WHAT TO DO IN LUGANO, SWITZERLAND
- 1 WHAT TO DO IN LUGANO, SWITZERLAND
- 2 LUGANO TRAVEL TIPS
- 3 Top Things to Do in Lugano
- 3.1 Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata
- 3.2 Old Town of Lugano
- 3.3 Piazza delle Riforma/Piazza Manzoni
- 3.4 Lake Lugano Promenade
- 3.5 Boat Tour Lake Lugano
- 3.6 Gandria
- 3.7 Olive Grove Trail
- 3.8 Lido di Lugano
- 3.9 Parco Ciani
- 3.10 Monte Bre
- 3.11 Bre
- 3.12 Monte San Salvatore
- 3.13 Carona
- 3.14 Vico Morcote
- 3.15 Morcote
- 3.16 Swissminiatur
- 4 More Activities in Lugano
- 5 FINAL THOUGHTS ON A PERFECT LUGANO ITINERARY
Beautiful, beautiful Lugano!
Lugano is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland – the beautiful, lively, and fun city is the perfect place to visit for a few days. Whether you are an outdoors lover, art enthusiast, or just enjoy the city life, Lugano has something for everyone.
If you are now wondering about the best things to do in Lugano and are looking for more travel tips, this Lugano itinerary is for you. I tried to cluster the activities that you can combine easily. However, you do not have to follow/use it as a 2-day itinerary (or longer), and can just get some inspiration for what to do in Lugano.
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LUGANO TRAVEL TIPS
- Lugano is the biggest city in Ticino (with about 67,000 inhabitants) and Switzerland’s third-largest financial center (which also means it is quite expensive).
- However, Lugano actually feels rather small (not comparable to Zurich or Geneva).
- Visiting Lugano feels like you are visiting a beautiful town in Italy, with many buildings done in the Lombardy style. But no, I have to remind myself that I am in Switzerland – the abundance of Swiss flags everywhere definitely helps.
- Lugano’s history dates back to the 10th century and was the object of ongoing ducal disputes (Como and Milan) until it became a Swiss dominion in 1513. It became part of the Swiss Confederation in the 18th century.
- Lugano is located about 273 meters above sea level – Lake Lugano sits a few meters below it.
Best Time to Visit Lugano
Lugano, and Ticino in general, can be visited at any time of the year. Due to its southern location, you have milder temperatures in fall, winter, and spring compared to the rest of Switzerland. So, there is theoretically no bad time to visit. However, we can never 100% rely on the weather in Switzerland. Also, there are a few things to keep in mind when planning your trip.
- While it gets colder in the winter months, it usually does not snow at low altitudes, and you can explore Ticino off-season. However, it also means it might be too chilly to spend long hours at the promenade or spend a day at the beach (or the lake, in this case). You can expect snow in the mountains. In the winter months, hiking is also impossible if you are not equipped with special winter hiking gear.
- I have one rule for Europe: Avoid the summer months of July and August.
- If possible, visit in May/June or September/October. It will be, as far as we can rely on the climate these days, still warm yet not hot, and hotel prices should drop in expensive Switzerland. Since I am a teacher and am stuck to my school holidays, I envy the people who can visit in the shoulder season and do not have to visit in the hot summer months.
- Even though many Swiss visitors come in these off-season months, it is still less crowded than in the busy summer months, when it can also get quite hot.
Which Language is Spoken in Lugano
In Switzerland, there are four official languages.
- Romansh (a minority language)
In Ticino – and thus Lugano – Italian is the main language. Many people also speak German, and in the tourism sector, basic English is widely spoken.
Lake Lugano – a glacier lake – lies in southern Switzerland and Northern Italy. Most of the lake (63%) is located in Switzerland though. It lies about 271 meters above sea level. Locals often refer to the lakes as “Lake Ceresio.”
Fun Fact: Once upon a time, it was connected to Lake Como.
And while Lake Lugano looks absolutely clean and clear, it was once one of the most polluted lakes in Switzerland. People were forbidden to swim in the lake in the 1960s and 1970s.
It has gotten much better now, but it remains unclear whether it will be totally healthy anytime soon.
In Lugano, there are several options for swimming – I will tell you more about it later but bring your bathing suit if the weather allows it.
Swiss Travel Pass
If you use public transportation, I recommend getting a Swiss Travel Pass. I visit Switzerland often, and most of the time I get one – even if it’s a road trip. It is only for non-Swiss residents though.
- It allows you to use trains and buses without any extra costs.
- You can also do boat cruises without additional costs – and you can cruise Lake Lugano with the regular boats to get around.
- It also gives you a 50% discount on most mountain rides (you can get up via cable car/funicular for half of the price, and if you follow my tips, you will need it twice).
The initial prices for a Swiss Travel Pass are quite high – but it pays for itself if you get around via public transportation and are active in Switzerland for more than three or four days. So, check out prices for boats and trains and then calculate if it is a good option for you.
For me, it usually makes sense as I am very active and use public transportation/mountain rides often (even if I road trip Switzerland).
I also love boat rides – which means many, many boat cruises for me whenever I have a Swiss Travel Pass. Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.
How to Get to Lugano
Lugano is, unfortunately, a bit remote. However, it is still easy to get to Lugano thanks to an extensive rail network and great roads.
- BY PLANE: Lugano does not have an airport. You could fly into Zurich or Geneva or Milan (Bergamo) and then get to Lugano by train.
- BY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION: Its remote location makes getting to Lugano a bit more time-consuming, but within 2-4 hours, you are normally in Lugano from most places in Switzerland.
- BY CAR: Driving in Ticino is my least favorite part of driving in Switzerland. The drivers here drive like… Italians. Also, it can get busy during rush hour. However, there are paid parking spots and you can stay longer than a few hours but they are not in an abundance.
How to Get Around Lugano
- Many activities mentioned here can be visited on foot. You can walk to most attractions if you are semi-fit.
- For this Lugano itinerary, you could get around by car. However, I do not recommend it. I parked my car outside the city center (when I visited this summer, I left my van in a camping site and just got around via public transportation). The city center is quite busy and parking spots are rare. Also, parking in the small villages is not a fun task. Plus, you will be faster with public transportation most of the time.
- You can rely on good, extensive, and punctual buses and trains if you need public transportation. I used buses within Lugano several times, and I will let you know when I felt the need to hop on a bus for this itinerary.
- Also, there is a funicular from the train station to the old town. It is just a short ride – it might be tempting to use to get back to the train station after a long day of walking and exploring.
- My favorite mode of transportation is – and probably will always be – boats. I used boats several times (sometimes just for fun) and had the most scenic rides. Lake Lugano is a beauty, and boat cruises are a great way to get around.
Where to Stay in Lugano
Lugano is an amazing place to stay – you can explore the beautiful city but can also do some fun day trips from Lugano. Yes, Lugano is expensive – like really expensive but it is still a good choice to stay overnight.
- Hotel Zurigo Downtown – This 3-star hotel is located just 300 meters from Lake Lugano and in the heart of Lugano. Check out rates here.
- LUGANODANTE – We like you – This is a beautiful 4-star property in the city center of Lugano. This might be the perfect choice if you are looking for something more comfortable and luxurious. Check out prices here.
- The View Lugano – One of the most famous 5-star hotels in Switzerland is this property. It is located close to the funicular station of San Salvatore and Lake Lugano. Find out more about this luxury property here.
How to Save Money on Your Lugano Trip
Besides the Swiss Travel Pass, you can save money by bringing a water bottle with you. There are some water fountains spread throughout Lugano where you can refill your bottle with fresh water. It is better for your wallet and better for the environment – and in Switzerland, you will be happy about every $ you can save (yes, Ticino, and especially Lugano, are very expensive).
- For more budget tips in Switzerland, check out this post.
More Travel Tips
If you are looking for more – general – tips for Switzerland, check out my posts.
- Packing list for Switzerland
- Road tripping Switzerland
- General travel tips for Switzerland
- Check out my Locarno travel guide
Top Things to Do in Lugano
So, without further ado, here are my tips for the city of Lugano, as well as the stunning surroundings of Lake Lugano.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata
One of the first sights in Lugano awaits you right in front of the train station. The train station stands at 335 meters above sea level, and Lake Lugano is at 280 meters. This means that from the train station, you are already getting spoiled with some lovely views.
Once you step out of the train and the station or drive past the train station by car, you will have a lovely view of Lake Lugano, the city, and the scenery! And of the church Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata.
Walk down the steps and head to the church – it looks as beautiful from the inside as it does from the outside, though it is not as spectacular when compared with “other Italian churches.” But it is on your way to the old town, so it will not even take up much of your time.
- You can visit it for free!
Old Town of Lugano
After visiting the church, head towards the old town. It is just a few meters below the church and an easy walk, even though it is on a slight downhill. You will pass some colorful buildings, and there you have the typical narrow streets that characterize many Swiss/Italian old towns.
You will also find little shops selling souvenirs, food, and more, plus bars and restaurants.
I would be lying if I said that Lugano’s old town is stunning, but it is worth visiting, and strolling around should not take too much time.
- One of the free things to do in Lugano
Piazza delle Riforma/Piazza Manzoni
The town center of Lugano is relatively small, so it won’t be long before you reach the two main squares. They are both located next to each other and just in front of the promenade.
Piazza della Riforma, also known as Riforma Square, is the main square of the city.
You will find beautiful buildings here, like the Town Hall (Palazzo Civico), which dates back to the 19th century. Look out for the five statues between the court and entrance.
Often you will find events, especially in the summer months. And on Saturdays from 8 am – 5 pm, there is a market of antiques and handicrafts in the Canova and Maghetti areas.
The big fountain at Monzani Square is pretty unique, and there are several fountains you can get water from.
When you are at the water fountain, you are already at the stunning Lake Lugano!
- These are free activities in Lugano
Lake Lugano Promenade
The promenade of Lugano is loooong, and you might not be able to stroll all the way. However, if you come from the old town, you are already at the boat station.
There are several piers, and you could take a boat cruise (more on that below). Next to the boat station, you will also find the “I <3 Lugano” sign.
With Lake Lugano in the background, this is a pretty Instagrammable place in Lugano.
This part of the promenade, around the boat station, is nice, but not the nicest part. Later, you will get to see more of it.
- Another free thing to do in Lugano
Boat Tour Lake Lugano
Okay, there are different options on how to continue your day. One of my suggestions is to do a boat tour. I already talked a bit about Lake Lugano earlier, but as the official lake expert that I am, I can assure you that Lake Lugano is a gem.
Cruising Lake Lugano is scenic! The watercolor and the small villages on the shores of the lake make cruising a pretty pleasant experience.
If you want to take it more slowly and not do many sporty activities, I recommend getting from Lugano to Gandria. You normally have indoor and outdoor seats on the boats which makes boat cruising enjoyable regardless of the weather.
This boat ride takes – unfortunately – only about 30 minutes. However, here is some good news: there are more opportunities to do boat trips.
- With your Swiss Travel Pass, you can do the cruises on the Swiss side of the lake for free.
Gandria is a small, cute former fishing village – perched at the bottom of Monte Bre – that is quite popular amongst visitors. Many people hike from Monte Bre to Gandria. However, you can also get to Gandria by boat if you are not up for the 2-3 hour downhill hike.
There are not many attractions in Gandria. What you can do is walk the narrow or enjoy a meal/drink at one of the grottos with terraces.
I recommend walking from Gandria to Castagnola – and “hike” the Olive Grove Trail.
Olive Grove Trail
One of the top things to do in/around Lugano is walking/hiking the Olive Grove Trail from Gandria to Castagnola. It is an easy walk/hike, about 3 kilometers long, through the countryside.
You can start in Gandria and just follow the signs – you will find many ancient olive trees where several olive groves have recently been planted.
Along the way, you will also find a lot of information about olives and their production in Lugano. Parts of the hikes are along trees that spend shadow, but not all of the walk, so bring sunscreen. You will also find water fountains (1 or 2 if I remember correctly) and a toilet along the way.
The walk (I do not consider it a hike as it is mostly a flat path and does not include much downhill or uphill hiking) is beautiful. You have great views of Lake Lugano basically throughout the whole duration of the hike.
If you want, you can continue the walk back to Lugano – or take a bus from Castagnola and get out at Lido di Lugano.
- The Olive Grove Trail is free and open 24/7.
Lido di Lugano
You might want to spend some time in the water now – if you want, visit the lido in Lugano. It is an open-air pool complex with a sandy beach and green areas, popular in the summer months. There are several pools – perfect if you need to cool down.
- There is an entrance fee for the lido, and if you plan a visit, do not forget your swimsuits and towels.
If you just want to rest, skip the lido and keep walking for another 2-3 minutes to get to this park.
If you get out at the bus stop at Lido di Lugano, you can either spend some time at the lido or rest at this beautiful park. It was probably one – if not THE – most favorite part in Lugano.
Parco Ciani is considered the green heart of Lugano, with a size of 63,000 square meters. It is one of the most beautiful parts of Lugano.
This part of the promenade is also really stunning! It is located right at the shores of Lake Lugano – thus, the park comes with great views! Also, this is the place to rest and chill – the meadow is really inviting! You have plenty of flowers and small art installations, which makes it fun to walk around.
- There is no entrance fee, and it is open 24/7.
So, if you are a hiker, I suggest heading to Monte Bre peak first. Then you can continue the itinerary by hiking down Gandria and walking the Olive Grove Trail.
However, if you do not want to do too much physical activity (there is a hike for day 2 in Lugano), then get up Monte Bre via funicular. Monte Bre is one of the most popular trips from Lugano. It sits at 933 meters above sea level and offers fantastic views of the Alps, Lake Lugano, and Lugano.
Up there, you can do (more) activities like cycling or hiking – or just enjoy the beautiful views!
- Return tickets for Monte Bre funicular are around 25CHF (discount with a Swiss Travel Pass)
A few meters below Monte Bre, you will find a small village named Bre.
Explore this place that is scattered with art testimonials – Bre was home to several artists like Wilhelm Schmid. You will also find the Wilhelm Schmid Museum, which houses his art and his library.
- Tip: If you are on a budget and do not want to spend money on the funicular to get up Monte Bre, you can also take the bus up to Bre. From there, you have to do a 15-20 minute hike up to get to the summit of Monte Bre.
Now, let’s talk about day 2 in Lugano. I suggest starting with a(nother) mountain trip. This time, it is about Monte San Salvatore, also known as the “Pan di Zucchero,” as it looks like the Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil.
Monte San Salvatore
If you plan to visit a mountain peak in Lugano, then it could (should) be Monte San Salvatore. Standing at 912 meters above sea level, it is easily accessible by funicular.The views from Monte San Salvatore are splendid – Lake Lugano is without a doubt a beauty, and here it presents itself from its best side! You will also find a church, a restaurant, and a small museum at the top.
You can then hike down to Morcote – I highly recommend doing the hike. It is a very steep downhill hike! It took me about 5 hours, with stops along the way.
However, if you have problems with your knees, do not have proper hiking boots, or if it rains, I advise you to skip the hike.
How to get there: From Lugano, go to Paradise station by boat or bus. Then, take the funicular to go up. You could also hike up and then take the funicular to get down.
- You might want to use a funicular to get up Monte San Salvatore which does cost about 20€ one way – 50% off with the Swiss Travel Pass
If you opt for the hike, you will see the following villages- mentioned below – along the way. If you decide not to hike, you can add these places to your itinerary and get there by bus!
Hiking down to Morcote will make you pass picturesque Carona – it is a small yet charming village with lots of sculptures and other art gems, like a copy of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
You can also visit Parco San Grato in Carona, where you will find – amongst others – camellias and rhododendrons.
Those who enjoy swings will be happy to hear that one of the “famous” swings is also at the park. However, you have to do more uphill walking (add another 20 minutes for the detour) to get to the swing, but it is probably well worth it.
Then continue your hike and have a last stop before you arrive in Morcote. Above Morcote, you will find Vico Morcote nestled amongst vineyards and woods. It is a very small area, yet very charming.
The church in Vico Morcote looks beautiful from the outside, and walking the streets of Vico Morcote was also lovely! This is a small gem, and if you hike down Monte San Salvadore to Morcote, you will pass it along the way.
If you get to Morcote via boat/bus and do not enjoy uphill walking, then you can take a bus to get to Vico Morcote.
When in Lugano… you have to visit Morcote! Morcote was named the most beautiful village in Switzerland in 2016 – and I can assure you, that title was well deserved.
It is an extraordinarily pretty village on the shores of Lake Lugano.
There are several ways to arrive in Morcote, which is just 10 km south of Lugano.
- You can hike down from San Salvatore to Morcote – this hike is quite popular and it would be your last stop. And what a stop.
- If you do not want to hike, you can get to Morcote by boat. Either way, do not skip this village.
Whether you enjoy the views of the famous church with Lake Lugano as a backdrop, try one of the “Swing the World“ swings, stroll the promenade and the old town, or visit Scherrer Garden, you will not regret visiting Morcote.
Then you could head back to Lugano by boat, or if it is still “early,“ you could get on a boat and then stop in Melide.
- Most activities in and around are free to visit.
- Check out my detailed Morcote itinerary.
Between Lugano and Morcote, you will find Switzerland’s largest open-air museum – Swissminiatur – in the village of Melide.
There are128 mini-models of houses, castles, and monuments distributed throughout the 14,000 square meter park, including well-known sites such as the Heidi Village, the castles of Burgdorf and Chillon, and the Federal Parliament in Bern.
And there are 18 model trains traveling between the buildings on approximately 3.5 kilometers of tracks, as well as operating rack railways, cable cars, suspension railways, and ships.
- The entrance fee for adults is around 19CHF
- 10% discount if you buy tickets online, 50% off with a Swiss Travel Pass
More Activities in Lugano
Here are a few more activities in Lugano you might be interested in.
With a pretty lake like Lake Lugano, you can expect quite a few water sports activities. Swimming, kayaking, diving, SUP, windsurfing, sailing, boarding, and water-skiing – there are lots of options.
There are almost 400 km of trails for mountain bikers in the region of Lugano. I still cannot wrap my head around how people ride their bikes in these crazy mountains, but if you are a mountain biker, you might love riding these “streets.“
FINAL THOUGHTS ON A PERFECT LUGANO ITINERARY
Lugano is a beautiful city. I enjoy it every single time I visit and always find new places and attractions. It is lively and lovely, and the scenery and outdoor activities are impressive.
Then there are the pretty, pretty villages along the shores of the lake. There are many reasons to visit here, and hopefully, this post has helped you figure out what to do in Lugano for your own trip.