Lugano is the jewel in the crown of the Italian speaking part of Switzerland, called Ticino.
The impressive historic town sits at the northern end of the stunning Lago di Lugano, one of the most beautiful lakes in the country, which also shares a border with its southern neighbour.
Lugano draws the rich and famous to the area in their droves every year, for the beautiful views, fantastic luxury shopping options, excellent restaurants and buzzing nightlife.
It’s a magnet for outdoor lovers too, with close to 4,000km of hiking trails in the region and great cycle routes.
It’s also a hotbed of arts and culture, with an array of art galleries, museums and bucket loads of stunning ornate architecture.
There’s a lot to do in the area and with our best things to do in Lugano guide, you’ll know exactly how to make the most of your time in this beautiful town.
14 Best Things to Do in Lugano, Switzerland
#1. Enjoy the shores of Lago di Lugano on Lugano’s promenade
For many Lago di Lugano is the main event when visiting the area.
The lake stretches 48.7 km2 across the border between Switzerland and Italy, with imposing mountains surrounding it on all sides.
Stepping out from the centre of the old town streets, you’ll meet a beautiful promenade, which meanders along the lakeside, with jaw dropping views across the tree lined peaks around.
The area is a hive of activity throughout the year and a lovely spot to enjoy a walk, have a picnic, have a drink at one of the area’s local cafes or just sit and enjoy the beautiful view.
Soaking up the gorgeous scenery is an absolute must and we recommend it being at the top of your Lugano list.
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#2. Luxury Shopping
Despite Lugano’s small size, it punches far above its weight in the world of shopping.
The beautiful location draws people from all over the world and, as a result, it’s attracted some of the world’s top luxury brands.
The likes of Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Hermes all have a presence in Lugano’s town centre, among many other famous fashion brands, jewellery companies and designers.
Having a wander around the town’s main shopping street, Via Nassa, isn’t dissimilar to exploring the shopping districts around Monaco or Cannes.
Address – Via Nassa, 6900 Lugano
#3. Wine & Dine
With Lugano attracting luxury shoppers and tourists from all over the world, it naturally has an array of tasty eateries.
Be it fine dining world cuisine or cheaper local street food eats – the area is dotted with great spots to dine at, many with views over the lake.
There are five restaurants which hold one Michelin star in and around Lugano, serving Mediterranean cuisine or Italian contemporary dishes.
It’s quite a feat for a town of Lugano’s size, with a population of only 63,000.
And the food is complemented by the wine on offer, with many small wine bars serving delicious regionally produced wine and others from south of the border in Italy.
One Michelin Star restaurants in Lugano:
- I Due Sud – Hotel Splendide Royal, Riva Antonio Caccia 7, 6900 Lugano
- Meta – Riva Paradiso 2, 6900 Lugano – Paradiso
- Principe Leopoldo – Via Montalbano 5, 6900 Lugano
- The View – Paradiso CH, Via Guidino 29, 6900 Lugano
A great way to get to know Lugano’s culture is by tasting it! Get to know the cit’s gastronomic culture on this Self-Guided Food Tour. Enjoy snacks typical of the region, off the beaten track and recommended by locals.
#4. Make the most of aperitivo time
On the topic of food and drink, make sure to embrace the Italian aperitivo experience.
In Northern Italy and the Italian part of Switzerland, where Lugano is based, aperitivo time is taken very seriously.
Many local bars offer free food with drinks during the early evening – the small, tapas sized, dishes keep coming if you buy more drinks.
From bruschetta to pastries, to piadina style sandwiches, olives and other nibbly bits – you certainly won’t go hungry.
If you stay long enough you can almost have a full meal. It’s a great way to soak up local traditions and relax as the sun goes down over the nearby mountains.
#5. Sunsets at Monte Brè
Since we’ve mentioned sunsets, it’s a good time to talk about our favourite spot.
The peak of Monte Brè, which rises to 925m, has incredible views south over Lugano, the lake, the Alps to the west and many other local mountains.
The views are to die for and the good news is, you don’t have to only go by leg power to get there.
There is a small road, which winds up the mountain, with ample parking at the top and there’s a funicular which runs regularly, particularly through the warmer months.
There are also a number of restaurants at the peak, so you can dine on the mountain top while soaking up a beautiful sun set.
But for the athletes amongst us, there are also well signposted hiking and cycling routes up the mountain, which take you right to the top.
Address – Punto Panoramico Monte Brè, 6979 Lugano
#6. Hiking & cycling
The Swiss are hiking and cycling mad, which is no surprise given the bountiful supply of natural wonders they have on their doorstep.
Here in Lugano it’s no different, with 4,000km of hiking trails in the Ticino region and straight out the back of Lugano town you can find some absolute crackers.
There are brilliant hikes and walking routes for all abilities, from lake side strolls to full gas chunky mountain routes.
It’s an absolute must if you’re visiting the area, particularly during the warmer months.
There has been a cycling explosion in the country too, with incredible off-road MTB routes meandering their way down the sides of many mountains and the shores of the lake are wonderful for road biking around too.
You can find some great local hiking routes on the official Lugano Tourism site here.
Note – please take care in the mountains, particularly over winter – the weather conditions can change quickly and it’s important to be prepared with the right clothing and supplies.
#7. Go swimming
The shores of Lago di Lugano are peppered with a great selection of public lidos.
Some you have to pay a small fee for and they offer beds or chairs to relax on, meanwhile there are also many other free facilities alongside the water’s edge.
You can find multiple right next to the heart of Lugano town and some even have diving boards off into the lake and pontoons to swim out to.
- Lido Riva Caccia – Riva Antonio Caccia 6900, 6900 Lugano
- Lido di Lugano – Via Lido, 6900 Lugano
- Lido San Domenico – Sentiero di Gandria 12, 6976 Castagnola
#8. Take in some art, a concert and visit museums
Lugano is a regional hub for arts and culture, attracting many famous exhibitions and cultural events.
There are also some excellent galleries dotted around the town of varying sizes.
The most famous is the LAC Lugano Art e Cultura, which has many music concerts, theatre performances and visual art exhibitions every year.
The centre is highly regarded and seen as one of Switzerland’s leading cultural institutions.
Another fantastic place to visit is the Museo d’Arte Della Svizzera Italiana, which showcases artworks from the middle of the 15th century up to the 20th century.
There are also many other smaller venues around Lugano, which showcase local art and host visiting exhibitions, meanwhile, the town’s streets have many public sculptures and other pieces of art on show.
If you’re into natural history though, then the Museo Cantonale Di Storia Naturale is an absolute must – the centre, in the heart of Lugano, explains the natural history of the area and aims to educate people about the local wildlife, plant life and mountains.
Addresses for our favourite cultural haunts in Lugano:
- LAC Lugano Art e Cultura – Piazza Bernardino Luini 6, 6900 Lugano
- Museo d’Arte Della Svizzera Italiana – Piazza Bernardino Luini 6, 6900 Lugano
- Museo Cantonale Di Storia Naturale – Viale Carlo Cattaneo 4, 6900 Lugano
Discover the beauty of Lugano & Mountain Bre on a Private guided tour. Visit the most beautiful parts of the city and learn all about its history.
#9. Explore the Old Town and walk the colonnades
One thing you can’t miss in Lugano is the number of beautiful ornate buildings dotted around the heart of the town.
The oldest part of the town is a joy to walk around, with stunning pastel-coloured buildings and a network of tiny, shop lined alleyways.
There are also many gorgeous covered colonnades, to protect shoppers from the winter rain and the heat of the summer sun.
Lose yourself in the back streets of Lugano and weave your way through the architectural beauty.
#10. Take to the water
We’ve already established that being by the stunning Lago di Lugano is the major draw for the town, but why just look at it?
Why not take to the water on a boat, or row or pedal around it?
The shores of the lake have many rental facilities available, where you can pick up decent deals for everything from speed boats to kayaks, to child friendly toys and other water bound items.
If you don’t feel comfortable going out there yourself though, don’t worry. You can also pay to get a private or group tour and there many larger ferry boats, which can take you to different points around the lake.
#11. Ride a funicular
Due to the surrounding area being so mountainous, there are a number of excellent funicular systems dotted around Lago di Lugano and within the town itself.
From small ones, which run people up from the town centre to the train station above or impressive funiculars, which ferry people to the top of nearby mountains – there are many opportunities for the transport buffs amongst us to have a ride on one.
It’s also a brilliant way to save your energy and reach the top of some of the nearby peaks.
There are funicular systems to the top of Monte Brè, but our favourite is the funicular system which climbs to the top of Monte San Salvatore.
The train climbs 1660m in length to the top of the mountain, where you can find excellent views across the lake and surrounding mountains.
Discover the charms of Monte Brè on this full day tour. Start off with a short cruise on Lake Ceresio before transfering to the panoramic funicular that’ll whisk you up high above the city.
#12. Festivals & major events
Lugano is an all-year-round destination, but it’s in the summer when it really comes alive.
The town plays host to many large events over the warmer months, including open air concerts, street parties, food festivals, sporting competitions and many other mass participation events.
There are too many to fit in, but here our favourites:
Lugano Bike Emotions
The town becomes an epicentre of cycling activity in May, attracting top professionals to race through the town and surrounding nature.
You can see the athletes whizzing through the Old Town’s streets and there’s a large expo with big brands showing off the latest kit.
There are events for all the family – from amateur races, child friendly trails and other games to get stuck into.
Date – 18th-21st May 2023
Every year the LAC centre hosts a festival of symphonic and chamber concerts, which are complemented by smaller performances, workshops and many other musical attractions.
This year they’re showcasing the new generation of talented performers and conductors, with many orchestral performances over the winter and spring months.
It draws people from far and wide, with regular events up until May.
Date – from January to May.
Summer Jamboree On The Lake
In June music fans descend on the town to soak up a 4 day celebration of American music and culture from the 1940s and 1950s.
It’s the largest of its kind in Europe, with many performances throughout the town, food stalls and other cultural events.
Dates – 22nd-25th June 2023
#13. Visit Italy
Lugano is only a 10 minute drive away from the Italian border and Switzerland and Italy share elements of Lago di Lugano.
You’re only in touching distance, so why not have a little explore across the border?
From the centre of Lugano you can take a boat to Italian towns and villages on other parts of the lake.
Meanwhile, there are excellent local rail connections which go to the stunning Lake Como.
You can reach the world-famous town of Como in around 30-40 minutes, so why not have a day out and knock off two countries in one trip.
#14. Other things to keep an eye out for
In the summer months the city has a buzzing nightlife, which keeps the tourists and locals alike dancing until the sun comes up.
With a number of nightclubs and trendy lakeside cocktail bars, there is plenty to do for the night owls amongst us.
The town also has a large casino, which is throbbing with activity throughout the year.
Meanwhile, if you fancy a more relaxing trip, there are many health clubs and spas dotted around the lakeside, in a number of excellent hotels, where you can kick back and relax.
There you have it, our pick of the best things to do in Lugano.
It’s an all-year-round destination, which offers something for all the family.
From luxury shopping and fine dining, to lake side swims and mountain climbing – you will sure to be dazzled by the immense scenery on show in this stunning town.
It’s a place which teems with his history and natural beauty, making it one of the most impressive towns in the whole of Switzerland.
So what are you waiting for?
We hope to see you soon in the stunning town of Lugano.