If you’re traveling via train through Switzerland, the lovely town of Lugano, is worth visiting! Surrounded by Italy on three sides, really two, if you don’t count the lake, Lugano has a decidedly Italian flair paired with Swiss efficiency.
Less well known than the northern cantons of Zurich, Bern, and Basel, Ticino is the only canton where Swiss-Italian is the official language. With panoramic views of surrounding mountains, boat cruises, shopping, delicious food, and beautiful churches, this lovely city has something special to offer everyone.
Can you visit Lugano in two days? Yes you can, and here’s how we did it. (This post was originally published on July 28th, 2018. I was hosted by Ticino Tourism, and was traveling with Christina’s Cucina. As always, my opinions are my own. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn commission on qualifying purchases.)
Lugano’s Mediterranean Climate
Monte Brè, Monte Generoso, and Monte San Salvatore surround the lake, and are what helps keep the climate of Lugano so temperate. Monte San Giorgio (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) sits to the south. Much milder in temperature than the rest of Switzerland, Ticino boasts over 2,000 hours of sunshine each year. Palm trees surround the beautiful lakeside park, sandy beaches, and the city of Lugano.
Because of its close proximity to Italy, (it’s a short train ride from Como) you feel the Italian presence in the food and language. Even the landscape gives Lugano a Mediterranean feel one would not normally associate with Switzerland. I was surprised at how mild Lugano was, and had to constantly remind myself I was in Switzerland, not Italy!
The town of Lugano wraps around the lake, so matter where you walk, you’ll be rewarded with spectacular views. Our first evening in Lugano, Christina and I walked from the Hotel de la Paix where we were staying, down to the center of town.
Even though we had a Swiss Travel Pass, we wanted to enjoy the evening. It was mid-June and the weather was just perfect. The bus system is excellent if you choose not to walk.
Small Town Resort Feel
Even though Lugano is the third largest banking center in Switzerland, it feels like a small town. Situated right on the lake; parks, palm trees, and a car-free town center, lend to Lugano’s laid-back feel. Easily walkable, with squares and cute streets fanning off of the lake, Lugano has the ambiance of a resort town.
Getting to Lugano
A Swiss Travel Pass is a great way to get around Switzerland. Not surprisingly, the Swiss train system is excellent, and everything is very close. The city center is just a few hundred yards from the train station.
From Milan, Italy
Lugano is quite close to the Italian border, so Milan is a great airport to fly into. It’s close to Venice, Lake Como, and Torino. If you’re driving, Lugano is less than 50 miles from Milan. If you’re taking a train from Milan to Lugano, the train ride takes about 1 1/2 hours, and has beautiful views of southern Switzerland. The train costs between $25 and $70 as of this publish date.
From Como, Italy
If you’re already visiting Como, Lake Lugano is an easy day trip from Como by car, train, or coach. Como is about 20 miles from Lugano and a train will run about $35 and take 45 minutes. A coach or bus is only 35 minutes (no stops, unlike the train), but costs about the same as the train.
The train trip to and from Zermatt is around six hours, but you could break the trip up with an overnight stop in Brig and the Aletsch Arena. The Swiss trains are so comfortable, and have some of the best views, so the train is my favorite way to travel!
Lake Lugano is 126 miles almost directly south of Zurich, and is a quick, 2 hour train ride away.
Where to stay in Lugano
Christina and I stayed at the Hotel de la Paix, just a short, 10 minute bus ride from the train station, and is included in the Swiss Travel Pass, which makes traveling in Switzerland incredibly easy. The Hotel de la Paix, has a bright and spacious lobby, cozy bar area, pool, and friendly staff that speaks at least 3 languages each, including one lovely young woman who was fluent in Mandarin.
The terrace of the Hotel de la Paix is a lovely place to have a cocktail and listen to music before dinner. (There was a charming gentleman playing the keyboard and singing some vintage pop tunes both nights we were there).
A more than ample, full buffet breakfast was included with our room. I’m a breakfast girl, so I need my eggs. Every morning there were scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, PLUS cold ham and meats, fruit, waffles and bread. The servers will bring you a cappuccino, (or 2), because why not? But you can have coffee, tea or espresso too.
Dining in Lugano
For dinner we met the lovely Laura at the Ristorante AnaCapri, near the train station, with views overlooking Lake Lugano. It just so happened to able be the World Cup, and Switzerland was playing, so the town was buzzing.
We started with prosecco and a simple, but delicious caprese salad, which we three shared, as it was quite a large portion. I had the tagliatelle ai funghi porcini (pasta with porcini mushrooms), which was fabulous.
One really nice aspect of the AnaCapri, and it seems with most Swiss restaurants, is that they list allergies and dietary restrictions on their menu, so there’s no guessing if you have to avoid certain foods.
Towards the end of our meal, we began to hear cheers and honking which told us that Switzerland had just won their game against Serbia. It was really fun to feel the excitement as the whole town erupted in celebration. In the city center, you’ll find a variety of restaurants serving classic Italian and Swiss food.
What to do in Lugano, Switzerland
Lugano offers a delicious mix of cultural, natural, and recreational activities. Here are just a few things to see and do in Lugano.
- Explore the Old Town of Lugano, or Centro Storico: Wander through the narrow streets and charming squares of Lugano’s historic center. You’ll find historic buildings, spectacular views, shops, cafes, and restaurants.
- Visit one or two Lugano’s Churches: including, Cathedral of San Lorenzo and the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli known for its beautiful frescoes.
- Parco Ciani: Take a leisurely stroll through Parco Ciani, a lovely lakeside park on the shores of Lake Lugano, with lush greenery, palm trees, and scenic views.
- Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore: Take a funicular ride to the top of Monte Brè, or Monte San Salvatore for breathtaking panoramic views of the city, lake, and surrounding mountains. The funicular station is a short walk from the city center.
- Take a boat ride on Lake Lugano: Read more about our boat trip, and our cruise and cook trip to Grotto Descanso.
- Visit the Lugano Arte e Cultura (LAC) cultural center, which hosts a variety of cultural events and performances.
- Olive Trail: Take a guided hike on the Olive Trail (Sentiero dell’Olivo) to explore the region’s olive groves and learn about the local olive oil production.
- Swiss Chocolate Adventure: If you’re a chocolate lover, visit the Swiss Chocolate Adventure in nearby Caslano to learn about the history of Swiss chocolate and sample some delicious treats.
- Shopping: Lugano is known for its upscale shopping, so if you’re a shopper, spend some time visiting the cute boutiques and quaint shops.
- Parco San Grato: Located in nearby Carona, this botanical park features a wide variety of plants, flowers, and sculptures in a beautiful hillside setting.
- Water Sports: Enjoy water sports like paddle-boarding, kayaking, or swimming in Lake Lugano during the summer months.
- Take a day trip to Bellinzona!