Switzerland is a beautiful country with awesome mountains, lakes, towns, and landscapes. A trip to one of the Swiss cities with a lakeside would be the perfect way to see it. Zurich, Geneva, Lausanne, Lucerne, and Lugano are some of the options you have.
Lucerne and Geneva are among Switzerland’s most popular destinations. If you were to decide which city to visit in Switzerland, which would you choose? Would you pick the German-speaking city of Lucerne? Or the French-speaking city of Geneva? Which is better, Geneva or Lucerne? Is one a better city than the other?
It’s hard to decide between Lucerne and Geneva since both are beautiful cities on the lake. Lucerne is on Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee), and Geneva is on Lake Geneva (Lac Léman). They’re both beautiful and worth visiting. But do you know which one’s right for you? Let’s find out.
In reality, the question might be more – would you be more interested in visiting the Lake Lucerne region or the Lake Geneva region? If you start with this question and have an answer for it, then the choice is clear.
Lucerne is in German-speaking Switzerland, and it’s a little charming town with a waterfront, shops, and mountains nearby. Likewise, French-speaking Geneva has a lot to offer: a global city with museums, beaches, shops, and mountains.
This article compares and contrasts Lucerne and Geneva, two lakeside places to visit in Switzerland. Is it better to visit Lucerne or is it better to visit Geneva?
Overview: Lucerne vs. Geneva
The key differences are as follows:
|Population: approx. 80,000
|Population: approx. 580,000
|Location: Central Switzerland
|Location: Western Switzerland
|Elevation: 375 m
|Area: 15.9 km²
|Highlights: Chapel Bridge,
Lion Monument, Glacier Garden, Transport Museum, Bourbaki Panorama
|Highlights: Worldwide Center for Diplomacy, St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, Maison Tavel, Ariana Museum
|Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)
Things To Do: Lucerne or Geneva
Things To Do in Lucerne
- Chapel Bridge – The Chapel Bridge in Lucerne is the city’s most famous landmark. This wooden bridge over the Reuss River is one of the oldest in Europe. The bridge was built in 1300 as part of the city walls. Even though it burned down and got badly damaged, it was rebuilt in 1994.
- Old Town – You can wander around restaurants and boutiques in Lucerne’s Old Town. Apart from the Chapel Bridge, you have the Spreuer Bridge crossing the Reuss River. Nearby is a beautiful Jesuit church.
- Verkehrshaus – The Transport Museum in Switzerland is one of the most visited museums in the country. At Verkehrshaus, you’ll see cars, ships, submarines, planes, trains, trams, and cable cars. In addition to transport exhibits, there’s also a Planetarium, a Swiss Chocolate Adventure, a Communications area, and a 2D or 3D Film Theater.
- Lion Monument – The Lion Monument was created by Danish artist Bertel Thorvaldsen in 1821 to honor the Swiss Guards who lost their lives during the revolutionary siege of Paris on August 10, 1792. It was in vain that the Swiss Guards tried to keep King Louis XVI alive, and they paid the price by dying. In the monument, a dying lion lies across broken pieces of the French monarchy.
- Glacier Garden – The Lucerne Glacier Garden has some impressive glacier potholes from the last ice age 20,000 years ago, proving that Lucerne was covered in glaciers then. Shell fossils and palm leaves show that there was a subtropical sea beach here 20 million years ago.
- Bourbaki Panorama – Featured in this 360-degree panorama is a scene depicting the retreat of General Bourbaki’s army in the Swiss Alps in 1871. This is one of the largest panorama paintings in the world.
Things To Do in Geneva
- Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. In addition to Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll find Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Treille Promenade, and more.
- United Nations Building – If you want to see one of the world’s most important diplomatic centers, the Palace of Nations is a must. There are tours available upon request.
- Jet d’Eau – Check out Geneva’s water jet, the Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
- St. Pierre Cathedral – The Cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252. It was used by John Calvin, one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Geneva.
- Visit the museums – Geneva also has its fair share of museums.
- A standout is the Maison Tavel, which is an example of medieval civil architecture.
- You can also see ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics at the Ariana Museum. You can also check out nearby Ariana Park.
- If you’re into watches, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum.
- Lake Geneva – On top of all of that, you can stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise in a boat, or just stroll around.
- Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.
Mountains Nearby: Lucerne vs. Geneva
Both towns will have mountains nearby to visit. The panoramic views from the mountains near Lucerne and Geneva will be stunning.
Mountains Close to Lucerne
The closest panoramic views from Lucerne are less than 2,000 meters high – Bürgenstock, Stanserhorn, Eggberge, Rigi Scheidegg, and Rigi Kulm. Only Pilatus at 2,073 meters and Engelberg Titlis at 3,238 meters are a bit higher.
The following mountains are close to Lucerne:
- Bürgenstock Hammetschwand (1,115 meters) – famous for the exclusive Bürgenstock Resort and the Hammetschwand Lift which is the highest, free-standing outdoor lift in Europe. Overlooks Lake Lucerne and can be accessed with a ferry and funicular.
- Stanserhorn (1,849 meters) – has an open upper deck cable car leading guests up the mountain and amazing views of Lucerne
- Pilatus (2,073 meters) – has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with a maximum gradient of 48% and a 30-minute ride
- Rigi Scheidegg (1,643 meters) and Rigi Kulm (1,752 meters) – a popular mountain to visit due to the numerous ways you can reach it from Vitznau, Arth-Goldau, Weggis, Gersau, Goldau, and Küssnacht SZ.
- Eggberge (1,447 meters) – relatively quiet but still provides awesome views of the Reuss Valley, Lake Urnersee, Rigi, and more.
Mountains Close to Geneva
The closest panoramic views from Geneva are much like those from Lucerne at a little less than 2,000 meters. If you’re into higher mountains, you’ve got to head to places like the Jungfrau Region, the Engadine, or the Valais.
The following mountains are close to Geneva:
- Mont-Pèlerin (1,080 meters) – This mountain near Vevey goes through the Chardonne Vineyards. There’s a great view of Lake Geneva from Plein Ciel, its viewing platform.
- Rochers-de-Naye (1,968 meters) – This mountain is easy to reach from Montreux and you can take a cogwheel train up through Glion and Caux. At the summit, you can see Lausanne, Lake Geneva, Jura, and the Savoy Alps.
- Le Moléson (2,002 meters) – A mountain in the Swiss Prealps, Moléson is near picturesque Gruyères village. You can see the famous peaks of the Bernese Oberland, Mont Blanc, and the Jura Mountains from here. Additionally, it has an awesome view of Lake Geneva and the Three Lakes region.
When you’re heading for the mountains, there’s no big difference between the two. Geneva and Lucerne have similar altitudes, and the mountains around them aren’t as high as those in mountain resorts like Wengen and St. Moritz.
Places To Visit: Lucerne vs. Geneva
Places To Visit Near Lucerne
Both towns will have plenty of pretty places to visit nearby. So it boils down to your preference if you would rather see the Lake Lucerne region or the Lake Geneva region.
From Lucerne, you can take the train or boat to visit nearby places such as Bürgenstock, Weggis, and Vitznau. These are all located along Lake Lucerne. Further away, accessible with trains in an hour or so, are the pretty towns of Einsiedeln, Bremgarten, and Solothurn. Of course, Zurich and Bern are also popular cities to visit from Lucerne. So you have a lot of choices in and around Lucerne. Its central location in the country definitely helps.
Places To Visit Near Geneva
Near Geneva are some cool places to visit: Lausanne, Montreux, Vevey, Nyon, Prangins, and Lutry. UNESCO World Heritage Site Lavaux Wine region has a mild, almost Mediterranean climate where grapevines grow on terraces. Terraced vineyards produce white wine and red wine on 830 hectares of land.
Hotels: Lucerne vs. Geneva
There is a wide range of accommodation options in Lucerne and Geneva to suit a variety of budgets and needs.
Hotels in Lucerne
- Hotel Schweizerhof Luzern (5-star) – Directly on the lake, this refined hotel is located in the old town of Lucerne. You’ll also find a gym, a spa, and modern furniture amid elegant interiors. A 10-minute walk gets you to the train station.
- Grand Hotel National Luzern (5-star) – A luxurious hotel built in the 1870s. Close to the train station and the historic old town, this hotel has elegant interiors, fantastic lake views, and a swimming pool.
- Hermitage Lake Lucerne (4-star) – Set on the shores of Lake Lucerne, this tranquil hotel is a great place to relax. While it’s a little outside of the city, it has stunning views and refined restaurants. There’s also a beach club with daybeds, lounges, drinks, snacks, and cool music. Party boats are available to rent or you can take public boats that stop right outside the hotel. My family has stayed here and has loved it. I highly recommend it.
- AMERON Luzern Hotel Flora (4-star) – Near the train station and the Chapel Bridge, this hotel has chic rooms and a great breakfast.
- Hotel Rebstock (4-star) – A historic, half-timbered hotel dating from the late Middle Ages, Hotel Rebstock is one of the 16 Unique and Historical Hotels in Switzerland. It is ideally located near the Hof Church, the Lion Monument, and the Glacier Garden.
- Hotel Central Luzern (3-star) – In a central location near the train station, the chapel bridge, the old town, and the Rosengart Collection, Hotel Central Luzern offers bright, clean, recently renovated rooms, as well as a delicious breakfast. The rooms are reasonably priced. As a result of the hotel’s central location, you might hear some noise at night.
- Backpackers Luzern (Hostel) – The Backpackers Luzern is on the shores of Lake Lucerne, in a quiet area. Besides free kitchen facilities and WiFi, this charming hostel has a common lounge area with table tennis and table soccer. Each room has comfortable beds and a balcony. Walking to Lucerne’s train station takes less than 15 minutes.
Hotels in Geneva
- Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
- Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté. There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
- Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
- citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too.
- Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms.
- MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva.
Final Thoughts: Lucerne vs. Geneva
In Switzerland, Lucerne and Geneva are pretty comparable. It’s hard to recommend one over the other. You can visit either place at any time of the year. If you want a refreshing dip in the lake, you might want to visit either one of them in summer.
If you’re choosing based on the two lakes, you might want to think about whether you want to go to Lake Lucerne, which looks like a Norwegian Fjord, or Lake Geneva, which has views of the French Alps on the other side and acres of vineyards in Lavaux.
In case you’re coming from France and don’t have much time, I’d suggest Lucerne. Geneva might be too similar to France. Lucerne captures the essence of Switzerland as a whole in a compact, picturesque, and tourist-friendly way.
If you’ve been to Lucerne and loved it, yet you’re looking for something new, then you should check out Geneva. Geneva offers an array of restaurants, shops, sand beaches, along with numerous museums. There are also picturesque wine terraces nearby.
Here are some things to keep in mind when you compare Lucerne and Geneva:
- Geneva has an international airport. Lucerne does not have an international airport. You will have to fly in from Zurich and take the train to Lucerne.
- Lake Lucerne looks more like a Norwegian Fjord. On the other hand, Lake Geneva has a beautiful view of the French Alps on the other side.
- The Swiss Museum of Transport (Verkehrshaus) is a good place for kids to visit in Lucerne, but Geneva has more museums to choose from. The Natural Museum of History (Muséum d’histoire naturelle) in Geneva is also really cool for kids.
- Geneva has a large, historic Cathedral, Lucerne has a smaller Jesuit Church.
- Both Lucerne and Geneva have lots of pretty towns and places nearby.
- Both Lucerne and Geneva have plenty of hotels and apartments on a range of budgets.
- Both Lucerne and Geneva have lots of restaurant choices.
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.