Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee) within sight of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne is traditionally considered first and foremost as a tourist destination. One of the city's famous landmarks is Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first built in the 14th century.
Around 750 the Benedictine Monastery of St. Leodegar was founded, which was later acquired by Murbach Abbey in Alsace in the middle of the 9th century, and by this time the area had become known as Luceria. In 1178 Lucerne acquired its independence from the jurisdiction of Murbach Abbey, and the founding of the city proper probably occurred this same year. The city gained importance as a strategically located gateway for the growing commerce from Gotthard trade route.
By 1290 Lucerne became a good-sized, self-sufficient city with about 3000 inhabitants. About this time King Rudolph I von Habsburg gained authority over the Monastery of St. Leodegar and its lands, including Lucerne. The populace did not appreciate the increasing Habsburg influence, and Lucerne allied with neighboring towns to seek independence from Habsburg rule. Along with Lucerne, the three other forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden formed the "eternal" Swiss Confederacy, known as the Eidgenossenschaft, on November 7, 1332. Later the cities Zurich, Zug and Berne joined the alliance. With the help of these additions, the rule of Austria over the area was ended. The issue was settled through Lucerne’s victory over the Habsburgs in the Battle of Sempach in 1386. For Lucerne this victory ignited an era of expansion. The city shortly granted many rights to itself, rights which had been withheld by the Habsburgs so far. By this time the borders of Lucerne approximately matched those of today.
In 1419 town records show the first witch trial against a male person.
Lucerne was also involved in the Swiss peasant war of 1653.
| |- | |- | |} Since the city straddles the Reuss River where it drains the lake, it has a number of bridges. The most famous is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a 204 m (670 ft) long wooden bridge originally built in 1333, although much of it had to be replaced after a 1993 fire, allegedly caused by a group of smokers. Partway across, the bridge runs by the octagonal Water Tower (Wasserturm), a fortification from the 13th century. Inside the bridge are a series of paintings from the 17th century depicting events from Luzern's history. The Bridge with its Tower is the city's most famous landmark.
Downriver, between the Kasernenplatz and the Mühlenplatz, the Spreuerbrücke or Mill Bridge zigzags across the Reuss. Constructed in 1408, it is the oldest covered bridge in Europe and features a series of medieval-style 17th Century plague paintings by Kaspar Meglinger titled Dance of Death. Meglinger's paintings portray various conditions of men and women, priests and warriors, princes and men of learning, the young bride, the devout nun, the lawmaker, the hunter, the miller, even the artist himself, are all depicted at the mercy of Death, with his mocking smile and his ever-changing garb. These paintings, suitable for a Benedictine abbey, are seen by every inhabitant of beautiful Lucerne who crosses the river via the Spreuerbrücke. It has a small chapel in the middle that was added in 1568.
Old Town Lucerne is located just north of the Reuss River, and still has several fine half-timber structures with painted fronts. Remnants of the old town walls exist on the hill above Lucerne, complete with eight tall watch towers. An additional gated tower sits at the base of the hill on the banks of the Reuss River.
The twin needle towers of the church of St. Leodegar, which was named after the city's patron saint, sit on a small hill just above the lakefront. Originally built in 735, the present structure was erected in 1633 in the late Renaissance style. However, the towers are surviving remnants of an earlier structure. The interior is richly decorated. The church is popularly called the Hofkirche (German) and is known locally as the Hofchile (Swiss-German).
Bertel Thorvaldsen's famous carving of a dying lion (the Lion Monument, or Löwendenkmal) is found in a small park just off Lowenplatz. The carving commemorates the hundreds of Swiss Guards who were massacred in 1792 during the French Revolution, when the mob stormed the Tuileries Palace in Paris.
Alternative culture took place mostly in the premises of a former tube factory, which became known as Boa. Other localities for alternative culture have emerged since in the very same quarter as Boa. At the beginning, Boa staged various plays, but concerts became more and more common. That new use was disparate with the development of apartment buildings on the nearby lots of land. Due to possible noise pollution, Boa was closed and a replacement in a less heavily inhabited area is currently under construction. Critics claimed though, that the new establishment wouldn't meet the requirements for alternative culture. Lucerne's Modern Museum (Kuntsmuseum) is also placed on the KKL.
The city hosts various renowned festivals throughout the year. The Lucerne Festival for classical music takes place in summer and around Easter. Its orchestra, the Lucerne Festival Orchestra is hand-picked from some of the finest instrumentalists in the world. In July, Blue Balls Festival brings jazz, blues and funk music to the lake promenade and halls of the Culture and Convention Center. The Lucerne Blues Festival is another musical festival which usually takes place in November. Since spring 2004, Lucerne hosts the Festival Rose d'Or for television entertainment. And in April, the well-established comics festival Fumetto attracts an international audience.
Being the cultural center of a rather rural region, Lucerne regularly holds different folklore festivals, such as Lucerne Cheese Festival which is held annually. In 2004, Lucerne was the focus of Swiss Wrestling fans when it had hosted the Swiss Wrestling and Alpine festival (Eidgenössisches Schwing- und Älplerfest), which takes place every three years in a different location. A national music festival (Eidgenössiches Musikfest) attracted marching bands from all parts of Switzerland in 2006. In summer 2008, the jodelling festival (Eidgenössisches Jodlerfest) is expected to have similar impact.
Having a long tradition of equestrian sports, Lucerne has co-hosted CSIO Switzerland, an international equestrian show jumping event, until it left entirely for St. Gallen in 2006. Since then, the Lucerne Equestrian Masters took its place. There is also an annual horse racing event, usually taking place in August.
Lucerne annually hosts the final leg of the Rowing World Cup on Rotsee Lake, and has hosted numerous World Rowing Championships, among others the first ever in 1962. Lucerne was also bidding for the 2011 issue but failed.
Lucerne boasts a developed and well-run transport network, with the main operator being VBL which runs both buses and trolleybuses in the city. Other operators, such as Auto AG Rothenburg provide bus services to the neighbouring towns and villages. The city enjoys excellent links to the rest of Switzerland, with rail services operated by SBB and Zentralbahn.