Lucerne, Switzerland | Expat city guide

Lucerne, Switzerland | Expat city guide

Have you found yourself in Lucerne and need some information about the city, things to do or how to get around? Check out our expat city guide for lots of relevant information and useful links. 

Guide to Lucerne 

Lucerne or Luzern is the most populous town in Central Switzerland and the capital of the Canton of Lucerne. The city is located in the German-speaking part of Switzerland and, as such, the official language of the city is Swiss German, however, the main language that is largely spoken throughout the area is a local variant of the Alemannic Swiss German dialect. 

The city has long been desirable for tourists and expats. Historically, the city has attracted members of the social elite, including nobility, royalty and famous artists such as Richard Wagner and Mark Twain. In more recent times, Lucerne has become a hub for economics, culture and media. 

A short history of Lucerne

In the year 750 AD, the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Leodegar was founded and oversaw the area. The monastery was eventually passed to the Murbach Abbey, located in Alsace in France. The area at this time was known as Luciaria. 

Foundation of the city 

Lucerne gained its independence from Murbach Abbey in 1178 and the city we know today was founded that same year. The settlement began to grow significantly due to its location at a crossroads for European trade, being on the main alpine route between Italy and Germany.

By the end of the 13th century, Lucerne had grown into a self-sufficient city but was still under the control of the Habsburg King Rudolf I. The population of Lucerne rejected Habsburg rule and influence and so, the city allied with the cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden to join the Old Swiss Confederacy in 1332. 

Bern, Zurich and Zug joined the confederacy later and together the cantons fought against the rule of Austria. After a long period of conflict, Lucerne was freed from the rule of the Habsburgs. Lucerne started expanding its influence following the confederacy’s victory and granted itself the rights it had previously been denied by its Habsburg rulers. In 1415, Sigismund of Luxembourg, King of Germany, Croatia and Hungary, granted Lucerne imperial immediacy, making it free from the authority of any local lords.

Conflict and growth 

From 1520, the Protestant Reformation saw the Old Swiss Confederacy split between protestants and Catholics. The nearby cities around Lucerne converted to Protestantism. However, Lucerne remained Catholic and after early victories against the protestants, Lucerne became a prominent member of the catholic wing of the Confederacy.

In 1653, the city was attacked by a peasant army, although a peace treaty was quickly ratified with the rebels. The Catholic forces would eventually be beaten by protestant forces from Zurich, Bern and the city of Geneva in the 1712 Toggenburg War. 

In 1798, France invaded Switzerland and established the Helvetic Republic. This was eventually dissolved in 1803, after which the city began to grow significantly again. Many people arrived in the city from the surrounding areas to take advantage of the burgeoning industrial sector.

The reputation of Lucerne was also heightened by the works of many famous and beloved artists, particularly the 1804 play William Tell by Friedrich Schiller. During the 19th century, the city became a destination favoured by artists, royalty and other members of the social elite. 

Lucerne’s reputation gradually led to the building of several famous hotels and the development of modern-style tourism. During the second half of the 1800s, the Grand Hotel National and the Château Gütsch were built. It was also during this time that the famous hotelier César Ritz (of Ritz-Carlton fame) established himself as the manager of the Grand Hotel National. 

21st century

In June 2007, the populations of Lucerne and the town of Littau agreed to merge into one city, which would still be called Lucerne. This took effect in 2010. 

What to do in Lucerne: Sightseeing & Activities

When you’re in Lucerne, make sure you check out some of these beautiful and unique landmarks.

Chapel bridge 

The symbol of Lucerne and one of Switzerland’s most famous tourist attractions, the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, is a covered wooden footbridge that crosses the Reuss river. The bridge is named after Saint Peter’s Chapel, which can be found nearby, and contains a number of paintings in triangular frames that date as far back as the 17th century. The bridge is unique in this aspect, as no other wooden footbridges in Europe have such a feature (apart from the Spreuerbrücke, also in Lucerne). 

The bridge almost burned down in 1993, after a great fire ravaged the bridge, destroying many of the paintings inside. The bridge was reconstructed and opened to the public a year later. Of the 147 paintings that existed before the fire, 47 were recovered but only 30 were eventually restored.

Explore the city

Lucerne is a city of both great architectural and natural beauty. One of the best places to really take in the grandeur of the city is Lucerne’s historic city centre. Located right on the banks of the river Reuss, the guild halls and ornate facades provide a picturesque setting for spending a lazy afternoon in the city. 

Another way to really take in the city is up on the Musegg Wall and at its nine towers, four of which are accessible to the public. The walls and towers offer breathtaking views of the city and the lake. The wall’s most famous tower, the Zyt Tower, bears the oldest clock in the city, for which it is honoured by being allowed to chime one minute before the hour.

Check out Lucerne’s famous museums 

Lucerne is home to a whole host of museums, including the Swiss Museum of Transport, the most visited museum in the whole country. Here visitors can find everything relating to transportation, including trains, planes, ships and automobiles from throughout history. The museum also boasts an IMAX cinema, a planetarium and a 1 to 200.0000-scale photo of Switzerland taken from space. 

Another popular museum is the Richard Wagner Museum, located at the composer’s old lakeside residence in the Tribsen district. There is also the Rosengart Collection, a gallery of hundreds of works by famous artists such as Monet, Picasso and Paul Klee. The Kunstmuseum Luzern, housed inside the Lucerne Culture and Congress Centre, is also worth a visit.

Take a ride on the lake

Some of the most stunning sights in the whole of Switzerland can be found on Lake Lucerne. The oddly shaped lake is ringed by mountains on all sides, including the legendary Mount Pilatus, or “Dragon Mountain”. Cruise boats ferry visitors across the water, which offers the most majestic views of the lake and mountains. There is plenty to do in the area around the lake too, with various walking paths and activities taking place all around the lake.

Marvel at the beauty of nature 

The most unique of Lucerne’s attractions are the potholes in Glacier Garden, which were formed during the last ice age around 20.000 years ago. There are also fossils on display, some around 20 million years old. There is also a path to an observation tower, which offers even more majestic views of the city, the lake and the mountains. 

Near Glacier Garden, you can also find the Lion Monument. Here, in a beautifully picturesque setting, which makes the meaning of monument even more poignant, you will find a relief of a mortally wounded lion carved into the rock. The lion is resting on a broken shield bearing the fleur-de-lis. The relief was carved as a memorial to the Swiss Guard, which was massacred while trying to protect Louis XVI from revolutionaries during the French Revolution. 

Getting about in Lucerne 

Public transport in Lucerne is mostly operated by the VBL transport operator, who run the city’s trolleybus and motorbus networks. The city’s transport network is integrated with that of the cantons of Lucerne, Obwalden and Nidwalden. 

Annual events in Lucerne 

These events in Lucerne are on every year and are not to be missed. 

Lucerne Cheese Festival 

Lucerne is home to the largest cheese festival in Central Switzerland. The festival is exactly what it sounds like: a celebration of cheese from all over the country. The festival includes a cheese market with around 20 producers from the region and over 250 types, as well as musical entertainment. Visitors can make their own cheese and participate in cow-milking competitions.

Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern 

Every year, elite athletes from over 40 different countries descend on Lucerne to take part in the Spitzen Leichtathletik Luzern track-and-field event. The event not only includes professional competitions like 100-metre sprint, long jump and javelin throw, but also events for children, young people and those in wheelchairs. 

Fumetto - International Comic Festival 

This nine-day festival is a must for comic lovers. The festival, which attracts around 50.000 people a year, is held in multiple venue across the city and celebrates the artistry of comic books. Some of the world’s best known comic book illustrators are in attendance every year, as well as some of the best emerging talents. There are also numerous exhibitions, readings and performances to enjoy too. 

Lucerne Regatta 

Every year, on the Rotsee a few kilometers outside Lucerne, rowers from all over the world gather for a three-day event in which they compete in the World Cup. The regatta is quite a spectacular sight, and people gather in their masses to watch the boats power down the lake. To many rowers, the Rotesee is the best rowing course in the world. Which is a shame as you are only able to row on it for three days a year as it is also a nature reserve. Onlookers usually gather to watch the races at the Rotsee lido, or the grandstands near the finish. 

Jobs in Lucerne

Lucerne is a hub for business and the home of many big international companies. The city is also extremely popular with expats, so if you’re thinking about moving to the city and in need of a job, check out our listing for jobs.

Housing in Lucerne 

As the most populous city in Central Switzerland, the process of finding a house can be quite a daunting prospect. However, our list of short-stay rentals and housing platform can help you make finding a home just that bit easier. 

Video footage of Lucerne 

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