Lugano is a town of 60,000 people nestled along the glacial Lake Lugano. It is known for its waterfront promenade, neoclassical buildings, upscale shopping district, cafes, and Mediterranean climate. It is located in the Swiss canton of Ticino, an Italian-speaking region in southern Switzerland with palm-lined lakes and Alpine mountain peaks.
12 Lugano Highlights – Places to Go, Things to Do, Restaurants, Shops, and Podcast
I’ve put together a little tour that highlights the top sights of Lugano. You may want to listen to the podcast and/or read about the tour in these show notes to get an idea of the highlights, take a look at the pictures below, and decide what works for a plan for you based on what you might enjoy.
(Click above to listen to the podcast. See below for information and pictures.)
Note: You can also see an interactive map of these highlights as a walking tour on the website Walkli.com and just search on Lugano, Switzerland, on a laptop or desktop computer. I have also pasted screen shots from the Walkli map below that might be helpful. Walkli will be going live with their phone and tablet application soon, as well! The letters of the stops correspond to the letters on the Walkli map.:
Screenshot from Walkli.com map – Highlights 1-A, 2-B, 3-C:
1-A – Monte San Salvatore Funicularo
You can get a wonderful view of the area by taking the funicular from the Lugano-Paradiso MS funicular (“funicularo” in Italian) station at 6900 Paradiso by riding to the top of Monte San Salvatore. To get here by bus, from the #2 Bus, get off at the Paradiso Geretta bus stop, and from the #1 Bus, get off at Paradiso, Stazione. Round trip tickets are 30 CHF, 50% off with the Swiss Travel Pass or 30% off with the Ticino Ticket.
At the top of Monte San Salvatore, in addition to the various pre-existing panoramic viewpoints, since 2015, it is now possible to visit the ‘Terrazzino Capodoro’, an exclusive terrace located near to the Vetta restaurant. The Vetta restaurant offers lunch, snacks, and beautiful views. Also since 2015, the “Curiosity Corner” exhibition area located at the arrival station, houses an exclusive collection of various objects, prints, photos, gifts and other miscellaneous materials collected over the course of the historical evolution of Monte San Salvatore and its funicular. The funicular opens daily at 9 am and makes a 12-minute trip up to the top every 30 minutes. The last trip down leaves at 5 pm in winter and 6 pm in summer, and it also stays open until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday evenings in summer. For current times and information, visit:
2-B – Boat Dock for Lugano-Paradiso SNL
After visiting Monte San Salvatore, exit the front of the funicular station, turn right on Via delle Scuolle and then take an immediate left on Via S. Salvatore. Turn right on the major street of Viale Giuseppe Cattori/Route 2, and cross the main street of Lugano that runs along the lake, Riva Paradiso, where you will see the boat dock for Lugano-Paradiso SNL. From here, boats go back and forth to the central Lugano boat dock and many towns and villages along Lake Lugano. Most of these boats are free with the Swiss Pass. You can pick up a schedule of the boat tours here to see which trips sound good to you for later. Most are included if you have the Swiss Pass (see information below after the highlights).
While you are at the boat dock, take a look to your right and you will see the 80-foot tall fountain in the lake. Then, walk to your left with the lake on your right.
3-C – Lido Riva Caccia
As you turn left and walk along the path under the trees with the lake on your right you will soon come to the Lido Riva Caccia. If it is a hot day, you may want come back later in the afternoon and pay the small fee to rent a chair on the dock, catch some rays, and/or swim in the lake. There is a lifeguard on duty here. There is no charge to stop and eat at the casual outdoor restaurant, snack bar, and full bar overlooking beautiful Lake Lugano.
Screenshot from Walkli.com map – Highlights 4-D, 5-E, 6-F, 7-G, 8-H:
4-D – LAC Lugano Art and Cultural Center
Keep walking in the same direction to central Lugano for about 10 minutes until you see the LAC Lugano Art and Cultural Center to your left across the street from the lake. Cross over to view the center.
The LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura was dedicated in 2015. It is the new home of the visual arts, music and performing arts in Lugano, with the aim of promoting a wide range of art and establishing Lugano as a cultural crossroads between northern and southern Europe.
5-E – Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli
Just past the LAC Cultural Center and the façade of the Hotel Palace, on the same side of the road as you continue to walk toward the city center, step inside the church on your left, Chiesa Santa Maria degli Angioli. The rather plain exterior of the church is surprising when you consider that its interior hosts what many consider to be the most famous early Renaissance fresco in Switzerland. The work is a portrayal of the ‘Passion and Crucifixion’ by Italian artist Bernardino Luini (1480 – 1532), a disciple of Leonardo da Vinci. The church was built between 1499 and 1500 and was once part of the monastery of the Order of Franciscan Friars (Friars Minor). Free. Opening hours vary.
6-F – Ristorante Grand Café Al Porto
Exit the church and walk to your left on Via Nassa, the main upscale shopping street of Lugano. The Louis Vitton store will be on your right and Hotel International au Lac will be on your left as you begin to walk down this street. Walk past expensive shops and art galleries until you reach Via Pessina and turn left. About ½ block on your left will be the famous Ristorante Grand Café Al Porto. This would be a great place to have lunch or a long coffee break at this café/restaurant. Even if you don’t though, step into the right side of the restaurant where there is a little shop where you can buy cookies and other sweets. Take a look at the beautiful fireplace at the back of the shop and peek around to the restaurant side on your left, as well. If you do eat here, be sure to look at the upstairs rooms if they are not in use by a private party.
The restaurant, established in 1803, became the town’s meeting place, attracting politicians, scholars, artists and notables. In March 1945, while the restaurant operated as usual downstairs, a secret, high-level meeting was held in the Cenacolo dining room on the first floor. Here, German and Allied officials laid the foundation for the surrender signed on April 29th, 1945. The decisions made at this meeting saved northern Italy from the destruction that a “scorched earth” policy would have caused. The wooden ceiling of the Cenacolo dining room is an original of the 16th century. Famous guests of the restaurant have included Prince Vittorio Emanuele, Clark Gable, and Sofia Loren. The café/restaurant is open from 8 am to 6:30 pm daily. For more information or to book a reservation, visit here:
7-G – Piazza Riforma
Walk back to the main shopping street, Via Nassa, and turn left to continue this walk. Within minutes, you will shortly arrive at Piazza Riforma.
Piazza Riforma is often called Lugano’s “outdoor living room”. Throughout the year many events and holidays are celebrated here. In the past, the square was called Piazza Grande, and it was the scene of several political events. In 1798, Piazza Grande witnessed a battle that won Ticino’s independence from the central government established by Napoleon. One year later, in 1799, Piazza Grande was the scene of another historical event: the massacre of Abbot Vanelli, editor of the Gazzetta di Lugano, a progressive newspaper printed on the square. In 1830, the square took on its current name thanks to constitutional reform.
Notice the town hall, called Palazzo Civico. It was built in the years 1842-1844. According the Constitution of 1814 the government of Ticino was to be ruled by rotation from the capitals of Bellinzona, Locarno, and Lugano each for a period of 6 years. So it was a necessary to build a new building in Lugano for this purpose. The idea quickly gained momentum and the citizens collected money for the building. Their efforts are commemorated by the sign on the main façade of the building which reads, “Fabbricato con i denari dei cittadini nel 1844”. The translation is: “Made with the money of the citizens in 1844.”
There are many fine cafés lined along Piazza Riforma. If you did not eat lunch at Ristorante Grand Café Al Porto earlier, you may want to check out the posted menus and select a café here.
Also, note that there is a helpful Tourist Information office located next to the town hall.
8-H – Tourist Attraction Area
From Piazza Riforma, walk for a minute or so on the left of the square toward Lake Lugano. Just on your left before you reach the lake, you will see a fountain across from the lake. This area is the heart of the tourist area for central Lugano. Just across from you on the lake, you will see the main boat station for boats going to Paradiso and other points along Lake Lugano. You may want to return here later to take a boat back to Paradiso if you are staying in that area or if you want to take a boat tour of Lake Lugano or visit one of the towns along the lake. For example, at 3:00 pm daily, it is possible to take an 70-minute tour of the lake, returning to Lugano at 4:10 pm. Boat tours are free with the Swiss Pass, unless they include lunch, dinner or other special features. For times and schedule for visiting other lake towns in 2017, visit here:
There are several options to enjoy in this central area of Lugano if you have an hour or more to spare.
You can take the Tourist Train from the roadside in front of the fountain for a 40-minute tour around the town for 9 CHF per person. (10:30 am – 4:30 pm or later, daily) For more information visit here:
Just along the lake, near the central boat dock, you will see little pedal boats for rental on the lake. Boats can be rented for 30 minutes or longer for as little as 8 CHF.
On your left, you will see a McDonald’s with possibly the best view of any McDonald’s in the world.
Screenshot from Walkli.com map: Highlights 9-I, 10-J, 11-K, and 12-L:
9-I – Casino Lugano
Continue walking toward your left with the lake on your right, and you will see the large, modern, Casino Lugano on your left on the corner as the main road makes a sharp turn to the left before the park. The casino is open daily from noon until late. Entrance is free. The casino’s upscale restaurant, Seven, has some seating overlooking the lake.
10-J – Sculpture by Igor Mitoraj
When you continue the walk, turn left at the casino, walking away from the lake for one block to see the sculpture of the giant head on its side by Polish sculptor , who has decorated squares all over Europe with similar sculptures.
11-K – Lugano Gate
Cross the main road and walk toward the lake on the path through the park. Take the first right on the path in order to reach the lake in front of Villa Ciani. You will see the beautiful gate on the lake that is often featured in pictures of Lugano. In the past, boats used to arrive here from all over the lake.
12-L – Antica Osteria del Porto
Follow the lake along the edge of the park, Parco Civico. Look to your left in the park and you may see crowds of young people gathered at the popular bar, restaurant and event space in the park.
Continue walking through the park along the lakefront and round the peninsula until your back is to the lake and there is a small rushing river on your right. This river runs down from the Alps and helps to feed the lake. Walk along the river until you see a little bridge on your right over the river. Cross the bridge and just to your right will be the restaurant Antica Osteria del Porto. You may want to enjoy a meal or drinks here as you end your walk here with the rushing river on one side and Lake Lugano on the other side. You can even play chess on their giant outdoor chess board if you like!
If you would like to swim in the lake, Lido di Lugano is just past Antica Osteria on this side of the river. It has a large pool and access to the lake for swimming.
Or, if you have not yet taken a lake cruise, you may want to return to one of the boat docks to take a cruise of the lake or just take a boat from the central Lugano boat dock to Paradiso if your hotel is on the other end of the lake. Check with the ticket office to make sure you get on the right boat, because some boats do not return to Lugano or Paradiso.
Getting to Lugano:
Reach Lugano easily by train when traveling from the international airports of Zurich, Switzerland, or Milan, Italy. Although Lugano is closer to Milan than to Zurich, the Gotthard rail tunnel, opened in December of 2016, has considerably shortened the rail journey from Zurich. Traveling from either Milan airport or Zurich airport to Lugano will take about 2 hours and 45 minutes via train. From the Zurich airport, you will only have to change from the airport train to the train to Lugano at the Zurich main train station. From Milan, you will need to change trains at least twice to reach Lugano. If you will only be traveling in Switzerland, your journey from Zurich to Lugano is included if you purchase a Swiss Pass. There is no need for a car in Lugano, and parking is hard to come by if you do have a car. All buses and trains in Lugano are included with the Swiss Pass and the Ticino Ticket.
Another option is to travel from Milan’s Malpensa airport to Lugano via bus, one-way 25 CHF, round trip 35 CHF. This journey will take about 70 minutes and must be reserved. Information about the bus service is available here:
The Swiss Travel Pass, available only to non-residents of Switzerland or Liechtenstein, includes unlimited access on the network of Swiss Travel System, including trains, boats, and buses throughout Switzerland as well as over 480 museums and exhibitions. It is quite the bargain, and also allows you not to have to worry about correct change or making reservations. The Swiss Travel Pass is sold for 3, 4, 8 and 15 days. Some special scenic trains and/or dinner cruise boats are offered at a 50% discount instead of no charge, but the regular trains and boats offer great views for free!
For prices, an up-to-date list of what is included in the Swiss Pass, and to purchase your Swiss Pass, visit here:
Another option for guests staying in the canton of Ticino is the free Ticino Ticket. Guests staying in hotels, hostels or campgrounds in Ticino are able to use public transportation in the canton of Ticino free of charge. When you check in, you should be offered a pass that will be valid until your day of departure. Be sure to ask for this if it is not offered. For an up-to-date list of free and discounted transportation and attractions offered with the Ticino Ticket, visit:
Check out my other Switzerland posts and podcasts here:
If you have any questions or for a free consultation to see if you would like me to help customize a trip for you to Lugano or most anywhere else, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until then, I hope all your travel days are just perfect!
If you are reading this from the iTunes description, note that the website show notes contain screenshots of maps and pictures of highlights so be sure to check it out at