We bought a Europass from the Rail Europe website (www.raileurope.com). Based on our need to travel over three days (ie, Frankfurt to Lucerne, Lucerne to Lauterbrunnen, and Lauterbrunnen to Frankfurt), it was cheaper to get a Germany-Switzerland pass that enabled us unlimited travel over 5 days over a two month period. Some things to know about Europass travel which I did not know...
1. No e-tickets. They have to actually ship you your tickets to your home. So order in advance, and don't lose them.
2. It's confusingly tricky to use them, there are requirements as to where to write in the dates you use them, and how to write down where you travel. It seemed we got different information from different train conductors so I still don't know the exact right way, but I do know that there is no crossing out allowed, so be careful with what you write on them!!!
3. They can be used for trains, boats, and gondolas, but that uses one of your "days" of the five days.
So we arrived in Lucerne. It is an absolutely beautiful, totally walkable little city. The main train station is a short walk from the old town neighborhood where we stayed, and there is an old wooden bridge, and some magnificient architecture, some old churches (in one of which we found a bejeweled skeleton of a saint in glass!!) wonderful restaurants, and gorgeous mountain views. Plus, it's a great stepping stone for day-trips. We really loved Lucerne, and Maddie says she wants to own a house there. There is a tourist information office in the main train station that is worth a look, you can get some great free guide books and maps that explain all that there is to do.
Where we stayed...
As always, we love love love www.booking.com. We like to stay in simple, small hotels in the old town areas. We stayed at Hotel sum Schlussel, Franziskanerplatz 12, 6003, Lucerne. We had a huge, basic room with a crib, and 4 beds right in the middle of everything and it was perfect.
Things to do...EXCURSIONS...
At the Tourist Information office at the train station you can buy tickets for an excursion to Mount Pilatus, a huge peak where a benevolent healing dragon is said to reside. We did the "Silver Round Trip" whereby we took a 20 train from Lucerne to Aplnachstad via the Zentralbahn Railway, and got on what is touted as "the world's steepest cogwheel railway." It was VERY steep.
We then took a Panorama Gondola and an Ariel Cableway to the summit. It was chilly, and very high up, and we were in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Amazing!
We went down the other side of the mountain via some smaller gondolas, and found ourselves at a play area and ropes park! Our kids were too young for the ropes course (but we want to come back) but we loved the summer snow tubing!!! We also happened upon a gorgeous restaurant and beautiful playground at one of the gondola stops.
Boat Trip to Weggis and Mt. Rigi
Another absolutely ridiculously spectacular day trip from Lucerne (also not requiring a car) is to take a boat from Lucerne (again, getting tickets at the tourist information office at the train station) to the town Weggis. The boats run hourly, and are absolutely beautiful, with spectacular scenery. The ride to Weggis is under an hour - just long enough with small children.
Once at Weggis, we decided to explore a bit. There is a main street with some shops and a restaurant and some small playgrounds. We ate lunch at a little place along the water, there are several to choose from.
Then, we followed signs on a 15 minute, stroller friendly, walk to the Rigi Bahn, which took us to the top of Mt Rigi (the Queen of the Mountains). We also took a Cog Wheel railway to a stop along the mountain where we explored for a bit, and then an ariel cable car back to Weggis, and the boat back to Lucerne. It was awesome, spectacular, and so much fun.
Our tips for food!!
Like probably all of Europe, many restaurants in Lucerne are not the most kid-friendly. There is certainly some fine dining to be had! We breakfasted and lunched at casual bakeries, but for snacks and dinners... we found some good spots that worked for all of us...
Rathaus Brauerai (http://www.braui-luzern.ch) is a great choice. It's right on the water (the kids can walk down and check out the swans while waiting for food) and has delicious German food. The pretzels are amazing, and the beer is delicious.
Da Ernesto Ristorante (http://www.da-ernesto.ch/fotogalleria/) is also fabulous, and is Italian. We all loved it, and it also is in a good spot for people watching and relaxing.
Friedlis Markthalle (http://www.luzerner-wochenmarkt.ch/marktstaende/weitermitglieder/friedli/index.html) is right in the middle of town by this beautiful huge flight of steps. It's tricky to make sure kids (and adults) get their fruits and veggies while traveling. This is a good fresh produce stand to stock up on healthy snacks.
Overall, Lucerne is a really, special and amazing place. We really treasured our time there, and could have even spent longer there. It was fabulous!!!!