Lucerne vs. Interlaken: Which one is better as a base?

Switzerland is a beautiful country with awesome mountains, lakes, towns, and landscapes. Visitors from all over the world choosing a base might wonder – is it better to use Lucerne or Interlaken as a base? Whether coming by train, car, or plane, both Lucerne and Interlaken are good choices. But you might want to choose one or the other depending on your needs. So which one of the two is a better base? Is Lucerne a better place to stay for a couple of days, or Interlaken?

In reality, the question might be more – would you be more interested in visiting the Lake Lucerne region or the Bernese Oberland region? If you start with this question and have an answer for it, then the choice is clear.

Lucerne is a small, picturesque town with a waterfront, shops, and mountains nearby. Interlaken, on the other hand, is less charming but is a better location or transport hub for most trips to the mountains. Lucerne will be a better base if you want to visit the Central Switzerland and the Lake Lucerne Region. Interlaken will be a better base if you want to visit the Bernese Oberland region.

Since we are talking about using these towns as a base, we will look at the different excursions that you can do from both places, as well as the lodging and dining options in both towns.

Overview: Lucerne vs. Interlaken

The key differences are as follows:

LucerneInterlaken
Population: approx. 80,000Population: approx. 5,600
Location: Central SwitzerlandLocation: Bernese Oberland, Swiss Alps
Elevation: 435 mElevation: 568 m
Area: 37.4 km²Area: 4.4 km²
Highlights: Chapel Bridge,
Lion Monument
Highlights: Harder Kulm Mountain,
Gateway to Bernese Oberland Region,
Thun and Brienz Lakes
Lake: Lucerne
River: Reuss
Lakes: Brienz (East) and Thun (West)
River: Aare
Language: German Language: German

Mountains Nearby: Lucerne vs. Interlaken

Both towns will have mountains nearby to visit. But the mountains near Interlaken are definitely a bit higher than the ones near Lucerne.

Mountains Close to Lucerne

rigi
Image by Sarah Lötscher from Pixabay

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
  • Eggberge (1,447 meters) – relatively quiet but still provides awesome views of the Reuss Valley, Urnersee lake, Rigi, and more.
  • Pilatus (2,073 meters) – has the steepest cogwheel railway in the world with a maximum gradient of 48% and 30-minute ride
  • Rigi Scheidegg (1,643 meters) and Rigi Kulm (1,752 meters) – popular mountain to visit due to the numerous ways you can reach it from Vitznau, Arth-Goldau, Weggis, Gersau, Goldau, and Küssnacht SZ.

Mountains Close to Interlaken

Image from the Niederhorn mountain station. Credits: TouringSwitzerland.com

The closest panoramic views from Interlaken are almost all between 1,900 meters and 3,463 meters. These are Grindelwald First, Schynigge Platte, Niederhorn, Schilthorn, Jungfraujoch, and Niesen. Harder Kulm, the local mountain, is 1,321 meters high.

The following mountains are close to Interlaken:

  • Harder Kulm (1,321 meters) – fantastic views of Lake Thun, Lake Brienz, Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau right at your doorstep
  • Grindelwald First (2,166 meters) – aside from the gorgeous views of the Swiss Alps, there is the Lake Bachalpsee which reflects Schreckhorn
  • Schynigge Platte (2,000 meters) – Belle Époque era cogwheel train will lead you from Wilderswil to Schynigge Platte in one hour
  • Niederhorn (1,963 meters) – a good viewpoint of the Bernese Alps and can be done in combination with the St. Beatus Caves in Beatenberg
  • Schilthorn (2,970 meters) – the James Bond mountain – Schilthorn featured on the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service featuring James Bond.
  • Jungfraujoch (3,463 meters) – “Top of Europe” – the mountain railways is the highest in Europe at 3,454 meters above sea level
  • Niesen (2,362 meters) – super steep funicular at 66% and 68% maximum gradient

Brienzer Rothorn can be reached from both Lucerne and Interlaken easily. Going up to Brienzer Rothorn can be a good experience with the red steam train – one of the two running in Switzerland.

So if you are interested in higher views and higher mountain peaks around you, then definitely Interlaken is the better choice compared to Lucerne. Especially if you plan on hitting two to three mountains during your stay. The views from the mountains around Lake Lucerne are gorgeous. But the Bernese Alps are definitely a bit higher.

If you would like to read about the mountains near Lucerne and Interlaken, check out our more in-depth articles:

Places To Visit: Lucerne vs. Interlaken

Both towns will have plenty of pretty places to visit nearby. So it really boils down to your preference if you would rather see the Lake Lucerne region or the Bernese Oberland region.

Image of Weggis by Henna K from flickr

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 the 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.

Image of Thun by Erich Westendarp from Pixabay

From Interlaken, you are right in between two lakes so you can choose. Would you like to visit Lake Thun and the towns around it? Around Lake Thun, you can visit St. Beatus Caves, Spiez, Justis Valley, and the Oberhofen Castle. There is also the Thun town proper itself with its old historical town, the Thun Castle, the Schadau Castle, the Wocher Panorama, and the Scherzlingen Church. You can also go to the river Aare.

On the other side, you have Lake Brienz. You can visit the picturesque Iseltwald as well as Brienz town itself.

We have rounded up 12 of the most stunning places near Interlaken in this article Top 12 Stunning Places Near Interlaken.

Some other pretty mountain towns nearby are Lauterbrunnen, Wengen, and Mürren.

In fact, you will have people who recommend staying in Grindelwald, Wengen, or Mürren instead of Interlaken to have a more authentic mountain resort experience. My take? Yes, these are prettier alternatives but I still think Interlaken would be a better base location-wise. It really has a perfect location between the two lakes and surrounding mountains.

Hotels: Lucerne vs. Interlaken

Image of Victoria Jungfrau Grand Hotel by TouringSwitzerland.com

The number and quality of hotels and apartments in both Lucerne and Interlaken are comparable. Honestly, I think this should not be criteria for whether you choose one or the other (unless the other choice is already fully booked).

The most exclusive hotels are Victoria Jungfrau in Interlaken and Schweizerhof in Lucerne.

Both places have enough apartments, mid-range hotels, and budget lodges available. So it covers all the price points from budget to mid- and high-end tourists.

In my case, I love having a hotel room near the lake. We once stayed at Seehotel Hermitage in Lucerne. It is a bit away from the city but still along Lake Lucerne. It was perfect. In Interlaken, I have stayed at Hotel Royal St Georges and Hotel Bellevue and they were both really cool.

Using Booking.com is a fantastic way to find wonderful hotels in Interlaken and Lucerne.

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Shops and Restaurants: Lucerne vs. Interlaken

Image of Shops in Interlaken. Credits: TouringSwitzerland.com

Lucerne has more shops and restaurants to choose from compared to Interlaken. The shops in Interlaken are normally exclusive boutiques and tourist shops, whereas Lucerne has more high street brands.

Lucerne has lots of restaurant choices near the Chapel Bridge on both sides of the Reuss. They have many Swiss and Italian restaurants in the normal Swiss price range. For those who want cheaper fare, there is also a McDonald’s in the train station. My favorite restaurant in Lucerne is Thai Garden – yummy food, gorgeous interiors, and very good service. It’s one of the top 10 restaurants in the country. Lucerne has a lot of the normal shops – H&M, Manor, Mammut, Victorinox, Tiger, and more. They also have a Bucherer shop which houses lots of Swiss Watch brands.

Interlaken has Swiss, Korean, Italian, and Indian restaurants. It also has Migros and Coop restaurants, which are cheaper. Shopping in Interlaken is centered mostly in Höheweg. There are several Kirchhofer, souvenir, and chocolate shops. There are also other watch shops (such as another Bucherer), but these are not as big as the Bucherer shop in Lucerne.

Summary

As a base, I would consider the following: what kind of traveler are you? Are you more chill and laidback? If so, then go for Lucerne. It has a pretty town and you can visit several nearby mountains and towns. Are you more into hiking and discovering the mountains and experiencing the Swiss Alps? If you answered yes, then go for Interlaken. Interlaken would be a better base because the town is located right smack in the middle of Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, providing access to many surrounding mountains for hiking.

  • The mountains around Interlaken are higher than the ones around Lucerne.
  • Both have plenty of pretty towns and cities nearby to choose from.
  • Both have a variety of hotels and apartments to choose from on varying budgets.
  • There are more shopping and restaurant choices in Lucerne.

Personally, I love the Swiss Alps so I would choose Interlaken over Lucerne. I know that many people say that it’s not pretty and you should skip it. I have visited it several times and spent a few nights there. It might not be as picturesque as Lucerne but I think as a base, it is the better choice. The possibilities that you can do whilst based in Interlaken are plentiful. And although the Lake Lucerne region is also beautiful, the landscapes and Alps in Bernese Oberland are (in my opinion) some of the best in Switzerland.