Winding through snow-capped mountains, stunning valleys, quaint fishing villages, unexpected waterfalls, and piercing lakes, the magnificent train ride from Zurich to Lugano, Switzerland is like something from a fairytale.
But the dreamy journey is just the beginning of the unforgettable sights to behold once you pull into Lugano. The southern Swiss town sits on the northern shore of the picture-perfect glacial Lake Lugano, surrounded by mountains that house some of the region’s most scenic spots for hiking and dining.
Thanks to its location next to Northern Italy, Lugano is predominantly Italian speaking and offers a fusion of Swiss and Mediterranean cultures (it’s located in the Ticino region, which is known as “The Mediterranean Soul of Switzerland”) – something that’s reflected in everything from its cuisine and climate, to its architecture.
In Lugano, you’ll find the best of all worlds for discerning travellers: sophisticated world-class dining, chic shopping streets, incredible hiking and outdoor activities, gorgeous gardens, photo-worthy palazzos and cathedrals, water sports, and museums. There’s even a bustling casino in the middle of it all (of course, if you want to spend the entire trip lounging lakeside, that’s ok too).
The lively town centre sits on the lakeshore and forms a crescent along the bay. The view from here is gorgeous both day and night when the surrounding mountains glow with countless lights. Lugano’s main square, Piazza Della Riforma, is bordered by pastel-hued houses and is the site of festivals, markets, and concerts (at least, in non-pandemic times).
By day, you’ll find lively markets full of fresh fruit, cheese, and flowers. But it’s in the evening that the vibrant piazza really comes to life, with bustling bars, restaurants, and street vendors.
The scenic area surrounding Lugano is home to the largest network of mountain biking trails in Switzerland and offers no shortage of unforgettable hiking options. Two stunning, view-filled mountains bracket the town’s waterfront; Monte Brè in the north and Monte San Salvatore in the south, both accessible by charming cable cars.
Known as Switzerland’s sunniest spot, Monte Brè is home to the old village of Brè, restaurants, and countless outlook points that offer panoramic views of Lugano and beyond. Meanwhile, a journey up Monte San Salvatore can include exploring a museum, a memorable meal with a side of unforgettable views, and – for the active set – a scenic hour-long walk down. A little further out, Monte Generoso offers a view of Lake Lugano, Como, Maggiore, and the Alps.
But it’s the eponymous lake that’s the crown jewel of Lugano. Guests can explore the lake – 63 percent of which is in Switzerland and 37 percent in Italy – by boat (there are several boat tour and rental companies on the lake that operate April to October) or through a refreshing dip in its crystal-clear waters. Along the Swiss shores, you’ll find over 50 bathing areas on the lake.
Some of Lugano’s lakeside hotels feature their own sun-soaked docks and private bathing areas. If there’s ever a time to splurge on accommodations, it’s on one of Lugano’s five-star hotels with views of the lake and mountains. Notable options include The Swiss Diamond Hotel, Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola (which features a Michelin restaurant), The View, and Hotel Splendide Royal Lugano.
Recognizing that everything is typically pricier in Switzerland, a trip to Lugano doesn’t have to break the bank, though. In addition to the swanky five-star spots, Lugano also houses more affordable accommodations like B&Bs, Airbnbs, small boutique hotels, and even campsites.
Thanks to its location 30 minutes from Milan, the Italian city also marks another common starting point for a journey to Lugano. Whichever way you arrive in Lugano, you can expect the road trip there (whether by vehicle or train) to be a feast for the eyes that aptly sets the stage for what’s in store in this stunning part of Switzerland.
Featured Image: Switzerland Tourism