If you have been following the travel adventures my husband and I planned for our 25th wedding anniversary, you’ll know we picked our favorite countries to visit—Italy for me and Switzerland for him—and then searched for the best things to do in Lugano and other destinations.
Check out our adventures here (check back for updates):
After spending a couple of days in Cinque Terre, we took the train from Monterosso to Milan and then onward to Lake Lugano. It was a long day of travel, but totally worth it to be able to accommodate both of our bucket list destinations.
Did you know that Switzerland ranks #1 as the best country in the world in 2022 according to US News and World Report? The other countries rounding out the top ten are:
- United States
- United Kingdom
Welcome to Lugano
The picturesque city of Lugano, in the heart of the Ticino canton of Switzerland, is tucked along the shores of Lake Lugano surrounded by majestic mountains. Ticino is the most Mediterranean of all of the Swiss cantons.
As the biggest city in the Ticino region with approximately 63,000 residents, Lugano is often referred to as Switzerland’s “Little Italy”. Lugano blends the Swiss and Italian cultures with its Italian-speaking residents, customs and food.
You will find plenty of fun things to do in Lugano all year long and a variety of appealing reasons why you should plan your next vacation to Switzerland.
12 Best Things to Do In Lugano
As you begin to explore Lugano, Switzerland, you’ll be mesmerized by the beauty of the lake and mountains. Discover things to do in Lugano for a few days or for a weekend getaway as a couple.
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1. Take Photos Along Lake Lugano
The path along the lake offers stunning views. Take it at your own pace and bring along your camera for all of the picturesque moments.
2. Take a Funicular to Monte Brè
Whether the sky is overcast or blue skies fill the vast expanse, any time is a good time to visit Monte Brè, especially if you are looking for things to do around Lugano that will keep you active.
Catch the funicular at the base of Monte Brè. You won’t be charged for your ride up the funicular until you reach the halfway point. From there, you will change from one funicular to a second funicular. This is where you will need to buy your ticket.
If you buy your ticket at the funicular station without any travel passes, the cost will be approximately 16 Swiss francs per person for a one-way ticket or approximately 25 Swiss francs for a round trip ticket
Chris and I were planning to hike down from Monte Brè and then along the Olive Grove Trail from Gandria to Castagnola and then on to Lugano.
The funicular runs every 15 minutes from 7:00 am until 9:00 pm during the summer months.
To check the timetable, click here.
Board the second funicular to ride the remainder of the way to the top of Monte Brè. On a bright and sunny day, you can see for miles once you step off the funicular.
Our view from Monte Brè on an overcast day was beautiful in a completely different way.
You’ll discover two restaurants on top of Monte Brè. While Restaurant Vetta has some pretty spectacular views from their terrace, the food at Osteria Funicolare is well reviewed and still provides a commanding view from the terrace.
Getting to the Funicular: If you are checking Google Maps, note that the funicular station is called Cassarate. Chris and I enjoyed a beautiful morning walk along the Lake Lugano waterfront from our rental property. You could also take bus line 2 which will drop you off at the Cassarate Monte Brè stop.
3. Hike from Monte Brè to Gandria
The hike down from the top of the mountain is beautiful with mountain and lake views and takes about two hours. If you are feeling energetic, you can similarly hike UP from Gandria.
Chris and I looked for some hikes when planning our visit and determining the best things to do in Lugano, but hiking UP to Monte Brè was probably a little more ambitious than we wanted.
The view as you hike down opens up in the trees to expose the brilliant blue of Lake Lugano below. If you are looking for awesome things to see in Lugano, the lake is at the top of the list.
Be mindful on a rainy day that the path, fallen leaves, exposed roots, and stones can be slippery.
4. Hike the Olive Grove Trail
Once you reach Gandria after hiking down from Monte Brè, hike along the Olive Grove Trail as you head back toward Lugano. Meander through the small village and have your camera ready for some picturesque Instagram-worthy scenery.
As you walk along the trail where groves of olive trees used to grow, you can see remains of some of the ancient trees as well as new trees being introduced to the area again.
Chris and I walked along the path to Castagnola and then continued on toward Lugano. The total length of the path is 3.2 km from Gandria to Castagnola.
5. Visit San Lorenzo Cathedral
The Cattedrale San Lorenzo built in the Middle Ages has a beautiful exterior made of white stone and Carrara marble and features a beautiful rose window. Wander through the cathedral; you can see the terracotta roofs of Old Town Lugano out the front windows.
The spire rises majestically above the city and overlooks Lake Lugano and the surrounding mountains.
6. Check Out the Shops and Boutiques in Piazza della Riforma
Is shopping at the top of your list of top things to do in Lugano or anywhere in the world?
Piazza della Riforma is Lugano’s main square in the heart of the city. Stop for a quick snack, wander through the shops and boutiques, or relax and enjoy the view and a little bit of people watching. You’ll find plenty of cafes, bistros, restaurants, chocolate and gelato shops.
According to TripAdivsor, the top ten restaurants in Lugano are:
- Badalucci Taste of Art
- Ristorante Camino
- Ristorante le Bucce di Gandria
- Grotto Castagneto
- Osteria Calprino
- Motto del Gallo
- Ristorante Galleria Arte Al Lago
- Locanda Gandriese
- Grotto Morchino
7. Take the Ferry Around the Lake
If you have admired Lake Lugano from the shore, you need to experience a change of scenery and get out on the lake. A number of ferries depart from Lugano throughout the day.
Chris I took the ferry from Central Lugano with stops at San Rocco, Caprino, Pescatori, Teresa, Gandria, Cassarate and back to Lugano. Each of the stops along the lake were at a small village with a restaurant.
We enjoyed the ferry after an active day of hiking down from Monte Brè and along the lakefront. It was nice to just relax and enjoy the ride.
If you are looking for a romantic things to do in Lugano and a quiet place for dinner, any of the restaurants at the stops along the ferry route would have been charming.
Purchase Ferry Tickets: You can purchase tickets online, at ticket booths along the shore, or on board the ferry.
This is the link to the ferry schedule. Your ferry options include a round trip cruise from Lugano (as we did), hop off the ferry at different points along the route to explore or hike along the shoreline, or simply ride the ferry to Gandria and walk back to town from there.
8. Make Dinner Reservations Across the Lake
Plan ahead if you would like to make dinner reservations across the lake. The ferry runs regularly throughout the day and evening.
As Chris and I enjoyed the ferry for the scenic round trip cruise, it would have been fun to stop at one of the delightful restaurants as well.
9. Stroll Through Parco Ciani
Meander through the Parco Ciani’s tree-lined pathways admiring statues, art, flowers, and fountains. If you are traveling with children, they will love the play area. You may also wish to visit the Villa Ciani, the Cantonal Library or the Natural History Museum within the park.
Grab a lunch from a takeaway cafe and enjoy a lovely picnic in the park while enjoying the art and passersby.
10. Get a Thai Massage
Chris booked a couple’s massage for us shortly after we arrived in Lugano. In fact, we went straight from the train to our appointment.
What a treat!
One of the pleasures of planning a little downtown while traveling is enjoying a massage or spa treatment. It WAS one of the best things to do in Lugano for us!
Let’s just say you have to be comfortable with your body if you are planning a Thai Massage. The masseurs will be up on the table hovering over you as they dig into your shoulders. They will use very little to cover you. They will not give a second thought to invading your personal space.
The benefits of a Thai Massage, heck any type of massage. after you have traveled for a few days, hiked, carried your backpack for hours, toured with a camera hanging from your neck, or hefted bags above your head, will feel heavenly.
11. Plan a Day Trip to Morcote
Recommended by Giorgy from G-Extreme Travel
If you’re looking for one of the places to visit near Lugano that’s full of magic, look no further than Morcote. Take the Postbus that stop in Morcote, Piazza Grande, and start where the magic awaits you.
This beautiful village sits on Lake Lugano and is full of charm. It’s no wonder it’s part of the Swiss Federal Inventory of sites worthy of protection.
With its characteristic small alleys, the arcades of old patrician homes, valuable architectural monuments, and its natural beauty, Morcote is truly a gem named also “the Pearl of Ceresio”. Of particular architectural interest, is the church of Santa Maria del Sasso, the terraced cemetery, and the Tower of the Captain.
For those who love nature and peace, the Scherrer gardens are a must-see! These gardens are full of subtropical flora and offer a stunning view of the lake. On the river lake, instead, Morcote is surrounded by typical houses and restaurants offering not just a good view, but delicious meals!
Morcote is the perfect place for tourists to feel welcome and there are plenty of excursions and other activities to enjoy. So why not add Morcote as a day trip from Lugano? You won’t be disappointed.
12. Enjoy Lugano at Christmas
Much like the fabulous Christmas markets all over Europe, Lugano also hosts a Christmas Market if you happen to be visiting in December. Marvel at the twinkling lights and festive decorations of Christmas in the streets and squares of the city centre.
Beginning December 1st with the lighting of the Christmas tree in Piazza della Riforma until December 24, enjoy market stalls with a wide variety of Christmas gifts and ideas, food and handicrafts. The market is open daily from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Don’t forget about New Year’s Eve! The city of Lugano celebrates with a big party in the square to welcome in the new year with music and entertainment.
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Final Thoughts on Discovering the Best Things to Do In Lugano, Switzerland
Lugano is a hidden treasure.
With a wide variety of activities and awesome things to do in Lugano, Chris and I had plenty to keep us active. We enjoyed our downtime as well with romantic dinners, ferry rides on the lake, and walking hand in hand along the lakefront.