Driving in Switzerland, engelberg, european family travel, European Travel, Gondolas in Switzerland, Lake Lucerne, Lucerne, Lucerne winter, Luzern, monastery engelberg cheese, Mt Rigi, MT Rigi Train, Mt Titlis, Old Town Lucerne, Parking in Lucerne, Rotair, Rotair Mt Titlis, Rotair with kids, Swiss Family Travel, Swiss Transport Museum, Switzerland, Top of Mt Titlis, Travel, Vekershaus, Vitznau
We visited Lake Lucerne the week before Christmas and enjoyed the great weather, mountains, museums and views of the oddly shaped lake. Known as the Vierwaldstättesee (lake of four forested Cantons) in German, the lake is one of the largest in central Switzerland and certainly one of the most picturesque. Surrounded by the towering Alps on the Southern side and the city of Lucerne to the north, it offers a range of activities for the entire family. We spent 5 days in the area with Sarah’s parents and below were some of the highlights:
Lucerne Old Town and the Museum of Transportation
We had wanted to visit Lucerne ever since seeing the city on the US television show, The Amazing Race. We spent the morning at the Museum of Transportation (Verkehrshaus) and the afternoon walking around the beautiful city.
The museum is located about two miles east of town, along the lake, with plenty of parking available close by (though that started to fill up by the time we left). There is a nice park across from the museum that offers great views of the city and Mt. Pilatus, which towers 2000m high as a scenic backdrop. We read that the mountain has the steepest cogwheel train in Europe, however it was not open this time of year so we will have to save for our next visit.
The museum was 30 Swiss Francs (about 31 US Dollars) to enter per adult but totally worth the admission price and was free for our almost two year old. It did help during our trip that the exchange rate was favorable and that the Franc and Dollar were about equal. On past trips the rate was 1.1 or worse, which can make an expensive country like Switzerland even more pricy.
Our favorite parts of the Museum were certainly the Automobile building and the cable cars (2nd floor of boat building). Inside the Auto building were all sorts of interesting facts about vehicle signs, safety, inspections, including several interactive games. But the best part was the exterior of the building that, like seen on The Amazing Race, was full of different color (function) street signs. One side was all white for miscellaneous and industrial signs, one side was blue for mostly German road signs, and finally the side facing the boat building was all green road signs, mostly from Switzerland. It was surprising how many of the cities we had either seen signs for or visited in just 18 months living in Europe! It is a fun game to try to figure out which roads the signs came from as well.
The cable car exhibit on the second floor of the boating building was very interesting also and was probably my wife’s favorite. It shows the evolution of the cable car over the last 100 years including models of local gondolas including the rotating one up Mt Titlis that we visited the following day. This is interesting given how reliant the Alps are for tourism via these cable cars year round. Having ridden up some very nice (and also very scary) cable cars, this was neat to see.
After spending about three hours at the museum we headed to Lucerne for the afternoon. We found parking (we had scouted this previously on Google Maps) at the Train Station that was only about a 5 minute walk to the Kapellebrücke (the famous covered bridge) and from there a short walk into the old town. We enjoyed walking around the old town which was very typical European Old Town with shops, restaurants and bakeries. The views from the old town side looking back towards the bridge are very pretty and the city was very clean and had some nice shops. Sarah’s parents also enjoyed the city and spent a second day there, arriving by ferry boat which runs between several cities on the lake even during the winter season.
Mt Rigi and Vitznau
We stayed in an apartment in Vitznau for the four nights we were there and found it to be a very nice base for our stay on the Lake. It was about 40 minutes drive from Lucerne and about an hour from Mt. Titlis. Vitznau had a number of restaurants and a great bakery that we enjoyed very much. The only downfall of the town was the church bells every 15 minutes during the day and night which were a little on the loud side given the central location of the church. The Mt Rigi train was also a nice activity for our family on Sunday when not much is open. It takes you to the top of Mt Rigi (which my wife says is not a “real Alpine Mountain” because it is not as tall or as striking as some others but it was a nice view none the less.
The train going up was very nice and quite crowded as it only goes once an hour at this time of year. It was a very clear day in Vitznau, however as we ascended it got foggier and foggier and once we reached the top (Rigi Kulm) it was hard to see anything. We hiked to the top of the mountain, about a 15 minute walk on the snow and ice, and headed down a couple of stops for lunch.
Mt. Titlis and the Rotair
Our final full day in the Lake Lucerne area was spent at Mt Titlis. It was amazing! We drove to the town of Engelberg and began our journey up the mountain. It was an easy drive and there were several large parking lots at the base of the gondolas to take you up the mountain. It was one of the few skiing areas open so far in the area so it was very busy, even on a Tuesday. There were both skiers and tourists, from all over the place, including one family from Malaysia who was amazed with Indi riding on me and the Baby Bjorn….the dad took a video and came over to say hello. So you may be seeing us on Malaysian YouTube. Anyway…back to the tickets which you purchase at the base and wait in line for the first of three gondolas or cable cars up the mountain. The wait was about 15 minutes and not for those with claustrophobia but the line moved well and we got on the first gondola with 4 others.
It was a six person gondola and made a stop part way up the mountain as well. We continued on and got off to take a second larger gondola that held approximately 100 people up another 10 minutes. Finally, we reached the final leg- the Rotair. This is a new gondola that actually rotates 360 degrees while it takes you up the final 5 to 7 minutes of the ride. It was a beautiful view of the whole area and the “big 3” Swiss mountains of the Jungfrau region in the distance. My wife couldn’t see her beloved Matterhorn but we saw most of the other large peaks of the area.
At the top of Mt. Titlis is the standard view areas as well as the other ski lifts for those skiers who have made the trek. There is also a nice restaurant as well as a self service food area and chocolate shop. It was very nice, crowded, but very nice and the views were amazing! The journey took about 45 minutes with some waits in the middle parts but it was well worth that and the 62 Franc price tag. Also included in the price are several activities at the top of the mountain such as the glacier cave and cliff walk. The walk was not open (we would have passed on that anyway!) but the glacier cave was a very “cool” experience. It is a 5-10 minute circular walk directly under the mountain.
We took the three stage gondola back down to Engelberg and visited a former monastery, now home to a cheese making shop, and had a nice lunch while watching the man make some form of cheese. Afterwards we stocked up on local cheeses which has become a nice tradition on our trips.
Lake Lucerne was only about a four and a half hour drive for us, plus pit stops for an almost two year old, and we have decided to add it to our “we will return list”. It was a beautiful area with plenty to do and while it does have the steep Swiss price tag there are enough options in the area to keep you entertained with lower cost items such as hiking and walking.