Lucerne is a beautiful city located in central Switzerland. It is situated on the shores of Lake Lucerne and surrounded by the Swiss Alps.
Due to its scenic location, Lucerne is a popular tourist destination all year round.
However, winter is arguably the best time to visit. Lucerne in winter has snow-capped mountains, a Christmas market, and an old town lit up at night to create a magical atmosphere.
As an added bonus, you’re not far from winter activities such as skiing and snowboarding, and there are other interesting places within easy reach.
So if you’re looking for a perfect trip during the dark winter months, Lucerne is worth putting on your list.
Read on for the top things to do in Lucerne in winter and some practical information to help you plan your trip.
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Where is Lucerne?
Lucerne (or Luzern) is in central Switzerland in the German-speaking part of the country. It is easily accessible by train or car from Zurich (which is around 40 kilometres away) and Bern (approximately 67 kilometres).
Geneva is further away – closer to the French border – and about a three-hour journey away.
What is the weather like in Lucerne in winter?
Lucerne weather is typical of Switzerland, with cold winters and mild summers. The average temperature in Lucerne during winter is around three degrees centigrade (although it can go into minus figures). The coldest month tends to be January.
The winter months are drier (the driest month is January). The city can, however, get snow, so be sure to pack your warm clothes if you’re visiting during winter time.
And make sure you wrap up even more if you do plan to venture out into the mountains or on the lake.
It’s generally not so cold though that you can’t do the things you came for and there are often crisp winter days that are lovely to wander about in.
And when it gets dark, there are plenty of warm, cosy cafes and bars to snuggle up in. Or gluhwein to drink as you explore the Christmas markets!
If you visit in winter and enjoy Lucerne, then also consider visiting during the summer months. The warmest months are usually July and August, where temperatures can reach the mid-twenties in centigrade.
Why visit Lucerne in winter?
Lucerne is a gorgeous place at any time of the year, but particularly in winter. The city is located in the heart of Switzerland and is easily accessible by train or car.
There are many things to do here in winter, including skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and sightseeing. The city is also decorated for Christmas, and there are several charming Christmas markets and festive events.
And if you visit when the city is covered in snow, you’ll get to appreciate just how picturesque it is and how spectacular the surrounding area is. You’ll undoubtedly get some great snaps of the snow-capped mountains and icy lake.
Why visit Lucerne for a short break?
Lucerne is a relatively small city, so it’s easy to see the main sights in just a couple of days. And there is plenty here to occupy you on a short trip if you enjoy sightseeing, mountain scenery, and good food.
At only around 40 minutes by train from Zurich, it’s easy to get here for a short break or even a day trip.
Lucerne is also around an hour from Bern, so it would be easy to visit if you’re on a trip to the capital.
The city is also ideally located for trips to Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland (although you’d probably need a car for this as the train journey involves a couple of changes which makes for quite a long journey). You can also easily get up into the mountains.
Things to do in Lucerne in winter
Read on for some of the best things to do in Lucerne in winter.
Wander through the historic old town
The old town in Lucerne is a charming historic place. It’s a great place to visit year round but in winter it is particularly captivating.
Nestled against the shores of Lake Lucerne and on the right bank of the River Reuss, the old town is full of medieval buildings and narrow, winding streets. In the winter, these are lit up during the dark nights, and there are cosy cafes and restaurants to pop into for some warming Swiss food.
The 17th-century Italian Renaissance Town Hall is in the old town and sits on the side of the river. It has a market every week under its arches.
A boulevard runs in front of this and along the river with restaurants with outdoor seating. It is a great spot to sit and look over the river (wrap up in winter though!).
You can explore some old historic squares, including the Weinmarkt, once the fish market. It is surrounded by attractive buildings and has a large gothic fountain in the middle.
The medieval fortified Musegg Wall is also worth walking around. This 13th-century wall surrounds the old town and is one of Switzerland’s best-preserved city walls.
You can enjoy panoramic views of the city from the top of the nine towers spanning the wall.
And across the river from the old town, there is the Jesuit Church. This eye-catching church is a popular landmark in the city.
The 17th-century church was built in baroque style and has an ornate facade and twin towers. Inside, the church has elaborate frescoes. You should pop into the church to see the beautiful interior.
Walk across the famous Chapel Bridge
One of Lucerne’s most iconic sights is the Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge). It dates back to the 14th century and is Europe’s oldest covered wooden bridge.
The bridge spans the Reuss River and is decorated with a series of paintings depicting scenes from Swiss history. So try to walk onto the bridge, instead of just admiring it from the lakeside.
When you see images of Lucerne, it’s often of this bridge on the lake. It’s quite a sight. When it’s covered in snow in winter, it’s even more striking.
You can also walk down the river to another covered bridge, the Spreuer Bridge.
Get festive in the Christmas markets
Lucerne’s Christmas markets are an obvious draw in the winter months, and this is a good time to visit the city if you want to get into the Christmas spirit.
There are several different markets to choose from, each with its own unique atmosphere.
You can browse stalls selling traditional Swiss gifts and treats, listen to carollers singing festive songs, and warm up with a cup of hot mulled wine.
The city’s main market is held in Franziskanerplatz in the old town, and is full of little wooden stalls selling traditional Swiss Christmas decorations, food, and gifts.
There’s also a carousel for children to ride on and brass bands playing music. If this doesn’t get you in the mood for the festive season, then nothing will!
The Franziskanerplatz market runs for three weeks in 2022, from early December to 21st December.
In addition, there are several smaller markets scattered around Lucerne. The Luzerner Handswerksmarkt is another market in the old town. It specialises in local handmade gifts.
You can also buy handmade products and eat and drink at the Rudolfs Weihnacht market, which is in Inseli-Park. The park sits on the lakeside, so it is a great place to get into the festive mood while looking out across the lake to the mountains.
In a more urban park – Vogeligartli – you can visit the market, which has more of a leaning to food, drink, and entertainment.
Be wowed at the Lucerne Light Festival
During the Christmas period, the city also hosts the Lucerne Light Festival (Lilu). This is a popular winter event in the city of Lucerne and takes place in 2023 for ten days from 12th January.
Light installations appear in the city, landmarks are lit up, and various events take place. At the time of writing, the full programme has yet to be announced, but it’s sure to be one to lift your spirits if you’re experiencing a bit of a post-Christmas slump.
Explore Lucerne city
Lucerne also has several sights worth seeing that are beyond the old town. These are still within walking distance, or you can catch a bus.
Alternatively, you can hire a guide who will drive you around in an etuk tuk to show you the city’s main sights.
One such sight is the Lion Monument, one of Lucerne’s most famous and important monuments.
Carved into a cliff face overlooking the city, the monument commemorates the Swiss Guards killed during the French Revolution. The lion is depicted as wounded and slumped over, with a shield and a broken spear by its side.
The Glacier Garden in Lucerne is also a unique attraction worth visiting. The garden was created in the 19th-century when the glacier that covered the area began to retreat.
Today, the garden is home to a variety of different sections, including areas where you can learn about different types of rocks and see the petrified remains of flora from the ice age.
There is also a park that you can explore with the country’s oldest observation tower, and a hall of over 50 mirrors, designed to recreate Granada’s Alhambra Palace.
Ascend the mountains in the world’s first revolving cable car
You don’t have to be into winter sports to want to experience the majestic mountains in Switzerland.
Lucerne is the gateway to Mount Titlis, the highest summit in central Switzerland. To get there, you can take the train to Engelberg, a journey of around 45 minutes. It’s also an easy drive from the city.
Engelberg has a cable car type aerial cableway that you can hop on that takes you up the mountains. The ride is about half an hour, during which you ascend over 3,000 metres.
En route, at the Stand station, you swap to the Titlis Rotair, “the world’s first revolving cable car”. This ensures you can’t fail to miss all the spectacular views from this height as the car rotates 360 degrees, and you get to see the mountain scenery from all different angles.
After experiencing breathtaking views during your ride, several activities keep you occupied at the top.
There is a glacier cave, where you can walk to 10 metres underneath a glacier.
And if you’re feeling a little more intrepid, there is a cliff bridge walk: this is a 100-metre long suspension bridge that hangs 500 metres above the ground. It is apparently Europe’s highest suspension bridge.
There is also the ‘Ice Flyer’, a chair lift that transports you across the slopes.
A trip to Mt. Titlis is an amazing experience – if you have the time, you should definitely try to visit as part of your trip to Lucerne. You can book tickets here.
See more spectacular mountain scenery
At less than 10 kilometres away, Mt. Pilatus is close to Lucerne. This means it is one of the best places to visit if you’re short on time but want to experience the Alpine scenery.
Note, however, that information that tells you the best way to get here by public transportation may be focusing on summer visits when the cogwheel train operates. In winter, this closes down, but you can take a bus and then a cable car.
Mt Pilatus is said to be one of the most beautiful places in this part of Switzerland and is a place to admire the Alpine scenery, and look out over the Lake Lucerne region. The mountain also hosts Europe’s highest Christmas market.
It is said that if you visit on a clear day, you can look out on over 70 mountain peaks. So try to pick a bright crisp winter’s day to visit.
Mount Rigi (or ‘Queen of the Mountains’) is easily accessible from Lucerne. You can either drive the 22 kilometres or catch the train or boat from Lucerne to Vitznau.
Then take the small cogwheel train (said to be the oldest of its kind in Europe) up the rest of the mountain.
There is a spa here, restaurants to eat in, and a number of hiking trails to explore. You can also partake in the usual winter sports on Mt. Rigi, including skiing and sledding.
If you do plan to visit the surrounding areas and mountains, my travel tip would be to consider purchasing the Swiss Travel Pass. This gives you access to all forms of public transport across its network.
You can use it to hop on the mountain trains on Rigi. It also gives access to a large number of museums in the country.
Hit the slopes
Skiing and snowboarding are popular activities in Lucerne in winter. This is hardly surprising given its location and the fact that you can see the mountains from the city centre.
In fact, in the canton of Lucerne, there are over 90 kilometres of ski slopes to head to.
The city is, therefore close to several ski resorts. This includes Engelberg, which is the nearest to the city at less than 30 kilometres away. It provides easy access to 70 kilometres of slopes, including areas for off-piste skiing and beginner slopes.
The Times Travel guide in January 2022 put Engelberg on the list of the best ski resorts in Switzerland. You could therefore combine a visit to Mount Titlis to experience the revolving cable car and then indulge in some skiing.
The Engelberg season runs from the beginning of October to the end of May.
Skiing and snowboarding are not the only winter sports that you can experience on a trip to Lucerne in winter. If you want to try something different, or want to stay within the city centre, then you might be interested in some ice skating.
The Eiszentrum Luzern (Lucerne Ice Centre) is located on the other side of the river from the train station, a walk of around twenty minutes. It is open year-round and has ice rinks for skating, playing hockey, and curling.
One ice rink is inside, so this is a great option if the temperatures are a bit low when you visit.
You can also skate at other rinks in the city which are put up temporarily for the Christmas period. There will be a skating rink outside the Culture and Congress Centre (KKL Lucern) from 1st December to 21st December 2022.
Chill out in a thermal mountain top spa
If the thought of seeing the mountains from a chair lift or suspension bridge, or skiing at high speed down a slope doesn’t appeal, you may prefer to relax and look out at the scenery from a warm thermal pool.
The Mineralbad Spa Rigi Kaltbad is located high up in the mountains. As well as saunas and an indoor bathing hall with 35-degree water and whirlpools and jets, it has a heated outdoor pool that you can take a dip in.
I haven’t visited this spa (yet!), but I’ve been to one of its sister branches in Zurich. I can vouch for the fact that sitting in an outdoor thermal spa pool on a cold winter day is a pretty good place to head to if you want to warm up, relax, and get some stunning views.
If you do fancy a trip to this spa, then it’s a good idea to look at the website in advance for special offers and to check availabilty. It can be reached by ferry from Lucerne to Rigi and then via a short train ride to Rigi Kaltbad.
Take a boat tour on Lake Lucerne
Taking a boat tour when you’re in Lucerne is one of the best ways to see the city. And as long as you make sure you wrap up warm, it’s as good to do this in the winter as in the summer.
There are several different boat cruises that you can book. These vary in duration and focus.
This tour combines a walking tour around the city with a one-hour boat trip around beautiful Lake Lucerne. This is a perfect way to see the city’s main sights in a short time.
Or for something completely relaxing, this trip takes you along the lake and down to a nearby village, all the while serving you a first-class three-course meal.
Visit a museum
On a short break or day trip to Lucerne, you could also visit a museum, especially if the weather is inclement.
Lucerne is home to the Swiss Transport Museum, Switzerland’s most visited museum.
As its name suggests, it is dedicated to the history of transportation. It features displays and interactive exhibits on topics such as automotive history, rail transport, aviation, and space technology.
While in the museum, it’s possible to book on to a “Swiss Chocolate Adventure”. This is a 20-minute foray into the creation and production of chocolate. Naturally, it ends with a tasting.
The Musee Rosengart is one for art lovers. It is housed in a former bank and displays an impressive collection of modern art paintings, primarily the works of Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, as well as a range of other artists.
The museum is close to the train station, which is just a short walk to the old town, so it would be easy to visit even if you’re on a day trip to the city.
And if you are a fan of Paul Klee’s work, you should also consider visiting the Zentrum Paul Klee museum, mentioned in my recent post on a day in Bern.
Take a day trip from Lucerne
Lucerne’s location in central Switzerland makes it an ideal place for visiting other places. You could either take a trip from Lucerne if you’re staying here, or day trip to Lucerne from these places.
In addition to the mountain day trips outlined earlier in this post, Lucerne is less than an hour from Zurich. Zurich is Switzerland’s largest city; consequently, there’s a lot to see and do here.
It’s one of my favourite European cities, and I love it in winter. Check out my post on things to do in Zurich in winter if this interests you.
Bern, the capital, is also highly recommended. For a capital city, it’s surprisingly small, so it is easy to see the main sights in a day.
You can explore the old town, visit one of the museums dedicated to its famous resident Albert Einstein, and meet the city’s bears. See my post for more information.
For ideas for other winter excursions from Lucerne, click here.
Lucerne in winter
I hope this has convinced you that Lucerne is not only a great place to visit, but a great winter destination.
We’re not all snow lovers, and the cold weather might put some people off, but if you dress appropriately and include some indoor activities in your schedule, then you’re unlikely to experience problems.
The wintery weather also helps showcase the area’s outstanding beauty: it’s a wonderful Swiss city, and if it snows while you’re there it can be a real winter wonderland.
Other ideas for European day trips and short breaks
My website has a range of posts on other destinations to give you more ideas for day trips and short breaks in Europe.
You may be interested in my ideas that include: