Solo in Switzerland’s Prettiest City: Lucerne is Full of Surprises

by | Jun 4, 2024

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Last updated on June 5th, 2024

Lead image: Going solo on Lake Lucerne / Photo by Michael Kistler for Switzerland Tourism

What to see in and around Lucerne

by Carolyn Ray

When I walk into the mountainside Art Deco Hotel Montana for dinner on my first night in Lucerne, I’m not sure what to expect. Earlier in the day, I made a reservation for one in the stunning Scala restaurant, hoping for a view of Lake Lucerne. I wait patiently as the maitre d’ looks at her computer, seemingly searching for my name.

There’s always a moment of truth when a solo woman enters a restaurant for a meal. Will she be greeted warmly and shown a highly desirable table? Or, will there be a look of anxiety on the server’s face as he or she looks for a suitable place to seat a woman eating alone?

What happens next surprises me. Inviting me to follow her, she guides me to a table on the far side of the room. An exquisite table. A table with a glorious view where I can observe the whole restaurant and the lake below. A table set perfectly for one.  I can’t hide my pleasure. Not only has the Art Deco Hotel Montana welcomed me warmly upon arrival, and given me a new, renovated fourth-floor room with a little balcony overlooking the lake, I have the best table in the restaurant. What a refreshing change!

table set for one at Art Deco Montana Hotel Lucerne

The view from the Art Deco Hotel Montana in Lucerne / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

What makes Lucerne so welcoming?

One might think this welcoming dining experience might be restricted to this hotel, but it was repeated everywhere I went in Lucerne. The next day I am offered a solo table with a perfect view of the covered bridge. Then there’s people-watching over a cappucino at the ROKKA Café and Bar (Rössligasse 2/4). And a delicious lunch on the outdoor patio at Mill’ Feuille, which is right on the Reuss River (Mühlenplatz 6).  With quant shops and welcoming people, I’m starting to think Lucerne just might be the friendliest town in Switzerland, not just the prettiest. But to be fair, I feel at home in Switzerland. I lived here for a year as a student, so it’s a bit of a homecoming for me to be back in my adopted country. Lucerne (or Luzern) is a Swiss-German speaking town, but just about everyone speaks English, if not several other languages. 

The first stop for any newcomer to Lucerne is the historic Chapel Bridge. In the summer, it’s covered with flowers, but in early April it’s still fairly quiet. The bridge runs across the river and was originally part of Lucerne’s medieval fortifications, which wrap up the hill and include the nine towers of the Musegg Wall. The inside of the bridge is just as fascinating as the outside, with 62 paintings showing scenes of Lucerne’s history. It’s a steep hike up to climb the wall but worth it just for the views. The walking path between three of the nine towers (Männli Tower, Zyt Tower and Schirmer Tower) is narrow, with a park on one side and the town on the other.

Paintings inside the Chapel Bridge / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

The Musegg Wall in Lucerne / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

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Paddles are manually removed to manage water flow / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Another popular stop is the famous Lion Monument, which is carved into the rock. It was unveiled in 1821 and commemorates the Swiss guardsmen who died in 1792 during the French Revolution. The monument is dedicated Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti (“To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss”). The inscription below the sculpture lists the names of the officers and gives the approximate numbers of soldiers who died (DCCLX = 760), and survived (CCCL = 350). 

Next door is the Glacier Garden, a former quarry that was discovered and developed in 1873. This is definitely mind-bending, with enormous petrified ‘glacial potholes’ that took four years to uncover, left over from the Ice Age, making this garden 300 million years old.

Looking for something to do in Lucerne? Click here to find endless options on Viator.

Don’t forget to look up when crossing the Chapel Bridge in Lucerne / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

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Day Trips from Lucerne

Mount Rigi: Queen of the Mountains

I’m told that Queen Victoria of England visited Rigi, but in those days she wouldn’t have had the easy train ride to the top. When I arrive at Rigi Staffel on the ferry from Lucerne, it’s cloudy and windy, making for only a brief look around at the top.

I hop back on the train to seek shelter and comfort food at LOK 7 Restaurant. After lunch, it’s an easy hike back down on a trail that runs beside the train tracks, with views out over the Swiss plateau to the Black Forest, the Vosges mountains and the Alps, as well as a breathtaking bird’s-eye view over Lake Lucerne and Lake Zug. (Book a stay at the Hotel Edelweiss along the route)  

I end my short hike at Rigi Kaltbad, a car-free town with enticing bed and breakfasts, some of which offer long stays for artists and writers. It’s not hard to imagine staying in this little village, with its views of the lake. The perfect aprés-hike activity is lounging in the thermal waters of the Mineral Baths & Spa Rigi. Even in the spring, it’s obvious that the baths are a regular activity for locals as there are hardly any tourists. It’s a short walk to the aerial cable car and Weggis, where I catch on the ferry that brings me back to Lucerne.

The view from Mount Rigi / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Hergiswiler Glassworks, Glasi

For those who enjoy glass blowing, only 15 minutes by train is Glasi, home of the famous Hergiswil Glassworks. Originally founded in 1817 by the Siegwart brothers, the factory was close to bankruptcy in 1975 and then was reinvigorated by Italian Roberto Niederer. Today, about 80 glassmakers are employed at the Glassworks.

Culinarium Alpinium, Stans

My last night in Lucerne is at the Culinarium Alpinium, in Stans, about a 20-minute train ride from Lucerne. Once a Capuchin monastery, it has been reimagined as a culinary centre, with a full-service restaurant and 14 rooms for overnight stays. The outdoor garden features trees and plants that are completely edible.

I’m treated to a blend of the purest apple juice I’ve ever tasted and three variations of aged sbrinz cheese, ranging from months to years. Then, there’s a gourmet-tasting dinner at the restaurant with locally made pork belly, vegetables, berries and polenta. All of the food is from local farmers. By the time I fall into bed, I’m already dreaming about breakfast.

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The Culinarium Alpinum in Stans, near Lucerne / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Mount Stanserhorn, Stans

No trip to Lucerne is complete without visiting Mount Stanserhorn, with the peak at 1,898 metres (6,227 ft) above sea level. The journey to the top starts at the 1893 station on a funicular railway with original wooden train cars, which passes through beautiful countryside. Originally it went to the top, but was replaced with an open-roof deck CabriO cable car, which whisks guests to the top in less than seven minutes. From the peak, there are views as far as Alsace and the Black Forest in Germany, and 10 lakes.

With its beautiful lake, historic area and welcoming restaurants, Lucerne may be the prettiest town in all of Switzerland. In my experience, it’s certainly one of the most welcoming for solo women.

Views from Mount Stanserhorn, near Lucerne / Photo credit Carolyn Ray

Other places to visit in Lucerne

Lucerne is an all-season destination, but I’m told the spring and fall are the best times to visit. Held in February, Carnival is the biggest event in the city, with six days of celebrations.

There are many museums in Lucerne, and entry is free with a Swiss Rail Pass.

How to get to Lucerne

Swiss Air (part of the Star Alliance) now flies direct from Toronto and Montreal to Zurich. Every three months, a new Michelin-starred and GaultMillau-point top chef is invited to create a varied selection of quality dishes from their ‘home’ canton, with a particular focus on regional and seasonal specialties. Check Skyscanner for flights here

From Zurich, Lucerne is about 40 minutes. For day trips, take the train or ferry with a Swiss Rail Pass and download the SBB app. Find a trip on Trainline.

Stay at the solo-friendly Art Deco Hotel Montana, Adligenswilerstrasse 22, 6006 Lucerne, Direct: +41 41 419 00 00, [email protected] It’s a short walk or bus from the train station and there’s a funicular that takes you right up the hill.

Practice sustainable travel and learn about sustainable travel experiences and places to stay on Switzerland’s Swisstainable website.

Disclaimer: For this trip, I was a guest of Lucerne Tourism, which provided me with food and accommodation, a Swiss Rail pass, and a tour guide. Very special thanks to my two wonderful hosts, Nina and Olivia. 

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As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.


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