Lugano Switzerland
Things to Do Ticino

Things to do in Lugano

March 23, 2020 Last Updated on March 19, 2024

When you visit Lugano you might feel like you’re enjoying a Mediterranean break rather than a holiday in southern Switzerland.

This is not surprising as the city is located in the Italian-speaking Ticino region, an area renowned for its eclectic blend of Swiss-Italian architecture, culture, cuisine and climate.

The city sits proudly on the shore of Lake Lugano, its glacial waters fringed by palms and piercing Alpine summits. The great outdoors features high on many a tourist agenda, with hikers making the most of the pretty scenery. 

The pace is leisurely here; enjoy a cruise on the lake or a lazy afternoon spent exploring one of the many gardens. 

If you prefer to be a little more active, there are plenty of things to do in Lugano, Switzerland for you, too. Let’s explore a few of the best ways to spend your time in Lugano.

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Top things to do in Lugano

Cruise on Lake Lugano 

Boat cruising on Lake Lugano Switzerland
A cruise on Lake Lugano is a must for any visitor to the Lugano.

Though rather narrow, Lake Lugano is very deep, reaching depths of 288 metres in places. The lake has a rugged beauty that never fails to charm, and a cruise across the tranquil waters will allow you to call on two countries at once – 63% of the lake lies in Switzerland and 37% in Italy. 

Cruises have been operating on the lake since 1848 when the very first steamer took to the water to ferry eager passengers. Nowadays, there’s a wide variety of cruises on offer, with most operating between April and October. 

Take your pick from a range of excursions, including those traversing the northern area of Lugano, Porlezza and Gandria. Or opt for a journey that includes access to some of the lake’s most popular attractions including the San Salvatore funicular and the Monte Generoso cogwheel railway.

Another fantastic option is to cruise to Melide where you can visit Swissminatur, or to Morcote, one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland. 

Evening cruises (usually operating throughout July and August) are also available. 

One particularly popular evening cruise is the Grotti cruise, which allows passengers to disembark at a stop of their choice and enjoy a delicious Ticinese meal at a local grotto, before boarding a later boat for the return journey. 

We dined at Grotto dei Pescatori and had a delicious meal in a fabulous setting.  The sunset over the lake was gorgeous. Dinner reservations are highly recommended.

Most Lake Lugano cruises are fully covered with the Swiss Travel Pass.

Explore the Old Town 

Piazza Riforma, Lugano
Elegant, pastel-hued buildings line Lugano’s piazzas.

Lugano Old Town is delightful, with its Baroque and Renaissance places of worship, charming palazzi and squares. Piazza Riforma, Lugano’s main square, is pretty as a picture, bordered by pastel-hued buildings.

It’s not dissimilar to Piazza Grande in Locarno on Lake Maggiore, which is also lined with grand 19th-century buildings.

In the evenings the piazza really comes to life, with tourists and locals alike enjoying the hospitality of the numerous bars and eateries. 

Piazza Riforma is also where you’ll find the city’s annual Christmas market which runs from the end of November to early January.

The Old Town is also home to the Neoclassical City Hall and Lugano tourist office, handy if you want to find out more about the region. 

Foodies should venture to Piazzale Ex Scuole early on a Friday or Tuesday, where you can browse the market stalls – this place is a feast for the senses, with vendors selling colourful blooms and appetizing produce.  

Head south, and you will stumble upon Via Nassa – a haven for shoppers. Under the arches, you will find stylish boutiques, chic jewellers, vast department stores, and cafes offering welcoming refreshments. 

This part of town is also home to one of Lugano’s most important churches – Santa Maria degli Angioli (Saint Mary of Angels), home to what is considered the most remarkable Renaissance fresco in Switzerland.

Painted by the Italian artist Bernardino Luini (circa 1480-1532), it represents the Passion and the Crucifixion.

Frescoes inside Santa Maria degli Angioli church in Lugano, Switzerland
The frescoes inside Santa Maria degli Angioli church are very impressive.

If you’d like to learn more about the city from a local, why not join a guided tour like this 1 hour city tour? > Click here to check details and prices.

Where to eat: Bottegone del vino

Located right in the heart of the Old Town, Bottegone del vino offers indoor and outdoor dining for 40 patrons.

With a menu that changes daily and an extensive wine list, the restaurant is the ideal place to enjoy a cosy meal for two or a dinner with friends.

We recommend it for the wonderful service and delicious meals which are reasonably priced. The staff were spot on with the wine recommendations, too.

Sample the local cuisine with Taste My Swiss City Lugano 

Another must-do for foodies is a Taste My Swiss City Lugano self-guided tour. The tour will take you to all the hidden gems that you won’t get to experience if you just stick to the tourist trail. 

Follow the route at your own pace and indulge in the gastronomic delights that Lugano has to offer. Visit six different establishments – all recommended by locals – where you can try the traditional food and drinks for which they are best known.

This is a fun and tasty way to explore Lugano and can be enjoyed either during the day or in the evening. > Click here to check prices.

Visit Parco Ciani

Situated right beside Lake Lugano and covering an area of 63,000 square metres, Parco Ciani is the green heart of Lugano. 

With beautifully manicured English-style lawns, beds of colourful flowers, statues and fountains and the water lapping gently at its edge, this is where locals and visitors flock for rest and relaxation.

The most-photographed spot in Parco Ciani is the set of wrought iron gates right on the lake shore in front of Villa Ciani, a former private villa which dates back to the 1840’s.

View of Lake Lugano through wrought iron gates at Parco Ciani in Lugano, Switzerland
Are these the gates to Paradise?

Cool off at Lido di Lugano

A short stroll from Parco Ciani is the Lido di Lugano, the perfect place to cool off on a summer’s day.  With a lakeside beach and numerous swimming pools, the Lido is suitable for all ages.

There’s a large lawn area, changing rooms, showers and toilets, and a snack bar.

The Lido is open from the beginning of May until mid-September from 9am until 7.30pm. 

Ride the Monte Brè Funicular Railway

View of Lake Lugano from Monte Bre
Monte Brè summit offers fabulous views.

East of Lugano, you will find the suburb of Cassarate, home to the Monte Brè funicular railway. Built in 1912, the railway climbs 925 metres in two sections.

The first section runs from Cassarate to Suvigliana, and the second from Suvigliana to Monte Brè via Albonago, Aldesago and Brè Village.  It operates from the first Saturday of March until January 6 (excluding Christmas Day).

Monte Brè is described by some as the sunniest of all the Swiss mountains and the views it provides are pretty impressive, too. It’s also one of the most popular attractions in Lugano.

At the top, you can enjoy the fabulous panorama of the city and landscape beyond, extending as far as Monte Rosa and the Bernese Alps.

If you’re hungry, grab a bite to eat at one of the two restaurants where you can enjoy your lunch with a side of spectacular scenery!

It’s worth stopping off to take a stroll around Brè Villaggio. This quaint village not only offers spectacular views from the terraces of its restaurants but it is also the starting point for a number of hikes.

Brè is also home to the Wilhelm Schmid Museum, and an artistic path that leads through the village, introducing visitors to the artworks of famous artists from both Switzerland and internationally. 

You can either get off the funicular at Brè village, or hike down via an easy path (around 30 minutes). There is a wonderful viewing platform on the hiking trail just before you reach the village.

After spending some time in Brè village you can either take the funicular back to Lugano or take bus #12 to Lugano Centro. It departs from the village square twice per hour.

View of Bre and Lake Lugano from Monte Bre
The walking trail from Monte Brè to Brè village offers stunning views of Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains.

Monte Brè prices

Regular fares from Cassarate to Monte Brè cost around CHF 25 per adult. A 50% reduction applies to children (6 to 16 years) and holders of the Swiss Travel Pass and Swiss Half Fare Card.

You can buy tickets for the funicular at the bottom station or pre-book a 4.5 hour tour from Lugano which includes the funicular ride and a visit to the village of Brè. > Click here for further details and to check prices.

How to get to Monte Bre from Lugano :

From Lugano Centro (Stand A), you can take bus #2 to the stop called Cassarate Monte Brè. Buses operate every 15 minutes and the journey time is just five minutes.

If you are travelling from Lugano train station (Lugano Stazione), the journey will take an extra five minutes. Board bus #2 at Stand B at Lugano station.

Explore Morcote or Gandria 

Two of the prettiest villages in Switzerland, Morcote and Gandria are both worthy of a look – just don’t forget your camera! 

You will find the enchanting village of Gandria on the eastern slopes of Monte Brè. 

Once frequented by smugglers who came up with clever scams to traffic their wares, the village is now a haven for those who enjoy a quiet stroll in pretty surroundings. 

It may be tiny but Gandria is still a delight to visit.  The 16th century church of San Vigilio will surprise you with its baroque interior, and the maze of narrow streets and steep steps are just made for exploring!

Gandria, Switzerland
The pretty village of Gandria is just 15 minutes from central Lugano.

How to get from Lugano to Gandria:

Allow around 15 minutes to reach Gandria by car via the Strada di Gandria.  It’s a distance of 6.5 kilometres. 

If you don’t have a car, you can reach Gandria by boat. It takes just 15 minutes to cruise from Lugano Centrale pier to Gandria. Tickets can be purchased at the pier or are just show your Swiss Travel Pass when you board.

For a more personal experience, why not pre-book a guided walking tour to Gandria along the Olive Tree Trail?  You’ll then have time to explore the village before cruising back to Lugano (boat ticket included). > Click here for more information and to check prices.

Where to eat: Locanda Gandriese

If you’d like absolute lake frontage when you dine, you can’t go wrong with Locanda Gandriese.

The restaurant offers a good selection of dishes that can be enjoyed either indoors or on the outdoor terrace which is directly above the lake. We recommend it for the friendly service and delicious meals.

Morcote is another gem and, in 2016, was voted as the most beautiful village in Switzerland. It’s also included in the Swiss Federal Inventory as a site worthy of protection. 

Known as the Pearl of Ceresio, Morcote is made up of archaic monuments. Amongst these are ornamental fountains, the Tower of the Captain – part of the village’s original defence walls – and a terraced cemetery. 

The crowning glory, though, is the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso, in Renaissance Baroque style, which was built in the mid-16th Century by Morcote villagers.

Morcote is also home to Scherrer Park where visitors can admire a large collection of subtropical flora and artworks in beautifully manicured gardens. 

The pretty village of Morcote on Lake Lugano, Switzerland
Morcote was been voted as the most beautiful village in Switzerland in 2016. It’s not hard to see why.

How to get to Morcote from Lugano: 

Getting to Morcote by car takes around 25 minutes from Lugano. 

If you don’t have your own vehicle, there are various options to reach Morcote:

You can catch a #431 bus from the Piazza Rezzonico PostAuto stop in Lugano.  The trip to Morcote (Piazza Grande stop) takes 30 minutes. Or you can take a train from Lugano to Melide (7 minutes) then connect to a #431 bus to Morcote (11 minutes).

Finally, you can board a boat at Lugano Central pier for a 50 minute cruise to Morcote, or join a round-trip sightseeing cruise to Morcote – > click here for details.

Where to eat: Restaurant Posta

There’s no better location for lunch in Morcote than Restaurant Posta which is right on the waterfront.

Serving a wide selection of pizzas, pasta and meat dishes, the restaurant’s outdoor terrace is the ideal place to soak in the tranquil scene of Lake Lugano whilst enjoying a tasty meal.  

Discover Switzerland in miniature

A model village of sorts, Swissminatur is situated on the Melide Causeway at the base of Monte San Salvatore. 

Here, you will find many of Switzerland’s greatest landmarks and historic buildings, from manor houses to churches and castles – all painstakingly recreated in miniature. 

Everything is constructed on a 1:25 scale – from the pretty flowers in the borders to the railway that winds its way through the park.  

Swissminatur will delight children of all ages but adults will appreciate the attention to detail that has gone into creating this mini theme park.

How to get to Swissminatur from Lugano:

Melide is 6.5 kilometres from Lugano and will take you around 12 minutes to reach by car. 

The boat ride from Lugano takes 28 minutes. (Melide Swissminatur stop on request).

Train – From Lugano Centrale it is a 7-minute journey to Melide, then an easy 10-minute walk to Swissminatur.

You can find handy tips about driving in Switzerland in our comprehensive guide here.

Shop until you drop at FoxTown Factory Stores

If you’re a fan of shopping – and getting a bargain – you will be in your element at the FoxTown Outlet which is located 15 kilometres from Lugano in Mendrisio. 

There are 160 stores offering a multitude of products – from luxury clothing to sporting goods and household items.

Brands on sale at discounted prices include adidas, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Nike, Polo Ralph Lauren and Timberland.

You can buy quality items at heavily reduced rates (sometimes up to 70% less than the original retail price), so it’s worth having a good look around! 

Parking isn’t a problem (there are over 1000 spaces), and if you get peckish, you can head to one of the nine food areas.

FoxTown Lugano is open 7 days a week from 11am to 7pm.

How to get from Lugano to FoxTown: 

If you are travelling by car, it takes around 25 minutes to get to FoxTown via the A2 motorway.

At least two train services operate per hour from Lugano to Mendrisio San Martino station.  The journey takes just 17 minutes and FoxTown Factory Stores is a two minute walk from Mendrisio San Martino station. 

Ascend Monte San Salvatore

Panorama from Monte San Salvatore
The panoramic views from Monte San Salvatore are spectacular. (C) Lugano Tourism

Monte San Salvatore stands at over 900 metres tall and is situated in southern Lugano. Board the funicular railway (based in Paradiso) and take the 12-minute journey to the summit. 

There you will witness the most amazing views, see the city of Lugano and its imposing lake from above and marvel at the vistas of the Alps. 

Why not enjoy a meal on the terrace of Ristorante Vetta or visit the Museum San Salvatore where you’ll find a collection of rare religious art, the history of the lightening research centre which explores the historical significance of storms and an exhibition featuring rocks, minerals and fossils of the region?

If you’re feeling energetic, follow the trail for Carona, or skip the funicular and take the hour-long walk back down. 

The Monte San Salvatore funicular runs from morning to late afternoon, from March to November, with trips every 30 minutes. In summer the last trip is at 11.00 pm.

How to get from Lugano to Monte San Salvatore:

From central Lugano, you can catch an urban train on line #10 from Lugano to Lugano Paradiso. It’s then a  5-minute walk to the funicular station. The funicular ride takes just 10 minutes.

Paradiso is less than two kilometres from central Lugano and takes around five minutes to reach by car.  Parking is available at the funicular station.

You can also pre-purchase tickets on the Monte San Salvatore funicular which include a guided tour of Lugano.  > Click here to check details and prices.

See how chocolate is made at Chocolat Alprose Factory

If you’re a chocolate lover, a visit to the Chocolat Alprose Factory at Caslano is a fun thing to do in Lugano.  

From Monday to Friday, visitors can watch chocolate being made through glass windows before tasting free samples in the shop.

There’s also a small museum that shares the history of chocolate-making.

How to get from Lugano to Chocolat Alprose:

By car – It takes around 20 minutes to reach Caslano from Lugano. 

Train – The journey from Lugano FLP station to Caslano takes just 22 minutes.

Need help planning your Swiss trip? Read our suggested 7, 10 and 14-day Switzerland itineraries in this article.

View of Lake Lugano
Parco Ciani enjoys prime position beside Lake Lugano.

Visit the Jungle of Ticino Zoo (Zoo al Maglio)

Meet over 200 animals from around the world at Zoo al Maglio in the valley of the Magliasina river.

Lions, snow leopards, wallabies, raccoons, turtles, gibbons and many species of birds are just some of the animals housed at the zoo.

The zoo is open 365 days a year and is located at Via ai Mulini 14, Magliaso.

> Click here to pre-purchase your admission tickets to Zoo al Maglio.

How to get from Lugano to Zoo al Maglio:

By car – Allow 20 minutes to get to Zoo al Maglio from Lugano by car.

By train – If you’re using public transport, regular train services depart Lugano FLP station for Magliaso (21 minute ride).  The zoo is 600 metres from the station.

Head up to Monte Generoso 

Monte Generoso’s rack railway has been transporting passengers from the lakeside town of Capolago to the summit since 1890 and it’s still a popular excursion today.

The mountain summit (at 1704 metres above sea level) is the main vantage point in the Canton of Ticino with views stretching from the Apennines to the Alps. 

Amongst the peaks you can see from Monte Generoso are the Matterhorn and Jungfraujoch.

The mountain’s rugged plateau is also the ideal viewing platform to admire the many lakes and valleys below, and handy information boards will help you to identify them.

Inside Fiore di pietra (stone flower), an impressive building created by the famous architect, Mario Botta, you’ll find two restaurants.

There are also plenty of opportunities for hiking and an astronomical observatory where you can look through a 61 centimetre-diameter telescope.

On your descent from Monte Generoso (during summer), keep an eye out for Haflinger horses which graze on the mountain’s pastures.

> Click here to buy your Monte Generoso rack railway tickets.

How to get from Lugano to Monte Generoso:

By car – It’s 14 kilometres from Lugano to Capolago-Riva san Vitale railway station. The trip should take you around 20 minutes.

By train – Regular trains depart on the S10 line from Lugano TILO station for Capolago-Riva san Vitale. Journey time is 14 minutes. 

The Monte Generoso rack railway departs from Capolago-Riva san Vitale at 9:25, 10:35 and then at 35 minutes past every hour until 16:35.  Descents commence at 10:15, then at 11:45 and 45 minutes past every hour until 17:45.

Monte Generoso is accessible from the beginning of April until early November.

Lugano Switzerland
Lake Lugano is sure to impress you – whether you see it from land or water.

How to get to Lugano 

Lugano has its own airport (Aeroporto Lugano), located near the A2 Milan-Basel highway. Flights from Zurich and Geneva fly into the city, with an approximate flight time of 50 minutes.

The nearest international airport is Milan Airport, which is 47 kilometres from Lugano. 

Zurich to Lugano 

You can travel from Zurich to Lugano by train (there are around 11 trains per day, leaving every couple of hours). The journey will take you approximately 2 hours 50 minutes.

If you prefer to drive, you can make it from Zurich to Lugano via the A4 and A2, covering a distance of 207.2 km. The journey will take on average just under two and a half hours. 

Geneva to Lugano 

If you’re travelling from Geneva, you will need to allow longer for your trip. The average train journey takes around 5 hours 50 minutes. There are around 25 trains per day, and they leave approximately every 25 minutes.

If you’re driving, you can take the A1 and A2. The Geneva – Lugano journey covers around 433.5 km and will take around 4 hours 40 minutes. 

St Moritz to Lugano 

You can also travel to Lugano from St. Moritz on the Bernina Express train and bus. The fabulous narrow-gauge train offers breath-taking views from its panoramic carriages.

The train travels between St Moritz and Tirano in Italy, crossing the Bernina Pass, on a journey of approximately 2.5 hours.

You can then transfer to the Bernina Express Bus, for the leg from Tirano to Lugano (or vice versa), which takes approximately 3 hours 20 minutes. 

Milan to Lugano 

Board the train at Milan Central Station for the 1 hour 48-minute journey to Lugano. There are approximately 29 Milan – Lugano trains running every day.

If you are travelling by car, the trip is around 79.4 km along the A9 and A2 – taking approximately 1 hour 25 minutes. 

Visitors who prefer to take an organised tour can join a full day Como, Lugano and Bellagio tour from Milan. > Click here to check further details and prices.

Como to Lugano

Lake Lugano and Lake Como are not far from each other and it only takes 40 minutes to drive from Como to Lugano.  Como-Lugano train services are frequent and also take just 40 minutes.

The city of Como is the most convenient place to get from Lake Como to Lugano by train.

Travel times from other popular Swiss destinations:

Locarno – Lugano: 50 minutes by car / 1 hour by train

Lucerne to Lugano:  2 hours by car / 2 hours 15 minutes by train

Interlaken to Lugano: 2 hours 44 minutes by car / 4 hours 30 minutes by train

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Where to Stay in Lugano 

As you’d expect in a city with a population of around 64,000, there are plenty of Lugano hotels to choose from.  Below are a couple of the most popular places to stay in Lugano. You’ll find more options in our article on 10 of the best hotels in Lugano

Hotel de la Paix Lugano – 4*

Right in the heart of Lugano, and just a short walk from the lake, is the Hotel de la Paix Lugano.

This 4-star hotel offers guests a taste of traditional elegance with all the modern comforts that are expected today.

There are a range of rooms and suites to choose from, all with free WiFi, two restaurants and an American bar and lounge. 

> Click here to check prices for Hotel de la Paix Lugano

Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola – 5*

This 5* resort is located in beautiful subtropical gardens across the road from Lake Lugano.

Previously the home of a noble family, the property was transformed into a hotel in 1885 and has been one of Lugano’s most sought after destinations ever since.

The hotel offers a range of rooms, suites and two bedroom apartments which all have either park or lake views.

There are three restaurants (one with 1-Michelin star), three bars, a heated indoor pool, a private lakeside beach and wellness area at this exceptional hotel.

> Click here to check prices at Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola

Guesthouse Castagnola

Located in Castagnola at the foot of Monte Bre, Guesthouse Castagnola is the perfect place to call home when you visit Lugano. 

The three rooms (including one apartment) in a 16th century villa have been tastefully renovated by the owner Kristina and feature everything you need for a comfortable stay.

A delicious breakfast is available each morning and Kristina is on hand to provide tips for sightseeing and dining out.

The property is easily reached by bus from Lugano Centro (10 minute journey).

> Click here to check prices at Guesthouse Castagnola

There are plenty more options if you prefer to book an apartment or Airbnb.

Lugano has a selection of apartments and B&Bs to choose from, and if you’d rather go camping, Lugano offers the ideal location and climate to do just that.

Lakeside promenade, Lugano, Switzerland
Lugano’s pretty lakeside promenade is framed by the city.

Lugano Weather

From June to August, you can expect relatively sunny mornings, the temperature is usually quite pleasant – warm to hot, with a slight breeze blowing in from the lake.

The afternoon/evening sometimes brings a thunderstorm along with it.  

During winter – from December to February – the weather is chilly, but not as cold as it is in some Swiss cities. You will usually get one or two rainy days, but winter is the driest of all seasons here. 

Snow tends to fall at least once a year, but the mild winds keep it from being permanently icy. Night frosts can lower the temperature significantly, so wrap up warm if you’re visiting! 

You can check the average temperatures for Lugano here.

Final Thoughts

No matter how you prefer to spend your time, you’re sure to find plenty of things to do in Lugano.

From a relaxing lake cruise to a mountain excursion, from tasting the local cuisine to shopping, there’s a reason for everyone to visit Lugano, Switzerland.

Like to know more about the beautiful canton of Ticino? Read our Ticino Travel Guide here >>


Things to do in Lugano Switzerland