Getting there: Zurich airport is just over an hour from Lucerne and there is frequent train service. A Swiss Pass allows unlimited travel on trains, buses and many boats, with prices starting at $175 for four consecutive days. A Flexi Pass is better for people who want to spread their travel — prices start at $168 for three days in a calendar month. If you buy more than one pass you get 15 percent off. Get a free Family Card so that children under 16 can travel free (with a parent).
Car hire is available at all airports. Swiss taxis are very, very expensive. Swiss law says that all children must have a special child seat, but many taxis don't carry them and so refuse to take children.
Lodging and dining: Lucerne has an enormous variety of hotels. Top of the range are the Palace, Grand Hotel National and Schweizerhof, with a double room costing more than $291 per night — although there are cheaper last-minute offers on the Internet. French architect Jean Nouvel's The Hotel is in the same price bracket and is acclaimed by avant-garde devotees. Slightly cheaper, smaller and very charming are the Hotel Magic and Hotel Wilden Mann. The Prison Hotel Loewengraben is an old converted prison with a good restaurant and active nightlife which offers accommodations ranging from a suite at $233 to $116 for two on bunk beds in a "most wanted" cell, or $189 for two with a convict's uniform and bread and water thrown in. For smaller budgets, there's a youth hostel and some lower-range hotels.
A dinner with melted cheese fondue — heavy on the stomach in hot summer temperatures — is usually included in package tours. Geschnetzeltes (sliced meat in cream) and roesti (hash browns) are also standard Swiss fare. But there is a wide variety for most budgets, with Italian restaurants often offering the best value. The Zunfthauspfistern and Wilden Mann are good traditional local restaurants. The Stadtkeller caters to those wanting yodeling and alphorn music. The Casino offers reasonably priced food by the side of the lake, as does Les Balances. Or try Restaurant Bam Bou, for trendy East-Meets-West cuisine at The Hotel.
Things to do: Relax and enjoy the views or go for a hike. Lucerne is small and easily visited on foot — there are morning guided tours starting at the tourist information office at 9:45 a.m. There are a big variety of lake cruises including those offering brunches, lunches or dinners. Swiss rail passes allow free travel on most boats. Lucerne is surrounded by mountains and many excursions are on offer. Or just hop on a train to enjoy Swiss scenery at its best.
Lucerne has many museums. The national transport museum — one of the biggest in Europe — is a short bus ride out of town and boasts an IMAX theater. The Bourbaki Panorama contains a stunning panorama of the Franco-Prussian War. Art fans should head to the Rosengart Collection near the railway station. Lucerne Festival Summer is from mid-August to September with top international classical concerts at the new convention and cultural center.
Lucerne Tourism, www.luzern.org, 011-41-41-227-1717
Switzerland Tourism, www.mySwitzerland.com, with a toll-free international line, 011-800-100-200-30 (fax: 011-800-100-200-31)
Swiss Federal Railways: www.rail.ch or 011-41-900 300 300