VISIT LUCERNE IN THE WINTER MONTHS – WHAT TO DO & TRAVEL TIPA
Lucerne is often considered the most beautiful city in Switzerland. Surrounded by the Swiss Alps, this small city has a lot to offer its visitors. And Lucerne in winter is not less stunning than in summer.
If I had to name a European city with the most stunning scenery, it would be… Lucerne! The scenery is definitely impressive, but the city/town center also has a few gorgeous places to visit – Lucerne in winter is one of a kind.
While many of the following tips can be done at any time of the year, there are a few things you can only do in the winter.
After several visits in the summer, I visited in winter and squeezed in many winter attractions in Lucerne. There is just so much to do and see that I did not want to miss out on any of the fun things in the winter.
While I have a post about the best things to do in Lucerne in the summer (and fall and spring), this is your Lucerne winter travel guide – which includes general Lucerne travel tips (e.g., where to stay and how to get around) as well as the best activities in Lucerne in the winter.
Travel Tips For Lucerne in Winter
Let´s start with some tips for your Lucerne winter trip.
How to Get To Lucerne in Winter
If you fly into Switzerland, Zurich Airport, or Basel Airport would be the best choices. From there, it takes about one hour (by car or train) to get to Lucerne.
For your winter trip, I recommend getting around public transportation. It will allow you to get an excellent impression of this country, and even in the winter months, public transportation in Switzerland is superb.
How to Get Around in Winter
If you stay in an official accommodation in Lucerne, you will get a Visitor Card.
- The visitor card allows you to use public transportation in the city of Lucerne for free.
- Lucerne itself is small, and you can easily walk, but sometimes being able to hop on a bus and take advantage of the excellent Swiss public transportation comes in handy.
- Public transportation in Lucerne is fast, reliable, and on time.
- However, the Lucerne Visitor Card is only for Lucerne’s city.
- You cannot use it to get to some of the places I mention here.
- In those cases, you need to buy a ticket. So, please check the validity of the card for each location.
If you are a non-Swiss resident, you might want to look into a Swiss Travel Pass. I often, even if I road trip, buy them and use them for long distances, my boat cruises (I might have a slight obsession with boat rides), and even mountain rides.
- You have unlimited bus, train, and boat rides with the Swiss Travel Pass.
- The Swiss Travel Pass gives you a 50% discount on most of the mountain excursions and the Mount Rigi train ride is even included.
- Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.
DRIVING IN LUCERNE
Driving is also a good option because there are some scenic streets. However, parking in the town center will make your travel costs explode. If you stay in the center of town, free parking is available outside the city center.
Also, many winter activities mentioned here are within the town center of Lucerne, so a car might be unnecessary.
Also, keep in mind that driving in the snow might be challenging. While there will be hardly any snow in Lucerne, it might be different if you visit places like Engelberg.
Best Time to Visit Lucerne in Winter
Personally, I think Lucerne is almost always a good idea. I love the summer months when I can actually swim in the lake, as well as early fall or late spring.
After my recent visit, I can actually recommend visiting Lucerne in the winter months, too. So, if you are eyeing winter as your season to visit, here are my tips for that time of year.
- I haven’t visited Lucerne´s Christmas markets, but I heard about how beautiful they were, so for this reason alone, December in Lucerne would be a good choice.
- If you are interested in visiting the Light Festival (LILU), then mid-January in Lucerne is a perfect time. It was when I visited the city, and it was perfect because January really is off-season.
Hardly anyone is around (unlike the summer months when Lucerne is crowded), and accommodation prices are significantly lower than in the summer months. The Light Festival is another beautiful attraction worth a visit (more on that later).
Disclaimer: I was invited to discover Lucerne in the winter by Lucerne Tourism and My Switzerland, but as always views and opinions are my own. Also, some links might include affiliate links. This means if you make a qualified purchase (or book a tour/hotel) I might earn a small commission. There are no extra costs for you. More about it here.
Where to Stay in Lucerne in the Winter
Lucerne is quite pricey, especially in the town center, but it is worth a visit.
Luxury Hotels in Lucerne: Schweizerhof Luzern is a beautiful and fun 5* hotel located at Lake Lucerne’s shores and a few hundred meters from the old town and main tourist attractions (if you can, book a room with a lake view).
Mid-Range Hotels in Lucerne: There is not much in that area, as even 3 or 4-star hotels cost quite a bit. If you are on a budget, you can check out prices close to Lucerne, but on my last trip, I stayed at Hotel des Alpes which came with amazing room views. It is located close to the Chapel Bridge. Check out prices here.
Budget Hotels in Lucerne: This bed-and-breakfast offers single and double rooms (with an occupancy of 4 people maximum). Some rooms have a shared bathroom, and some have a private one. Click here to find the best rates for your stay at B&B.
If you are still unsure where to stay in Lucerne, you can check out my full accommodation guide on the best places to stay in Lucerne here.
What to Pack For Your Lucerne Winter Vacation
Keep in mind, that Lucerne gets cold but if you get up to the mountains then it might get reaaaally cold. Your Lucerne – or Switzerland winter packing list should be the following versatile, essential items. Using these items to dress in layers will keep you both stylish and warm.
- ✔️ A warm, waterproof jacket should be one of the first items you think to pack. Avoid choosing a bulky jacket that takes up a lot of space. This can make you feel uncomfortable when you have layers underneath. Instead, opt for a lightweight trench raincoat that will keep you warm, dry, and comfortable.
- ✔️ A knitted beanie is a perfect solution for keeping the warmth in while you venture out. A hat will keep you toasty warm wherever you are.
- ✔️ A pair of gloves can do wonders for your mobility and comfort. When selecting your options, it’s worth investing in a pair that can dry quickly and are touch-screen compatible.
- ✔️ A warm scarf and/or turtleneck sweater are key items for keeping your neck covered. A turtleneck sweater is perfect as a garment to wear underneath your jacket, while the scarf can be removed easily.
- ✔️ Leggings are an essential item to pack as you can dress them up or down. You can even wear them underneath your denim as an extra layer of warmth.
- ✔️ When it comes to packing socks for your Austria winter trip – the thicker, the better. The chances are that you’ll be spending a lot of time outdoors in the snow, and you’ll want your feet to be warm and cozy.
- ✔️ My favorite winter clothes are thermals. A quality set of thermals is your key to enjoying the winter weather in Austria. You have to wear them on a cold day to believe what a wonderful invention it is!
- ✔️ Make sure you have a trusty pair of warm shoes. You’ll want your shoes to be as versatile as possible. Shoes that allow you to enjoy a variety of activities while keeping your feet warm and dry.
What to do in Winter in Lucerne, Switzerland
Okay, enough talking, let‘s talk about the best winter activities in Lucerne.
Discover the Old Town
I have been to Lucerne quite often, but I admit that I had just overlooked the beautiful buildings in the old town of the center. However, the old town is lovely, and in the winter months (except for December probably), it is much more fun to stroll around.
With fewer people around, you actually get to see the buildings. You will find many painted houses with interesting facades and also painted water fountains.
- Yes, you can enjoy the delicious freshwater that comes from Mount Pilatus – so, whenever you see a water fountain you can refill your water bottle. If the water is not drinkable, a sign will tell you.
Depending on your speed, I suggest planning in at least about two hours for the old town.
One of the main attractions in Lucerne is the famous Chapel Bridge. It is located very close to the old town and within walking distance.
Okay, I know I was lucky. There is not often snow on the Chapel Bridge. But you might be lucky, too. Doesn’t the Chapel Bridge look lovely in the winter? The flower pots are gone, though (which you will find in the warmer months), but looking at the snow-capped roof of the bridge with Mount Pilatus in the background is charming.
But even without the snow, you cannot (should not) skip the Chapel Bridge.
In the winter months, it is less busy, and you can enjoy crossing the bridge in a more relaxed way. The wooden bridge, spanning the Reuss River, was originally built in the 14th century before being partly burnt down in 1993 and then quickly rebuilt.
If you visit Lucerne in December, this is where the magic happens…Kind of. Imagine this place in times of Christmas Markets.
- TIP: Do not look only to the right and left (to enjoy the beautiful scenery and pretty houses lined up along the promenade), but also look up and enjoy the paintings that are hung on the ceiling.
If you have read my other Lucerne post (about the best things to do in the summer in Lucerne), then you know I am obsessed with boat riding. Lake Lucerne is amazing – I can´t remember how many times I have done a Lake Lucerne boat trip.
I recommend a boat cruise to Vitznau – where you can combine the boat cruise with a trip to Mount Rigi! In the winter, it gets dark early, but a cruise in the winter is still a perfect activity with its picture-perfect scenery! My tip is to start the boat tour in the morning or afternoon so you can still see the landscape.
Also, I have been asked many times about the most romantic city/town in Switzerland, and I have two answers: one of them is Lucerne. If you do the evening cruise. You will not see much of the scenery, yet you will experience the romantic side of Lucerne in the winter!
- TIP: With a Swiss Travel Pass, the boat cruise on Lake Lucerne is free.
The Jesuit Church, a Catholic Church built in the 17th century, can be visited at any time of the year. But in the winter times, it is probably even more special. This attraction is worth seeing even if you are not religious.It had always attracted my attention since it is easy to spot from the Chapel Bridge but I could not visit because I was traveling with my dog.
When I finally visited, I was surprised by its baroque style! I did not expect so much fanciness in Switzerland, and the outside appearance did not give me any clue about its inner beauty.
It did not take me long to go through, so it is probably easy to squeeze it into your Lucerne winter itinerary.
We all know that Switzerland is the home of amazing chocolate. It is actually my favorite Swiss “food, “ and I have always been impressed by Lindt chocolate.
However, if you prefer more exotic and exclusive chocolate, then you can book a chocolate tasting at Max Chocolatier near Chapel Bridge.
There is also a story behind this chocolate manufacturer: The owners’ son has Down’s Syndrome, and he loves chocolate. So, his parents decided to produce their own chocolate and let him taste their products.
There is another smaller shop in Zurich as well, but only in Lucerne can you book your own chocolate workshop and make your own chocolate.
The chocolate itself is actually unique with very unusual ingredients. I had to get used to such chocolate, but I am sure if you prefer chocolates other than simple milk chocolate, this is for you!
If you visit Lucerne in January, then the Light Festival is the perfect attraction for you.
In January 2019, the first Lucerne Light Festival (LILU) took place, and has become an annual festival. Does it sound romantic? It actually is. There are around 20 special places/installations/projects lit up from 6 pm to 10 pm.This is a free Lucerne winter activity. You will find some informational signs on each piece to read out about the artists and the ideas behind them. You can walk around the city, see all the art pieces, and join some free guided tours (reservations required).
Seeing all the installments probably takes a few hours. While it is very romantic to experience with your loved one, it is also nice for families with kids or people of any age.
The highlight of the LILU festival was probably the concert in the Hofkirche. There is an entry fee and the show takes about 20 minutes. I highly recommend buying tickets in advance because most shows sold out quickly. The show takes place several times each evening, and you can actually lie on the church floor and watch this exciting light show accompanied by music.
I am by no means an art expert, but I like lights – and it was interesting to see the art installations beautifully illuminated. This festival is also for people who are no art enthusiasts because it is just…pretty!
- In 2024, the LILU Festival will take place from the 11th to the 24th of January.
The Swiss love their Christmas Markets. I have only visited the Christmas Market in Basel, but from the end of November until Christmas, Lucerne also has its Christmas Markets at Franziskanerplatz.
If you want to experience this special time in Switzerland, add the Christmas Market to your list.
- Here are more Christmas Markets in Switzerland.
WINTER SPORTS IN LUCERNE
Are you wondering about winter sports activities in Lucerne? Lucerne’s town center does not offer many winter sports activities, but yes, winter sports lovers will enjoy the area of Lucerne, too!
Head to some of the gorgeous mountain peaks on the shores of Lake Lucerne and you get to have some real winter fun. Since you can do more than just winter sports on the mountain peaks, I will not talk in-depth about sports but mention the mountain highlights where you can also be active!
Mount Pilatus stands at 2,132 meters above sea level and thus offers great views of the Swiss Alps and Lake Lucerne. It is one of the most popular day trips you can take from Lucerne – in winter as well as in the summer.
I visited Mount Pilatus in the summer – and totally loved it! It became one of my favorite mountain peaks in Switzerland, and so I could not wait to visit again in the winter. And I was not disappointed when I got to visit. In winter, it is absolutely stunning, too!Of course, Mount Pilatus is completely different in the winter months from what I had known before. You can experience a totally different world up here. So, whether you want to enjoy the fantastic views or prefer to do winter sports, Mount Pilatus is the perfect place.
Skiing, snowshoe hiking, snowboarding, and sledding – you can do all this in the region of Lucerne, and especially on Mount Pilatus.
TIP: In the winter months, the cogwheel train ride is not available, so you can only go up via cable car.
- Tip: You will get a 50% discount with your Swiss Travel Pass.
Mount Titlis in winter is fun! It is one of the highest mountain summits in Switzerland that is easily accessible via cable car/funicular. How high is Mount Titlis? 3,238 meters above sea level! So, buckle up for a unique experience.
To enjoy a day (I would plan in a full day or at least 8 hours for these activities) at Mount Titlis, hop on a train at Lucerne train station, and head to Engelberg train station.
The train ride gets scenic toward the end! You can either walk to the Mount Titlis cable car station or take the free bus shuttle from the train station. While getting up, you can already enjoy the beautiful scenery but once at the top, you will be blown away.
There is a lot to do at Mount Titlis in the winter: You can go skiing, snowboarding, snowshoe hiking, sledding, and more.
You can rent tubes, mini bobs, or balancers without any extra charge at Trübsee Alpine Lodge and then go whizzing down the slopes.
While I saw many kids sliding down fast (which included some falling), I opted for the safer activity. Tubing is really fun and not scary at all.
But it is not only about the views and winter sports. You can also walk in the Glacier Cave (a 150-meter-long walkway below the glacier’s surface) or enjoy a walk over the Titlis Cliff Walk (a suspension bridge that is 3,041 meters above sea level).
- Tip: You will get a 50% discount with your Swiss Travel Pass. The train ride to Engelberg is free with a Swiss Travel Pass.
Beautiful, beautiful Mount Rigi. I was impressed visiting in the summer (I have been up there a few times), but visiting in the winter was mind-blowing! It is a mountain massif of the Alps – at about 1,800 meters above sea level – and it is almost entirely surrounded by the water of three lakes: Lake Lucerne, Lake Zug, and Lake Lauerz.
Mount Rigi is actually one of the best spots to enjoy the sunset in all of Switzerland. The colorful sunset against the white snow…drop-dead gorgeous! The pictures do not do it any justice.
I recommend arriving at the top just before sunset. Then watch the sunset from the summit. We cannot always rely on clear skies – but if you get a chance to visit Mount Rigi on a nice day… Just do it!
I even added it to my Switzerland in the winter guide because it was just impressive (check out that winter guide here).
There are different cogwheels – the one I took had one compartment with open windows. Yes, it was cold but it was worth it, but I seriously recommend sitting in that compartment just bring your gloves and bundle up!
But you could also go sledding or do other winter sports, like snowshoe hiking or sledding, here as well.
- Tip: Free with your Swiss Travel Pass. Bonus tip: start your trip from Vitznau Station – get to Vitznau either via boat or bus.
BEST LUCERNE WINTER ACTIVITIES
Spending a few days in Lucerne in the winter is a great idea! There is so much to do and see that you will be busy admiring the beautiful scenery and enjoying the fun activities. Winter in Lucerne is just magical.
So, hopefully, this guide helped you find out about the best things to do and see in the winter! Whether you visit in December, January, or February – enjoy a wonderful winter break in Lucerne!