One of Europe’s finest lakes, Lake Luzern is brimming with historical sites and idyllic villages and is a joy to explore. With an irregular shape and dramatic mountains rising from its shores, the views are ever-changing and always breathtaking as you navigate around its many sights. Visitors can travel on the water via one of five old-fashioned paddle steamers that stop at 33 points of the lake.
You could spend an entire holiday touring the lake, so if you’re short on time we’ve picked our favourite highlights, taking the lake in a clockwise direction from Luzern.
The municipality of Meggen is home to Meggenhorn Castle which is a Swiss heritage site of national significance.
The castle, surrounded by vineyards, was rebuilt in the style of a French Renaissance chateau in 1868–70 with adjacent Gothic chapel and a romantic boathouse on the shore.
Mark Twain spent several months of 1897 at this summer resort, the second biggest tourist destination in the canton, bestowing the plaudit: ‘This is the most charming place we have ever lived in for repose and restfulness.’ Sheltered by Mt Rigi, it has a particularly mild climate, enabling it to supply Luzern with vegetables.
For impressive views of the lake, take the cable car 15 minutes’ walk from the boat up to Rigi Kaltbad-First.
Another summer resort with access to Rigi Kaltbad-First, here via a cogwheel railway. Close to the pier is one of the world’s few crossbow workshops, taking you back to the 14th century when these lethal weapons were at their zenith.
You can also visit Fort Vitznau artillery fortress, built inside Mt Rigi as part of the Gotthard defence during World War II.
This little town was politically independent from 1390 to 1798, the smallest republic in the world.
It had its own laws, tax authorities and set of gallows. Some good stone and all-wooden houses can be seen.
The Rütli meadow, regarded as the cradle of Swiss democracy, can be reached only by boat from the tree-shrouded landing stage.
According to tradition, it was here that representatives of the three founder cantons took an oath to unite under one confederacy in 1291, thus establishing the spot as the ‘birthplace of Switzerland’. In remembrance of this day, every 1 August, the Swiss National Holiday, this oath is re-enacted.
The boatman’s house, inn and tiny harbour have offered boatmen sanctuary from storms since the 14th century.
The present house dates from 1659. A year-round funicular used by commuters and schoolchildren links a station just by the jetty with the small resort of Seelisberg.
A pilgrimage chapel of 1700–01 above the lake is a landmark. Five minutes’ walk from the boat is the longest cable car in Central Switzerland, taking you to the popular hiking and biking area atop Klewenalp, from which the Jura and Black Forest can be seen. In winter, the mountain offers family-friendly skiing.
A minute’s walk from the steamer is the funicular up to the Bürgenstock where there are several exclusive hotels. Providing you have a reasonable head for heights, there is a dramatic path around the mountain from the summer resort. Known as the Felsenweg, the path towards the end looks down a sheer drop of 700m before turning into the cliff face to give access to Europe’s tallest lift.
The lift begins inside the rock but soon emerges, rising for 165m inside a lattice steel structure that is bracketed out from the cliff, ending at the highest point of the mountain, 1,128m. The actress Audrey Hepburn married Mel Ferrer in the chapel on the Bürgenstock on 25 September 1954.
Situated at Tribschen is the former home of Richard Wagner. Overlooking the lake and surrounded by trees and fields grazed by cows, the house, which he rented between 1866 and 1872, is now a museum dedicated to the life of the German composer.
The ground-floor rooms are filled with photographs, letters, scores, paintings and other memorabilia, all labelled in German, French and English.