Die Umgebung des Vierwaldstättersees. Foto/Photo: TES

Lake Lucerne, Nature, Culture, History

Switzerland has hundreds of larger and smaller lakes, mountain lakes and reservoirs. One of the most remarkable in terms of shape, history, nature and location is Lake Lucerne (Vierwaldstättersee).

This lake was created from the meltwater of the Reuss Glacier. In the last ice age, this glacier had a height of 1 400 metres and a width of several kilometres. This gigantic ice mass began to melt 20 000-15 000 BC. Several other lakes in central Switzerland are also the children of this glacier.


The landscape was also shaped by this glacier. The Glacier Garden (Gletsjergarten) in Lucerne offers a well-documented overview of this process.

Lake Lucerne has an irregular shape and crosses four cantons: Nidwalden, Lucerne, Schwyz and Uri, hence its apparent French name: Lac des Quatre Cantons. With some goodwill, canton Obwalden and the Alpachersee can also be included.
The English name is Lake Lucerne, which is also correct as it is the most prominent neighbouring canton and city.

The lake is of great historical importance to Switzerland. The three cantons of Uri, Schwyz and Unterwalden (later divided into Obwalden and Nidwalden) created the Eidgenossenschaft on the shores of the lake (also called Lake Urnersee) on the Seelisberg near Brunnen.

In the Morgartenbrief of 1315, these three Orte first used Eidgenossen. The subsequent course is well known. That things could have gone differently is irrelevant. Along the shores of the lake also lies the village of Gersau, for centuries a sovereign republic!

The lake to Stansstad (Canton of Nidwalden)

The Pilatus (on the right)

The Bürgenstock

The Rigi

Lake Lucerne 

The biggest Swiss flag near Vitznau

Lake Lucerne is also a centre of European (art) history.  The shores near the city of Lucerne, the Rigi, the Pilatus or the Bürgenstock (an enclave of Lucerne in canton Nidwalden) were regular focal points or even residences of political, literary and musical personalities and other VIPS. Richard Wagner, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Wolfgang von Goethe, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Carter, Sophia Loren and Konrad Adenauer are just a few names from a long list.

The royal tragedy of the lake is the fatal accident of Queen Astrid (1905-1935) of Belgium in 1935. A chapel near Küssnacht commemorates this event.

The Astrid Chapel

Knokke (Belgium)

Meggenhorn Castle


Villa Senar

Picture from 1930. (picture: Museum Vitznau-Rigi). The peninsula Hertenstein, in the background Küssnacht. On the left, the Villa Senar of Sergej Rachmaninoff, the Stella Matutina, and the castle-hotel Hertenstein.

Hertenstein today

The Luzern near Weggis

The Uri on the Urnersee near Brunnen

Anyone cruising around the lake, by rowboat or on one of the many (monumental) ships will see this (art) history and nature with the Alps in the background:

Lucerne’s skyline and its hermitage with the Richard Wagner Museum on the other side of the lake, the Meggenhorn Castle, the Astrid Chapel, Küssnacht and the Wilhelm Tell story, Hohle Gasse, Gessler Castle and Tell Chapel, Greppen and its chestnut culture, Hertenstein and ‘European’ history, Weggis and the visionary Lido in the lake, Vitznau and the first non-Catholic village church in this Catholic area, the former Republic of Gersau, the Tell Chapel near Sisikon, Brunnen and its grandeur, the Axenstein and the Morschach (viewpoints), Flüelen and the nearby Reussdelta and nature park, the village of Bauen, along gorges and cliffs, the legendary Rütli and the Seelisberg, the village of Beckenried, Buochs, Ennetbürgen, Stansstad (the capital of Nidwalden), along the foot of the Pilatus near Hergiswil and via the Richard Wagner Museum back to Lucerne.

Brunnen, Urnsersee and the Kleine and Grosse Mythen. SBB Bahnhof Basel

The Seelisberg, Rütli and the Schiller-rots (Dem Saenger Tells. F. Schiller. Die Urkantone 1859)

The village of Bauen

Tell Chapel near Sisikon

A striking contrast: the urban environment of the city of Lucerne and the beautiful nature and Reuss Delta on the other side of the lake in another canton (Uri), with the villages and nature of the cantons of Schwyz and Nidwalden in between. This area is worthwhile on water: and on foot with the many well-marked and maintained hiking trails and in the air for lovers of kite-surfing and paragliding.

(Source and further information: Museum Vitznau-Rigi; www.myswitzerland.com; B. Schumacher, Kleine Geschichte der Stadt Luzern, Baden, 2015).

The Reussdelta 

Küssnacht, Tell Chapel 

Friedrich Schiller, Wilhelm Tell (1804).

Immensee, Mission Bethlehem