Day Trip from Zurich, Switzerland: Lucerne & Mt. Rigi
Why did I choose Switzerland and specifically Lucerne & Mt. Rigi?
A few of my posts will be dedicated to Switzerland. I feel very fortunate to be able to travel to Zurich a couple times a year for business. I had always wanted to go to Switzerland and my first time was a little over a year ago. I immediately fell in love with the country, the mountains, the lakes, and the cheese. I extended my business trip a day longer to take advantage of this beautiful country by visiting the city of Lucerne and hiking Mt. Rigi (also known as the queen of the mountains). Lucerne and Mt. Rigi are not too far away from Zurich. If you didn’t already know, Switzerland’s public transportation is amazing and easy to use, everything is always on time. Taking a day trip from Zurich is effortless!
Easy, since everyone I met spoke English. Since Switzerland is surrounded by several different countries, people speak a lot of languages, which is always so impressive to hear.
Swiss Franc (CHF)
Click here to check the currency exchange
My Travel Time
Late June – summer in Switzerland is amazing, especially when it’s sunny! There are a ton of outdoor activities in Switzerland!
The weather in Switzerland changes frequently (sometimes every hour), so make sure you check the weather forecast. If it’s cloudy and rainy when you’re on the mountains, you might not be able to see anything. As I was descending Mt. Rigi, it started raining. There are a lot of cows in Switzerland and I heard a lot of “moo-ing” around me, but with the clouds and rain, I couldn’t even see them!
Click here to check the weather
Click here to check when the sun rises and sets
My Flight Details
Airline: SWISS Air (they give out delicious Swiss chocolate at the end of the flight – yes!)
There are a couple of SWISS Air flights from JFK to ZRH. I prefer taking the flight at 18:25 and arrives at 8:05 in Switzerland so I still have a whole day for adventure.
Flight prices vary depending on the time of the year. Summer flights are always more expensive. Flights in November to February usually end up being a lot cheaper. I’ve seen flights from $400 to $2,000 depending on the season and when you book the flight. As always, book 2-3 months in advance!
Airport to city: As noted before, public transportation in Switzerland is incredible and efficient. From the ZRH airport to the Zurich HB main station is 10-15 minutes (6.80 CHF/adult).
My Hotel Details
I’ve stayed in a few hotels and all of them were in Zurich since I always had to be back in Zurich for the night to get to work the next morning or fly back home.
This hotel is in Old Town Zurich, the city center. Living in the city center is definitely more convenient as there are great restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets near by. Breakfast, internet, and the room’s mini bar is included in the hotel price. Air conditioning isn’t available (not needed if you’re out all day). There’s a restaurant on the first floor of the hotel that serves raclette (roasted/melted cheese served over potatoes, pickled onions, and more) and cheese fondue!
Helmhaus is also in Old Town Zurich, right next to Grossmünster. Breakfast and internet is included. Helmhaus is usually the most expensive out of the three, but it is nicely renovated and there is air conditioning. It’s super close to Lake Zurich and Frauenbad Stadthausquai (an outdoor pool for women, perfect for the summer; it becomes a bar at night for both men and women 3 days a week).
NH Zurich Airport Hotel
Hotels closer to the airport and further from the city center are usually cheaper. I stayed here for one night since I was going to the airport early the next morning. They provide a free airport shuttle. The hotel was clean and had the biggest bed out of the three hotels, however, there isn’t as much to do within walking distance to this hotel. It’s a 10-minute train ride to the city center, which is still quite convenient. I personally prefer to spend a little more to have the convenience of being closer to the city center.
My Lucerne & Mt. Rigi Trip Itinerary
For this day trip, I only spent money on transportation (1-day travel pass) and food.
Outbound from Zurich: Zurich HB main station to Rigi Kulm (top of Mt. Rigi) via Arth-Goldau
Inbound to Zurich: Rigi Kulm to Zurich HB main station via Vitznau and Lucerne
For clarity (I repeat this information a few times below, sorry! I just want to make sure there’s no confusion surrounding transportation): There are 3 different forms of transportation on this trip. I took the train from Zurich HB main station to Arth-Goldau, then the cogwheel train (included in the travel pass) from Arth-Goldau to Rigi Kulm. From Rigi Kulm (I hiked down and took a different stop, but you can also take it from Rigi Kulm), take the cogwheel train to Vitznau, then take the boat (included in the travel pass) from Vitznau to Lucerne. From Lucerne, I took the train to Zurich HB main station.
Make sure you to check the track of the train you’re taking. The train/boat usually never leaves earlier or later than the scheduled time.
Mt. Rigi: I woke up at around 6:20 to take a 7:09 train from Zurich HB main station to Mt. Rigi via Arth-Goldau and arrived there at 8:45. Everything in Switzerland runs orderly and smoothly; there are clear signs leading you to the right direction and there are always people that can help. At Arth-Goldau, I took a cogwheel train up to the top of Mt. Rigi (stop: Rigi Kulm) and the views were breathtaking (turquoise lakes, never ending hills, and mountains – felt like heaven). Some people got off of the tram at an earlier stop and hiked up the rest, others hiked from the bottom when they got off the train at Arth-Goldau. I decided to ride the cogwheel train all the way to the top so I could get there faster to beat the clouds from intruding my view and then hiked down a few miles before hopping back on the train. The mountains have a well paved path making it safe to hike (especially if you’re solo traveling). On a clear day, you’ll be able to see the snow capped mountains in the distance, which I can never get enough of. I took the cogwheel train to Vitznau and a boat from there to Lucerne. The boat sails through Lake Lucerne. Regardless of where you’re sitting on the boat, you’re going to get a picture-perfect view. I honestly felt at times I was looking at a painting. (Note: the cogwheel train and boat ride are included in the round-trip ticket you’ll buy from SBB)
~1 hr of walking in Lucerne, everything is close by!
Jesuitenkirche: a Catholic church in Lucerne’s old town
Chapel Bridge & Wasserturm: Wasserturm is the most iconic tower in Lucerne near a lovely wooden bridge that I took a stroll on
Hofkirche: Roman Catholic church; it has always been interesting to me to see the differences in architecture in different countries
Lion Monument: a rock relief of a mournful lion with a small pond in front of it
Museggmauer: iconic old city wall with an amazing view of the city of Lucerne with the Alps in the background
During this trip, I stayed at Hotel Adler in Zurich. I decided to go back to Zurich for dinner. I had raclette from Chuchi, which is the restaurant right below Hotel Adler. I left Lucerne around 19:00; the train from Lucerne to Zurich is around 50 min and they come quite often.
For those who don’t know, Switzerland can get quite pricey. Eating out can be expensive and the cost of living is higher. Train prices from one city to another can add up as well. There are more discounts Swiss residents can obtain when using public transportation, but for visitors, there are also some helpful options. Check ticket price/options (travel passes) and time tables on the Swiss Federal Railways site. Sometimes, Swiss Post has great limited offers during certain seasons. I was able obtain one of the limited offer tickets for around ~55 CHF. The ticket price included the train, cogwheel train, and boat from Zurich to Mt. Rigi round-trip.
I went to Coop (common grocery store around Switzerland) to buy sandwich ingredients for lunch and snacks before I headed out explore Rigi and Lucerne. There are a few near Zurich HB main station or you can go to Migros, another grocery store in the station. Eating out in Switzerland starts to add up, but there are tons of restaurants in Lucerne if you choose to eat there. List below for a few restaurants that are decent and budget conscious.
Pastarazzi: pasta pasta pasta!
Khoua Vientiane: a mixture of Thai and Vietnamese cuisine
Manor Restaurant Manora: a European style buffet with a nice view of Lucerne
Little Istanbul: Turkish fast food (chain) – if you’re looking for a quick bite
Lucerne Tourism Site
On Sunday (besides restaurants), most things will be closed including grocery stores in certain areas.