12 Best Things To Do On Your Next Trip To Lugano, Switzerland

July 21, 2020

by David Jefferson

wide angle shot of the mountains and lake at Lugano Switzerland
©Photo by hpgruesen on needpix

If you think you’ve already seen all of the world’s grandeur, wait until you step into Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano, the largest town in the region of Ticino, Switzerland, is ethereal in its beauty and world-class commercial districts. Vibrant forests, vast green meadows, and iconic alpine mountains make it an ideal destination for nature lovers. You can even find villas and historic buildings in true Italianate Lombardy style. Not only do these sights add to the town’s charm, but they also enrich a thriving Swiss culture. 

 

With an economy driven by the banking industry, Switzerland is an affluent country. Lugano is not separate from this affluence, as it is the third-largest banking center in the country, next only to Geneva and Zurich. You can find just about every bank you have ever heard of just by meandering through Luganese streets.

 

You won’t have to worry much when you come to Lugano. There are many things to see and do while you’re there. To give you some idea of what to do in this lesser-known Swiss district, here is our curated list of the 12 things you can do when you travel to Lugano, Switzerland.

 

12 Things To Do In Lugano, Switzerland

 

1.

Go On A Boat Ride In Lake Lugano

A picturesque view of a hill and town in Lugano

Photo by Nicola Giordano from Pixabay

 

Lake Lugano is probably the most notable sight in Lugano, Switzerland. Serving as a backdrop for many idyllic postcards, this 35-kilometer lake stretches through the Swiss canton and extends into the eastern portion of Italy. Gorgeous mountains such as the Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore grace the lake view, giving a more scenic landscape of nature during the day.

 

The emerald-green lake is a result of glaciers melting during the Ice Age. You can go on a nice boat excursion on the lake to access more activities, including a visit to Gandria. The lake has a depth of 279 meters, though, so visitors are advised to be careful during a boat trip.

 

On land, there is also something for both nature lovers and photographers. On a nice morning, you can stroll along the lake and see the colorful flowers that punctuate the promenade. You can also drop by one of the nearby cafes and shops to enjoy the lake’s view with your favorite cup of coffee or tea.

 

2.

Ride A Funicular To Monte San Salvatore

Monte San Salvatore as seen from Monte Generoso

Photo by Murdockcrc on Wikimedia Commons

 

Boasting an irresistible natural charm, Monte San Salvatore is a monolith of Lugano that offers a quick escape from the hustle and bustle of the town center. Riding the funicular takes you to the mountain summit, which reveals a mesmerizing panoramic view in Lugano. The sight of the lush alps, glimmering waters of Lake Lugano, and the picturesque town of Lugano itself will surely enthrall you. When you reach the top, you can find restaurants, a playground, and a museum. 

 

There’s also a small church at the peak of the mountain. You can climb its terrace to catch a more stunning view of the city. If you plan to hike on Monte San Salvatore, start from the upper station at the summit where you can follow the trails for Carona or towards the town of Morcote.

 

The funicular costs around 30 CHF round-trip, but you only have to pay half the price with Swiss Travel Pass.

 

3.

Visit The Wilhelm Schmid Museum In Monte Brè

View of Lake Lugano from Monte Bre

Photo by Makalu from Pixabay

 

Monte Brè is another mountain that resides in Lugano. Similar to Monte San Salvatore, this mountain showcases a stunning vista over the town. Depending on your preferred mode of transportation, you can reach the top of this mountain by hiking, driving, biking, or riding another funicular. Don’t worry, they all provide equally beautiful perspectives of the Lugano.

 

If you choose to drive to the peak, be prepared for narrow and winding roads. On the other hand, the funicular located at the foot of Mount Bre is accessible through the local bus service. Just be sure to check the funicular’s website for the status of rail operations since it closes during bad weather. The funicular fee costs 25 CHF for a round-trip. However, you can pay for half this price if you have a Swiss Travel Pass.

 

Just a short walk down the mountain is the small, picturesque village of Brè, which features many traditional and quaint houses. You can also find The Wilhelm Schmid Museum, the former residence of the Swiss painter Wilhelm Schmid. There, you’ll see a collection of his paintings done from the whole span of the painter’s career.

 

4.

Follow Themed Trails At Parco Botanico di San Grato

Bicycles parked beside flowering plants while overlooking Lugano mountains

Official Photo from Parco San Grato Website

 

Aside from the majestic mountains that surround Lugano, a park covered in flowers also attracts millions of global tourists to the Swiss district. Known as Parco Botanico di San Grato, this botanical garden rests above Lake Lugano and on Carona’s hills. It is accessible by car or bus from downtown Lugano. With its wide meadows filled with azaleas, rhododendrons, and various conifers, the park does not disappoint. Every inch of the botanical garden is blessed with unparalleled beauty.

 

The area covers more than 60,000 square meters. Inside, there are five themed trails. The Fairytale Trail is made for kids and the kids at heart. You can also find a Relaxation Trail which, as its name implies, is dedicated to visitors who want to unwind while enjoying nature. The third trail is the Botanical Trail, which showcases information boards about the ornamental plants in the park. You can also find an Art Trail, which allows you to view the works of selected artists. Lastly, the Panorama Trail offers great lookout points in the park.

 

The Parco Botanico di San Grato is open all year round with no admission fee. 

 

5.

Meander Around Parco Civico-Ciani

Lake view from Parco Civico-Ciani on a bright sunny day

Photo by Luca Nebuloni on WikiCommons

 

Strolling through Parco Civico-Ciani is a popular thing to do that when you’re in Lugano, Switzerland. Located on Lake Lugano’s shores, this 63,000 square meter park serves as the heart of the city. It offers superior views of Lugano at any time of day. Its tranquil atmosphere and incredible scenery invite tourists to enjoy an opportunity to reconnect with nature. Statues and sculptures are also scattered in the park for visitors to enjoy.

 

Parco Civico-Ciani is a favorite attraction among families. Not only will visitors of all ages enjoy the views, but they will also find something in the park to occupy their time. Kids especially will love playing in the playground or having a quick dip at the lake. There are also some restaurants and bars located across the park, where you can grab a quick snack or enjoy your favorite drink.

 

6.

Shop Until You Drop On Via Nassa

A Louis Vuitton store at Via Nassa

Photo by Böhringer Friedrich on WikiCommons

 

Switzerland is home to many exclusive shopping avenues, including the Via Nassa of Lugano. This 270-meter street is filled with a mix of shops that offer elegant jewelry, top-of-the-line clothing, excellent gastronomic experiences, and rare antique finds. You can also find a few department stores and cafes that still have a great view of the lake. Due to the architecture of the buildings in the area, shopping at the Via Nassa also means that you get to immerse yourself in fine European art.

 

Back in the days, shopping in Ticino was somewhat limited. You can only shop for basic supplies, such as pasta, rice, oil, soap, and clothing. The advent of globalization brought new items to purchase in Luganese soil. Now, a unique shopping experience can greet tourists when they come to different Swiss districts, especially in Lugano.

 

7.

Have A Romantic Dinner At Gandria

Houses on the mountain at Gandria, surrounded by Lake Lugano

Photo by Oberpepe on Wikimedia Commons

 

Located at the base of Monte Brè, Gandria is a dense collection of houses perched on the side of Lake Lugano. It is a sleepy fishing village that shelters pastel-colored homes overlooking the alluring waters of the lake. Gandria is often a favorite stop among locals and visitors, especially those who take a boat trip around Lake Lugano. Inside the village, several lovely restaurants and romantic hotels offer quality services on top of the enchanting view of the Lake Lugano that they already provide. 

 

You can also reach Gandria on foot. Just follow a trail named the Olive Tree Path that starts near the city center and passes through the Castagnola village before arriving at Gandria. The trail contains various olive trees and signages that explain how olives in the area are cultivated. The journey on the footpath takes 45 minutes, so be sure to pack bottled water and extra clothes in case the temperature fluctuates.

 

On the far side of the lake is Gandria Customs House. It is a famous museum known to exhibit fishing devices used by Luganese smugglers in the past.

 

8.

See Renaissance Frescoes At A Local Church

Facade of Santa Maria degli Angioli during sunset

Photo by Monster4711 on Wikimedia Commons

 

Though its sober exteriors do not look as impressive as Lugano’s Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli is still frequented by pilgrims and art lovers alike. It seems like a typical church on the outside, but inside, you will be greeted by the massive masterwork of Italian artist Bernardino Luini.

 

Luini’s Renaissance frescoes of the Passion and Crucifixion of Christ, both located inside the church, are considered the most important example of the Lombard Renaissance in Switzerland. These valuable paintings cover the church’s interiors from wall to wall.

 

9.

Witness Art At Lugano Arte E Cultura

Facade of the Lugano Arte e Cultura during the day

Photo by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra from Paris, France on Wikimedia Commons

 

Established in 2015, Lugano Arte e Cultural is a cultural center that features the best of Luganese music, visual arts, and performing arts. It is home to the Museo d’arte Della Svizzera Italiana, one of the most visited art museums in Switzerland. This art museum forms a cultural bridge between the north and south of the Alps, and between Latin and Germanic Europe.

 

Inside the cultural center itself, there are three floors that exhibit the Lugano and Cantone Ticino Art Collections, and various other temporary exhibitions and site-specific installations.

 

You can also watch performances and concerts in the center’s 1000-seat theatre. The building, as designed by Ivano Gianola, overlooks Lake Lugano. Make sure to check out their website for the schedule of events. You can buy tickets there as well. 

 

10.

Meet Hermann Hesse

The famous typewriter used by Herman Hesse in his museum

Photo from Museo Herman Hesse Montagnola Official Facebook Page

 

Whether you’re into literature and culture, or just interested in learning more about this winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, The Hermann Hesse Museum is an excellent place to learn more about him. This museum is located in a Camuzzi Tower in Montagnola where Hesse wrote Siddharta. This museum exhibits various memorabilia from Hesse’s time in Switzerland, more than 40 years before his death in 1962. Here, you can find his paintings, typewriters, personal belongings, and letters that made his career as a writer. 

 

A walking tour is also available near the museum. This tour is on a Swiss trail and portrays the different aspects of Hesse’s life. You can also watch films about his life in the museum’s basement. For a more educational tour, be sure to ask the museum’s receptionist to give you the area’s written guide.

 

11.

Feel Like A Giant at Little Switzerland 

Photo of the miniature Switzerland town in Lugano

Photo from Swissminiatur Official Facebook Page

 

Feel like a giant when you explore the little town of Swissminiatur! Situated in Melide on the shores of Lake Lugano, this miniature open-air park highlights a tiny version of Switzerland. You’ll definitely love the place. There are more than a hundred replicas of houses, castles, and cathedrals in the park, including an extensive miniature train display that includes 11,500 feet of track and 18 moving trains.

 

You can also find famous sites such as the Chillon, Heidi’s house in Maienfeld, and the Duomo of Milan. This miniature park was built 50 years ago to represent Switzerland in a tiny and cuter version. All models are built with a scale of 1:25. Apart from the miniature exhibits, over 15,000 flower species encircle the area, making it an ideal destination for families.

 

The park is open from mid-March through mid-November.

 

12.

Eat Chocolates At Alprose Chocolate Factory

Different types of chocolate from Alprose Chocolate Factory

Official photo from Alprose Chocolate Factory website

 

Visiting a chocolate factory isn’t only an activity for kids. It’s an excellent pastime for adults as well. Indulge your sweet tooth on authentic Swiss chocolate, and make sure to check out Alprose Chocolate Factory. Located in the small town of Caslano, Alprose is one of Switzerland’s smaller, lesser-known chocolate producers. Yet, their factory is more tailored towards visitors, which is why they are always open to tourists. The Alprose Chocolate Factory even gives lavish freebies when you visit their stores.

 

Inside the factory, you are allowed to watch the process in an elevated, enclosed, air-conditioned walkway. From there, you’ll see Swiss chocolates in whopping quantities being dropped into plastic molds, cooled, wrapped, and packed into boxes. Just outside the factory, you can also watch a 15-minute film about the process of chocolate-making. You can buy freshly-produced products on the site at a reduced price. 

 

The Alprose Chocolate Factory opens weekdays from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM, and weekends until 4:30 PM. The entrance fee costs 3 CHF. No Swiss Travel Pass discount is applied when entering the factory.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is Lugano, Switzerland Known For?

Switzerland is famous for its mouthwatering Swiss fondue, exquisite chocolate, majestic Alps, and critically-acclaimed wristwatches. With its efficient public transport system and diverse and welcoming culture, Switzerland remains one of the best countries for tourists to visit. These other reasons make Lugano standout among other Swiss districts:

 

Swiss-Italian As The Main Language. Though Lugano is 100% Swiss, it also shares a heavy history with Italy. Italian culture has pervaded Lugano’s history, culture, and language. If you’re from an Italian-speaking country, you will not struggle with communicating with locals in Lugano.

Great Weather. Lugano may not be your primary choice when you think of a vacation at the beach, but this Swiss district has weather that is mostly mild and sunny. Sometimes, when the weather is lovely, you can sit by the palm trees around the lake and still see the snowcapped Alps from afar.

Swiss Alpine Lake. The perfect landscapes featured in Swiss postcards come to life in Lugano, Switzerland. The lake, in fact, is the most significant site in the town. People from across oceans flock Lake Lugano to witness firsthand the lake’s majestic beauty. 

 

Where Can I Stay in Lugano, Switzerland?

The exterior of The View Lugano on a sunny day

Official Photo from The View Lugano Website

 

Lugano, Switzerland has tons of exceptional hotels that offer unparalleled service and extraordinary views. You can choose one from our list below.

 

Luxury Hotels: The View Lugano is an excellent luxury hotel with world-class amenities and services. The hotel rests on Lugano Paradiso Hill and features a breathtaking view of Lake Lugano and the town. However, room rates can soar up to a thousand dollars, depending on the season. Nonetheless, as its name implies, this Lugano hotel’s view is the best of the best.

Mid-range Hotels: Park Hotel Principle is a tourist favorite for plenty of reasons. It has brightly lit rooms with spacious balconies that offer a fantastic view of Lugano’s vibrant greenery. Amenities include a swimming pool and a fitness center. A classic double room costs around 150 CHF.

Budget Hotels: Traveling on a budget, but still prefer a quality place to stay? Consider the Montarina Hotel & Hostel. This humble hotel offers a park with a swimming pool and is close to Lugano Train Station. A double room with ensuite bathroom costs around 95 CHF.

 

When Is The Best Time To Visit Lugano, Switzerland?

Red Bench facing Lake Lugano on a sunny day

Photo by Walter Kärcher from Pixabay

 

The truth is, anytime is the best time to visit Lugano, Switzerland. The town has a humid subtropical climate, allowing tourists to do various all-season activities and activities depending on the season. If you want to engage in fun water activities, you can visit the town during the summer. Summer in Lugano lasts from May until mid-September. However, don’t forget to pack an umbrella because rainfall is still expected even during summer.

 

The spring season is also a crowd favorite due to the beautiful weather. It lasts from March to April, with temperatures that are ideal for strolling and more. You can also visit Lugano during the winter season, from November to February. The snow-covered promenade along the shores of Lake Lugano makes for a picture-perfect backdrop for a White Christmas postcard.

 

How Expensive Is It To Visit Lugano, Switzerland?

Lugano is a beautiful place to visit. However, it is definitely not a cheap holiday destination to be. A basic lunchtime menu with a drink would cost around 25 CHF. Fees and tours can also reach up to 40 CHF, depending on the attraction.

 

The Takeaway

Lugano, Switzerland is a treasure waiting to be discovered. The town is blessed with contemporary attractions, including ones with a deep history. No matter where you go, Lugano surprises you with a wonderful experience you will never forget.