Lucerne, Switzerland is best known as a summertime destination. With its picturesque lake and accessibility to the Swiss Alps, it’s certainly beautiful in the warmer months of the year. But what about Lucerne in December, Lucerne in January, or Lucerne in February? Maybe winter is an ideal time to beat the tourist crowds and experience more of the “real” Lucerne? Here is what we discovered when we visited Lucerne in winter.
Lucerne in winter is dark, and it’s cold…
So no, this isn’t Antarctica. But that doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily pleasant weather for lakeside strolls. Lucerne winter temperatures tend to hover juuuust above freezing. There’s rarely snow, but there are often clouds.
It’s of note, of course, that daylight in the winter months is somewhat limited. In late December, for example, the sun rises soon after 8:00 AM and sets around 4:45 PM. If you’re a late riser (like us), this may mean that you’ll only really get a few hours of daylight in Lucerne in winter.
…buuut the winter activities are charming!
On the other hand, the city is decked out in pretty lights for Christmas. In December, there is a lovely little Christmas market, with all sorts of Swiss goodies for sale. It’s a perfect chance to try raclette and hot wine while warming your hands at a fire! Plus, there’s a skating rink right in front of the train station. There are definitely worse places to ice skate than right alongside Lake Lucerne, gazing at the Old Town across the Christmas-lighted bridge.
Prices are lower and crowds are fewer…
Switzerland is notoriously one of the most expensive destinations in Europe. For proof, look no further than Starbucks prices, which are the second highest in the world. Winter will cut down on at least some of those costs. While we found Airbnbs and hotels to be relatively expensive even in December, prices shoot up significantly as the weather improves. So, for travelers on a budget, it may be worth looking into visiting Lucerne in winter.
Plus, the crowds in winter are way, way, way smaller. You can wander Old Town Lucerne without bumping and jostling tour groups; in fact, you may not encounter many guided tour groups at all! While the historic center of the city is still filled primarily with tourists, not locals, at least you won’t feel like you’re jostling for space as you stroll.
…buuuut some attractions are closed (or not at their best)
Lucerne does not entirely shut down for the winter, unlike some seasonal European destinations (I’m looking at you, Sicily.) The Chapel Bridge remains open, of course, as does the lion monument. Restaurants and stores generally remain open, as well, although some of them close for the week between Christmas and New Year’s.
BUT. That’s not universally the case. The Musegg Wall and its towers, for example, are closed between November and April. It’s still possible to take a boat tour or to visit nearby mountain peaks in the winter, but your view is likely to be cloudy and gray, and some of the transit options will be closed to you (for example, Mount Pilatus has neither boat service nor a cog railway in the winter months, making a day trip somewhat more difficult). Before you book your trip to Lucerne in winter, double-check that the activities you’re most looking forward to will be open and available.
On the other hand, certain activities are only available in winter. Lucerne isn’t exactly a ski town, but nearby Mount Rigi offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and more. Mount Titlis offers special New Year’s Eve events. A mountain getaway like this may just be the winter wonderland that snow-lovers have been dreaming of!
It’s a good chance to cozy up with warm food and drinks!
But let’s just say you’re looking for a slow-paced, relaxing vacation. Let’s say your itinerary revolves around food and drink, not lakeside sunbathing. In that case, Lucerne in winter time might be just right for you. Sit with a book at a tea house. Dig into a warm Moroccan tagine. Winter is about staying cozy and moving slow. If that’s your ideal travel plan, then Lucerne in winter is just right for you!
Have you been to Lucerne in the winter? Tell us about your experience in the comments!