Trail of the Unexpected: The essence of Switzerland is captured in Luzern

You'd expect Luzern, being right in the heart of Switzerland, somehow to encapsulate the Swiss essence. And this little city does not disappoint. It is exceptionally neat and clean; even the cobbles of the old town look polished. The transport is well organised. There are a host of conventional tourist attractions including the medieval half-timbered and painted houses, art museums and upmarket shops, as well as excursions into the lakes and mountains that surround the city. But Luzern is not just a pretty face: there's also an eccentricity and creativity which seems, at first sight, out of keeping with the comfortable demeanour. And it can be easily enjoyed on a short stroll through the city centre.

Start on the south bank of the river Reuss, in the modern quarter of the city, and walk over the unique Chapel Bridge, but do take your time over it. Apart from its bizarre dog-legged shape, the inside of this covered bridge which dates from the 14th century is decorated with paintings depicting scenes of the city's history. Beside the bridge is a 700-year-old watertower, reputed to be Switzerland's most-photographed monument, whose phallic form is also available as a chocolate souvenir in Luzern's many chocolate shops.

Once across the river, follow the lakeshore and turn left up towards the Löwenplatz. This is where the fun starts. On your right is a round building that houses the Bourbaki Panorama, a 19th-century circular painting that conveys a stirring anti-war message and whose arresting visual fashion seems to presage the cinema.

A short way further north, up Denkmalstrasse, you'll find the equally impressive Alpineum, which shows the beginnings of mountain tourism in Switzerland through the most convincing three-dimensional photography, created in the early 1900s.

On the opposite side of the road is a sculpture which was dubbed "the saddest and most moving piece of rock in the world" by the American writer and traveller, Mark Twain. The Dying Lion of Luzern was hewn out of the natural rock to commemorate the death of Swiss mercenaries during the French Revolution. Twain certainly had a point – you need a heart of stone not to be affected by the poor beast.

A short stroll from this monument is another surprise: the Glacier Garden. Its centrepiece is a striking rockscape of potholes, grooves and strange ripple effects. It looks like a modern sculpture yet dates from the time, 20 million years ago, when Switzerland was covered by glaciers. The garden also boasts a little museum with relief models of the Alps, a pond with interesting varieties of trout and a wooden tower with great views over Luzern towards the real Alps.

The star of the show, though, is the Hall of Mirrors, a 19th-century labyrinth, modelled on the famous Spanish Alhambra. It creates a fascinating and disorienting illusion, filled with ornate columns, fountains and palm trees. I was spared an embarrassing collision with a pane of mirrored glass which I mistook for a palm-fringed avenue, by a group of schoolboys who politely warned me instead of waiting for the crash and having a good laugh. This is Switzerland, after all.

A 20-minute stroll from the old town along the lakeside promenade, past grand hotels and tea-rooms, is the Transport Museum – remarkably, given the surfeit of fine art elsewhere in Switzerland, the country's most-visited museum. This year marks its 50th anniversary, which has been celebrated with the construction of a new hall devoted to road transport through the ages. But this is only one aspect of the vast hands-on museum, whose 3,000 exhibits range across all forms of transport, past, present and future and include aircraft flight simulators, a planetarium and dozens of impressive locomotives.

Even the entrance hall is striking: the exterior wall is decorated with thousands of wheels, rims, propellers and steering wheels and once you're inside there is enough to keep a family occupied for day.

An appropriate way to get back to central Luzern is on the city's characteristic, and most enjoyable form of transport, a boat. From a pier near the museum, ferries criss-cross the lake, taking you to Luzern railway station in one direction or, if you have the time to explore the expanses of Vierwaldstättersee, off to pretty lakeside villages such as Weggis where a funicular railway will trundle you up the implausibly green hillside to enjoy a wonderful Alpine panorama from the top of Mount Rigi.

Getting there

Luzern is easily reached via Zurich airport, from where trains depart hourly and take about an hour. A single ticket costs Sfr27 (£15.20). Direct fast trains also link Luzern to Basel and Geneva, with good rail connections from London via Paris.

Seeing there

Bourbaki Panorama, Löwenplatz 11 (00 41 41 412 30 30; Open 9am-6pm daily (except Monday, 1-6pm), admission Sfr8 (£4.50).

Alpineum, Denkmalstrasse 11 (00 41 41 410 62 66; Open 9am-12.30pm and 1.30-6pm daily between April and October, admission Sfr5 (£2.80).

Glacier Garden, Denkmalstrasse 4 (00 41 41 410 43 40; Open 9am-6pm from April to October, 10am-5pm in winter, Sfr12 (£6.80).

Transport Museum, Lidostrasse 5 (00 41 41 370 44 44; Open 10am-6pm daily (winter to 5pm), admission Sfr24 (£13.50).

More information

The main tourist office is by the west exit of the railway station at Zentralstrasse 5 (00 41 41 227 17 17; It opens 8.30am-6pm Monday to Friday, 9am-7.30pm at weekends (9am-1pm in winter).

Hannah Russell

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Day In a Page

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering