Category Archives: Switzerland

Things to see in Switzerland and the best places to visit in Switzerland.

Win a Trip to Geneva

Last month there was some furious pedalling in London’s Canary Wharf. No, it wasn’t a cycling race, it was for a contest to win a ‘Jet Off to Geneva’ prize of a weekend trip to this Swiss city. The pedalling powered a mini version of ‘Jet d’eau’ (the vertical fountain in Lake Geneva). The two competitors who achieved the highest elevation, won a weekend trip to Geneva for themselves and a companion.

canary wharf competition1

However, you could win an ‘Amazing Weekend’  in Geneva for yourself and a companion, without breaking a sweat, by playing the ‘Jet off to Geneva’ online game.  The prize includes flights from London, a two night stay in a top notch hotel, plus lots of fun activites.

To enter, you click the bicycle pedal icons to pump as many litres of water as possible within the 30 second time limit.

The real ‘Jet d’eau’ on Lake Geneva is impressive. I was able to see it clearly when we flew over the city.

One of the highlights of the top ‘Amazing Weekend’ prizes is that you’ll switch on the real ‘Jet d’eau’  You’ll also be test driving a luxury sports car, wakeboarding, water-skiing or fishing on Lake Geneva and relaxing with a spa treatment, fine dining and wine tasting.

Vues aériennes / Aerial view

There are also plenty of other prizes on offer, including four pairs of return flights from London to Geneva with Swiss, bottles of wine and Swiss army knives.

The competition runs until 31 May 2014. You must be a UK resident (Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland) and be aged 18 or over to enter. Read the full terms and conditions here.

Read our tips on free things to do in Geneva.

This post is brought to you in association with Geneva Tourism.

25 Fun Things to Do in Switzerland

If you watch a lot of action shows or movies, it is likely that you have seen Switzerland being used as the location for exciting scenes in various storylines involving banks. As much as Hollywood loves to use the financial notoriety of the country, we the regular folks love it for its skiing, hang gliding, chocolate, Swatch watches and the beautiful nature. This post features our travel tips on what to do in Switzerland.

Hike through Laufen

The little Basel town Laufen has fewer than 4000 residents, and  Most notable sights are in Laufen where you get to see the Church of St. Katharina, palace of the Prince-Bishops, the Neolithic gravesite and the palace of the Prince-Bishops The visually-appealing hiking lasts about 3,5 hours and while it is long, can be enjoyed by hikers of all levels.

what to do in Switzerland

Laufen by Chris Juden

Sip Pinot Noir in Schaffhausen

The northernmost point of Switzerland Schaffhausen is also one of the regions where the Pinot noir grapes are grown. I’ve never been particularly fond of wine, but even I’m intrigued to taste Pinot Noir where it’s meant to be tasted. You can find about how it is made by taking a walk along the wine trail.In addition to Pinot noir, Schaffhausen has some stunning Renaissance era buildings, All Saints Abbey, the Church of St. John and the Munot fortress.The old town is closed to cars, making it a lot easier and more convenient to walk around and shop. I’d recommend taking the train to Rhine Falls, to see Europe’s largest waterfall at the end of your Schaffhausen trip.

what to do in Switzerland

St Maria Cathedral Schaffhausen by LenDog64

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Discover Switzerland’s Oldest Town Sion

Sion lies in the southwestern Switzerland district Valais, with a population a little over than 30,000. Sion is the perfect sight-seeing area for those who don’t love big cities. Sion gets a lot of sun, which makes it ideal for both winter and summer getaways. Sion is also one of Switzerland historically richest areas, as its foundation goes back to pre-historical times. You can start enjoying its beauties with Basilique de Val and Chateau de Tourbillon- which face each other on their respective hills. You can then continue with Fine Arts Museum, Majorie Castle, the Notre-Dame Cathedral, Grande Dixence Dam (the world’s highest dam, and you can take a tour inside from mid June to the end of September), Derborence primeval forest among others. Sion also hosts wine-tasting events, and football fans might want to drop by Stade Tourbillon, the stadium of the Swiss Super Leauge team FC Sion.

what to do in Switzerland

Sionby aleyda

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Go Hang Gliding at Mount Chasseral

If you do not want to deal with ski equipment, the cold and the crowds, you might opt for a lesser known sport and go hang gliding at Mount Chasseral in the summer. Mount Chasseral is still an option if you are a skiing fan.

what to do in Switzerland

Hang gliding by Amanda Kendle

Watch the Rheinfall Waterfalls

Who doesn’t like waterfalls? They have a way of making you appreciate the nature. If you are like me and love waterfalls, you are definitely going to love Switzerland’s Rheinfall waterfalls– which happen to be the largest (in width and in the amount of water it carries) in Europe.

what to do in Switzerland

Rheinfall Waterfalls by Amanda Kendle

Marvel at the Alien Artwork at the HR Giger Museum in Gruyeres

Gruyeres is a great medieval town that is bound to surprise and please its visitors. In contrast to the ancient look of its castle, surroundings and the suitably gloomy weather, Gruyéres also houses the HR Giger Museum, the museum for the famous Swiss painter, set decorator and sculptor who won Oscar for Aliens (a 1979 sci-fi hit by director Ridley Scott) visual effects. The movie props of a sci-fi movie is sure to offer a modern alternative, although it might just add to the deliciously gloomy atmosphere of the city.

Breathe Alpine Air at Oberried am Brienzersee

It might have something to do with the fact that I grew up in an apartment flat, because I’ve always loved those annual getaways to holiday resorts where I’d get to stay in two, three-storey houses with excellent views as opposed to seeing just other buildings and only a handful of trees. So if you are going to enjoy the Alps, you might as well make the most of it by staying at Oberried am Brienzersee. You will appreciate the breath-taking view of the mountains and the lakes.

what to do in Switzerland

Oberried am Brienzersee by arwa

Experience the Best Lucerne Attractions

North-central Swiss city Lucerne has been a popular traveler’s spot since the 19th century, having welcomed famous musicians and writers like Wagner and Mark Twain. The city owes its popularity to its spectacular lakeshore position along with the mountain views it offers. The must-visit sights of the city include the wooden Chapel Bridge and the Water Tower, the house Wagner spent 6 years of his life in, Musegg Wall and the Dying Lion Monument.

what to do in Switzerland

The Dying Lion image by Margaret Doherty

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Listen to Jazz in Montreux

Montreux is famous for its annual Jazz Festival. In addition to jazz enthusiasts, rock music fans will appreciate the 3-meter statue of Freddie Mercury (the late front man of the rock band Queen) with a view of Lake Geneva. The city houses has some great if rather expensive bars, the castle Chateau de Chillon,  and hiking at Hauts de Montreux.

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Explore the Swiss Bernese Oberland

Switzerland is brimming with magnificent lake and mountain views, and the Bernese Oberland is no exception. Frequented by tourists since the 18th century, the Bernese Oberland is a haven for nature and outdoors lovers. You can go hiking, mountain-biking, visit the highest train station of Europe, take in the view of the Eiger mountain, ride in cable cars, enjoy boat trips on the lakes Thum and Brienz, appreciate the sight of the Staubbach Waterfall and more.

Lauterbrunnen Valley by Margaret Doherty

Make the Most of Basel

Basel is a unique Swiss city as it is Switzerland’s only port and it rests on the border of France, Switzerland and Germany. It is also known for the University of Basel, the country’s oldest university.There are many things to see in the medieval city of Basel including the Kuntsmuseum, Tinguely Fountain, Tinguely Museum, the Music Museum, sculptures and paintings of Fondation Beyeler the town hall (the Rathaus), cathedral the Munster , Middle Bridge, the sculptures and paintings of Foundation Beyeler. I’m most tempted by The Music Museum as it offers the country’s largest collection of musical instruments going back five centuries. I’m also looking forward to discovering cool stuff at the flea markets of the city, sipping my coffee at the many cafes, catching one of the many festivals the city hosts (such as Basel Tattoo) and seeing the kinetic art works of Jean Tinguely.

what to do in Switzerland

Tinguely Fountain in Basel by Margaret Donerty

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Satisfy Your Love for Photography in the Musee de L’Elysee in Lausanne

One of the must-see landmarks of Lake Geneva’s second largest city Lausanne is the leading photography museum Musee de L’Elysee. The museum is famous for its efforts to feature digital photography exhibitions as well.
After a trip to the museum, you might take a walk around the Old Town to take some great pictures of your own, and then move on to Flon at night, to go clubbing. To reach Lausanne, you can take a train from Geneva. It only takes an hour, or you could book a taxi in Geneva, if you don’t want to be restricted by train timetables.

what to do in SwitzerlandLa

Lausanne by Daniel Sparing

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Get an Italian Flavour in Bellinzona

Does the name sound Italian? It should. From its Italian-style theater (Teatro Sociale) to its Castelgrande (the town’s oldest and most impressive castle featuring a museum), Bellinzona shows traces from times it belonged to Milan. Bellinzona’s two other glorious castles are Castello di Sasso Corbaro and Castello di Montebello (features the Archaeological and Civic Museum). Your other Bellinzona stops should include Villa dei Cedri (art gallery housing Italian and Swiss paintings) and Old Town (the medieval part of town). Bellinzona hosts various event throughout the year; Carnevale Rabadan Bellinzona in February, which features masked balls and street performers, and September comes with Bacchica Bellinzonese, a wine-growers festival. If you’ll be visiting the town in May, you should pack your waterproof boots and umbrella, as it gets the most rain (and snow) in that time of the year.

what to do in Switzerland

Castel Grande Bellinzona by stijn

Spoil yourself in the Roman-Irish baths of Bogn Engiadina, Scuol

What can be more tempting then treating yourself to the first Roman- Irish bath of the country and its mineral water springs? Of course you may opt for this treatment before or after you see the rest of what Scuol has to offer; such as Europe’s oldest National Park that comes with massive hiking areas, animal-watching tours, as well as biological and ecological excursions. You can add the exploration of the gorgeous Tarasp Castle, where you get to see the halls of knights and their ballrooms, the chapel, bedrooms and the impressive 2,500-piped organ.

what to do in Switzerland

Scuol by andymash

Show Off Your Adventurous Side While Skiing in Verbier

Verbier is best known for being the ultimate center for winter sports, both for showing off your skills and learning them. This Valais village has numerous resorts, ski slopes and winter sport schools. Whether you are just a beginner snowboarder or a danger-loving expert skier, Verbier is bound to please you.Should you choose to go to Verbier in the summer, you can utilize the hiking trails that cover a mighty distance of 400km!

what to do in Switzerland

Verbier by Leo-setä

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Rock and Roll in St. Gallen

Just like many other beautiful Swiss cities, St. Gallen has a lot to offer when it comes to culture, the most significant landmark being The Abbey of St. Gallen, which has one of the richest medieval libraries in the world. But St. Gallen is also famous for its two festivals and as a music fan, I can’t help but prioritize. St. Gallen is the home for the February music festival Nordklang, and it has also been hosting the famous St. The OpenAir St.Gallen Festival since 1977. The festival has housed many important names since then, including Jethro Tull, Stone Temple Pilots, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Nine Inch Nails, Lenny Kravitz,, R.E.M, Foo Fighters, Metallica, Black Sabbath and others.

what to do in Switzerland

St Gallen OpenAir Festival by ausnahmezustand

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Get to Know Burgdorf

I’ve always been amazed by small towns that had many appealing attractions and events, as they manage to entertain and inform without making you feel claustrophobic. My to-see list starts with the Burgdorf Castle, the country’s biggest and best-maintained castle. The castle also has a historical museum. I’d also love to see the Gothic church, the Franz Gertsch Museum where you can see the works of the prominent Swiss painter and the Emme river. If you are going in the winter, you might want to shop at the huge Kalter Markt fair, and if you are a summer person, you should check out Cinete, the open air movie theater. Don’t neglect to drop by at one of the street cafes to enjoy the atmosphere and the urban architecture. I’d also check my calendar to see if the year of your visit will coincide with the fun  Burgdorf Crime Days, an event for the lovers of murder mystery. This 10-day festival has 50 events and it takes place every two years.

what to do in Switzerland

Brugdorf via keepthebyte

Browse the Art of Liechtenstein in Vaduz

Vaduz, having taken its name from the Vaduz Castle (also the residence of the Liechtenstein royalty), is sure to please your artistic intrigue and senses as it is the home of The National Art Gallery and the contemporary art gallery Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein whose building is considered an architectural landmark. Another architecturally impressive building of Vaduz is the Cathedral of St. Florin.

what to do in Switzerland

Vaduz Castle by cameliatwu

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Explore Switzerland’s Oldest City Chur

Chur is the capital of the Graubunden region and its history goes back nearly 4000 years BC, and while it might be old, it is not exactly old-fashioned. It has lots of stores, museums and shopping centers. Other sights include the Museum Bündner Kunstmuseum (Art Museum), Bundner Naturmuseum (Natural History Museum), the Dommuseum and the Rätisches Museum and the St Luzius Cathedral. You can take a train from Zurich to get to Chur. And on a fun note, H.R.Geiger, the Swiss artist whose museum is mentioned for Gruyeres, was born in Chur.

what to do in Switzerland

Chur Catedral by Holly Hayes

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Feel Like You Are in a Fairy Tale in Fribourg

Founded in 1157, this old Fribourg city is one of the best preserved Switzerland cities, and to me, it is also the one that looks most like a fairy tale setting. My favorite Fribourg spot, even though it has pretty amazing building all over is Sarine River near the town, and the Red Tower (Tour Rouge) built over the river and the Sarine Valley. Of course there is a lot more to this beautiful historic city, and it might be best explored by taking one excursion at a time. You might want to check out the city’s tourism information site for other fun ideas.

what to do in Switzerland

Fribourg by

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Experience the Famous Holiday Region Zermatt

Located at the bottom of the mountain Matterhorn, this Valais holiday village is a convenient and luxurious choice for travelers who like to have abundant options. Zermatt is surrounded by vast skiing and hiking areas, and is irresistible to climbers as well. In fact, the mountain owes its fame to a climber, who tried to climb the mountain with his team in 1865. Unfortunately, he lost members of his team on the way down. You can learn about this and other Matterhorn-related adventures in the Matterhorn Museum. You can also snow-board, go paragliding or just go up to the Glacier Paradise / Klein Matterhorn which is, at 3883 m, Europe’s highest point. And if you choose to stay away from the heights, you can watch the open air curling tournament in January, catch the unplugged concert in April or watch the tennis tournament in the summer. Whether you are interested in music, food, winter sports or summer activities like cycling and hiking, Zematt has something for everyone. And best of all, you get all this in a car-free, clean environment.

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Zermatt by

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Enjoy Ancient History and Modern City Simultaneously in Lugano

While Lugano is one of Ticino’s crucial business centers, for tourists, it is one big vacation spot around Lake Lugano, with typically impressive mountain views. You can ride your bike or simply hike for sightseeing. As Lugano is a combination of an ancient town and modern city, your sights will include beautiful parks (Parco Civico Ciani) and squares, gardens (the Belvedere Gardens) and cathedrals (St. Lawrence Cathedral), villas (Villa Favorita) and museums (Cantonal Art Museum.)

what to do in Switzerland

Lugano via bristley

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Join Fellow Movie Fans at the International Film Festival in Locarno

Locarno is one of Ticino’s most popular cities, and one of the reasons is the annual film festival. Festival happens in the Piazza Grande. Whether you are a filmmaker with a competing festival movie or just a movie enthusiast, watching movies in this more Italian style town will show you a good time. Locarno also houses some other great events such as July’s pop/rock music festival Moon & Stars Locarno lasting 10 nights at the Piazza Grande, October’s Jazz Festival or July’s Festival de la Cite where you can witness tons of free street events and activities.

what to do in Switzerland

Image by Kelly Nigro

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View Five Countries from Santis

Santis is the highest mountain among the Alps, and its 2,502-meter top will simultaneously give you the view of the 5 different countries: Italy, Switzerland, Austria, France and Germany.

You can opt for tours, and feast at the panoramic restaurant at the top of the mountain. Just take the gondola up to this breath-taking mountain. You can use the panoramic restaurant for romantic dates as well.

Just like many Swiss destinations, Santis is equally pleasant in both summer and winter where you can choose from different sports and activities to make the trip complete.

what to do in Switzerland

Image by stephen velasco

Make the most of Kandersteg and Its Stunning Lake Oeschinen

Resting on the River Kander valley, Kandersteg’s tourist potential was realized in the 19th century. It is not surprising that people can’t resist this little town that comes with the clear-watered Lake Oeschinen, amazing mountain views and a range of sport activities to choose from such as mountain climbing, skiing, swimming, rowing, ice-fishing, ice-skating, hiking and others.

You can arrive at your destination after taking the hourly express train from Bern and then the freight train.

what to do in Switzerland

Image by MrUllmi

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Exploring the Swiss Capital, Bern

I’ve been to Switzerland many times, often to visit relatives, but I’d never made it to the Swiss capital: this time I decided to fix that and we made a day trip to Bern. As far as capital cities go, it’s relatively small with a population of around 120,000. But in fact this makes it a great spot for a day trip, because you can easily stroll around to some of the key sights.

Bern has a historic old town on a kind of peninsula almost surrounded by the River Aar. Understandably, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s very photogenic. I had no map and no plan when I hit Bern – but it was easy to start walking up and down the cobbled streets of the old town area and stumble across sightseeing spots. For example, there’s a clock tower with puppets, reminiscent of Munich’s Glockenspiel, and two major fifteenth century buildings – the town hall and the cathedral.

There is also plenty for keen shoppers to discover in Bern, especially in the old town where boutiques line the street. Particularly interesting shops seem to be “downstairs” at cellar level, disappearing off the main streets. However, as with most things in Switzerland, it’s unlikely you’ll find any real bargains there.

One tourist attraction which I thought was a bit of a stretch was the Einstein house – with big signs advertising the fact that Einstein had lived there, and smaller signs admitting it was only for two years. But Bern was so lovely I’ll forgive it for that!

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Hang Gliding at Mount Chasseral in Switzerland

Switzerland is synonymous with snow and skiing (oh, and chocolate, but that’s another story!) – but what happens if you visit Switzerland in summer? On my recent trip, summer meant that we could enjoy the Swiss mountains at their greenest – and warmest – time, which for me with my inability to ski is probably better than trying them out in the crowded winter season.

As a day trip from Basel, I went to the Chasseral Pass, a high mountain pass which is part of the Jura mountain range, not far from Bern. Getting there is a matter of following some pretty twisty roads, with a few hairy moments when vehicles came from the opposite direction.
In winter, as in much of Switzerland, you can ski at Mount Chasseral but during my summer visit there was another sport in action: hang-gliding. It was fascinating to watch all those brave people get their equipment ready and then take a running jump off the side of the mountain. I did (partly) envy them as the scenery was magnificent and floating around in the air above it must be pretty special.

At the top of Chasseral there is something of a lodge where you can eat meals – it’s quite large and has both indoor and outdoor seating. You can also, as I did, just treat yourself to an ice cream there, which seemed a much more appropriate thing to do on a relatively warm, summery day.

Get splashed by the Rheinfall waterfalls in Switzerland

In preparation for our Germany trip, my husband kept talking about some big waterfalls and it took me a while to realise that I’d already been there: and they are as impressive as he said. I’m talking about the Rheinfall or Rhine Falls near Schaffhausen in northern Switzerland.

If I tell you in advance that they’re “the biggest falls in Europe” your expectations might be too high, but they do apparently have the largest volume of water of any waterfalls in Europe; there are no particularly high falls but the width is impressive and you can take plenty of great photos. There are various viewing platforms to walk around to and you can also take a boat trip to get close to the falls – but expect to get wet from the heavy spray coming off the Rhine Falls themselves.

You can get to the Rheinfall Waterfalls easily by car but even by train from both Switzerland or Germany. There is talk about using the falls for hydroelectric projects so I’d recommend getting there soon in case anything comes of that and spoils the scene.

The Château de Gruyères, Switzerland

Amanda wrote earlier about Enjoying the Views of Burg Hohenzollern Castle, Germany. And I couldn’t agree more with her in regards to stumbling upon those fairy tale castles that sometimes dot the landscape of Europe.

In the city of Gruyères, Switzerland sits one of those castles – the Château de Gruyères.

I went to Gruyères for a cheese festival.  Because eating cheese is one of the most obvious things to do in Gruyeres.  The rain dampened the hopes of a great cheese festival, luckily as we walked up to the city of Gruyères, the castle came into view.  And just like Amanda, it was worth it.

The Château de Gruyères makes a great day trip from Geneva.  Take the train from Geneva to the town, you’ll have to make a change onto a little local train that winds its way about half a kilometer or so from the city.  The remaining hike will lead you to the city.

The medieval city of Gruyères is situated in the foothills of the Alps.  Of course, the foothills of the Alps make some mountains pale in comparison.  The 13th century castle sits atop a hill looming over the surrounding valley.  During the day, this Gruyeres attraction is impressive in its own right.  At night, it lights up like a movie scene.

Another interesting thing to do in Gruyeres is to visit the HR Giger Museum which displays science fiction artwork.

If you’re planning a trip to Gruyeres, find the best deals at hotels in Gruyeres using the HotelsCombined price comparison site.

Staying in Oberried am Brienzersee in the heart of the Swiss Alps

Visiting Switzerland is a dream come true! Getting a chance to mingle and become one with the nature – streams, mountains, lakes, woods – each moment there has to be savored. If you are really thinking of spending your vacation in the heart of Switzerland amidst the Alps,  then Oberried am Brienzersee near Interlaken is  my recommendation. This is a small but beautiful municipality with gorgeous view of the Alps and surrounding lakes.

Since the town is just a few miles away from Interlaken, where all the action is, settling for accommodation here makes sense. A number of cosy rented apartments at great prices are available here. Surrounded by the magnificent high Alps on one side and serene lakes on the other side, these cottages are a real gem.

Lovely cowbells chimes wake you up early morning to a landscape worth clicking a thousand pictures. If its spring time, flowers of all colors wish you good morning and there you are – filled up with the most beautiful thoughts, all ready for the day! Prompt and clean service at these apartments by the soft spoken, ever smiling locals adds a feather to the already brimming hat.

Try this out once and you would always want to see Switzerland this way.

Best Lucerne Attractions – Things to do in Lucerne, Switzerland

Guest contributor Margaret Doherty gives us some tips on the best Lucerne attractions and  five free things to do in Lucerne, following her visit to this Swiss city.

The Chapel Bridge and Water Tower Lucerne

I’ve only been in Lucerne a few hours and it’s all getting a bit surreal. I’m getting my bearings among the medieval lanes and cobbled squares, admiring the painted facades of the hotels and hostelries and starting to feel the layers of history embedded in the very fabric of the buildings when I catch a glimpse of a small troop of brightly-clad Swiss Guards armed with pikes marching across a distant bridge. In an instant they are gone, my imagination clearly going into overdrive, especially as I’m sure I hear the sound of horses hooves clattering on the cobbles in the narrow streets nearby. Then, as I turn the corner I run into what looks like an army of extras from The Three Musketeers, all dark blue and white uniforms topped with dashing wide-brimmed hats with huge white feathers. It turns out that I’ve arrived in the middle of festivities for Corpus Christi when the fraternity of the Herrgottskanoniere, ‘the gunners of god’, praise god with canon fire on the eve and on the day of Corpus Christi. The Lucerne Marching Band (they of the blue outfits) accompanies the fraternity from the Kornmarkt to the Chateau Gütsch where this celebration takes place.

Lucerne Marching Band

With its taste for pageantry, fantastic mountain scenery and ability to keep well-heeled travellers happy, Lucerne has long been a magnet for those drawn by its stunning location in the shadow of Mount Pilatus. From humble origins as a fishing village, its strategic location between the Swiss Plateau and the Alps in the centre of Switzerland and the opening of the Gotthard Pass around 1220 led to its inevitable growth. By its nineteeth century heyday when steamboats traversed Lake Lucerne and luxury hotels like the Schweizerhof were built on its shores, Richard Wagner, Mark Twain and Leo Tolstoy were among its famous visitors. Wagner liked it so much that he stayed at the Schweizerhof Hotel for six months before moving to a large house overlooking the lake at Tribschen. Today you can visit the elegant house where he spent six happy years and where his son Siegfried was born. Wagner was famously inspired by the Swiss Alps, taking to the glaciers and mighty peaks with little more than everyday boots, a straw hat and boundless energy, even incorporating the sounds alpine instruments in his work.

Lakeside sculpture in Lucerne

If you don’t have Wagner’s energy or the weather is uncertain, Lucerne has plenty to keep you occupied. For the casual stroller all the city’s main sights are within walking distance. The wooden Chapel Bridge which spans the River Reuss and was built in the fourteenth century and once part of the city’s defences, was nearly destroyed by fire in 1993. A large part of the bridge and many of the paintings under the eaves were lost but sensitive restoration has ensured it remains one of Lucerne’s most iconic images. The octagonal Water Tower was also part of the city’s defences and over time has served as an archive, a treasury and a prison. Ten minutes away the Dying Lion Monument dedicated to to the Swiss mercenaries lost while defending Louis XVI at the Tuileries in 1792 draws big crowds. Created by Danish sculptor Thorwaldsen it sits high above a small pool and is hewn directly from the rock and was described by Mark Twain as ‘the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world’.

The Dying Lion, Lucerne

In the nineteenth century the panorama was a popular entertainment in a time before cinema, especially in a region blessed with astounding views. You can find a history of its development as well as one of the remaining examples at the Bourbaki Panorama The original 16-sided building, now contained within a much more modern cube, houses a wonderfully atmospheric 10m high circular painting by Edouard Castres depicting the the internment of the defeated Bourbaki Army in Switzerland during the Franco-Prussian war. Castres’ experience as a Red Cross volunteer during the 1870-71 conflict enabled him to convey with great insight the desperate condition of the stricken French forces, refugees, German POWs and Red Cross volunteers that found relief at the hands of the Swiss during that dreadful winter. An english commentary and and a three-dimensional sculpted foreground really draws you in to the work and, though the sun shone outside, I felt the bitter chill of winter in my bones.

For an eclectic trawl through Swiss history the Museum of History is a treasure trove of pieces both ancient and relatively modern. A bar code guide enables you to get information on any object on your handset or follow specific themes as diverse as the Roman era, Foreign Visitors in Lucerne or Lust. There’s everything from a fabulously carved racing sleigh (1684), a guillotine built in 1863 but last used in 1940 to carnival costumes and archaeological finds. Among my favourites was the 15th century Milanese painted shield bearing the arms of the Sanseverino family with the latin inscription ‘live well and have fun’. Good advice for any traveller.

If you fancy a spot of evening entertainment the Lucerne Theatre  established in 1839 offers a programme which includes opera and dance in its intimate 555-seater auditorium and is in the heart of the city.

Five Free things to do in Lucerne

1 Take a stroll along the lakeside. The walk along the lakeside towards the Lido is lined with parks, cafes and plenty of benches where you can sit and watch the world go by and see the snow-capped mountains in the distance. You might even catch a free concert at the bandstand.

2 Check out the local landmarks. Both the Chapel Bridge and the Dying Lion Monument are free to visit.

3  Climb one of the Musegg Wall’s towers for spectacular views of the city and mountains beyond. You can also walk along a section of the 800m long city walls which were built in 1400 and are among the longest and best preserved city rampart walls in Switzerland. You might even see a llama. No, really.

Musegg Wall, Lucerne

4 Have a quiet moment in one of the city’s many churches. Built in 1666 the Jesuit Church is one of Switzerland’s finest baroque churches with its distinctive onion domes a later addition. The interior is finely decorated in white, clotted cream and salmon pink colours and beautiful ceiling paintings. The simple Protestant church where Wagner married his second wife Cosima is tucked behind the Schweizerhof Hotel while the imposing Renaissance Hof Church with its twin towers was built on the site of a Benedictine monastery founded in the 8th century and is the city’s main cathedral.

5 Soak up the atmosphere in the bustling markets. The Saturday flea market that meanders along Burgerstrasse, Reusssteg and Reussplatz must be one of the most picturesque locations to peruse the stalls of treasure and tat. For the best seasonal local produce from white aspargus to plump radishes and as well as meats, cheeses and a fish market there’s a market every Tuesday and Saturday morning along the Reuss river from the Chapel Bridge.

Saturday Food & Flower Market, Lucerne

Where to stay

For a bit of 5* luxury the Schweizerhof Hotel was built in 1845 and has been owned by the same family since 1861. Now run by the fifth generation it is in a prime, central spot on the lake and close to the station.
Or, if you fancy something a little more quirky and luxury-lite (no phone or TV in the rooms), you could stay in the Jailhotel Lowengrabe. Yep, it’s a former prison, built in 1862 and in use until 1998, mainly for those on remand or those who refused compulsory military service, opening as a hotel in 1999.

General information about Lucerne

For information on the Lucerne Card which offers discounts and free local transport and other information such as city tours, boat trips and day excursions go to the official Lucerne site.

Here are Margaret’s other Europe a la Carte guest posts on Switzerland:

The Bernese Oberland

Best Basel Attractions

Free Geneva

Europe’s biggest summer destination: the World Cup

Many people may wonder if my geography is correct when I speak of Europe and the World Cup. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about “Getting ready for the World Cup through European travel” and with the World Cup kicking off  this Friday June 11 in South Africa, one of its biggest, most passionate audiences will be in Europe. France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Serbia, England, Slovenia, Denmark, Netherlands, Slovakia, Switzerland, and Greece all take their shot at winning the World Cup.

The World Cup in South Africa - Europe's biggest destination? (Photo by Clare Appleyard)

For the casual fan or for someone who is not interested in football at all, one may wonder how this relates to seeing more of Europe. The answer to that question?  The people of Europe.  Anyone who travels to these European countries will see a side of Europe that only appears once every four years. Of all the football fans in the world, only South Americans can compete with Europeans in their passion for football.

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet. And for many countries in Europe, football is either the biggest or second biggest sport in the country. For the next 5 weeks, businesses may close, bars and pubs will be full, jerseys will be worn, and fans will celebrate with passion or express their disappointment in defeat. The World Cup matters and any visit to these countries will be a visit like no other.

While many people travel to see Europe’s museums, beaches, mountains, historical sights, and landmarks, the true beauty of this continent is found in its people. Go beyond the places and meet the faces that make up the rich culture and heritage of any European country. This will be on full display during the World Cup.

Do Germans drink beers and celebrate with restrained enthusiasm? Do Italians scream and yell wildly, throw huge parties, and close down the streets in celebration? What about in Portugal, France, Spain, or Serbia?  Observing how people engage in this event and how they react in victory and defeat can give you a lot of insight into each country’s culture.

Talk to people on the streets. Ask the security guard at a museum what he plans to do for the World Cup. Strike up a conversation in a pub or bar. It’s an easy conversation starter so you can get to know people. In both small towns and big cities, even in countries that didn’t qualify for the World Cup, people will be watching.

One of the biggest, most anticipated match ups in the opening round is England versus the United States.  Both sides of the Atlantic are excited about this one (while England may be a bit more interested and even a little more nervous).  In war and in peace, the English and Americans have long been allies and rivalries between the two are friendly.  However, this may be the biggest match up between these two countries since 1950.

The World Cup – what does it mean to you?  Will you be watching?  As an American, football (i.e. soccer to us) is not a big sport here.  Many people here hate the sport and even many sports fans will be nothing more than casual observers as they root for the USA.  However, if (and probably, when) the USA bows out, many TVs will be turned off.

As an American who is passionate about football, it is my hope that this catches the attention of many here in the US.  For Europeans, this event is as big as it gets.  And for anyone traveling around Europe the next five weeks, it will be a wonderful opportunity to engage the wonderful cultures of Europe during the biggest sporting event in so a the world.

Alien Artwork at the HR Giger Museum in Medieval Gruyères, Switzerland

Alien artwork and medieval Swiss cities don’t usually go hand in hand.  But in Gruyères, a city better known for cheese than aliens, science fiction fans the world over can marvel at the artwork of H.R. Giger, the man who received an Oscar for his work on Alien.

Before arriving in Gruyères, I had never heard of H.R. Giger.  I am not a science fiction fan, I haven’t even seen Alien.  It didn’t matter; the HR Giger Museum housed an impressive display of artwork, regardless of my propensity to science fiction.  The work ranged from drawings, oil work, sculptures, movie props, and everything in between.

Part of the appeal was not so much the artwork, which at times was just too disturbing, but the setting.  Outside, a cheese festival was going on in the medieval European city.  A 13th century castle loomed on top of the hill.  The surrounding mountains were shrouded with fog.  It was stereotypically Swiss.  Inside, the museum was dark.  Mechanical.  Alien.  It was stereotypically not Swiss.  And I loved it all.

There’s even a bar and café across the street from the museum that is designed and decorated in biomechanical style used by Giger in his artwork.

A Europe travel tip, after having written about kid friendly things to do in Switzerland such as the Natural History Museum in Geneva, it is important to realize that the H.R. Giger Museum cannot be described as kid friendly.  The artwork is dark, foreboding, and often times sexual.

More on European Museums

Find out about more museums in Europe on Europe a la Carte.