Medicareful Travel: Senior Trip to Lucerne
Those who have lived in, visited, or seen the landscapes of Switzerland will know it is one of the most naturally beautiful places on Earth. It’s a land of extremes, from snowy mountain peaks piercing the sky to lakes so blue you’ll think someone spilled paint in them. But, where should you stay? In Switzerland, you’re spoiled with choice, but our pick is Lucerne. Here’s why.
Why Lucerne is Perfect for Seniors
It’d be impossible to say why Lucerne is a great senior destination without also covering why you should pick it over other, perhaps more well-known, cities like Zurich or Geneva. Besides the cost differences, Lucerne is less expensive than both. It’s close enough to Zurich to take advantage of the airport. Lucerne is also more central, making it a great hub to see other regions of the country (more on that later). You have access to mountain hikes, a major lake (Lake Lucerne), and all the modern amenities you’d expect from a city. You can mix comfort and class with the alpine ruggedness that you would expect from such a natural country.
Lucerne is also a perfect example of the blended cultural influences of the country. While there’s a certain distinct Swiss culture, it’s colored by the three major European countries that surround it. You can feel the cultures of France, Germany, and Italy more in the West, North, and South respectively, but Lucerne has elements of each. Though located in the primarily German-speaking region of Switzerland, the English-speaking name Lucerne is actually the French version. German-speakers actually call the city Luzern (loot-ZERN), which is what you’ll find on many Swiss maps and train guides. This blending of cultures will show you what makes Switzerland so unique.
Finally, if you’re not one for the outdoors, fear not! Lucerne has many ways you can experience all it has to offer. You can take a boat out onto Lake Lucerne or a cogwheel to one of the observation stations on one of the surrounding mountain peaks. This is without mentioning the genuinely world-class public transit system that veins throughout Switzerland. In Lucerne, Switzerland is at your fingertips.
Where to Stay
When you’re staying in Lucerne, you’ll have wildly different accommodation options to suit your preferences. The deciding factors will come down to your desired proximity to town, space, views, and accommodations.
In the City
Staying in Lucerne itself allows you to choose from a wide range of accommodations, from traditional hotels at any price point to affordable clean and cozy hostels to apartments or entire homes. These accommodations will allow you access to the restaurants, landmarks, shopping, and transit options.
Around Lake Lucerne
Lucerne isn’t the only city on Lake Lucerne. The lake itself is over 18 miles long, and you’ll find little towns scattered along every mile. You could stay in Weggis, Meggen, or Vitznau on the more northern-facing side or Hergiswil, Seelisberg, or Buochs on the southern side. Staying in one of these towns offers a slower, quieter, and more out-of-the-way feel. While you may have fewer hotel options, you’ll likely find more rental properties at a lower price and potentially a better value. You can also get around having to travel into town by taking one of the local trains or the Lake Lucerne ferry.
Working with a rental company or a service like VRBO or Airbnb, you may be able to rent a chalet, the iconic Alpine homes Switzerland is known for. While these range on the more expensive side of the price spectrum and are the least likely to be in town, they can give you the most luxurious experience. Many have extra amenities like a hot tub, pool, or sauna or a deck overlooking the mountains or lake. If you plan on spending more time at your home away from home, this may be the way to go.
What to Do
One of the most difficult and potentially stress-inducing planning points of any trip is figuring out what exactly you’re going to do while you’re at your destination. With Lucerne, we suggest giving yourself a lot of freedom to explore. While you can make some firm plans, Lucerne really blooms when you have some ideas of what to do and you keep it loose. We suggest getting the Swiss Travel Pass. While a bit pricy, the pass allows you to have unlimited train, bus, or public boat rides, among other discounts and free admissions. This gives you the freedom to explore places in Lucerne at your leisure.
How could you go anywhere in Switzerland and not do something with a mountain? The two main mountains near Lucerne are Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus. Both Rigi and Pilatus are easily accessible from Lucerne with many ways to get to and up the mountain. The trick is to pick your trail, which both Pilatus and Rigi have at different skill levels, and navigate to the starting point. From there, you’ll follow the yellow signs that point to your next stop. The most popular trails are well marked and well worn, making them ideal for any level of hiker. Just make sure to follow our tips and hike safely, and you’ll have a great time. Other mountains, like the famous Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau are a little further away if you don’t mind more travel.
Bridges, Walls, and Lions
You don’t have to leave Lucerne for some incredible views. In fact, it’s pretty easy to see some of the famous landmarks of Lucerne in an afternoon while walking through the altstadt (old town). First, you have the four historic bridges over the Reuss river — the Kapellbrücke, Rathaussteg, Reussbrücke, and Spreuerbrücke. The Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge) and Spreuerbrücke (Spreuer Bridge) are beautiful covered wooden bridges dating back to the 13th century. The Rathaussteg and Reussbrücke are more modern girder bridges. While they aren’t as iconic as the two covered bridges, they are perfect for snapping a photo or two.
From there, you can follow the river until you meet the Nölliturm, the first tower you’ll meet on the Museggmauer Weg. Museggmauer (Musegg Wall) is the medieval wall that surrounds the original settlement that made up Lucerne. Along the wall, you’ll pass nine different towers that you can climb that offer a bird’s eye view of Lucerne. This walk has some hills and many steps if you’re climbing the towers, so take your time and rest when you get tired. Treat it like a hike.
After walking the old wall, you can make the short walk to the Löwendenkmal (Lion Monument), a beautiful monument dedicated to Swiss guards who died during the 1792 French Revolution. The shady pool and evocative statue create a quiet, contemplative alcove in Lucerne. While these are the big landmarks in Lucerne, you’ll find picturesque plazas and sights throughout the altstadt and beyond.
Relax. You’ve Earned It
After all that walking and hiking, don’t forget to allow yourself a little time to kick your feet back and relax. Lucerne has some perfect venues for that. Just walk along the lakeside or on either side of the Reuss river. As you walk, you’ll find rows of restaurants with outdoor seating and a view. You may even be able to find a leisure cruise on Lake Lucerne, sometimes with drink or culinary specialties.
If it’s a rainy day or you want to spend some time indoors, you still have some options. The Sammlung Rosengart is an art museum featuring artists like Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, Claude Monet, and Pablo Picasso. Fans of games will love the Gamerorama Spielmuseum, an interactive museum dedicated to all kinds of games. By interactive, we mean you’re encouraged to play, whether that’s a boardgame in the café out front or the various games scattered throughout the building. The Glacier Garden gives visitors a glimpse through time as you head into the underworld to see how the glacier has shaped the landscape. The garden also has a museum and a mirror maze. If you have the Swiss Travel Pass, the Sammlung Rosengart and Glacier Garden are included for free.
What to Eat
While Switzerland doesn’t offer world-famous cuisine like its neighbors, France or Italy, you can still get a good bite to eat. You’ll find influences from each of its neighbors, with a heavy emphasis on potatoes, pasta like spaetzle, meat, and cheese. Ingredients like polenta, pickled vegetables, mushrooms, and anything locally sourced are common. For pickier eaters who may be put off by some of the options in more food-focused countries, this will be a blessing.
You’ll want to keep in mind that the cuisine shifts based on where in the country you are. The closer to Germany you are, the more German the cuisine turns. The closer to France, the more French influences you’ll find. Near Italy, you’ll think you’re in Northern Italy. The other aspect of eating in Switzerland (or anything for that matter) is that it’s famously very expensive. You’ll see this for most parts of your trip, but it’s most apparent with food. You can save some money on your meals, but we suggest planning your budget fully knowing the average costs and not being scared off by the ticket price. If you’re too focused on budget, you may miss out on some classics of Swiss cuisine like…
You may be able to get fondue in the United States, but it’s not Swiss fondue. There’s nothing quite like a bubbling pot of Alpine cheeses to put you in a good mood. Traditional Swiss fondue is made with base of white, garlic, and lemon juice along with a few spices like nutmeg if you choose, before adding in the cheeses (usually a mix of Gruyère and Emmenthaler cheese).
When it comes to eating, there are a few rules to follow. Traditional Swiss fondue only uses bread to dip. You should spear the bread with your fondue fork and swish it through the cheese in a clockwise or figure eight motion. Make sure to go one at a time if you’re sharing with others. After that, all that’s left to say is be careful not to burn yourself and enjoy!
The next Swiss classic you may be less familiar with, but it’s no less delicious. Imagine a seasoned potato pancake that’s been lightly fried in a cast iron pan until both sides are crispy and golden brown — a rösti. Sometimes, your rösti will come with additions like spaetzle or onions. The beauty of a rösti is that it’s a canvas that works well with almost anything. It’s not uncommon to have a rösti with eggs and bacon. Others are sweeter like sliced apples and cheese. This can allow you to have multiple different rösti, and that’s not a bad thing.
Raclette is less of an individual dish as it is a way of cooking and an entire meal rolled into one. The raclette consists of a flattop grill on a hot iron. Underneath the iron are cast iron trays. With the grill, you’ll get some raw meat, a sack of parboiled potatoes, pickled and fresh vegetables, and slices of cheese (sometimes other ingredients, too). When you’re ready to eat, you’ll place the cheese in the cast iron trays and place them under the iron. This allows the cheese to melt as you cook the other ingredients on the grill. Once everything is ready, you’ll pour the perfectly melted cheese over your other ingredients, and there you have it. Not exactly friendly if you’re lactose intolerant, but it’s worth trying if you can.
Day Trips from Lucerne
As we mentioned earlier, Lucerne is very central within Switzerland and Western Europe by extension. This lends itself well to day trips or as a jumping off point to other locations.
Closer Day Trips
For this category, we’ll be focusing on trips that take under two hours. Luckily, that includes almost all the major cities of Switzerland. Perhaps the closest and easiest to get to is Zurich. One of the global centers for banking and finance, Zurich is similar to Lucerne in many ways. Beautiful, clean, and on the northern banks of a large river, it’s worth visiting, especially considering it’s only 45 minutes away by rail. Just over an hour to the north on the border of Germany and France is Basel. As Switzerland’s oldest university city, you’ll find museums, art, culture, beautiful architecture, and more.
The capital of Switzerland, Bern, is also just about an hour away, and situated in the heart of the country. The beautifully preserved medieval altstadt is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you can visit museums like the Albert Einstein House or the Swiss Alpine Museum, and public parks and gardens. Finally, you can visit the iconic Interlaken at just under two hours. Nestled between two lakes (hence the name), Interlaken is picture-perfect, if slightly touristy. That said, it’s also a great jumping off point for Lauterbrunnen and Grindelwald, two Alpine villages that don’t get enough attention.
Once we pass that two-hour mark, a lot more destinations open up. These locations are probably too far for a single day trip but still worth considering. At just over three hours, you’ll have one of the most iconic sights in Europe, if not the world — the Matterhorn. The resort town of Zermatt lies at the foot of the mountain and is perfect for skiing, hiking, or just relaxing in awe of the surrounding mountains. Remaining in Switzerland, you can make for the other major city in the country, Geneva. Maybe the most cosmopolitan (and most French) Swiss city, Geneva lies along Lake Geneva and hosts famous landmarks like the CERN, museums, parks, gardens, and a beautiful altstadt.
Beyond the Swiss border, you aren’t too far from some must-see spots. Following the Rhine River northward, you can reach the capital of the Grand Est region (formerly Alsace), Strasbourg, which is under three hours from Lucerne. Even if you’re only there for one day, the scenic city is worth it. Between the Grand Ile, La Petite France, the ancient cathedral that towers over the age-worn square, Strasbourg is a postcard come to life.
Milan, one of the fashion capitals of the world, isn’t much further. Whether you’re catching a soccer match at one of Italy’s two biggest teams, AC Milan and Inter Milan, Milan’s Duomo, Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” or just shopping at all the high-end stores, you won’t run out of things to do.
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Lucerne may not be as well-known as Paris, Rome, London, or other European tourist hotspots, but that’s probably for the best. The relatively small city of Lucerne is perfect as a not-so-secret second trip overseas. Not only does it feel distinctly European and Swiss, but it’s also a gorgeous city and landscape that can’t be seen or experienced anywhere else.
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