While not the first city on everyone's list in Switzerland, Luzern is picturesque and offers a long history and lovely atmosphere. The city of Luzern's Tourist Board, with a convenient downloadable map.
The New York Times recently featured Luzern and offered some tips for visiting.
From my blog:
Hotel Des Balances
An elegant, old-world hotel where the prices might not be cheap, but the view is spectacular. Pay a little extra and you can have a room that overlooks the river and watch the swans float down the water all afternoon.
Hotel-Pension Villa Maria
Restaurants in Lucerne specialize in
various fish preparations. The locally found trout and pike are cooked in
different delicious ways and are a favorite with the locals, as is Kaffee
fertig, coffee with Schnapps. A regional specialty is the Luzerner
Kügelipastete --an outer crust of pastry containing a delicious mixture of
mushrooms and chopped veal cooked in thick gravy.
Ins-B-Ration (041/418-28-28) in the Hotel des Balances is open daily 11:30am-1:30pm and 6-10pm. Reservations recommended. One of the city’s exceptional restaurants, the newly renovated restaurant sports decor that's a stylish blend of medieval masonry, 19th-century wrought iron, and modern, hi-tech lighting. Try such tempting dishes as freshwater crabs grilled with feta cheese and marinated herbs; filets of pike-perch with olive oil and artichoke hearts; Sisteron lamb in puff pastry with olive oil and thyme juices; and breast of chicken stuffed with shrimp, over sweet peppers.
Hofstube (Sankt-Leodegar-Platz 3, in the Hotel Zum Rebstock, 041/410-35-81. The 1920s-style entrance hall is filled with valuable Art Deco pieces. This is a historic Swiss-style restaurant, with two different dining rooms, both folkloric and charming. The older is the Hofstube; the slightly newer dining area is the Hofegge, which is the site of an elaborate Sunday brunch from 7am to 3pm. The menu, a blend of Swiss and French, usually includes an impressive array of terrines, delicious lake trout, suckling veal with spinach, filet of pork and beef in a cognac sauce, and veal and sultanas in puff pastry.
With its wood-paneling, low ceilings, and a beautiful old cash register from 1926, you might guess that Wirtshaus Galliker (Schützenstrasse 1; 41-41-240-1002) has been in the same family since 1856. Try their veal pastry (in a white wine cream sauce).
Bistro KKL (Europaplatz 1, 041/41 226 71 00) at the Culture and Convention Centre dishes up midday soups, quiche, and sandwiches on a lakeside terrace.
Off the Beaten Path
Part of the charm of Luzern is just being near the river and the lake. If you can take a trip on the lake. Boats leaving on trips around the lake or to specific sites depart from the side of the Culture and Convention Center.
Since the city straddles the Reuss River where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke) pictured above, a 204 m (670 ft) long wooden bridge originally built in 1333, although much of it had to be replaced after a 1993 fire. Walking over it, you can see about 100 pictures of 12th century city life and Swiss history. Partway across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification and prison from the 13th century. Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Luzern’s history. The bridge with its tower is the city’s most famous landmark.
Downriver, between the Kasernenplatz and the Mühlenplatz, the Spreuerbrücke or Mill Bridge zigzags across the Reuss. Constructed in 1408, it is the oldest covered bridge in Europe and features a series of medieval-style 17th Century plague paintings by Kaspar Meglinger titled Dance of Death. Meglinger’s paintings portray various conditions of men and women, priests and warriors, princes and men of learning, the young bride, the devout nun, the lawmaker, the hunter, the miller, even the artist himself, are all depicted at the mercy of Death, with his mocking smile and his ever-changing garb. These paintings, suitable for a Benedictine abbey, are seen by every inhabitant of beautiful Lucerne who crosses the river via the Spreuerbrücke. It has a small chapel in the middle that was added in 1568.
Old Town Luzern is located just north of the Reuss River, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above Lucerne, complete with eight tall watch towers. An additional gated tower sits at the base of the hill on the banks of the Reuss River.
The twin spires of the cathedral of St. Leodegar sit on a small hill just above the lakefront. Originally built in 735, the present structure was erected in 1633 in the late Renaissance style. However, the towers are surviving remnants of an earlier structure. The interior is richly decorated. The cathedral is popularly called the Hofkirche (German) and is known locally as the Hofchile (Swiss-German).
Bertel Thorvaldsen’s famous carving of a dying lion (the Lion Monument, or Löwendenkmal) is found in a small park just off Lowenplatz. The carving commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
The KKL or Culture and Convention Center Lucerne beside the lake, is a spectacular building that contains several concert halls and the Lucerne Art Museum. Designed by Jean Nouvel, its major concert hall (“La salle blanche”) is famous for its acoustics, and world class orchestras can be heard regularly.
The Swiss Transport Museum, Lido beach (the first stop for boats leaving from the central train station, preferably reached by bus). With a large collection of trains, planes, automobiles, and motorcycles this museum is a great place to spend an afternoon especially with kids. The air section also features several space travel exhibits, including an un-used project Mercury capsule.
The Rosengart Collection (Sammlung Rosengart), Pilatusstrasse 10. Well over 200 works by 23 artists of early modernism, including 125 works of Paul Klee and about 50 by Pablo Picasso. Also works by Cézanne, Chagall, Miró, Pissarro, among others.