Mt. Pilatus costs SF72 regardless of whether you start in Kriens or Alpnachstad. To go on to Engelberg, get off the Luzern-bound train at Hergiswil, where you can cross the tracks and climb aboard the small, private Stans–Engelberg train that heads up the Engelbergertal (Engelberg Valley).

Sammlung Rosengart

Fodor's choice

A father-and-daughter team amassed this amazing group of works by major late-19th- and 20th-century artists. Now housed in a former bank building, the collection reveals their intensely personal approach; the Rosengarts acquired according to their own tastes instead of investment potential. Here you can see Joan Miró's Dancer, Fernand Léger's Contraste de formes, and works by Paul Cézanne, Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Paul Klee, and Marc Chagall. There's an especially rich selection of works by Pablo Picasso; the artist painted the daughter, Angela Rosengart, five times.

Tellskapelle

Fodor's choice

A shrine to Wilhelm Tell, the church is adjacent to the Tellsplatte, which was the rocky ledge onto which Tell, the rebellious archer, leaped to escape from Gessler's boat, pushing the boat back into the stormy waves as he jumped. Built in 1500, it was restored in High Victorian fashion in 1881. It contains four frescoes of the Tell legend (painted at the time of restoration), showing the taking of the oath at Rütli Meadow, Tell shooting the apple on his son's head, Tell's escape, and Gessler's death.

Verkehrshaus der Schweiz

Fodor's choice

Almost a world's fair in itself, the complex of buildings and exhibitions—both indoors and out—includes live demonstrations, dioramas, and a 1:20,000 scale photo of Switzerland that you can walk on in special slippers. Every mode of transit is discussed, from stagecoaches and bicycles to jumbo jets and space capsules. The museum also houses a planetarium and an IMAX theater. It's easily reached by steamer, car, train, or Bus 6, 8, or 24. If you're driving, head east on Haldenstrasse at the waterfront and make a right on Lidostrasse. Signs point the way.

Bourbaki-Panorama

The panorama was the IMAX theater of the 19th century; its sweeping, wraparound paintings brought to life scenes of epic proportions. The Bourbaki is one of only 30 remaining in the world. Painted by Édouard Castres between 1876 and 1878 (he was aided by many uncredited artists, including Ferdinand Hodler), it depicts the French Army of the East retreating into Switzerland at Verrières, a famous episode in the Franco-Prussian War. As you walk around the circle, the imagery seems to pop into three dimensions; in fact, with the help of a few strategically placed models, it does. There's a recorded commentary in English. A modern glass cube filled with stores, movie theaters, and a restaurant surrounds its conical wooden structure.

Brunni

The best views of Titlis and the Engelberg mountain panorama are from the south-facing Brunni resort, reached by cable car then chairlift from Engelberg. It’s networked by pretty paths, including a barefoot route, and has facilities including several restaurants, a summer toboggan run, and a large playground.

Bundesbriefmuseum

See the beautifully scripted and sealed original Oath of Allegiance, as well as battle flags and paintings of the period, in Schwyz's Bundesbriefmuseum.

Franziskanerkirche

Since its construction in the 13th century, this church has been persistently remodeled. It still retains its 17th-century choir stalls and carved wooden pulpit. The barefoot Franciscans once held a prominent social and cultural position in Luzern, which took a firm stance against the Reformation and today remains approximately 70% Roman Catholic.

Franziskanerpl. 1, Luzern, 6000, Switzerland
041-2299600

Gletschergarten

This tourist attraction, excavated between 1872 and 1875, uses light effects to illuminate stones that have been dramatically pocked and polished by Ice Age glaciers. A private museum on the site, the Alpineum, contains impressive relief maps of Switzerland, and there’s an elaborate 19th-century hall of mirrors that seems oddly out of place but is delightfully fun. A panoramic expansion affords views across Luzern and Central Switzerland’s mountainscape.

Grand Casino Luzern

Some of the most elegant nightlife in Luzern is found in the Grand Casino Luzern, an early-20th-century building on the lake's northern shore near the grand hotels. You can play boule (a type of roulette) in the Gambling Room; dance in the Club; watch the cabaret in the Casineum; or have a meal in Olivo, a Mediterranean restaurant with views of the mountains and the lake. In summer, sit outside under the palm trees at the loungelike Seecafe.

Historisches Museum Luzern

Housed in the late-Gothic armory dating from 1567, this stylish institution exhibits numerous city icons, including the original Gothic fountain that stood in the Weinmarkt. In the permanent exhibit, guests can use a handheld scanner to learn about the thousands of barcoded items on display.

Hofkirche St. Leodegar

This sanctuary of St. Leodegar was first part of a monastery founded in 750. Its Gothic structure was mostly destroyed by fire in 1633 and rebuilt in late-Renaissance style, so only the towers of its predecessor were preserved. The carved pulpit and choir stalls date from the 17th century, and the 80-rank organ (1650) is one of Switzerland's finest. Outside, Italianate loggias shelter a cemetery for patrician families of Old Luzern.

St. Leodegarstr. 6, Luzern, 6006, Switzerland
041-2299500
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Call for hrs

Löwendenkmal

The Swiss guards who died defending Louis XVI of France at the Tuileries in Paris in 1792 are commemorated here. Designed by Danish sculptor Berthel Thorwaldsen and carved out of a sheer sandstone face by Lucas Ahorn of Konstanz, this 19th-century wonder is a simple, stirring image of a dying lion. The Latin inscription translates "To the bravery and fidelity of the Swiss." 

Monument to Arnold von Winkelried

On the town square, facing the Pfarrkirche St. Peter und St. Paul, stands this 19th-century monument to Arnold von Winkelried, a native of Stans who died while leading the Swiss Confederates to victory over the Austrians at the battle of Sempach in 1386. The Austrians, armed with long spears, formed a Roman square so that the Swiss, wielding axes and halberds, couldn't get in close enough to do any damage. Shouting, "Forward, confederates, I will open a path!" von Winkelried threw himself on the spears, clasping as many of them as he could to his breast and creating an opening for his comrades.

Rathauspl., Stans, 6371, Switzerland

Mt. Rigi

Weggis has a cable car up to the top of the Rigi, and neighboring Vitznau has a cogwheel train. You can also approach Rigi via the cogwheel train from Arth-Goldau; the two lines were built by competing companies in the 1870s in a race to reach the top and capture the lion's share of the tourist business. The line rising out of the lakefront resort of Vitznau won, but the Arth-Goldau line gets plenty of business, as its base terminal lies on the mainstream St. Gotthard route. Rigi is one of the few mountains covered by the Swiss Travel Pass. Otherwise, a day card from Weggis, Vitznau, or Arth-Goldau is SF72. If you’re approaching from Weggis, follow signs for the Rigibahn, a station high above the resort (a 15-minute walk). From here you can ride a large cable car to Rigi-Kaltbad, a small resort on a spectacular plateau; walk across to the electric rack-and-pinion railway station and ride the steep tracks of the Vitznau–Rigi line to the summit of the mountain. Take an elevator to the Rigi Kulm hotel to enjoy the views indoors or walk to the crest (45 minutes) to see as far as the Black Forest in one direction and Mt. Säntis in the other.

Mt. Titlis

Set 19 km (12 miles) south of Stans and towering over Engelberg, this is perhaps the most spectacular of the many rocky peaks that surround the Obermatt's long, wide bowl. Thanks to a sophisticated transportation system that benefits skiers, hikers, climbers, and sightseers alike, it's possible to ride a small cable car up to the tiny mountain lake (and famous ski area) called Trübsee (5,904 feet). From there, change and ascend to Stand to catch the famous Rotair cable car, which rotates to give 360-degree panoramas on its way up to the summit station on the Titlis. At the top is a multilevel structure that seems to conjure up Disney's Space Mountain: four rock-embedded, fortress-thick floors lead to stores, an ice grotto (serving drinks from a solid-ice bar), and a restaurant with views that take in the Jura Mountains, the Graubünden, and Bernese Alps.

Natur-Museum Luzern

Unusually modern display techniques bring nature lessons to life here. The museum focuses on local natural history, with panoramas of early Luzern settlers and live animals for children to meet.

Pfarrkirche St. Peter und St. Paul

The bell tower of the Pfarrkirche St. Peter und St. Paul is in Italian Romanesque style, with increasing numbers of arched windows as it rises. The incongruous steeple was added in the 16th century.

Knirig. 1, Stans, 6370, Switzerland
041-6109261

Rathaus

Schwyz's most famous landmark is the Rathaus; its richly frescoed exterior (1891) depicts the Battle of Morgarten, the 1315 conflict in which the Swiss defeated the Austrian army. The building is still used as the Town Hall, and the interior is accessible only on a group tour (in German).

Rathaus Stadt Luzern

In 1606, the town council held its first meeting in this late-Renaissance-style building, constructed between 1602 and 1606. It still meets here today.

Rütli Meadow

This is where the confederates of Schwyz, Unterwalden, and Uri are said to have met in 1307 to renew the 1291 Oath of Eternal Alliance. A five-minute walk up the hillside brings you to a grassy plateau where a rock and flagpole mark the historic location. Nearby is a medieval rock bench nestled by towering trees—the perfect spot to think about another monumental event that took place here centuries later: amid threats of a 1940 German invasion, General Guisan, Swiss army commander in chief, summoned hundreds of officers to the meadow to reaffirm their commitment to the Swiss Confederation in a secret, stirring ceremony. Afterward, head back down the hill to study the small video presentation (perhaps also take a photo of a costumed historical interpreter) and be sure to stop in the time-burnished, 19th-century chalet snack shop, with its lovely stained-glass salons and picturesque wood verandas. For a more substantial meal, stop at the Rütlihaus restaurant above the meadow.

Spreuerbrücke

This narrow covered bridge dates from 1408. The weathered wood structure's interior gables hold a series of eerie, well-preserved 17th-century paintings of the Dance of Death by Kaspar Meglinger. Medieval in style and inspiration, they chronicle the plague that devastated all of Europe in the 14th century.

Luzern, 6003, Switzerland

Stanserhorn

A two-part journey on a nostalgic 1893 funicular and an ultramodern, open-top cable car takes you to the Stanserhorn (6,200 feet), and from its peak you can see the Titlis, the highest point in central Switzerland. A "convertible" version of the cable car lets you feel the wind in your hair.

Stansstaderstr. 19, Stans, 6370, Switzerland
041-6188040
Sight Details
Rate Includes: SF74 round-trip, Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Apr.

Stoosbahn

The world’s steepest funicular railway, Stoosbahn, connects Schwyz/Morschach with Stoos, a pretty, car-free village amid mountains that look like sleeping dinosaurs. The funicular, which resembles a line of barrels, can climb to a record-breaking gradient of 110%. A 20-minute bus ride connects Schwyz with the valley station. In Stoos, transfer to the Klingenstock chair lift. From the top, there are spectacular panoramas of the fjord-like fingers of Lake Luzern, and it’s the starting point of the popular Stoos-Fronalpstock ridge hike.

Tell-Museum

Documents and art related to the legendary man are displayed in this museum.

Postpl., Bürglen, 6463, Switzerland
041-8704155
Sight Details
Rate Includes: SF8, Closed Nov.–Apr., except groups by appointment

Weinmarkt

What is now the loveliest of Luzern's several fountain squares was famous across Europe for the passion plays staged here in the 15th to 17th centuries. Its Gothic central fountain depicts St. Mauritius (patron saint of soldiers), and its surrounding buildings are flamboyantly frescoed in 16th-century style.