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Lake Lucerne by Steamer

Steamer Unterwalden on Lake Lucerne

ABOVE: The 1902-vintage paddlewheel steamer Unterwalden on Lake Lucerne (a.k.a. Lake of the Four Forest Cantons).

Lake Lucerne, also known as the Vierwaldstättersee or "Lake of the Four Forest Cantons," may be the most beautiful lake in Switzerland. It's certainly among the most spectacular, with mountains on all sides and forests coming down to the shore in many places. If you pick only one lake for cruising by boat, make it Lake Lucerne--and try to spend it least one leg of your cruise aboard a restored paddlewheel steamer or Dampfschiff like the Stadt Luzern, Gallia, Schiller, Uri, or Unterwalden (shown in photo).

The Vierwaldstättersee is a large, irregularly shaped lake that offers a new view with every change of direction--and there are many of those during cruises of the lake, since the boats zigzag across its sparkling surface as they pick up and discharge passengers at villages along the shore.

The main sailing season runs from June through late September, with a reduced schedule in April through late May and in October. Some boats run year-round; for a current timetable, see the Schiffahrtsgesellschaft Vierwaldstättersee (SGV) Web site, which you can reach via a link on page 3.

Where to catch the boat

In Lucerne, steamers depart from Luzern Bahhofquai, the pier next to the railroad station. You can't miss it: Just step outside the train station, turn right, and you'll see the boat landing where the River Reuss meets the lake.

Fares

Steamer fares are based on distance and class of ticket. You'll pay 50% more in first class than in second class. (Accommodations are similar in both classes, but the first-class lounges may be less crowded during high season.).

You can save money on the fare in two ways:

  • Swiss Pass, which also comes in a "Flexi-Pass" version. Both passes give you unlimited transportation by train, postal bus, lake steamer, etc. for the duration of the pass, along with discounts on mountain railways, funiculars, and cable cars. See our Swiss Rail Passes article or visit Rail Europe for more information and options.

  • Tell-Pass, a regional transportation pass for Lucerne and Central Switzerland. This comes in two versions: one for unlimited travel on Swiss Federal Railways trains and steamers during for any two days during a seven-day period, and the other for any five days out of 15 days. You also get a 50% discount on private railways, funiculars, and cable cars. For details and prices, visit www.tellpass.ch.

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