Switzerland is known for its beautiful scenery, yet many visitors are yet to discover Lugano, one of the country’s most charming towns. Nestled at the base of the Swiss Alps and overlooking Lake Lugano, it benefits from a Mediterranean micro-climate with almost constant sunshine. Here are some of the best things to do in Lugano, Switzerland to help you make the most of your trip.
Lugano, Switzerland Points of Interest
Lugano is a great base from which to explore the Ticino region. Bellinzona and Locarno are both within easy reach, as is Northern Italy. Wondering what to do in Lugano? Read on for our detailed guide.
1. Lake Lugano
Of all the things to do in Lugano, Lake Lugano is a definite highlight. Known in Italian as Lago di Lugano, it spans nearly 50 square kilometers.
Lake Lugano is a worthy rival to nearby lakes Como and Maggiore. In fact, 37% of the lake is in Italy, and 63% in Switzerland. If you’re wondering what to see in Lugano in one day, then the lake is an absolute must.
You can walk around a section of the lake to the nearby village of Gandria via the Lugano Olive Tree Trail. There are also boat trips on the lake. Parco Ciani is a beautiful lakeside park, spread over 63,000 square meters.
In Summertime, the Lido di Lugano is very popular. There are an Olympic heated swimming pool, beach volley court and children’s pool.
2. Lugano Town Center
The old town of Lugano is very picturesque, with many independent food stores, such as Gabbani. The Lugano funicular links the center with the upper town, where the train station is located.
There are some very luxurious boutiques in Lugano city if you’re in the mood for some retail therapy. It’s also worth visiting Lugano Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. The facade dates from 1517 and there are some impressive Baroque frescoes by Ernesto Rusca inside.
The church of Santa Maria degli Angioli is another must-see. Located on the lakeside, it houses the Renaissance masterpiece Passion and Crucifixion by the Italian artist Bernardino Luini.
A farmers’ market is held in the charming main square, Piazza della Riforma, from 7 am to 12 noon on Tuesdays and Fridays.
3. Lugano Arte e Cultura
For contemporary art and concert performances, head to the LAC, aka Lugano Arte e Cultura. With its striking architecture and lakeside setting, it’s one of the most interesting Lugano attractions.
When we visited, there were two interesting exhibitions of the works of Meret Oppenheim and Craigie Horsfield. It’s open from 10 am to 6 pm every day except Monday and until 8 pm on Thursdays.
What to Visit near Lugano
The area of Lugano, Ticino has many interesting attractions. Here are a few of our favorites.
4. Swiss Miniatur
Whether you’re traveling with children or not, Swiss Miniatur is one of the best places to visit in Lugano. From ski stations to castles and Heidi’s village, it’s a great introduction to the variety of Switzerland’s landscapes and opens every day from 9 am to 6 pm between 11 March and 22 October.
5. Parco Scherrer
A few kilometers from Lugano, in Morcote, a picturesque lakeside village, you’ll find Parco Scherrer. This stunning botanical garden has the most spectacular views over the lake and a series of exotic pavilions. It can be visited from 15 March to 31 October.
6. Mont Bre
Mont Brè is also well worth a visit at 925 meters high and is one of the sunniest spots in Switzerland. You can reach it by cable car or drive to the top. On the other side of Lugano, you can take a funicular to Monte San Salvatore, at 912 meters high.
7. Parco San Grato
Another photogenic spot is Parco San Grato, with its outdoor sculptures and far-reaching views. There’s a vast collection of azaleas, and conifers and rhododendrons spread over its 62,000 square meters, as well as a restaurant for refreshments and a series of walking trails.
The panoramic views here are phenomenal.
Where to Eat in Lugano
No guide to Lugano would be complete without some dining suggestions. The area is well known for its cozy “grotto” restaurants serving authentic local dishes.
Some of the best are Al Bosco and Grotto Tigini, both up in the hills. Grotto della Salute is in a quiet residential area and Il Grotto del Lago has a lovely lakeside setting.
Gallery Arté al Lago is the only Michelin-starred restaurant in Lugano, and also an art gallery that features interesting temporary exhibitions.
Located on Piazza Emilio Bossi, the views over Lake Lugano are spectacular. The food presentation is as impressive as the artwork! This is, without a doubt, one of the best restaurants in Lugano.
The Grand Café Al Porto is something of an institution in Lugano, famed for its tempting chocolates and cakes. This popular Lugano restaurant opened in 1803 and soon became a meeting point for artists and local luminaries.
On the first floor, the Florentine Cenacolo has magnificent frescoes and a 16th-century wooden ceiling. This was formerly a medieval convent’s dining room.
How to Get to Lugano
It’s an easy 1-hour 15-minute train ride from Milan to Lugano or 2 hours from Zurich, and the station has just been renovated. There’s also an airport with regular connecting flights to Zurich.
It’s also quite easy to get from London to Lugano. Take a flight to Milan Malpensa and then a bus to Lugano, or a train with one change in Zurich.
Where to Stay in Lugano
Visitors can choose either to stay in Lugano city center or in Paradiso, at the base of San Salvatore mountain. Paradiso is within walking distance of Lugano center and is fairly quiet at night.
For old-school glamour, incredible lakeside views and Michelin-starred cuisine, Villa Castagnola is one of the best Lake Lugano hotels. They have a fantastic fine dining restaurant, Le Relais, as well as Gallery Arté al Lago on the lake.
The View Lugano is an all-suite hotel overlooking the lake and another great choice. Villa Principe Leopoldo is a five-star Lugano hotel up in the hills, with a lovely lake view.
There are also some beautiful hotels near Lugano in surrounding towns such as the Swiss Diamond Hotel in Vico Morcote. This five-star lakeside hotel has a lovely wellness spa.
As you can see, there are so many things to do in Ticino that a weekend in Lugano, Switzerland might be a little too short.
We recommend staying for several nights if you can. Let’s take a tour of the lake before we leave, shall we?
BY LUXURY COLUMNIST