What You Need To Know
Lucerne, the gateway to central Switzerland, sited on Lake Lucerne, is embedded within an impressive mountainous panorama. Thanks to its attractions, its souvenir and watch shops, the beautiful lakeside setting and the nearby excursion mountains of the Rigi, Pilatus and Stanserhorn, the town is a destination for many travel groups and individuals on their journey through central Switzerland.
Lucerne is an ancient town with strikingly modern sensibilities. One of Europe’s oldest covered bridges serves as its centrepiece, and fresco-adorned historic houses line the streets, but it’s also home to the cutting-edge KKL, a concert hall and art gallery.
Area: 11.21 mi²
Population: 81,057 (2015)
- The Swiss franc (CHF) is the only official currency in Switzerland (and in Liechtenstein). The franc is the only currency accepted everywhere. The Euro is the currency in the neighboring countries Germany, France, Italy and Austria, and in many other European countries.Nevertheless, you can pay with Euros in many shops, hotels, rail stations and gas stations in Switzerland. This is convenient if you’re only in transit or only stay for one night. Many smaller shops, market stalls, kiosks, etc. only allow payment in Swiss francs. Note that the Euro is a foreign currency in Switzerland, so accepting it results in extra costs and risks for shop owners. Therefore, if you pay with Euros, change will be in Swiss francs and the exchange rate is mostly not in your favor. For longer stays, it is cheaper and more convenient to have Swiss francs at hand.
- Credit cards and debit cards are widely accepted, so there is no need to have large amounts of cash at hand. You can pay larger amounts by cards and take along some cash for smaller payments and places that do not accept cards.Swiss francs can be obtained from ATM’s. They are available in all towns, and you usually find them at the post office, rail station and shopping center. In general this is the cheapest way to obtain cash. Your bank can provide exact fees. To save time upon arrival, it can be handy to purchase some Swiss francs before you depart.
Your bank may charge fees for both cash withdrawal through ATM’s and credit/debit card payments.
Situated in the very heart of Switzerland, the weather in Lucerne is typically Swiss, with few climate extremes and plenty of fine days to suit lovers of the great outdoors. In general, the winter climate in Lucerne can feel quite cold, although the city’s proximity to the Alps does offer some protection.
However, mild weather soon returns in the spring, from the end of March onwards, when temperatures begin to once again rise above 10°C / 50°F. By May, daytime temperatures in Lucerne are soon touching 20°C / 68°F, rising even higher during the hottest months of July and August.
Switzerland has four official languages: German (spoken by 64%), French (20%), Italian (6.5%) and Romansh (0.5%). Lucerne lies in the German speaking part of the country, where people speak a German dialect, so called Swiss German or Schwyzerdütsch. Be it among friends, at work or when dealing with the authorities, people speak dialect. However, Swiss people use standard German, so-called Hochdeutsch, when writing and speaking at school. A lot of Swiss speak English fairly well, especially the younger generation. So generally getting by in English is no problem.
Health and security
- Switzerland is well-known throughout the world for its high quality medical services, spending 10% of its GDP on health. Naturally, the medical field makes use of the most up-to-date technology and, like most things, is run with efficiency, having one of the lowest patient to doctor ratios in the world. And so it is that if we require medical attention here in Lucerne, there are two excellent hospitals serving the residents in our canton.Towering above the medieval old town, the Lucerne Kantonsspital is a pillar of top-notch medical care. Staffed by 5,500 staff members, who attend to 36,000 inpatients and 140,000 outpatients every year, the aim of the hospital is to provide an outstanding level of medical care that is highly individualised, keeping the patient “at the heart of its operation”.
Overlooking the the Alps and Lake Lucerne and with its reputable food service, Klinik St. Anna, may give you the feeling you are staying at a nice hotel.The clinic offers treatment in over 30 medical disciplines, including musculoskeletal medicine, neurology/neurosurgery, oncology, gastroenterology, cardiology/rhythmology, angiology, nephrology (including dialysis), rheumatology/pain therapy, and women’s/reproductive health. The hospital is staffed by 160 specialists and 400 medical staff, catering to some 9000 in-patients and 60 000 outpatients annually. The emergency unit also accepts acutely ill or injured patients 24 hours a day, all year round.
St Anna is a popular place to give birth and around 800 babies are delivered there every year. Both hospitals have excellent birthing facilities, including for water births, but the most notable difference is that at St Anna, we can have our doctor at the delivery, whereas at the Kantonsspital, it is whichever doctor is on duty at the time.
Also useful to know is that there is a walk-in medical centre on the ground floor of the train station. Permanence is open 24 hours a day for accidents, health issues and psychological help. To speak to physicians or for information on pharmacy opening hours you can also call 041 211 14 14.
- And remember, all doctors speak a good level of English and may of the other hospital staff as well. Plus, if you need specialised care that is not provided by St Anna or the Kantonsspital or to get extra consultation with experts at other hospitals in the country, even the basic level of insurance provides for this. It is reassuring to know that you will be expertly cared for in the time you need it most.
- Lucerne is generally a safe city, and there is no no-go area, even for single travellers at night. Of course crime exists, and be on guard against pickpockets just as in any European city.
If you’ve lost your hat, your handbag or something else, you might have a happy reunion at the lost & found, fundbüro in German. It’s located at the police station at Hirschengraben 17b (B-4), tel +41 41 248 86 66, open Mon – Fri 10:00 – 12:30, 14:30 – 17:00. If you might have lost your item on a train or at the train station, also try the lost & found at the station.
- Switzerland is not a member of the European customs union. On the one hand that gives you the opportunity to buy real tax-free goods at airports when you are travelling from and to Switzerland. On the other hand there are tight restrictions on the goods you can take free of customs duty from Switzerland to your country. For EU-countries the following customs and tax allowances apply (for other countries check with the according customs authorities):Tobacco: 200 (50 to some countries) cigarettes or 100 (20) cigarillos or 50 (10) cigars or 250 gr (50) of smoking tobacco.
Alcohol: 1 litre of spirits over 22%vol or 2 litres of spirits with less than 22% vol, 4 litres of still wine, 16 litres of beer.
Other goods: Max. value of all goods: 430 euros for air travellers and 300 euros for other travellers.
Goods over these limits must be declared when entering a EU-country, additional taxes and VAT may apply.
- Be careful of where you decide to go shopping in Lucerne. Some tour guides and companies are paid to guide you to certain stores. This occurs with some of the local watch sellers, who will mark up prices by quite a bit.
- Switzerland is known as one of the more expensive countries to visit in Europe, and visitors are advised to choose their dinners wisely. However, responsible planning can help you avoid paying too much. While a three-course meal with wine will cost you more than 40 Swiss francs per person, you can have sandwiches that will cost you no more than eight francs. Also, remember that in Switzerland, most restaurant bills include service. Unless service is exceptional, there is no need to add any further server tip. However, visitors should be aware that the credit card bills leave open the ability to tip. If you’re not paying attention, you may end up paying far more for the meal than you realized.
- The most characteristic sight in Lucerne is the Kapellbrücke, a covered wooden bridge running diagonally across the Reuss. Apart from being a picturesque centerpiece for Lucerne, the bridge, built in 1333, is interesting for the more than 100 17th-century pictures hanging from the roof rafters inside, depicting patron saints and scenes from the town’s history. The Kapellbrücke was severely damaged by fire in 1993 but has been completely rebuilt and restored. Beside it is the octagonal Wasserturm, a 13th-century water tower more than 34 meters high and once part of the town’s fortifications. The bridge and tower are among the most photographed scenes in all Switzerland.
- The Old Town of Lucerne, on the right bank of the Reuss, still preserves many old burghers’ houses and little squares with fountains. Some of the timber-framed buildings bordering the stone streets are painted in bright colors, giving the Altstadt a fairy-tale atmosphere. In the Kornmarkt is the Altes Rathaus, the Old Town Hall, built in 1602-06 in Italian Renaissance style but topped by a very typical Swiss hipped roof. The adjoining tower dates from the 14th century. West of the Kornmarkt is the picturesque Weinmarkt with a Late Gothic fountain. In the Kapellplatz is the oldest church in Lucerne, St. Peter’s chapel, built in 1178 but renovated to its present form in the 18th century. The Old Town is a delightful place to stroll, especially if you follow some of the narrow side streets.