Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Central Switzerland
The Swiss Museum of Transport, called Verkehrshaus der Schweiz in German, is Switzerland’s most popular museum and shows the past, present and future of transport and mobility on land, at sea, in the air and even outer space. More than 3,000 displays on approximately 20,000 square meters of exhibition space bear witness to a moving history in the truest sense of the word and show the inventions and deeds of explorers and inventors. But isn’t only the old planes and trains that draw visitors from young to old here, the Swiss Museum of Transport also tells of future challenges in the field of transport and communications and has a focus that goes beyond Switzerland and Earth. Apart from the many halls dedicated to road, rail and air travel, the museum also hosts the largest screen in Switzerland in the adjoining IMAX theatre as well as a planetarium.
Mount Rigi is a mountain in central Switzerland, bordering Lucerne, and part of the Swiss Alps. It's also known as the "Queen of the Mountains.” Rigi offers stunning panoramic views and is famous for its beautiful sunrises. Nowadays, the mountain is easily accessible by public transportation. It offers many winter and summer excursions such as skiing, sledding, or hiking.
It has been popular with adventurous, romantic travellers for quite some time (before the advent of public transportation), including Mark Twain more than a century ago. The Rigi has been immortalized through paintings by JMW Turner, including "The Blue Rigi, Lake of Lucerne, Sunrise".
Mount Pilatus rises high above the city of Lucerne giving wonderful views of Lake Lucerne and the Swiss Alps. At 6,992 ft (2,132 m) high, it has 2 cable cars, the world's steepest cog-railway, hotels, restaurants and lots of outdoor activities. People come here to toboggan, sledge, mountain bike and for the excellent hiking. There is a Rope Park for treetop adventures.
Rumor has it that the mountain is named after Pontius Pilate who they say was thrown into a nearby lake and haunts the mountain. More likely is that the name comes from the Latin word for cloud-covered, pileatus. It was made famous by the composer Richard Wagner in the 19th century and Britain's Queen Victoria rode up here on horseback.
Carved into the low cliff face on the outskirts of the Old Town, the Lion Monument is Lucerne’s most distinctive landmark, evocatively described by Mark Twain as ‘the most mournful and moving piece of stone in the world’. The giant sandstone sculpture depicts a 10-meter long dying lion resting in a shaded nook above a shimmering pond, and was created in 1821 under commission of Captain Carl Pfyffer von Altishofen.
Hewn out of the natural rock on-site, the monument was the handiwork of stonemason Lucas Ahorn, to the design of Danish classicist sculptor Bertel Thorvaldsenwhilst and commemorates the Swiss Guards that lost their lives in the 1792 French Revolution. Look closely and you’ll see that the lion’s paws rest on the symbolic Fleur-de-Lis (Lilies of France), while a broken spear juts from his back. The poignant inscription reads ‘Helvetiorum Fidei ac Virtuti’ – ‘To the loyalty and bravery of the Swiss’.
More Things to Do in Central Switzerland
Engelberg, literally meaning the Mountain of Angels, is a mountain valley and village in central Switzerland boasting one of the best action packed recreational programs in the country. The fun doesn’t stop at skiing and snowboarding and from paragliding and bungee jumping to climbing, snow tubing and zorbing, the adventure possibilities are pretty much endless. A bit more traditional is the village’s history. Engelberg was founded in 1120 by Benedictine monks and to this day, one of the defining characteristics of the landscape is the Benedictine monastery, an imposing baroque building originating in the 18th century. About 30 monks still live and work there, and among other tasks, they lead a local boarding school. Just like the monastery, Engelberg has managed to retain its traditional Swiss character and despite some chalets and resorts popping up, is mostly still inhabited by locals. Thus, the village doesn’t turn into a ghost town as soon as the ski season is over.
The Culture and Congress Center, often simply referred to as KKL by the locals, is the work of the French architect Jean Nouvel. It has an extraordinary presence among the more traditional buildings of Lucerne, especially due to the modern square shape and the enormous flat roof overhanging Europe Square. This floating roof, sometimes called the magic roof, soon became a symbol of the city and is definitely the building’s most prominent feature. Also remarkable is the successful fusion of nature and construction. The Culture and Congress Center almost merges with the adjoining water of Lake Lucerne and not only do the aluminum plates covering the surface reflect the light and ripples in the waves but the water also flows into the building itself and separates the KKL into its three parts.
Lucerne's Jesuit Church is the first expansive baroque church built north of the Alps in Switzerland. It is a beautiful and historical site, emphasizing the Catholic tradition of veneration of saints and visual culture. When the Jesuits brought the Counter Reformation to Lucerne in the 17th century; the elaborate church, dedicated to Francis Xavier, was constructed between 1666 and 1677. Architects from Italy and Austria built what many believe to be the most beautiful Baroque church in Switzerland.
Today, Jesuit Church is a major tourist attraction and often serves as a concert venue while it has almost no role in local church and religious life. The powerful-looking Baroque church features beautiful Roccocco interiors and a vault redecorated in the 18th century.
Weggis is a municipality in central Switzerland, which is located right on the shores of Lake Lucerne and at the foot of the Queen of the Mountains, the Rigi. The inhabitants of Weggis often claim that their town is a little bit warmer than other places on the northern side of the Alps and they might just be right. Due to being protected from the harsh north wind, the climate is milder and there is hardly a garden in Weggis that doesn’t spread that little bit of vacation feeling with a palm tree or two. Even Mark Twain once described Weggis, where chestnut trees, grapes and figs flourish, as “the most charming place…” and compared it to the French Riviera.
The town is strongly based in tourism and has many great hospitality and gastronomy options, but is also the starting point for a number of beautiful hikes around the Rigi. Many visitors choose to arrive aboard one of the old paddlewheel steamers and follow the trail of history through Weggis and beyond.
One of a trio of famous peaks that dominate the Bernese Alps, the Eiger, along with the neighboring Jungfrau and Mönch, is one of Switzerland’s most recognizable mountains, towering 3,970 meters above the resort town of Grindelwald. Notorious among climbers, scaling the 1,800 meter near-vertical North Face of the Eiger is one of the country’s most challenging feats, first accomplished in 1938 and claiming a number of lives over the years. It’s perhaps for this reason that the mountain was named – ‘Eiger’ translates from the German word for ‘Ogre’.
Thankfully, less-skilled mountaineers can still enjoy a number of hiking and climbing trails on the Eiger, the most famous of which is the Eiger Trail, which runs along the foot of the famous North Face. The dramatic landscapes of the Eiger can also be viewed by taking the scenic train ride to Jungfraujoch, where Europe’s highest train station and observation deck is aptly nicknamed the ‘Top of Europe’.
We all know what regular cable cars look like. The mountain Stanserhorn in the canton of Nidwalden though, has managed to provide a more revolutionary experience for its guests and at the same time, write cable car history. The world’s first convertible-style cable car, the Stanserhorn CabriO, is where the fun is at. You can have a panoramic and completely unobstructed view over a hundred kilometers of alpine peaks while you float under the open sky with pristine mountain air blowing through your fluttering hair. Among other highlights, you can see not only the city of Lucerne in the distance, but also Lucerne’s own Mount Pilatus rising 2,128 meters into the sky, the lower sprawl of the Bürgenstock and the characteristic double peak of the Mythen among a scenery of lakes and mountain meadows.
This Benedictine Monastery lies in the heart of Engelberg. It is dedicated to Our Lady of the Angels and, to this day, there are still roughly 30 monks living and working in the Engelberg monastery. Engelberg's culture dates back to the 12th Century when the monastery was founded by the Count of Seldenburen. Engelberg Monastery has been granted many rights and privileges by various emperors and popes and was once the center of power in the region, solidifying its place in history.
Switzerland's largest church organ, the monumental Collegiate Library, the Valley Museum, a show dairy and a manor house are all found in Engelberg. The library, to which men only are admitted, contains a historic and complete collection of the writings of Martin Luther. In Engelberg, the culture for centuries has been centered around the Divine. The abbey buildings were mostly destroyed by a fire in 1729, but they were restored quite beautifully in the manner they remain today.
The Rosengart Collection is Lucerne’s newest museum addition and houses the extensive and once private collection of Angela Rosengart, a Swiss art dealer and good friend to the famous Spanish painter Pablo Picasso. Rosengart, who has collected one of the biggest private art stashes of the classical modernist era, wanted to make these paintings, which would normally just be passed from one private collector to the next, more accessible to the public. The museum, which now draws art lovers from all over the world, has earned international recognition for its focus on the works of Pablo Picasso and Paul Klee, a Swiss German painter famous for his unique style of cubism, expressionism and surrealism.
Famous composer Richard Wagner resided in this country manor in Tribschen on Lake Lucerne for six years beginning in April 1866. Wagner lived on this dignified estate, which is surrounded by a park and next to the lakeside, with his well-to-do family. At times the house was also the meeting place for a number of prominent figures, including Franz Liszt, Friedrich Nietzsche, Gottfried Semper and King Ludwig II of Bavaria, who were some of the composer's good friends. The property is now under historical monument protection and its origins can be traced back to the 15th century.
The property was opened it to the public in 1931, when the city of Lucerne acquired the country manor together with the large surrounding park. Today, the Richard Wagner Museum houses an impressive collection of Wagner memorabilia exhibited on the ground floor rooms of the residence. The beautiful property is a must-see for any history or music buff.
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