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A Fateful Detour to Lucerne, Switzerland

I don’t know what it is about Switzerland, but over and over again we find ourselves in this gorgeous Alpine country. It might be the incredible mountain scenery, or the delicious cheese, or the perfectly managed farms; or maybe it’s a combination of all of it.

Perhaps, part of it is that at some point in the year I find myself peeling and sticking the annual Swiss Road Tax sticker on to my windshield. From that point on I feel driven to return as often as possible to get the most out of that little three inch square decal. At least the location is awesome, snug between Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, France, and Italy.

The water tower and the historic center on the Reuss River in Lucerne, Switzerland.
The water tower and Chapel Bridge are two of the most famous sights in Lucerne.
Taking a Detour Through Lucerne.
The main entrance to the old train station stands impressively in the main square in front of the new station.

No matter how many times we return to a country  we always have a town, city, or sight that we end up not seeing. There’s always that one place that’s on the route, but for whatever reason we always just drive on by with no time for a stop. “We’ll get to it next time,” we always tell ourselves.  In Switzerland, that town is Lucerne. We drove right on by the Lucerne exit on our way to Engelberg one Friday night. “We’ve got to visit this time,” we vowed.

The Detour

River and city walls of Lucerne.
The old city walls stand intact guarding the town to this day.

We had an amazing time in the mountains and got on the road early Sunday morning. By the time we had driven to the Lucerne region we were feeling the pull of the road and thinking, “maybe Lucerne will wait for the next time.” Fate, on the other hand, had a different plan for us.

We never found out what had happened, but for some reason the highway ahead of us was closed and we were diverted onto a secondary road that had signs leading for–you guessed it–Lucerne! I looked at Corinne and she looked at me, and without any words, the decision had been made for us. We stuck with it, too, even though the detour ended soon enough and would have sent us back to the highway. We kept on driving right into town.

Of course, we had no plan, no idea of what we would do there, but we knew we had at least two hours to spend in town and were determined to make the most of it. Parking was easy enough to find. We followed the directional signs to the Centrum and noticed the Hauptbahnhof (central train station) Parkhaus was in the same direction. As we got closer to the center we started noticing the fairy-tale style spires and onion-domed cathedral bell towers. We knew we were in for a treat.

Into the City

The underground parking at the new train station was simple and convenient. We came above ground into the small mall under the train station and found a bakery. Here we picked up a couple of the “must have” pastries of Lucerne, the delicious schoggibrötli. These tasty little chocolate filled sweet rolls would make for a nice little snack on our walk around town.

The first thing you notice when you come out of the train station is the beautifully enigmatic entrance arch from the old station. When the station burned down, the city decided to keep the old entrance as a memorial. Now I found it as an interestingly symbolic entrance to the city. Once through the arch we came to the lake shore and vowed to come back for a ferry ride out on to the lake made famous by the tales of William Tell. For today, however, there just wasn’t time so on we went.

The historic center of Lucerne is fairly small and compact, easy enough to walk around in a morning or afternoon and still see all of the sights. Of course there are some highlights that should not be missed.

Wasserturm in Lucerne.
The Wasserturm in Lucerne has been a watch tower, treasury, prison, and torture chamber.

Wasserturm (Water Tower)

Standing proudly and stalwart in the middle of the Reuss river mouth, this 14th century tower was once part of the city fortifications. It has been used as a watch tower, treasury, prison and torture chamber. You wouldn’t think it to look at it, but it’s actually wider than it is tall.

Kappelbrucke Lucerne.
The Kappelbrucke, or Chapel Bridge, crosses the river Reuss and provides a history lesson for pedestrians crossing over the bridge.

Kappelbrucke (Chapel Bridge)

This ancient, covered wooden bridge has been the primary pedestrian crossing over the Reuss river for nearly seven centuries. Be sure to look up while crossing the bridge. Otherwise, you might miss the most stunning feature. The scenes painted along the ceiling in the 17th century depict local history and the interesting biographies of the towns patron saints, Saint Maurice and St. Leodegar.

Nadelwehr Lucerne.
The movable wooden spikes of the Nadelwehr control the water level in Lake Lucerne.

Nadelwehr (Water Spikes)

This was the most fascinating part of Lucerne for me. I had no idea what it was when I saw it, I just knew it must be an old engineering marvel. The wooden spikes can be lifted and lowered as needed to control the water level in the lake. In older days they were used to guide the proper water flow over the city’s mills.

View of the ceiling and artwork on the Chaff Bridge in Lucerne.

Spreuerbrucke (Chaff Bridge)

Another old, covered wooden bridge crossing the Reuss river. The Spreuerbrucke gets its name from the practice of townspeople bringing their wheat to the mill. Apparently they would stand on the bridge and separate the chaff from the wheat, letting it blow into the river and be carried away downstream. I’m not sure if this is true or not. Regardless, the painting along the walkway in this bridge depict the scenes of Le Danse Macabre; they are fascinating and eerily beautiful 17th century masterpieces.

Town hall in Kornmarkt Square in Lucerne, Switzerland.

Town Hall

This impressive edifice stands in the center of town with the Kornmarkt square on one side and the river on the other. We weren’t there for the market, but if you go on the right days of the week, there is a bustling farmers market here, both in the square and along the river under the arched covered walkway. As an added bonus, there is an excellent brewery on the east wing of the building.

Old Town Lucerne.
Some of the interesting medieval architecture in the old town.

Old Town

We could have spent even more time then we did wandering the alleys and cobble stone streets. The medieval architecture brings you back in time to the days of fair maidens and knights in shining armor.

Street Art Lucerne.
Some interesting medieval “street art” in Lucerne.

After our long walk, we found a quiet bench along the river and enjoyed our schoggibrötli, contemplating the pleasant twist of fate that finally brought us into Lucerne.

Blue and White Door Lucerne.
Corinne holds up a colorful blue and white door.

Do you keep driving past the same place thinking someday you should visit? My recommendation, stop driving by and spend some time there!

Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.

Pin Lucerne for later!

The stunning city of Lucerne! Click through to see and learn more.

Lyn @ A Hole in my Shoe

Sunday 8th of January 2017

Oh you took me right along with you. We were in Lucerne last year and absolutely adored it there. I had almost forgotten about the beauty until I saw your photos so I am off to find mine and recall again the great time we had there. Thank you.

Corinne Vail

Sunday 8th of January 2017

Lyn, It is a beautiful glad fate made us go!

Rhonda Albom

Saturday 7th of January 2017

I guess it was meant to be. Sometimes things work out too difficult and the signs turn you away from what you want. Other times, the exact opposite occurs and an opportunity presents itself. Lucerne looks interesting so I am happy that fate led you that way.

Corinne Vail

Saturday 7th of January 2017

Rhonda, That's exactly how we feel about it too. We loved it.

Hans M Hirschi

Thursday 5th of January 2017

I got scared when you wrote "fateful"... As a Swiss, I'm used to constant bashing. But I'm glad you enjoyed your stay. For those who read this and who haven't been to Lucerne, I can highly recommend the Swiss Traffic museum which is also in town and to take a boat trip into the several corners of Lake Lucerne, some steam-powered... In any case, glad you liked it!

Corinne Vail

Friday 6th of January 2017

Hans, We loved your city and it was pre-ordained, I think. We will certainly check out your suggestions next time around! Thanks