Anyone planning a trip to the quaint city of Lucerne in Switzerland’s interior will no doubt be faced with this question at some point. From Lucerne, there are three popular day trips to different mountains in the area – Mt Rigi, Mt Pilatus and Mt Titlis.
All three mountains offer stunning vistas of the surrounding Alps and glamorous views down onto pristine Lake Lucerne. Most people don’t have time to visit all three and it can certainly be tricky deciding which one. Fortunately, it is unlikely there will be any regrets whichever mountain is chosen so it basically comes down to particular preferences.
We were influenced by cost and crowds, so after doing some well planned research on each of the three day trips, we settled on Mt Rigi. The core of my research is provided below and will hopefully help you in your decision!
About: The name Mt Rigi is sometimes referred to as the ‘Queen of the mountains’ due to Rigi originating from Regina, which means queen in Latin. Its main summit, Rigi Kulm, sits at 1798 metres above sea level and lies due east from Lucerne, across the lake. On a clear day, apparently seven different bodies of water are visible from the top.
Getting there: a wide variety of transport can be taken to get to Mt Rigi. This was a positive factor in my opinion, as I had quickly learnt that transport through Switzerland was an activity to enjoy.
My suggestion would be to catch a steamboat from Lucerne to Vitznau. It is then possible to take a cog railway up towards Rigi Kulm, the summit. It stops at a small resort town, Rigi Kaltbad, on the way up but we stayed on right to the summit. We proceeded to hike the 4km from Rigi Kulm back down to Rigi Kaltbad (commonly known as the Classic Trail) where we caught the gondola down and the boat home from Weggis.
It is also possible to get to Vitznau by train or bus. We opted for the boat because it was a beautiful day and getting out on the lake when in Lucerne is pretty much a must do anyway. The boat ride takes about an hour and I understand that services operate year round (we were there in June).
Starting from Weggis and finishing at Vitznau is another option. If starting from Weggis, the gondola stops at Rigi Kaltbad where a transfer is made to a cable car for the final leg to Rigi Kulm.
Cost: Mt Rigi is covered by the rail pass, which was one of the main reasons that we ended up choosing this as our day trip. With the knowledge that each of the mountains was going to give us enjoyable hiking and incredible views, it made sense with the budget we were on to choose the one that cost the least.
Other things to note: Mt Rigi is home to one of the oldest mountain railways in Europe. It is one of the most family friendly day trips, due to the fact snow is unlikely and there is an abundance of easier, shorter hikes from the top. There is plenty of space for the crowds to disperse: we managed to nab a park bench with some unreal views to eat our picnic lunch.
About: Mt Pilatus is home to the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. This iconic feature makes it a pretty irresistible option to a lot of visitors. The highest peak in the surrounding mountain range is Tomlishorn, which towers at a massive 2128 metres above sea level.
Getting there: It is an easy round trip. Catch a ferry from Lucerne to Alphnachstad, then catch the cogwheel railway to the top of the mountain. This world famous cogwheel has an average gradient of 35% and a maximum gradient of 48%. To mix things up, return via the cable car to Kriens and then catch a 15 minute bus ride back to Lucerne’s main station.
Cost: A rail pass only provides a 50% discount, so it is a day trip that is a little bit more expensive.
Other things to note: Mt Pilatus is one of the more well known mountains for hiking in the area. There are over 20 different paths, which range in difficulty from easy and short to more difficult day trips. It is important to be well informed before you visit. A lot of these trails close over winter due to too much snow, however in that time alternative activities include skiing and tobogganing. Tobogganing is not only popular in winter though: Mt Pilatus is home to the longest summer toboggan run at Fräkmüntegg.
About: Not only does Mt Titlis have a rotating cable car (the Titlis Rotair), it is also home to the highest suspension bridge in Europe. The Titlis Cliff Walk has been open since December 2012. Its peak sits at a staggering 3238 metres above seal level.
Getting there: Take a train from Lucerne to Engelberg (45 minutes) and then transfer to a free shuttle bus which connects Engelberg with the lower cable car station. Cable car stations include both Gerschnialp and Trübsee before reaching the Stand station at 2,400 metres, from where the Rotair cable car will take you to the Klein Titlis summit at 3,020 metres. Reaching the summit takes approximately 30 minutes.
Cost: It may be easy to get to, but it is still only 50% covered by a rail pass.
Other things to note: Snow is extremely common at Mt Titlis, so come prepared. It is commonly visited as an alternative to the Jungfrau. There are several hiking trails around the top of the mountain. In summer time, it is also possible to rent a boat and paddle the Trübsee lake or else taking a zip-line. There is also an illuminated tunnel carved through the ancient blue ice of the glacier, leading to the Glacier Cave.