Thursday, September 26, 2013

Luzern, Switzerland

In an effort to not overwhelm myself or you, I think we'll stick to one post per city, and then I'll be back to my normal blogging when we return late next week. 

We started our European adventure in Luzern, Switzerland, which is about an hour (by train) south of Zurich. We actually landed in Zurich and took the train in to Luzern. We arrived around six in the evening, walked to our hotel (about a five minute walk), checked in, and met up with my parents, who had just arrived from Paris. We went to dinner at Restaurant Rathaus Brauerei, a brewery recommended by Rick Steves. The food was good, not great; the beer was great; and it was also great to catch up with my parents and hear about their trip (they had been to Berlin, Paris, and Champagne).

After dinner, we took a bit of a roundabout walk back to the hotel and saw some folks carrying strange, long sticks. We later realized they were traditional horns and followed them. The group lined up at the riverfront and played a few songs. It was such a uniquely Swiss experience; I'm so glad we happened upon it!

Our hotel: Mr. Pickwick Pub & Hotel. We stayed here three nights and really loved it. The location is absolutely phenomenal--right on the river (Reuss River) and near all the sights in Luzern.

We asked for an upper floor, and I'm so glad we did! Look at this view from our (tiny) balcony:

There are larger rooms available, but we decided to go with a budget-friendly "double" room--which, unfortunately, means two twin beds (one is a murphy bed and is tucked away in this photo):

View facing in from the balcony

View from the entry door

But the place was clean, updated, and well run. The pub downstairs was a great meeting place, and we stopped for a few drinks during our trip. We heard the burgers there are good, too, though we never ate there. Overall, excellent hotel, especially if you're on a budget--which can be tough in Switzerland!

Yes, I had heard that Switzerland is pricey, but MAN people weren't kidding about that! Meals were easily $30-$45 per person--minimum. I would recommend a lighter breakfast (if breakfast isn't included at your hotel) and lunch at one of the local bakeries, which we didn't figure out until the last day. But the bakeries have pre-packed sandwiches and salads for around $6-$8, a much more reasonable option. For dinners, I'd say it's worth it to splurge a little (er, just eat a normal meal?). We thought the fondue at Pfistern was absolutely worth the price tag of $30+ per person, and the pizza at Da Ernesto Ristorante was also excellent. We also ate at Opus Wine Bar, a tasty meal overall. Our favorite bakery was Bachmann, which I believe is a chain around these parts.

Back to the activities in Luzern. On our second day (first full day), we grabbed a quick breakfast at the aforementioned Bachmann Bakery (delicious, flaky croissants) and headed to the train station with my parents. They stayed at the Marriott Residence Hotel, which was awesome and included breakfast. Their room was huge, too!

We stopped at the TI (Tourist Information center) to buy a Silver Pass for Mt. Pilatus, part of the Emmental Alps, which covered a train to Alpnachstad, the cogwheel train up the mountain, the gondola/cable car rides down the mountain, and a bus back to Luzern. It took about 20 minutes by train to arrive at Alpnachstad, and we were whisked onto the cogwheel train right away.

You can see the train here (the red one), and it gets even steeper than that! It's the steepest in the world at a 48% grade.

Some people hike allllll the way to the top. Maybe next time.

Terry sat alone :-(

Once at the top, we took a short walk around the hotel (yep, a hotel at the top with gorgeous views) and then headed off on a 35-minute hike to one of the peaks, Tomlishorn.

The Alps

Cows with giant cow bells

All the hiking options - ours was not too strenuous but felt like a solid walk with some incline. We felt like the morning was a great time to go--not too many people, great views, and the weather wasn't too hot. We arrived in Alpnachstad around 9:40 am and reached the peak of Tomlishorn around 11 or 11:30.

After the hike, we had a beer at the top and then took the gondola and cable car back down the opposite side of the mountain. 

I am hiding it well in this photo, but I was a little nervous about the steep ride down.

Mt. Pilatus was a unanimous favorite of Luzern. We thought the views and experience of being in the Alps were priceless experiences and quintessential aspects of Switzerland. I highly recommend it, especially if Luzern is your only stop in Switzerland! (Next time we hope to check out Gimmelwald, a town more closely nestled in the Alps.)

We returned from the mountain around 2 pm and ate a late lunch before continuing on our sightseeing. We took Rick Steves' self guided tour, which explained some of the major landmarks around Luzern. We normally love his self-guided tours, but this one was actually a little disappointing (will explain later).

Today was our final day in Luzern, but we packed in a TON. We started fairly early with a scenic cruise about Lake Luzern.

It was a cloudy day, but the clouds didn't obstruct our views at all.

 We stopped in Vitznau, a small town on the lake, walked around a bit, and headed back on the next boat. Some folks got off there at went up to Mt. Rigi, but we felt Mt. Pilatus was sufficient for our mountain adventures. The cruise to Vitznau was a little pricey but a relaxing and unique way to experience more of Luzern and the lake. We were thrilled to be able to do the mountains and the lake--two of Switzerland's most famous aspects.

Strange chairs by the lake

Mom and Dad

Planks on the lake

After our relaxing boat ride, we grabbed sandwiches at Bachmann's Bakery and ate in my parents' hotel room out of the rain. Then we headed back out on our own little walking tour of the city!

First stop: Löwendenkmal (The Lion Monument), a HUGE lion carved into a rock. He looks sad because he's dying. But it's actually a stunning sight, and it's FREE!

Next up: The towers and the wall (Museggmauer). We climbed the three towers that are open to the public, and while the stairs are a little uneven and steep at times, the views at the top were totally worth it! Museggmauer used to be the watch tower and wall protecting the city. Unfortunately, Rick Steves barely mentioned this gem in his book, and we thought it was a really great part of Luzern. The whole thing is free and walking distance from town, so I wasn't sure why he omitted it. But if you go, definitely take an hour for the towers! 

View from the top

Made it up there!

After Museggmauer, we stopped at two more locations, including a palace that is now a government building and a Franciscan church. The latter was gorgeous but again omitted from the Rick Steves book. I have to say: I normally love Rick and absolutely recommend his London, Paris, and Rome books, but I think I'd recommend trying to find a more comprehensive book for Switzerland. It seems like he perhaps focused on other cities and left Luzern as a one-day stop, when really it deserves at least a little more.

Overall, we loved Luzern. It's expensive, but you can find deals on hotels and stretch the budget on meals. But don't miss Mt. Pilatus (especially if you won't see any other Alps) or the towers.

Tomorrow we leave for Salzburg in the morning and hope to get in a walking tour in the afternoon. See you in a few days!


  1. AMAZING photos! i'm so jealous of your vacation and i'm glad you're having a great time! :)

  2. Love this! Sounds like an beautiful trip! Enjoy Salzburg!!