15 things to do in Lugano (Switzerland)

The city of Lugano is located on the lake of the same name in the Swiss canton of Ticino, south of the first ridge of the Alps. As a tourist destination, Lugano needs little introduction. The wild beauty of the lakeshore, the dominant San Salvatore Mountains and the Bray Mountains all speak for themselves and need to be at the top of your vacation plans.

In this city, you’ll fall in love with Italian-style architecture, lakeside promenades, waterfront parks, chic shopping streets and lively squares with arcades and dining tables. The remote villages also deserve some love, huddled on the hillsides by the lake. One, Montagnola is where the writer Hermann Hesse settled in 1919 and loved it until his death nearly 50 years later.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Lugano:

1. Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano

When you step onto Lugano’s promenade, you’ll be blown away by how wild this lake looks.

On each shore there is a mountain, the slopes covered with wood, falling steeply into the water.

The lake is long and winding, filling the deep valleys between the peaks.

And you can only see part of the lake from Lugano because of the peaks on the shore, so you shouldn’t miss out on a boat trip for more.

Full menu of daily excursions by paddle steamer from the marina of Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano.

The most popular are the morning and panoramic cruises, both lasting three hours, and in the evening you can set out to see Lugano’s city lights twinkling on the lake.

2. Mount San Salvador

san salvador hill

Lugano’s own peaks and boulders on the southern skyline, Monte San Salvatore rises more than 900 meters above sea level.

At the top, you’ll marvel at the 360-degree panorama of Lugano, the lake and the Western Alps.

The cable car takes you up a steep slope from the outskirts of Paradiso in just 12 minutes.

For determined hikers, the ascent at the summit is just the beginning of their adventure, as they can choose to take the trail to Carona, or venture further along the ridge to the lakeside town of Morcote.

You can also walk back instead of taking the cable car, which takes just over an hour.

3. Montbray

montbray

The suburb of Casarate, east of Lugano, is another stepping stone to the summit.

Since 1912, the funicular railway has collided on the hillside with a maximum gradient of 60.5%, more retro than San Salvador, although it is actually newer.

On the top of the mountain at 925 meters above sea level, there are two restaurants where you can enjoy the view over Lugano and as far as Italy.

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Mount Bray is known as the sunniest mountain in Switzerland, with plenty of sunshine nourishing the Christmas rose, a flower usually found only in the Mediterranean region.

On your way up or down, you can get off at the Brè Villaggio stop and look around the picturesque village of Brè, huddled on the steep slopes.

4. Historic Center

City Hall

Lugano’s old center is a joy to explore, packed with Renaissance and Baroque churches, monasteries, palaces and vaulted squares.

Your first stop must be Piazza Riforma, surrounded by tall whitewashed houses that come alive at night and on weekends.

The southern boundary is the striking façade of the neoclassical town hall, and if you have any doubts, the tourist office is also here.

Be sure to get up early on Tuesday and Friday mornings to the fresh produce market in Piazzale Ex Scuole, where cold cuts, flowers, cheese and fruit are sold.

On Piazza Cioccaro is the Palazzo Riva of the trapezoidal arcades, commissioned by an earl in 1740

5. Via Nassar

by Nasa

Starting at the southernmost point of the city, Via Nassa is just one block from the waterfront and meanders with Lugano Bay as it enters the old town center.

Here you can do some serious shopping on a long arcade street that dates back to the 17th century.

In the past, these arcades provided a safe haven for stall owners to trade. Now they’re a cool way to get out in the summer, with upscale boutiques, jewelry stores, department stores, food malls and cafes all tucked away under the arches.

6. Parco Civico

Civic Park

Just east of downtown, Parco Civico is a lovely lakefront park that also has some great facilities like the state library and convention center.

From the center along the curve of the bay there is a stunning view of Lugano and the view after sunset is equally beautiful.

During the day, you will marvel at the beauty of Mount Bray and Mount San Salvador.

Closer to the city center is Villa Ciani, surrounded by well-tended gardens filled with flower beds, palm trees and shrubs.

To the east, on the banks of the Kassarat River, mature woodlands with maples, plane trees, oaks and lindens are somewhat desolate.

7. Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli

Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli

Once a convent church, Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angeli is quite sober on the outside but prized for what you see inside.

The entrance to the altar is home to the finest Renaissance frescoes in Switzerland.

It was painted by Bernardo Luini in 1529 and represents the Passion and Passion of Christ.

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This is one of three paintings by Luini in the church, the others depict the Virgin with the Child and the Last Supper.

Go through the arch to see the altar, made of wood in the 1700s for the Convent of Santa Croce in Como.

8. Cattedrale San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo Castle

The main façade of the Renaissance Cathedral in Lugano is a real treasure, carved from white limestone and Carrara marble.

The cathedral was built at the turn of the 16th century on an earlier Romanesque building.

The three portals are engraved with medallions and Renaissance motifs such as birds and putos.

Between them are the marble relief busts of King Solomon, David and the Four Evangelists.

In the center, look up at the rose window, decorated with cherubs, carved in the 1570s.

On this elevation there is a balustraded terrace with views of the lake and mountains.

9. Hessian Museum

Hessian Museum

Nobel Prize-winning German writer Hermann Hesse moved to the lakeside village of Montagnola in 1919 and remained there until his death in 1962. He established a museum in Casa Camuzzi, his first home in the village.

While living here, he wrote such classics as Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund.

At Torre Camuzzi you can view a large collection of memorabilia such as correspondence with TS Eliot and Freud among others, Hesse’s typewriter, books, photographs and his watercolors.

You can also follow in Hesse’s footsteps around the village on an audio-guided tour of Montagnola.

10. Gandria

ganderia

Officially a part of Lugano since 2004 is this charming lakeside village clinging to the eastern slope of Mount Bray.

Unspoiled, Gandria looks the same as it did a hundred years ago when the village was the den of the illegal trade.

High tariffs on goods such as cigarettes and meat have made this remote area of ​​the Swiss-Italian border a prime target for smugglers.

You can wander along the winding streets and staircases before entering the 15th-century Church of San Viglio, with a facade of historic monuments to important local family members.

Across the water is the Swiss Customs Museum, detailing the ingenious schemes of the smugglers and the efforts of customs officials to combat them.

11. Olive Tree Trail

olive tree trail

Apart from smuggling and the silk trade, olives are also an important part of Ganderia’s heritage.

The sunny slopes of Mount Bray are lined with olive groves, and you can take a leisurely stroll through these groves on the 3.5km trail.

The route stretches from Gandria to Castagnola and feels more like the Mediterranean than Central Europe.

Some groves are centuries old, and there are also new efforts to reintroduce olive cultivation.

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The trail is well signposted and as you walk you can read 18 panels with information about the olive trees and their relationship to the two villages.

12. Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana

montbre lugano

Since 2015, various art collections from the canton of Ticino and the city of Lugano have been combined under the umbrella of the Museo d’Arte della Svizzera (MASI). There are two locations, one in the brand new LAC building in the south of the city, near the start of Via Nassa.

The other is the Royal Palace in the city center.

LAC is a venue for modern and contemporary art and large-scale temporary exhibitions.

The collections from the 15th to 20th centuries in the Royal Palace are worth as much time as possible.

Outstanding are works from Baroque Swiss-Italian masters such as Giovanni Cerrodin and Giuseppe Antonio Petrini.

13. Swiss Micro

swiss miniature

On the Meridian Causeway at the foot of Mount San Salvador, there is an open-air museum that, worthy of its name, shrinks all of Switzerland’s large landmarks.

The park has 130 models of landforms such as churches, manors, castles and the Matterhorn.

These are mostly 1:25 scale and surround in flower beds and woodlands.

Kids will also love the miniature railway that runs through the park.

The railway is 3.5 kilometers long, with 18 model trains galloping along the tracks.

Also keep an eye out for the park’s funicular, cars on the highway, and boats zipping across the lake.

14. Lido di Lugano

Lido di Lugano

East of Parco Civico, Lido di Lugano is a sort of holiday resort, all within walking distance of the city.

There are several outdoor pools, including a pool with children’s toys and obstacles, an Olympic-sized pool, a medium-sized pool, and a diving pool.

The Lido Hotel also has a sandy beach where you can rest in front of San Salvatore and the huge Sighignola group on the opposite bank.

You can also go for a swim in the lake, stop for lunch at a beach bar, or watch a movie on the lawn in summer evenings.

15. Piadin

Piadin

Lugano’s gastronomy is at the crossroads of Switzerland and Italy, as is the city’s culture and geography.

This cross-pollination is encapsulated by Lugano-style piadine.

If you’re totally satisfied on the go, and an antidote to urban upscale fare, piadina is a flatbread package that goes with just about anything you like.

It usually includes some cold cuts, prawns or ham, different types of cheese, salads and vegetables like eggplant.

Piadine can be fresh or baked, and heated versions are similar to tacos or quesadillas.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Lugano, Switzerland
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