Lugano Attractions and Activities
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Lugano is the largest town in the holiday region of the Ticino and also is a town of parks and flowers, villas and sacred buildings. Lugano lies in a bay on the northern side of Lake Lugano, surrounded by numerous mountains offering splendid viewpoints. The traffic-free historic town center, the numerous buildings in Italianate Lombardy style, the exclusive museums, the mountains, lake and a packed calendar of events all invite visitors to see the sights, soak up the atmosphere – and enjoy "dolce far niente". With its Mediterranean flair, Lugano offers all the advantages of a world-class city, combined with the cachet of a small town.
Excursions: >> Mountain ExcursionsCity Excursionsother Excursions
Monte Bre: (925 m / 3,035 ft) Open March through November.
From Cassarate, approx. 20 minutes by bus from the Lugano main station, the funicular gets visitors in just 15 minutes up to the peak of Monte Bre, a place that offers numerous opportunities for leisure activities. Enjoy the great view over the entire city of Lugano and its environs which are lying at your feet, and in fact you can appreciate the splendor of Mount Rosa, the Bernese and Valais Alps and the magnificent vista far beyond the national border. Monte Bre - the sunniest mountain in Switzerland offers several restaurants at the summit and a short walk leads down to the village of Bre, which has preserved its old, typical Ticinese village center.
Monte San Salvatore: (912 m / 2,992 ft) Open March through November.
From Paradiso, approx. 20 minutes by bus from the Lugano main station, the panorama car of the funicular takes tourists in 10 minutes to the top of the San Salvatore mountain. Mt. San Salvatore stands out majestically in the Lugano skyline and offers an outstanding view of the Ceresio lake, the plain of Lombardy and of the magnificent chain of the Swiss and Savoy Alps. The roof of the church is an outlook point offering you a 360° view. You can either descend along the panorama trail to Ciona (Carona) or hike the loop which - by way of two didactic trails - leads through a nature park, where you are constantly surrounded by the regional flora and fauna. During summer months, the last mountain train to the valley leaves at 11 PM.
Monte Generoso: (1,704 m / 5,589 ft) Open March through November.
Monte Generoso is the mountain which offers the finest panorama over the whole of Canton Ticino. The top can be reached by means of a convenient little cogwheel railway, which departs from Capolago, on Lake Lugano (approx. 20 minutes by train or 1 hour by boat from Lugano). The summit is reached after traveling for 40 minutes through an unspoiled landscape. From the top an enchanting panorama can be enjoyed that takes in all of the lakes in the region (Lugano, Como, Varese and Maggiore), the city of Lugano, the Po Valley region with Milan in Italy, and from the Apennines right over to the Alpine chain: from Gran Paradiso to Monte Rosa, from the Matterhorn to the Jungfrau, and from the Gotthard massif to the Bernina group of mountains.
Monte Tamaro: (1,530 m / 5,018 ft at Alpe Foppa) Open April through November.
Mount Tamaro is one of the most appreciated spots of the region and supplies Alpine emotions at a stone’s throw from the city. It offers a unique view of the pre-Alpine landscape, of lakes and the snowy peaks of the Alps. Mt. Tamaro is located in the Lugano-Bellinzona-Locarno triangle. From Rivera, which is easily accessible by car and public transport (30 minutes by train from Lugano), a convenient cableway whisks you up to Alpe Foppa with its restaurant and the Church of S. Maria degli Angeli (designed by architect Mario Botta). Alpe Foppa also is the starting point for walks with panoramic views as well as being home to an innovative play park for kids, an Alpine-Coaster Bob Run, Flying Fox and a new track for downhill fans. The Adventure Park, meeting point with snack bar, and the Bike Park are situated at the cableway’s middle station.
Monte Lema: (1,624 m / 5,327 ft) Open April through November.
Mount Lema is the most panoramic and majestic summit of Italian Switzerland. Its natural green terrace overlooks the Southern valleys of Ticino, the Lake of Lugano, the Valleys of Luino and of Lake Maggiore. The astounding view stretches all the way to embrace the Graubunden and Bernese Alps, the mountain peaks of the Valais and the Po Plain up to Milan, Italy. Mt. Lema constitutes an important natural oasis, from which numerous and fascinating hikes start out; these follow the mountain crest and wind around mountain ridges through a breathtaking scenario. Mt. Lema offers you a close up view of mountain life: it’s possible to meet up with Scottish cows, discover ancient iron mines, taste fresh milk from the pastures, walk across broad pasturelands and take in the suggestive atmosphere of the characteristic villages of Malcatone. Mt. Lema is accessed by gondola from Miglieglia which is reached within 1 hour by train and bus from Lugano.
Monte San Giorgio: (1,097 m / 3,598 ft)
Mount San Giorgio has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its geological treasures and the fossils conserved within; above of all fish, invertebrates and sea reptiles of rare if not unique species from the mid-Triassic period, about 230 million years ago. Many of these can be admired at the Meride Fossil Museum. Mt. San Giorgio is situated above the shores of Lake Lugano in front of the city of Lugano. An enchanting view from the peak astounds visitors, and a network of paths easily joins the various towns in the region. The vegetation of the mountain is distinguished by a typical coppice forest that includes rare plants and magnificent chestnut trees, which are thousands of years old and have completely hollow trunks.
With its location on the south side of the Swiss Alps, Lugano is not the ideal destinations for making day excursions to other cities in Switzerland - other than the cities of the Ticino and in northern Italy such as Milano (1 hour by train) or Como (30 minutes by train). Only a day-trip to Lucerne is feasible (through the Gotthard Tunnel).
Half- or Full-day excursion (25 minutes by train from Lugano). Bellinzona's Old Town is the perfect place to draw breath and a mellow introduction to the easy pace of the Ticino. A fortress since Roman times, the city occupies a prime valley-floor position, holding the keys to the great Alpine passes of the Novena (Nufenen), Gottardo (Gotthard), Lucomagno (Lukmanier) and San Bernadino. Bellinzona is blessed with medieval architecture and picturesque churches galore, and also serves as the main access point for excursions into the wild and little-known Alto Ticino (Soprageneri) region. Bellinzona, the capital of the Canton Ticino, is famous for its three well-preserved medieval castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro), which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ascona & Locarno:
Half-or Full-day excursion (55 minutes by train from Lugano to Locarno). Ascona and Locarno are resort towns situated on Lake Maggiore, a holiday playground blessed with magnificent mountain scenery, exotic vegetation and the mildest climate in the country. The Lake Maggiore region is exceptionally rich in contrasts, packed with variety: from the palm-lined lakeshores to the glaciers, from chic shopping to the ancient traditions of the unspoilt valleys, from extreme sports to enjoying the dolce vita. Ascona is often called the "Pearl of Lake Maggiore" for its cultural heritage as well as for its touristic offer, and in Locarno, which is known to have been a holiday resort as early as in the Imperial Roman period, the focus is the famous "Piazza Grande", a busy square surrounded by charming old houses and just off the palm-lined lakefront.
Lucerne - City of Lights:
Full-day excursion (approx. 2.5 hours by train from Lugano). Lucerne is ideally situated in the historic and scenic heart of what many believe to be the "true" Switzerland - picture mountains, lakes, cowbells, alpine villages and meadows full of Edelweiss. Lucerne is renowned for its attractive townscape, historic Chapel Bridge and shopping facilities. When traveling to Lucerne from the Ticino, consider the scenic train "William Tell Express" which also includes a steamboat cruise on Lake Lucerne from Fluelen to Lucerne (travel time Locarno-Lucerne 5 hours).
Guided City Tours:
The Lugano Tourist Office offers several FREE guided walking tours of the city, such as:
From mid-April through mid-October (on Mondays) an interesting walk through the city center to discover traditional and cultural aspects including architectural monuments from the past as well as bold examples of the work of contemporary Ticinesi architects.
From mid-May through mid-November (on Thursdays) a walk to take a closer look at Lugano's buildings, churches, statues, squares and monuments which are testimonies of the past as well as of present times, to better understand the history of the city and its surroundings.
From March through October, visitors can tour the city aboard the train “La Freccia Rossa” (the red arrow) to discover the beauty of the city and its neighborhood, the San Salvatore and Monte Brè funiculars, the casino and the shores of Lake Lugano. This tour is offered every day with departures every 30 minutes, the trip lasts 40 minutes and costs 9.00 CHF.
In addtition, there are specially themed guided walks - get detailed information at the Lugano Tourist Office upon arrival.
The Lugano Tourist Office also offers guided excursions on foot, by train, by boat and by mountain ride within the city's neigborhoods as well as to the mountains mentioned above and to other major attractions mentioned below. Even a guided trip to Milano, Italy can be booked ! Get detailed information at the Lugano Tourist Office upon arrival.
Gandria & Castagnola:
Gandria, nestled on the shores of Lake Ceresio is an unspoiled, picturesque village at the foot of Monte Brè. Perched on the steep mountainside it is a community of narrow streets, inaccessible to cars, with a delightful surprise around every corner. Many tourists and locals enjoy the boat trip from Lugano to Gandria and the walk back to Castagnola along the lake shore. At Castagnola there’s the possibility of visiting the Museum of Cultures or simply proceeding on foot to Lugano. The town’s center that is closed to traffic is an oasis of peace with its picturesque tiny streets and stairs that offer glimpses of great views and gorgeous landscapes. At the center of the town there is the 16th century church of San Vigilio with its outstanding baroque interior and the high late-medieval belfry. On the lake opposite Gandria, one finds the Museum of Swiss Customs.
This peaceful village on the lakeshore, once entirely devoted to fishing, developed on the slopes of Mount Arbostora has become one of the most visited and famous tourist centers in the Ticino region. Its typical narrow streets, the porticoes of the ancient aristocratic houses, prestigious architectural monuments and a lush, subtropical vegetation make Morcote the veritable “Pearl of the Ceresio”. Visit the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso in Rennaissance Baroque style, the terraced cemetery, the monumental stairs made up of 404 steps, the Captain’s Tower, and the Scherrer Park with an impressive subtropical flora - an exciting trip through time and space in a world where past and present, history and nature blend harmoniously.
The town of Montagnola, mainly renowned because of the fact that the German writer Herman Hesse spent half his life there, is part of the municipality of the Collina d’Oro that extends from the shores of Lake Ceresio (Lake Lugano) on the side of the Agno Gulf to the panoramic meadows and woods around Agra. Taking walks on the Collina d’Oro offers many possibilities of really enjoying the landscape. The Municipality of Montagnola set up a didactic Hermann Hesse commemoration trail, with eleven stops, leading the visitor through the houses in which Hesse lived, the Hermann Hesse Museum, his favorite and most meaningful places, up to the cemetery in which he is buried.
Its pleasant position among woods and vineyards make this village a small architectural jewel and an attraction for tourists from all over the region. The Old Town of Vico Morcote is very well preserved, with narrow streets and porticoes, houses dating to the 17th and 18th centuries and a magnificent baroque church in a panoramic position. Besides its interesting historical-architectural heritage, Vico Morcote is at the center of a dense network of trails and is thus the ideal starting point for excursions of great beauty in the midst of a lush Mediterranean flora. At the very heart of the Arbostora Farm there is a castle dating back to 1450; it is in a dominant position jutting out over the lake 200 meters above the village of Morcote. A historical vineyard that is accessible to the public grows on the terraces surrounding the castle.
Melide - SwissMiniatur Park: Open mid-March through October.
Blessed by an especially mild climate, the town of Melide and its surroundings offer interesting excursions on foot, by boat, by postal bus, and also all kind of sports activities. In addition, in Melide you can get an idea of the most characteristic and suggestive places in Switzerland in little more than an hour ! Swissminiatur is an open-air museum where one can admire the most important Swiss buildings and means of transportation. All the 1:25 scale models are inserted in a 14,000 m2 park, decorated by 15,000 flower varieties and more than 1,500 trees.
Lake Lugano Cruises:
The unusual shape of Lake Lugano makes it appear to extend arms in every direction and its banks, in part left untouched and in part adorned by picturesque villages, are particularly inviting. The Lake Lugano Navigation Company offers numerous, interesting boat trips: cruises in the morning, midday and evening, scenic and/or themed cruises and tours, as well as excursions combined with visits of the attractions around the lake - such as the villages and mountains mentioned above.
Alprose Chocolate Factory, Caslano: Open every day 9 AM - 5:30 PM (4:30 PM on weekends).
The Alprose Chocolate Factory belongs to the largest chocolate-manufacturing companies in Switzerland. An overall annual production of 8,000 tons all under one roof, Alprose creations are appreciated by discerning chocolate gourmets in 35 countries all over the globe. Following a special walkway, visitors are invited to participate in a unique and exciting experience by observing all the phases of production from the creamy liquid to the solid forms. Immersed in the pungent aromas you are also enticed to make a stop at the on-site shop as well as at the Alprose Chocolate Museum which is presenting the world of chocolate from the origins to this day. From historical aspects and individual developments to the first production plants and today’s varieties, it encompasses all aspects of this vital, basic food product. Apart from its didactic importance, the museum also highlights the tradition of Swiss chocolate making which is known for its excellence worldwide.
Sports: >> Summer SportsWinter Sports
Lake Lugano invites to all kind of watersports: There are several Lidos - public beaches in and near Lugano for a refreshing swim in the lake (some also offer outdoor swimming pools); and numerous schools and companies that offer activities in and on the lake, such as sailing, windsurfing, diving, rowing, waterskiing and wakeboarding, and boat rentals.
Lugano and its surroundings offer a large net of Biking Routes - more than 300 km ( approx. 200 miles) of marked and well maintained tracks within a gorgeous landscape. There are several itineraries of various length and difficulty starting and ending in the Lugano - some even with GPS tracking. Get maps and detailed information at the Lugano Tourist Office.
Walking / Nordic Walking:
Lugano offers within city limits several attractive and relaxed walking options - along the shores of Lake Lugano and through beautiful parks. Further "easy" walking excursions are found in the attractive villages surrounding Lake Lugano mentioned above, and there are plenty of pleasant, and also more strenuous itineraries for walkers and nordic walkers such as the "Hermann Hesse Trail" up to Montagnola. Get detailed information at the Lugano Tourist Office.
Enjoy a hiking network made up of 700 km (435 mles) of marked and well kept trails. In the greater Lugano region nature lovers and hikers have a large choice from half-hour walks to excursions lasting several days. The mountains mentioned above as well as the picturesque villages including surroundings offer plenty of options for all levels and interests. The Lugano Tourist Office distributes maps with the updated excursion paths, and proposes 32 excursions with the respective information about the duration, the gradient and the distance.
other Summer Sports:
The City of Lugano has always played an active role in sports; it offers numerous sports facilities and every year there are around 800 sports events. Further sports offered in Lugano include several indoors sports (badminton, squash, and more) tennis, golf (at the Lugano Golf Club; 18-holes course located in Agno, just a few kilometers from Lugano), beach volleyball, or climbing - Via Ferrata at the Mount San Salvatore, and other adventure sports.
Lugano with its low altitude and milde climate certainly is not a prime destination for winter sports! Within city limits, winter walking along the lakeshores as well as in the surrounding hills is possible, as is ice skating at the "Resega" Ice Rinks. "Real" winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snow-shoe trekking and tobogganing is best at the following nearby ski resorts of the Upper Ticino:
Airolo: (55 minutes by car; 90 minutes by train from Lugano)
Airolo is ideal for all winter sports fans: beginners, intermediate, experts and families. The Airolo-Pesciüm’s Ski resort is located between 1,175 and 2,250 m (3,854 - 7,380 ft), offers 2 gondolas, 1 chairlift, 3 skilifts, and 30 km (20 miles) of slopes overlooking the “San Gottardo”. The offer is unique and varied - there's also a snow park for snowboarders and freestylers, and trails for snow-shoeing.
Carì: (55 minutes by car; 100 minutes by train and bus from Lugano)
Carì is situated in a privileged, sunny position on the south side of the Alps at 1,650 m (5,412 ft); this resort offers skiing and snowboarding down from 2,350 m (7,708 ft). There are 2 chairlifts and 2 skilifts, 20 km (12.5 miles) of slopes, a snowpark, a children ski carpet, and well prepaired winter walking trails.
San Bernardino: (55 minutes by car; 80 minutes by train and bus from Lugano)
San Bernardino located accross the cantonal border in the Graubunden has 4 skilifts, 2 baby-skilifts, 1 chairlift, and a cablecar. 40 km (25 miles) of well groomed slopes start at 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Further, this resort offers 33 km (20 miles) of cross-country trails as well as 14 km (9 miles) of winter walking paths.
Go Out: Dining / Entertainment / Nightife)
In regard to its size, Lugano offers quite a large number of restaurants and other gastronomy facilities such as the typical Ticinese Grottoes, cafés, bars and lounges. Many of the restaurants are located on or near the Piazza Grande, in the Old Town or near the lakeside promenade, and while mainly mediterranean and local cuisine is offered, one also can find dishes from around the world. Several restaurants have received awards such as GaultMillau Points or Michelin Stars, but many other facilities also serve gourmet dishes - especially Ticinese specialties - for any budget.
Although comparitevely small, Lugano is still considered a city and just like many other metropolises it offers visitors plenty of things to do after sunset. There's a multiplex cinema up in the center and the open air cinema down in the Lido (June - August); and there are a number of bars, discos and nightclubs providing ample entertainment till early morning.
The Casino Lugano offers approx. 390 slot machines and 23 gaming tables with the widest range of games in Switzerland: Blackjack, French Roulette, American Roulette, Ultimate Texas Hold'em Poker, Punto Banco, Chemin de Fer, Three Card Poker and Texas Hold'em. In addition, the casino has a panoramic restaurant, five bars and a fantastic view of the lake. It’s much more than a casino - it’s a modern, sophisticated place not only created for gambling but for passing a pleasant evening with quality entertainment.
Via Nassa, one of Lugano’s historical streets, is Lugano’s number one shopping destination; its particular, elegant and sophisticated shops will accompany you during your shopping outings. Under the 270 meters (885 ft) long, ancient city porticoes on the lakeshore, there are many different kinds of shops: jewellery, clothing, gastronomy and antique shops are just some of the many, without forgetting a few department stores as well, or the Foxtown Outlet Mall with 130shops in Mendrisio.
Via Catterale is another shopping street: it's the street uphill to the San Lorenzo Cathedral and offers a special atmosphere - typically Ticinese and very lively thanks to a multitude of small boutiques that are lined up on both sides of the street.
Shops are generally open on weekdays from 8 or 9 AM to 6:30 PM (some are closed an hour or tow for lunch, others are open all day). On Saturdays shops close at 5 PM. Supermarkets and department stores are open all day, and on Thursdays they are open until 9 PM. Shops are closed on Sundays.
The Lugano market offers the typical food products of small farmers that sell their goods directly. The Lugano market for flowers, fruit and vegetables takes place on Tuesday and Friday from 8 to 12 AM on Piazza della Riforma (City Center) and on Saturdays from 8 AM to 5 PM , there's an antiques and handicraft market in the Canova District, and a fresh produce market at Via Vegezzi and Via Soave.
Lugano Festival: (April - June)
Featuring great classical music with evening concerts and the participation of world famous soloists and directors: it is an important pole of cultural attraction to which the Martha Argerich Project is also associated. The Festival is organized by a foundation, whose aim is to foster this annual festival in Lugano, mainly dedicated to classical music, but open to other artistic forms, so as to create a pole of cultural, tourist and economic attraction and to disseminate Lugano’s image on the international level.
EstivaLugano: (June - August)
Every Friday and Saturday evening from mid-June through August, traffic is barred from the lake-side road and the city comes alive with concerts, plays and dance performances, film screenings, fun activities for children and so much more. 170 events for 11 weekends divided into different themes: Music, Theatre, Cabaret, Matinée, Cinema Baby, Folklore and Sweet Music. There are more than 300 artists participating, and 100 young people working at the EstivaLugano.
Jazz Festival Lugano: (3 days early July)
Lugano Estival Jazz is the premier musical event in Southern Switzerland. Set in the heart of Lugano, at the Piazza della Riforma, and in the surrounding town of Mendrisio, the Jazz Festival has attracted thousands of Jazz and World Music fans for more than thirty years. During the festival, Lugano has its center being transformed into the most prestigious open-air and free musical stage in Europe featuring the best of contemporary music in its different expressions with world famous artists and groups. This event is not to be missed and not only by jazz fans.
Lugano Autumn Festival: (3 days early October)
On the first weekend in October, Lugano celebrates the beginning of autumn with a festival dedicated to local products. The Autumn Festival concludes the open-air events with a large fair in the pedestrian zone of Lugano - a grand choreography of colors and tastes, with a lot of folkloric music, Ticinese gastronomic delights and above all the celebrations of the grape and wine. The city center welcomes the visitors in numerous grottini operated by local companies offering typical Ticinese specialties - the best this region has to offer. Apart from the delights for the palate, also musical groups, artists and entertainers invited specially for the occasion, will stage a series of very different shows. The grape harvest is a big festival for all, from the children to the elderly.
Current Lugano Events
Swiss Customs Museum, Cantine di Gandria: Open April through October.
The Swiss Customs Museum is located in the former frontier guards' house, which can be reached only by ship. It shows something of the history of smuggling, the way of life and work of customs men in the past and modern forms of crime prevention. Attractive exhibits, modern presentation methods and special exhibitions on subjects of current interest make the museum a popular destination.
Hermann Hesse Museum, Montagnola: Open March through October.
The Herman Hesse Museum was set up in 1997 in occasion of the 120th anniversary of the writer’s birth. It occupies the rooms of the Camuzzi Tower which is in the vicinity of the charming Camuzzi House, where Hermann Hesse used to live. The museum preserves precious memorabilia of the 43 years that the poet and painter spent here, until his death in 1962. The museum is a place of encounter for visitors from all over the world. In the video room a documentary is projected in Italian, German and French; books in different languages exhibited at the entrance and in the garden invite one to read and think.
Museum of Cultures, Castagnola: Open all year
The Museum of Cultures was made possible thanks to the fact that in 1985, Serge e Graziella Brignoni (two artists connected to the Surrealistic Movement) donated their collection to the City of Lugano. The Brignoni Collection is, in its genre, one of the most important in Europe and is comprised of about 600 objects of primitive art coming from three continents: Oceania, Asia and Africa. These are all artefacts connected to religious worship and daily life.
Fossil Museum, Meride: Open all year round.
In Meride, there’s a small but extremely interesting Fossil Museum, that refers basically to the nearby Monte San Giorgio. Visitors can further their interest for the region’s geological history, that is, a really unique “coffer” containing treasures that go back to 230 million years ago, when the present day Mendrisiotto emerged only in part from the sea basin, the Mediterranean of the time. In a dozen showcases, original fossil findings or moulds are exhibited showing the rich and important fauna of the middle Triassic period of Monte San Giorgio.
Fishing Museum, Caslano: Open April through October.
This fascinating exhibition gives us an idea of fishing from prehistoric times to today, touching upon several subjects like boat construction, the fish trade, the production of fishing nets, fish species found in our rivers and lakes, ancient fishing techniques, all this, in a relaxing environment close to the lake shore. There is also a sector devoted to fish farming illustrating the various phases of the trout’s embryonal development to its last stage.