The Swiss city of Lucerne sits in a stunning location on the shores of Lake Lucerne and right below the Alps. As a result, Lucerne is blessed with a whole range of stunning day trips which will be absolutely hard to forget.
And the most popular of those is a day trip up the local mountain – Mount Pilatus, which is hard to miss as it towers above Lucerne.
The best way to see Mount Pilatus is via the renowned Golden Route Round Trip which has so much going for it.
The Pilatus Golden Route is a round trip from Lucerne train station that shows you the best of Mount Pilatus and the surroundings. You take a boat from Lucerne to Alpnachstad, then a steep cog railway up to the top of Pilatus (Pilatus Kulm).
The return journey is down the opposite side of the mountain via 2 different cable cars to Kriens. From there you take a local bus back to the Lucerne train station. Exactly where you started.
All in all it is at least half a day to do the whole trip including all the transport, waiting time and at least an hour on the top.
It is best if you buy a ticket at the local SBB train station (in Lucerne or elsewhere) for the date you wish to travel, because that gives you a discount on the journey as a whole.
The ticket office gives you 2 main types of tickets to cover the round trip:
Swiss Pass ticket holders get a 50% discount on the Mount Pilatus rail and cable car.
Now I want to break down the exact details of the Golden Route, especially because it is fresh in my mind. I just took it this morning (mid-July 2019).
There are four main parts to the trip, which I will break down in detail below, with additional tips from my trip today.
Note: Although we did the trip in one direction, there is nothing stopping you from doing it in the reverse direction. In some cases it might be better (eg. in summer) when it is very busy, because most people do it the way we did.
The first part of the round trip is via public boat from Lucerne Bahnhofquai opposite the main station. It is right in town about 5 minutes walk from the old town, next to the traffic bridge crossing the Aare river.
The boat to Alpnach leaves approximately every hour at around 40 minutes past the hour, and takes approximately one hour and five minutes.
Note: Please check the timetable to day before to be sure – either at the train station office or at the actual boat pier.
If you have a normal (open ticket) you can catch any boat you like. There are no seat reservations as this is a public boat.
The boat leaves from Pier 2, which is the second one along from the main road. It is clearly labeled with “Golden Round Trip” in many languages. You can’t miss it (below is a picture and map).
If you are pressed for time or have spent enough time on boats on Lake Lucerne already (if not, I recommend going by boat) then the train is only 20 minutes, instead of the 1 hour you need for the boat.
In that case, you catch the S5, direction Giswil, from platform 14 inside the main train station.
Note: Be sure you plan this ahead, because the boat tickets are not interchangeable with train tickets if you change your mind after purchase. If you do, you will need to pay for the train tickets separately (ie. pay again) in this case.
If there are a lot of people on your boat (which there will be in summer) then I recommend being at the right hand exit at least 10 minutes before arrival in Alpnachstad (around 35 past if the timetable does not change). This will ensure you get to the Pilatus train ahead of most people and get up the mountain faster.
Once you leave the boat, you walk along the pier, under the train line and up the stairs. There you will be greeted by two options:
You will then get your Pilatus ticket and if it is busy a time to get on the train. Most of the direct connections will be filled by tour groups (damn them!) so we had to wait 45 minutes for our train. So, leave yourself plenty of time for the whole trip.
There is a lovely coffee shop (Chalet Cafe Pilatus) with outdoor seating, and fast service, right opposite the train where you can wait. You have a guaranteed spot on the next train at a given time if you got such a piece of paper at the exchange. If not, I would line up for the next train. You should be informed either way when you get your Pilatus ticket.
The cog-wheel train up Mount Pilatus is something of a feat of engineering and used to be the steepest such train in Switzerland. They still have it plastered all over the place, but it was until a recent train was installed at Fronalpstock.
Having said that, it is probably still the longest steep railway of its kind, and very impressive to ride that takes around 30 minutes. It slowly grinds its way up the mountain, winding through meadows, forests, tunnels and then finally emerges for the last ascent to the peak – Pilatus Kulm.
The best seats are generally on the right hand side (looking up) but towards the last part of the trip the left hand ones are also quite impressive. There are plenty of windows and you can stand up and get a look both upwards and downwards too, so you should get a view either way.
Once you arrive, you leave the train and walk up the stairs alongside it to the Pilatus Kulm building which houses a whole range of facilities, including the Cableway back down (so you have to return here later).
Once you are ready to head back to Lucerne, walk back inside the same building you arrived in and to the left. You are now going to take the Pilatus Dragon Aerial Cableway, which is a large gondola that has quite a big capacity. They run quite regularly, so you don’t need to stress as much about getting on as you did with the train. But, it can still sometimes get busy.
My tips for this part of the journey are to get on in the first 5-10 people and grab one of the front, or back seats. They are quite luxurious for such a Cableway and I must say I have not seen anything like it elsewhere (yet). They seat about 3-4 people each and give you a commanding view of the ride down.
This part of the trip is about 5 minutes. You have to change to the smaller 4 person gondolas at the next station (or you can explore the fun activities at this stop (Fräkmüntegg).
The four person gondolas are one behind the other, so there is little wait here. You just get on (and don’t get off) until the bottom – Kriens. There is an in-between stop where you can get off for a walk or explore, but if you intend on heading back to Lucerne, then stay on all the way (even when it looks like the end station).
The rest of the journey on this gondola takes about 30 minutes (15 minutes to Krieseregg, and then 15 more to Kriens) and is a nice relaxing journey down to the final station at Kriens.
The final stop brings you to a small suburb of Lucerne with little to no facilities. Sure, there is a ticket office and toilet here, but not a whole lot more. Although, I did spot a small cafe next door, run separately to the Pilatus gondolas.
Now you need to walk about 5-10 minutes down to the main road to catch the Bus Number 1 – MaiHof (there are a few exceptions, just ask the driver if they go to Lucerne Bahnhof). The stop is on the same side of the road you arrive at when you walk down. See the map below.
There are signs all the way to the bus stop from the Kriens Gondola, so just look out for the blue signs to Luzern and Bus Nr.1 (see image below). Likewise if you come from the bus, the same signs point in the other direction to Pilatus.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!