Originally published in Global Traveler.
Lucerne thrives on tourism. British expatriate and author Diccon Bewes, who focuses his literary efforts on his adopted homeland, calls Lucerne Switzerland’s prettiest city. So it’s no wonder throngs of Japanese, Chinese, European and North American tourists funnel out of tour buses and onto the cobblestone streets of Lucerne with their cameras armed and ready.
Lucerne’s history is firmly Swiss with a relatively orderly past — compared to the rest of Europe — after the fall of the Roman Empire in the early sixth century. By the middle of the ninth century, the area became known as Luciaria as Germanic Alemannic peoples planted roots. Lucerne asserted its independence in 1178, declaring a city proper shortly thereafter. Owing to its economically strategic location on the Gotthard trade route, Lucerne grew into a selfsufficient city by the end of the 13th century. Around this time, King Rudolph I von Habsburg of Austria pushed into the region, and Lucerne allied with surrounding towns to strive for independence in the form of a Swiss Confederacy known as Eidgenossenschaft.
Lucerne’s victory in the Battle of Sempach in 1386 effectively sent the Habsburgs packing, igniting an era of expansion. From this point, Lucerne’s history (and the whole of Switzerland) parts ways with the traditional European narrative of constant war, save for Napoleon’s brief attempt to impose central authority in confederation-friendly Switzerland in 1798. The Act of Mediation, enacted Feb. 19, 1803, abolished the centralized state and restored the cantons of Switzerland after years of strong resistance and resentment toward the French.
Today Switzerland is renowned for its peace streak, remarkably apparent in the lack of buildings destroyed by war, making the Alpine nation a favorite of travelers with a love for intact historic cities. Lucerne very much fits in that category with its commitment to preserving cobblestone pedestrian plazas rather than ceding them to vehicular traffic.
That’s not to say the city opposes modernization. To the contrary, the Culture and Congress Centre (Kultur und Kongresszentrum Luzern, or KKL) is a visual testament to the city’s continued advancements and prosperity. Inaugurated in 2000, the building is home to the city’s convention center, museum of art and concert hall. Perched along the water near where the Reuss River opens into sparkling Lake Lucerne, the KKL by architect Jean Novel features an eye-catching cantilevered roof that appears to hover over the building and the Wagenbach fountain outside on the Europlatz. Here locals and travelers relax in the surrounding storybook scenery Switzerland is known for.
KKL lies a short walk from any number of hotels suitable for business travel and right across the street from the city’s Bahnhof, or central train station. Most arrive in Lucerne by train from Zürich Airport, the largest international airport in the country and the primary hub of Swiss International Air Lines. Plan for about 60 minutes of travel between the airport and Lucerne with at least one direct train per hour. Look for lodging within walking distance because Lucerne is best enjoyed on foot.
Within a short radius of KKL, you’ll find the Radisson Blu, Hotel Alpina, Hotel Luzern, Renaissance Lucerne, AMERON Hotel Flora Luzern and Monopol. The Radisson notably promotes its “futuristic meeting facilities” and versatile conference rooms equipped with WLAN technology to allow guests easy access to their devices for project presentations.
A number of hotels involve a more scenic walk from the central station that can include any one of the city’s historic bridges such as the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge. The covered wooden pedestrian bridge built in 1333 is famous for its interior paintings dating back to the 17th century, though some were destroyed in a 1993 fire (allegedly started by a lit cigarette). Since its restoration it remains Europe’s oldest wooden covered bridge as well as the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.
The Kapellbrücke takes visitors over the Reuss River, where they can also find Hotel des Balances, Zum Weissen Kreuz and Hotel des Alpes, along with the late-19th-century, 5-star Grand Hotel National Luzern. Hotel des Balances earns additional praise from tourists and business travelers alike for its restaurant featuring quality Swiss food. It accepts reservations and advertises its business-friendly atmosphere, making it an excellent selection for wining and dining over breakfast, lunch or dinner. The patio view over the adjacent River Reuss stretching out from Lake Lucerne doesn’t hurt, either.
In this city never without a tourist, finding a tasty restaurant or other entertainment proves easy. Almost any 4- or 5-star hotel in the well-traveled city expects to entertain business travelers and offers dining services as well as rooms for private business meetings. You likely won’t have a problem getting a late-night drink, either. But if you’re looking to get out of the hotel, the Shamrock Irish Pub offers a proper Irish pub experience in the heart of German Switzerland. To keep it Swiss, try Bar Bei Miguel at 70 Bruchstrasse for a wide selection of bottled beer from across the globe.
For a truly hearty meal to end the trip, no growling stomach will be disappointed by Wirtshaus Taube and its take on rösti — a Swiss dish consisting of hash browns shaped into a patty with cheese, ham, tomato and a fried egg on top, all in a cast iron pan.