Whenever most people think of Switzerland, the first things that come to mind are Swiss cheese, snow-capped mountains, and gorgeous mountain lakes. We hit the jackpot with our day trip to Mount Pilatus and Lucerne from Zurich. That journey has it all, every Swiss icon you could imagine!
So, if you’ve been wondering how to visit Mt Pilatus from Zurich or Lucerne yourself, read on. In this article, I’ll tell you how we did it so you can plan your own trip. I’ll include tips and links to tours and other useful sites along the way.
Getting to Lucerne from Zurich
Switzerland has a very efficient train service, which runs throughout the country. Between the trains and the trams, it’s easy to plan your entire Switzerland itinerary just using public transportation. And that’s what Dan and I did. Buying our train tickets online before our trip was not only more convenient, but it also made budgeting easier.
Speaking of budgeting, I should mention the sticker shock we experienced. Have you heard that Switzerland is expensive? Well, yeah. We spent almost $20 for two small coffees and two chocolate croissants near the train station!
But despite all that, the train ride from Zurich to Lucerne is beautiful, and we enjoyed dozens of photo-worthy views along the way.
Looking at the Alps as we rode, we were excited for the day. Even though we were riding to Lucerne, our first destination would be Mount Pilatus. Although it was for a practical reason: Many mountain ranges are covered in clouds as the day wears on. No point in risking a poor view, right?
Why take a day trip to Mount Pilatus?
To be honest, there are quite a few excellent reasons to visit Mount Pilatus. That’s why it’s such a popular day trip from Zurich and Lucerne.
1. It’s beautiful.
If you’re looking for an opportunity to immerse yourself in Switzerland’s natural beauty, you’ll find it here. The journey to the peak brings breathtaking alpine landscapes, featuring soaring peaks, pristine lakes, and verdant meadows. The panoramic views from the summit are truly awe-inspiring and provide an opportunity to immerse yourself in Switzerland’s natural beauty.
2. It’s easy to get to.
Mount Pilatus is easily accessible from Lucerne. You can take a short boat ride across Lake Lucerne, followed by a scenic cogwheel train journey up to the summit. The journey itself is part of the experience thanks to the picturesque surroundings.
3. You can ride the World’s Steepest Cogwheel Railway.
Mount Pilatus is home to the steepest cogwheel railway in the world, which provides an exhilarating ride up the mountain. Riding this iconic railway is a thrilling and memorable experience, allowing you to appreciate the engineering marvel and enjoy the stunning scenery along the way.
4. There are a lot of outdoor activities.
There’s no end of things to do on Mount Pilatus; it’s a dream destination for outdoor lovers. In summer, you have children’s playgrounds, hiking trails at varying difficulty levels, a summer toboggan run, a rope park, zip-line glider, and the opportunity to go paragliding from the summit.
Winter brings opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. And year-round, you can dine at one of the cafes, shop for souvenirs, and enjoy the scenery from the Observation Deck. You could easily spend an entire day on Mt. Pilatus and only get a taste of what the mountain has for you.
5. Pilatus Kulm is there.
At the summit of Mount Pilatus, you’ll find Pilatus-Kulm, a mountaintop hotel with restaurants, a terrace, and viewing platforms. You can relax and savor a delicious apple strudel and hot chocolate as we did, or enjoy a full meal while taking in the panoramic views.
The Kulm also offers overnight accommodation too, which will let you witness some magical sunsets, sunrises, clouds, and the Milky Way during your stay.
6. The mountain has a rich cultural and historical significance.
One of the most enduring legends associated with Mount Pilatus is that it was once home to fearsome dragons. These weren’t just ordinary dragons, either; they were healing ones possessing magical powers. It was believed that the mere sight of these dragons could heal the observer or bring good luck. There are tales of encounters with these dragons dating back to the 15th century.
According to another local legend, Mount Pilatus in Switzerland is the burial site of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who oversaw Jesus’s trial. It’s believed that his spirit emerges from a lake on the mountain each Good Friday, triggering storms.
True or not, Pilatus is a beautiful mountain in its own right. Aside from the many activities on it slopes, on a clear day the mountain offers a panoramic view of 73 Alpine peaks. Not surprising, I suppose, considering its impressive height: Mount Pilatus is well over 2,100 meters (7,000 feet) high.
So, how do you get there?
How to get from Lucerne to Mount Pilatus
There are 6 ways to travel from Lucerne to Mt Pilatus: by bus, boat, train, Uber, taxi, or car. But that only gets you to the base of the mountain.
Depending on how you choose to arrive, you’ll climb the mountain by either the cogwheel train or a panorama gondola – cable car combination.
ⓘ PRO TIP: The gondola and cogwheel railway do not run year-round. This site has the schedules and timetables for both.
The bus is the fastest and cheapest way to visit Mount Pilatus. From Lucerne train station, take Bus no.1 to Kriens (“Kriens, Zentrum Pilatus” bus stop). Walk to the cable car station (5 minutes), and then take a cable car to the top of Mt Pilatus (Pilatus Kulm).
Lucerne to Mt Pilatus by boat. Take a boat from Pier 2 at the Lucerne Boat Station, to Alpnachstad. Disembark in Alpnachstad and board the Pilatusbahn (Pilatus Railway) cogwheel train to the top. The entire journey takes about 90 minutes.
From Lucerne to Pilatus by train. Take the train S5 from Lucerne main station to Alpnachstad Railway Station. Then take the cogwheel train to the top.
Taxi to Pilatus from Lucerne. According to Rome2Rio, taking a taxi from Lucerne Station to Pilatus Kulm costs 110 – 140 Swiss Francs per trip. It takes about 45 minutes to drive there from Lucerne.
Luzern to Mt Pilatus by Uber. I used the Uber Estimator tool to calculate the cost of a journey from Lucerne to Kriens. Prices begin at CHF 21-25 per ride, depending on the type of car you request.
Rental car. If you want more flexibility, use this website to find the cost to rent a car for a day. Remember, you’ll have to park at the base of the mountain.
ⓘ PRO TIP: Find transportation schedules here. Also, double-check departure times before you leave. Things can change depending on the season and weather conditions.
Golden Round Trip from Lucerne to Pilatus
Indeed, while the term “ultimate” may be commonplace, it’s hard to find a more fitting word for the Golden Round Trip. This isn’t just a day trip from Lucerne. It’s a full-circle, unforgettable voyage that will leave you with lifelong memories.
This unique excursion is a symphony of transport modes, each offering a unique perspective of Switzerland’s stunning landscapes. It starts with a leisurely cruise across the tranquil Lake Lucerne, followed by a thrilling ascent on the world’s steepest cogwheel train up to the summit of Mount Pilatus.
But the adventure doesn’t stop there. Your descent begins with an aerial cableway ride, offering panoramic views that seem straight out of a postcard, and concludes with a picturesque gondola ride back to Lucerne.
We need to mention though, that the comprehensive Golden Round Trip is exclusively offered from May until October. To avoid disappointment, book your tickets beforehand, because it frequently sells out during the peak tourist season.
Between the views and the transportation, it’s definitely worth the time and cost. And if you’re not a fan of boats, there’s also a Silver Round Trip that gets you there by train instead.
ⓘ COMING FROM ZURICH? There’s a similar tour from Zurich, and it makes a brief stop in Lucerne as well. LEARN MORE HERE.
Highlights from visiting Mount Pilatus
Here are some of the things we enjoyed the most during our visit.
Mt. Pilatus gondola
The gondola to the top of Mount Pilatus leaves from the town of Kriens. To get there, you can take either a bus or a train to Kriens from Lucerne. Conveniently, Lucerne’s bus and train stations are right next to each other.
We thought it might be fun to see the little towns along the way, so we chose to take the bus, rather than the train. It’s only a 15-minute ride. You take bus line 1 to the bus stop called “Kriens, Zentrum Pilatus,” then follow the signs to the gondola ticket office.
There, you’ll buy a ticket for the Mount Pilatus gondola and enjoy the ride to the summit.
The gondola does not go nonstop to the top. Expect a couple of rides and transfers due to the mountain’s topography.
The first part is a four person gondola ride from the ticket booth to Fräkmüntegg. The 20-minute trip is filled with beautiful views, and you can see the city and lake in the distance.
Riding the gondola to the top of Mt. Pilatus
That 20-minute gondola ride was a surreal experience. We could see local farms and hear a bell tinkle on the occasional Swiss cow as we rose. Iconic, right? Enchanting houses that could have been straight out of Heidi begged to be photographed, but we passed them by too quickly to catch them.
At least Dan grabbed a photo of a belled cow in someone’s yard. Such a memento.
Our gondola stopped at Fräkmüntegg to disgorge all its passengers and return those waiting to the base of the mountain. If you’re traveling with children, be warned. There are so many fun things to do here that they might not want to continue on. (You can find a list of all the activities here.)
Everyone changes to a different kind of cable car for the steep, final leg of the journey. It’s known as the Dragon Ride — an aerial cable car from Fräkmüntegg to Pilatus Kulm. Lots of passengers can fit into this huge cable car, and the ride only lasts for 3 or 4 minutes.
ⓘ PHOTO TIP: Try to stand close to the windows, if you can. The best views can be had at the back left side as you’re heading up (or the right front side of the gondola when going down).
At the summit of Mount Pilatus
When the cable car spit us out, we found ourselves in the Visitor Center between the mountain’s two pinnacles, complete with a restaurant and shops. Not in the market for souvenirs, we headed outside onto the large concrete viewing platform, a historic hotel, and some paths for any visitors who wanted to take a walk.
A variety of trails run along the mountain top. With no clue where any of them went, we chose one that looked like it went to the highest point. The rock steps were steep and narrow enough in spots to require turning sideways to pass those on the way down. Thank goodness the path had places to rest, because it’s a workout, especially at such a high altitude!
Unused to such strenuous activity, I took my time going up. This allowed a chance to appreciate the many colorful alpine flowers growing in the crevasses along the way. Anyway, why rush? The journey is part of the fun.
Let me tell you: The spectacular 360-degree view at the top makes the tiring climb worthwhile. Do it! In one direction, we could see miles of sparkling blue lakes and verdant farmland. In another, there were snow-capped mountains, including glacier-topped Mt. Titlis. I’m not sure if all of them were even in Switzerland. We could’ve been looking into another country, for all we knew.
While we stood there, we watched someone riding the thermals with his parachute. His was an even better view than the one we had.
Cogwheel train down from the top of Mt. Pilatus
The gondola had carried us up one side of the mountain to get to the top, and the unique Pilatus Railway took us down the other. This is the world’s steepest cog railway, reaching as much as a 48 percent gradient. That’s really steep!
Commissioned in 1889, the little train travels between the summit and the Swiss town of Alpnachstad. It’s a scenic 30-minute ride, offering views of dense pine forests, rolling alpine meadows, and craggy rock formations. We were almost sorry when it arrived at the base station, but our Lucerne day trip segment was waiting.
We took the train back from Mt. Pilatus to Lucerne.
Walking tour of Lucerne Switzerland
With about 80,000 people, Lucerne is the economic and cultural center of central Switzerland. There are too many things to see in Lucerne to do it all in one day, or even a week. With only a few hours in Lucerne, we focused on walking around the city center and the lake around it.
Looking back, we probably should have taken a guided tour like this one. The price was affordable, plus we would have made it to all of the best things to see in Lucerne. As it was, we saw a lot, but we missed a lot, too.
Switzerland is picturesque, but Lucerne’s Old Town is often considered one of the prettiest in Switzerland.
We really didn’t have any plan or itinerary for Lucerne. Nothing wrong with that, really, but even though each place has its own ambiance, it’s hard to express the spirit of a city in words.
So here are some photos and impressions from Lucerne. Or as the Swiss spell it, Luzern.
Lucerne Chapel Bridge
Called the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), Lucerne’s wooden covered bridge is probably its best-known sight. Spanning the azure lake and lined with boxes of colorful pansies, it’s also seen more than its share of selfies and Instagram shots.
The 200-meter bridge was originally built in 1333, which makes it the oldest covered bridge in Europe. It’s also the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.
ⓘ PRO TIP: Make a point to walk across the bridge and look up into the ceiling pediments. You’ll see triangular paintings that depict events from Lucerne’s history. There are 30 paintings that date from the 17th century. Sadly, there used to be many more, but some were destroyed when the bridge caught fire in 1993.
Midway across the bridge, there’s a well-preserved, octagonal stone tower. Also built in the 1300s, it has served as a fortification, a dungeon & a treasury in the years since then.
You can’t climb it, though. Best you can do is visit the gift shop on the ground floor.
Built in the late 1600s, the Lucerne Jesuit Church’s claim to fame is that it was Switzerland’s first baroque sacred building. It is one of the most important churches in the city.
Hofkirche St. Leodegar (also called the Court Church of St. Leodegar) is Lucerne’s parish cathedral and is the most important Renaissance church in Switzerland. It dates from the 8th century, when it was founded as a Benedictine monastery.
The original Gothic church was destroyed by fire in 1633. Little survives except for the spires, St. Mary’s altar, and a few religious objects.
With mountains that drop straight into the water, Lake Lucerne seems more like a fjord than a lake. Fed by the Reuss River, this is Switzerland’s fourth-largest lake, and it has plenty to entertain.
Adventurous visitors can hike the 34-km (21-mile) Swiss Path, or bicycle around the lake. Those who prefer something a little more relaxing can feed the swans, go boating, or take a paddlewheel steamer to other spots around the lake.
Though food is always a highlight, sometimes it’s more about where you eat it. Lucerne is a fantastic city that makes great use of its lakefront, and there are plenty of shops and stalls offering many things to eat and drink. To strengthen us for our trip back to Zurich, we chose an economical slice of pizza from a stall and sat by the lake to enjoy it.
Pizza in Switzerland? I hear you ask. Yes, friends. Some things are universal.
Would you visit Mt Pilatus and Lucerne?
Set against the backdrop of a deep blue mountain lake and the Swiss Alps, this is one city that deserves more than the paltry amount of time we were able to give it.