Last month, we went on a summer vacation with our Church Connect group at Lugano, Ticino: Switzerland’s sole Italian-speaking canton. With its sashaying palm trees and inviting lakefront, one might feel as though you are holidaying in charming Italy. The ONLY thing that gave it away was the city’s distinct Swiss order and cleanliness!
Getting to Lugano
The train journey from Lausanne to Lugano was a long and tiring one, since we were coming from the far west to the southernmost part of Switzerland. In fact, it took us 5 hours in total to reach Lugano! My back was sore from sitting by the time we arrived.
You can get the Ticino Ticket free of charge when you stay in a hotel, youth hostel or campsite within the canton. It grants you access to free public transport during your entire stay, with discounted admission prices on mountain railways, boat trips on the Swiss part of the lakes and the main tourist attractions of Ticino. Check with your hotel reception to get your Ticket.
Where to Stay in Lugano
We stayed at Hotel Admiral in the residential area of Paradiso. While it isn’t directly in the heart of Lugano, it is a mere 10 minutes by bus to the city centre. The lake is also just a stone’s throw away, which was great as we got to enjoy peaceful strolls in the mornings.
Hotel Admiral features a range of classic, superior and family rooms. Overall a pleasant stay, with reasonable prices and great breakfast included.
Where to Visit
I did almost zero preparation or research for this trip, which makes me a useless traveler and an even worse travel blogger, haha! Luckily, our Connect leader Daniel did some read-up before our trip, and we filled up our itinerary for the next 3 days quickly. Here are my suggestions of things you must see and do in Lugano!
The Old Town
Lugano’s Old Town is delightful, with its Baroque and Renaissance styled palazzi and squares. The main square, Piazza Riforma is as pretty as a picture and dotted colourful, pastel-hued buildings.
In the evenings, that’s when the piazza comes to life. Lively music fills the air, and tourists and locals alike can be found chilling at the bars and eateries, always with a glass of apero spritz on hand!
Foodie alert: Head to the night market by the lake on a Friday night and comb through the stalls. This place is a feast for the senses, with vendors selling colourful trinkets and mouth-watering Italian food like Arancini, Foccacia and Tiramisu till late.
If you’re more of a history-buff and would like to learn more about the city from a local, why not consider joining a 1 hour guided city tour?
By far the main attraction of Lugano is its beautiful lake, spanning the borders between Italy and Switzerland. Stand-up paddling was also all the rage during this summer season! But in my opinion, there’s still no better way to enjoy the lake other than taking a boat cruise. We boarded the cruise ship heading towards Gandria, and it was just so relaxing to see the city of Lugano behind you and the tall mountains!
Olive Tree Trail
This is a an easy, relaxing 4-5km walk that’s great for families with kids, and is suitable as well for untrained hikers.
The trail is quietly beautiful with all kinds of lush greenery and olive trees, while guiding you among some of the most beautiful lake views of Lugano. Along the way, there are also information stands that explains the history and process of olive oil production.
We did the hike in the mid-afternoon so unfortunately it was SUPER hot! Avoid our mistake, and go on the trail in the morning hours or late evening instead so you do not suffer under the merciless heat.
How to Get There:
Monte San Salvatore
There are two mountains in Lugano: Monte Bre and Monte San Salvatore. If you are short on time, I would suggest the latter as your must-see site. No need for hiking, as there is a funicular ride that brings you up to the mountain top and down. We got a free ride up on Saturday with the Ticino Ticket!
How to Get There:
Monte San Salvatore is in Paradiso, which is 30 minutes away from Lugano by walking or 10 minutes by bus (take Bus No. 2). We were lucky since the funicular base station up to the mountain was located right smack behind our hotel!
The ultimate view of this mountain is definitely from the top of the San Salvatore Chapel. Now, almost every mountain scenery in Switzerland are spectacular, but this 360 degrees scenery of Lugano is just worth a million! You can see the city, the imposing lake, and marvel at the surrounding Alps. I felt right on top of the world and spent one of the best 2 hours of my life up there. This is an experience you would not want to miss in Lugano!
So many friends had recommended me to visit the famous Swissminatur in Lugano. Unfortunately we were running short on time and didn’t get to visit it, otherwise it would have certainly been another highlight of our trip.
A model village of sorts, this park has close to 130 miniature models of the greatest landmarks, historic monuments and transportations in Switzerland. From the Heidi Village above Maienfeld, the Chillon Castle in Monstreux to the Parliament House in Bern, everything is constructed on a 1:25 scale and painstakingly recreated in miniature.
Swissminatur will delight children of all ages, but I’m pretty sure adults will enjoy this mini-themed park all the same!
How to Get There:
Melide is 6.5 kilometres from Lugano and will take you around 12 minutes to reach by car. If taking public transport, hop on the train from Lugano Centrale to Melide. From there, it is an easy 10-minute walk to Swissminatur.
Where to Eat
Lugano is basically ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. In just 3 days I think I ate my weight worth in pizza, pasta and gelato. Expect to pay Swiss prices for Italian food though. Otherwise if you’re feeling the pinch, driving across the border to Italy might be another option too!
This elegant and historic café is something of an institution in Lugano. It was first opened in 1803 and was an important meeting point back then for artists and local luminaries. Our gang really loved the coffee and especially the wide assortment of tempting chocolates and cakes.
My benchmark of a good Italian restaurant is whether they re-create their classic dishes well. And in the case of this Trattoria, their Aglio Olio was lip-smackingly perfect! Vince also enjoyed his gigantic portion of seafood linguine too. However, our friends didn’t enjoy their other western-styled dishes as much.So my advice when visiting this restaurant is to ONLY order their authentic Italian cuisine.
Vince and I went here for our last meal in Lugano. It’s a bit off the touristic center of Lugano, but DEFINITELY worth the extra distance. We went on a Sunday afternoon and the restaurant was crowded with locals, definitely a good sign!
We ordered the seafood Risotto and Tortellini, which were heartily delicious, and the portions was almost DOUBLE the size of your typical restaurant serving. Many customers ordered their pizzas and they looked really appetising, we were just way too full for more food!
What better treat on a hot summer day than some smooth, creamy gelato? This artisanal gelato parlour in the Lugano city centre offers a huge and interesting variety of flavours, all made from freshest ingredients. Our favourite gelato flavours of all time are pistachio and hazelnut!
That’s a wrap on our summer vacation in Lugano! It was a lot of fun, but the best part of this trip was the company of my Connect. We hiked everywhere, enjoyed amazing sceneries, ate so much good food, and Vince and I also got to practice my French while talking with our Swiss friend Joachim nonstop the entire train ride back home! Our whole group definitely bonded and got to know one another a lot more over the course of the 3 days together 🙂
With that, I hope you have enjoyed my insights on this beautiful part of Switzerland!