Traveling to Lugano, Switzerland, and you’re not sure how to spend your time in the city? Then you’re definitely in the right place because this detailed guide covers all the top things to do in Lugano!
It’s the largest city in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, so it’s the perfect place to experience that side of Swiss culture. It also combines the best aspects of Swiss and Italian cultures, so you’ll notice lots of fusion even outside the context of cuisine.
Nestled on the border between Italy and Switzerland, the glacial Lake Lugano is easily the highlight of a visit to the namesake city. There’s a variety of different ways to experience the stunning lake in Switzerland and have some fun with it, so it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out how to spend an afternoon.
Boat cruises are pretty popular and they’re a great idea if you want a relaxed afternoon outing. Basic tours take you to the picturesque village of Gandria but they remain in Switzerland, while international tours allow you to explore even the Italian side of the lake. Opt for one of the catered cruises, if you also want to try the classic Ticino cuisine.
Boat cruises are fun but they’re not the only way to experience Lake Lugano. The glacial lake is popular for all sorts of water fun, including diving, jet skiing, stand-up paddleboarding, and water skiing.
Monte San Salvatore towers over Lugano, offering some magnificent panoramic views to anyone who visits. The good news is that the mountain is accessible to non-hikers and people who don’t have that much experience in mountain climbing. You can just ride the funicular to Carona, a village at the top of Monte San Salvatore.
The funicular is at Paradiso, and you can get there from Lugano via train or bus. It’s a quick, 5-minute ride, while the funicular ride lasts about 12 minutes. The funicular ride is scenic and enjoyable, so you can admire some beautiful views even before you reach the top of the mountain.
There’s a restaurant at the top of the mountain, as well as several observation decks where you can take in the views. There are also several hiking trails that the more adventurous visitors can explore, and it’s worth noting that it’s possible to hike all the way to the top of the mountain if you’d rather skip the funicular.
Lugano Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Lawrence (San Lorenzo). Originally built during the High Middle Ages, the cathedral was rebuilt towards the end of the 15th century and its facade wasn’t entirely completed until 1517.
It became a cathedral in the late 19th century and it is the official seat of the Bishop of Lugano. The intricate facade is its most interesting feature as it was inspired by the Certosa di Pavia monastery in Lombardy.
The clock tower is the most recognizable feature of the Lugano Cathedral. It dates back to the older Romanesque church that was initially built here, but it boasts two upper stories designed in Baroque style. It’s worth it to go inside the church and see all the little details if you have the time.
The Olive Tree Trail is a great way to experience the spectacular nature around Lake Lugano. It’s an easy hike that can be done by anyone provided they’ve got a pair of sneakers, so it’s suitable even for complete newbies to hiking.
The trail passes through an area where you can see remains of ancient olive trees and it boasts spectacular views of Lake Lugano. More beautiful olive trees have been recently reintroduced to this region, so you can even spot some very young trees growing next to the ancient ones.
Access to the trail is either from Gandria or Castagnola. The entire trail is 3.5 kilometers long (in one direction), and even total hiking newbies should be able to cover that distance in less than an hour. Plan for about two hours to hike the olive trail and admire the views – if you start hiking in Castagnola, you can also use this opportunity to explore the beautiful village of Gandria!
The picturesque village of Gandria is situated right next to the Italian border and it stretches across both shores of Lake Lugano. It’s home to the Swiss Customs Museum, which features exhibits on the history and work of Swiss border officers. It’s also known as the smuggler’s museum and it can only be accessed by boat.
The charming fishing village also boasts hiking trails, spectacular views, and lots of waterside activities. Explore the local restaurants to taste the regional cuisine and go on a walk through the village to really experience its nostalgic atmosphere.
The village has remained largely unchanged for the past century or so and most of the buildings in it are very well preserved. This is especially true for the chapel of San Rocco, which was first built in 1645 and remains mostly unchanged even today.
Monte Brè is one of the sunniest points in Switzerland so you really don’t need an excuse to visit it, especially on a cloudy day. The mountain is easily accessible from Lugano by funicular railway and it offers beautiful panoramic views of the lake.
In addition to scenic vistas, Monte Brè also offers a variety of hiking and mountain biking trails for the most adventurous visitors. There’s also a restaurant near the funicular station where you can try the local cuisine and admire the views if you’re not up for exploring the mountain. But if you want to go hiking, you’ll be glad to know that the many trails of Monte Brè are suitable for people of varying skill levels.
The Church of Santa Maria Degli Angioli is situated in the heart of Lugano and it’s one of the famous landmarks you can’t miss while you’re in town. It was first founded in the 16th century and it’s one of the oldest buildings in the historic part of Lugano. This is also the most important church in this city, because of Bernardino Luini’s Renaissance fresco.
The initial construction of the church began in 1499, but it wasn’t consecrated until 1515. The building was renovated in the early 20th century, while the current hotel nearby used to be a Franciscan monastery in the mid-19th century.
The Passion and Crucifixion of Christ fresco is the most important feature of this church, so you should definitely make time to see the inside of the building. The fresco dates back to 1529, and it’s considered the most important example of the Lombard Renaissance on Swiss territory.
You can see the fresco on the dividing wall of the church, as well as multiple other artworks on all the other walls of Santa Maria Degli Angioli Church.
Parco Ciani in Lugano is just a short walk away from the city center so it’s easy to reach while you’re exploring all the main attractions in town. It’s considered to be one of the prettiest parks in Switzerland and it’s definitely one of the highlights of this charming city.
Manicured lawns, beautiful flower beds, and weirdly shaped trees can all be observed at this charming park. Parco Ciani also offers a spectacular view of Lake Lugano and it’s a great place for everyone looking to take some amazing landscape photographs.
Visitors can also observe a variety of different statues throughout the park and even pop into the Cantonal Natural History Museum, which is situated on the park grounds.
Museo d’arte Della Svizzera Italiana came to be after the merger of the Museum of the City of Lugano and the Cantonal Museum of Art. The museum has two locations in the city – Lugano Arte e Cultura and Palazzo Reali. Both buildings are situated in the heart of Lugano and they’re just a 10-minute walk away from each other.
It’s best to visit both buildings if you really want to learn more about the art of the region. The museum’s collection boasts a beautiful blend of the Germanic and Latin cultures of Europe. The contrast between the museum’s two buildings is also interesting.
Palazzo Reali is part of a series of historic buildings in Lugano’s old town, while the Lugano Arte e Cultura building represents a beautiful example of modern architecture.
The museum’s collection of modern and contemporary art is just as varied. It includes artworks from antiquity to the modern day, so there’s a lot of history and culture to unpack at this museum.
One more thing to note is that the Lugano Arte e Cultura building also functions as a culture center. It houses both a theater hall and a concert hall, so it’s also a center for performance art in Lugano.
Parco San Grato is a public park situated south of the central Lugano area, and it can be reached in about half an hour by public transport. If you want to explore the greater Lugano area and see more than just the lake and the city center, it’s definitely a good idea to plan a day to visit the attractions in the south.
Combine a trip to Parco San Grato with a tour of Melide and a visit to Swissminiatur Park for a day full of fun!
The vast public park is best known for panoramic lake views and countless azalea beside its walking trails. There are lots of flowers in Parco San Grato, as well as a few statues and rest areas. The park is most popular for its walking trails, which are dog-friendly and boast some of the prettiest views of Lake Lugano and the mountain peaks that surround it.
Swissminiatur Park is an open-air miniature museum featuring all of Switzerland’s most famous landmarks. It’s an excellent opportunity to discover some of the best sights in all of Switzerland without ever leaving the Ticino canton!
This is the largest open-air miniature museum in Switzerland, so it’s definitely a special attraction. It’s situated in Melide and it’s only about 10 minutes away from Lugano by train, so you can easily reach the miniature museum.
This museum was originally founded in 1959 and it has been attracting visitors to the region ever since. It’s fun for both adults and children, and it’s truly like a mini road trip through Switzerland! See the Top of Europe, Matterhorn, Chilon castle, and a myriad of other famous Swiss attractions.
Piazza Della Riforma is a public square in the heart of Lugano. It’s best known for picturesque buildings that line its sides, as well as a variety of popular cafes and restaurants that are great for tasting the local cuisine.
This is one of the oldest parts of Lugano and it truly is the heart of the city. It’s a great place for people-watching since you can see many locals going about their day, as well tourists like yourself. Piazza Della Riforma is also a good place for lunch with its many bistros and cafes in the old buildings.
The square is a popular meeting point for the locals and it hosts many of the city’s most important events. If you happen to visit Lugano in the winter months you’ll witness the wonderful Christmas Market at Piazza Della Riforma. The entire square is adorned with beautiful Christmas decorations, with a huge Christmas tree as the central attraction.
Monte Tamaro is the most prominent mountaintop in the Ticino canton, which makes it the perfect destination for adventurous tourists. If you’re into hiking and climbing, you can spend one of your days in Lugano conquering the highest peak in the area.
Monte Tamaro to Monte Lema is one of the most popular hikes in the area. Hikers will ascend Monte Tamaro first and enjoy breathtaking views of the landscapes of Ticino, Valais, and Italy.
From the mountaintop, the trail continues over slopes, peaks, and pastures to Monte Lema, offering even more spectacular views on the way. You’ll get to see Locarno, Lake Maggiore, Lugano, and Matterhorn, as well as many other natural landmarks.
The trail is some 13 kilometers and it takes an average of 5 hours to complete the out and back hike. Also, the trailhead is about a 30-minute drive from Lugano city, so it’s best to plan an entire day for this hike. Leave enough time so you don’t have to rush through the hike because the panoramic views are absolutely worth it.
Lido di Lugano is a water sports complex in the city that’s great for families and people who want to have fun on the water. If you don’t want to swim in the lake for whatever reason, you can still enjoy the sun and water in one of the pools at this complex. Lido di Lugano also features a sandy beach on the shore of Lake Ceresio, a football pitch, and a volleyball court, as well as separate pools for kids.
The complex is one of the best attractions for families in Lugano, especially if you’re traveling with younger kids and you don’t want them swimming in the lake. The center is open from May until mid-September, so you’ll be able to visit only if you travel to Lugano in the summer. It’s also worth noting that all-day tickets aren’t very expensive, but the restaurants at the complex are a bit overpriced.
Lake Como is just a 30-minute drive away from Lugano. It’s also possible to travel by bus, but be sure to look for something that follows the northern road. There are buses every three hours that travel for about 45 minutes, but there are also trains and buses that take the southern route, and that journey is about 2 hours.
Menaggio is a former walled city on Lake Como and one of the most popular tourist destinations in this part of Lombardy. It’s impressive to tour a city that’s been around since 196 BC. Remnants of its layered history are visible throughout the city and beautiful views of Lake Como are just the cherry on top.
If you have a day to spend exploring Menaggio in Italy, go on a historic walk in the city. You’ll see most of the ancient landmarks and learn more about the things that happened here over the centuries. See St. Stephen’s Church, play some mini golf, and don’t forget to have at least one bowl of pasta at one of the many local restaurants here in Lombardy!
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!