Sandwiched between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano is at risk of being overshadowed by such surrounding beauty. But Lugano more than stands up for itself. And as it weaves across the Swiss and Italian borders, Lake Lugano offers unique cultural experiences too.
Shimmering amid the towering mountains of southern Switzerland and leaning out into the far reaches of northern Italy, Lake Lugano is magnificent.
Picturesque towns and villages spill down the mountainside and nestle at the lake’s shores, and little boats bob across Lugano’s sparkling surface.
This glacial lake, embedded in the majestic landscape of the Alps, holds your chin close to the ground as you gape at its splendour.
See for yourself:
Straddling the borders of Italy and Switzerland at multiple points, Lake Lugano offers the unusual opportunity of being able to look across at another country from either side of its shores.
And sometimes those shores are no more than 50 metres apart.
Click here to skip down to what you can do on Lake Lugano – but make sure you don’t miss our postcards from this stunning part of Europe.
It’s important to remember that to visit this magnificent body of water, you’ll need to carry two currencies: euros and Swiss francs.
The majority of towns around the shores of Lake Lugano fall within a thin finger of the Swiss border that encompasses much of the lake.
However, there are some parts of Lake Lugano that are still in Italy, and it’s interesting to see if you can spot the differences and similarities in cultures between the two countries.
In fact, if you want to visit Switzerland but you also want to avoid as much as possible the surprisingly higher prices compared to Italy, Lugano is a good option. Visiting the Swiss parts of Lake Lugano but staying in accommodation in Italy will certainly save you money.
But while you’re on Lake Lugano, here are 5 highlights you shouldn’t miss:
1. Visit Lugano town
Lugano is the largest town on the lake – the largest in Ticino (the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland) in fact. It’s a beautiful blend of Swiss sophistication and Italian elegance.
Immerse yourself in the beautiful old town of Lugano, full of the grand palaces, broad piazzas and narrow streets so typical of old European cities.
Best of all, have lunch at Gabbani. The food here is superb, but the al fresco seating provides the entertainment. The people-watching here is off the charts.
2. Explore the lakeshore at Lugano town
Exploring the city’s biggest park – Parco Civico-Ciani – is one of the best things to do. Its wooden boardwalk takes you through the park and along the lakeside. There are artworks on display and the Natural History Museum is nearby.
Further round and away from the city centre, the tree-lined promenade stretched around lake. It’s a beautiful, romantic walk that takes in the best of the water views. If you have time, stop in at Lido Riva Caccia – a swimming pool and bar right on the lake.
3. Catch a ferry across the lake to Morcote
From Lugano, ferries can take you to most parts of the lake. However, Morcote (see our next points) is a unique town of the area. You can drive to Morcote, but traffic can be tricky – especially if there’s a classic car rally going by!
If you’re short of time, hire a pedalò in Lugano. They have lots of different ones from pedal-powered classics to motor-driven ones big enough to carry a family of 8. There’s even one with its own barbecue on it.
4. Visit Morcote
This quaint lake-side town, which is over 1000 years old, sits on the steep southern end of Lake Lugano and looks out directly at Italy on the opposite shore. It’s known as the Pearl of the Ceresio – the old name for Lake Lugano.
The narrow main road that runs around the town separates the lakeshore from the rest of Morcote. Exploring the alleys and steep steps is very much worth the effort as they take you up into the intricate paths of the town proper.
All those steps will also make the drink and snack at one of the many cafés and restaurants along the waterfront even more rewarding. Lunch at one of these places is a must.
5. Visit the Church of Santa Maria del Sasso
High above the town, a pinnacle of the mountainside, the Chiesa Santa Maria del Sasso has incredible views. It’s a long, hard slog up many, many steps to get here, but the effort is worth it.
The church, which dates back to 13th Century, is an impressive building with plenty of nooks and courtyards to explore. On your way back down to the town, keep an eye out for a small building on its own. Inside is an unusual fresco depicting hell, with angels looking down on human souls caught in a giant fishing net.
You should also check out the cemetery, balanced on the steep incline of the southern spur of the Swiss Prealps. The headstones and mausoleums of important citizens have spectacular views over the lake and surrounding countryside.
Bonus tip: ignore the other travel lists
We’ve seen quite a few travel lists on Lugano telling visitors to go to the miniature replica of Lake Lugano. Having driven past it and laughed at the model, we don’t think this is particularly good advice. It looks rubbish.
If you want a good overview of Lake Lugano, use Google maps and set it to 3D satellite and save yourself $30.
Have you been to beautiful Lago Lugano? Do you have any tips on where to go here? Have you ever been to a miniature village? Tell us in the comments!