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Postcard-worthy Lucerne is a city with a small-town ambience, sitting by a clear blue lake with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. This Swiss destination has something for everyone, whether it's checking out medieval architecture in the Altstadt (Old Town), joining in with their regular lively cultural festivals, or setting off on treks to the nearby Pilatus and Rigi peaks. It's easy to fit Lucerne into a trip around Switzerland too – it's just 45 minutes from Zurich by train.
There are plenty of quirky hostels in Lucerne to choose from. Try a night in the cells of a converted jailhouse, or stay in a 19th-century home decorated with period furniture. Look out for Lucerne hostels with kitchens so you can save cash by cooking, and free Wi-Fi for uploading shots of the detailed medieval frescoes on the Old Town buildings. Free breakfast is another way to make your Swiss francs go further – try a hostel in Lucerne serving Asian-style morning meals or Peruvian dinners for something different.
Lucerne's traffic-free Old Town is an atmospheric neighbourhood packed with pastel-toned buildings on the bank of the River Reuss. Haldenstrasse sits by the water, perfect for sparkling views and a cosy countryside feel. Multicultural Baselstrasse, a former red light district, is an up-and-coming area popular with younger residents for its club scene. Calm Tribschen is a touch further along the lake, but thanks to the excellent public transport links you can be in the Old Town in 10 minutes.
Lucerne's centre has several sights to tick off your list, including the iconic 14th-century Kapellbrücke (Chapel Bridge), decorated with local art and connecting to a fairytale stone water tower. The Lion Monument statue is a slice of Swiss history, carved into a rock face as an ode to the Swiss Guards killed in the French Revolution. Lake Lucerne is the place for epic vistas – just jump on one of the 100-year-old vintage paddle steamers for a cruise.
As Lucerne is relatively small, most of its sights are within walking distance. Anything a little further out from the Old Town, like the Lion Monument, is easily reachable by bike or bus. If you're flying in to Switzerland, Zurich Airport is your destination – it's about an hour away in the car or by train. Just hop on a train for 15 minutes to the centre of Zurich and catch a 45-minute connection to Lucerne. For a fun way to see the city when you arrive, there's a cable car that'll whisk you up Mount Pilatus for awe-inspiring panoramas.