The settlement in and around Lugano goes back to at least Stone Age times. Fossils and remains have been found that proves Lugano used to be below sea level and excavations sites have also shown remains from the Paleotic Era. It was the glaciers from the sub alpine region that formed the picturesque lake on which Lugano sits today. Eons later the region known as Ticino was taken over by Celtic tribes until the Romans seized it and became part of the Roman Empire. Following the fall of the Empire it was then ruled by the Ostogothes, the Lombards and the Franks. Then around 1100AD Lugano became the centre of a struggle between Como and the free communities of Milan until eventually during the 14thC the Visconti, Dukes of Milan acquired the city.
Lugano is situated in a bay on the northern side of Lake Lugano in the south of Switzerland, bordering Italy and therefore Italian is the primary language spoken. It is Switzerland’s third most important financial and commercial centre and is a major conference, business and banking centre. Being centrally situated in Ticini, Lugano is a convenient place as a base for visiting other nearby cities and venues in this region such as the famous and beautiful Lake Como which is only half an hour’s ride away across the Italian border.
The mild climate of Lugano is like a magnet drawing tourists the world over here. The beautiful town with it Mediterranean style squares and arcades town is surrounded by high mountains. The two closest ones, Monte San Salvatore and Monte Brè, offer outstanding panoramic views of the town, Lake Lugano and the Swiss alpine scenery from the various points dotted along the route. The town centre, free of traffic, brings to the town a relaxed atmosphere as the visitors and tourists stroll through its historic streets. The architecture of the town is interesting as many are built in the Italianate Lombardy style.
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Best time to go to
The best time of the year to visit Lugano is undoubtedly the mid-summer months of July and August when the average temperatures reach a comfortable level warm level between 20°C and 30°C (68-86°F).
Alternatively springtime from April to June or the autumn, September and October when the temperatures are still a pleasant average of 10°C to 20°C (50-68°F). Winter temperatures vary between 0°C and 10°C (32-50°F).
Although summer has the best weather it is spring which is a favourite for visitors to Lugano as this is the time when the camellias throughout the city are in full bloom.
Getting Around in Lugano
There are lots of lovely walks around Lugano and it’s easy to get around the city on foot. Many of Lugano’s streets have become pedestrian zones. As the hills are very steep above the lake, going by bus or taking the funicular from the town centre to the train station is more sensible especially after a day’s shopping. Also the views from the funicular are an added bonus. Funiculars run from various points such the Funiculare Lugano Citta to Stazione which links the old town centre on the shores of the lake to the railway station on the hill. These run regularly every 5-10 minutes. Another one with spectacular views of Lugano Lake, the isthmus of Melide, Monte Generoso and as far as Campione d’Italia on the far side of the lake is the Funiculare Lugano Paradiso to the top of Monte San Salvatore .
Major Attractions and Sights
There are free walking tours on offer throughout the town centre every Thursday from May to November which visitors should make use of and a way to get to know the city at grassroots level. The tour starts at 10.00 and lasts for two hours. Another free tour is a walk into Lugano’s green areas where you will get acquainted with the various species of plants and flowers in the city parks. These walks place every Sunday from mid-April to mid-July and again from mid-August to end October. There are many other free excursions for visitors on offer in and around Lugano that can be made use of.
There are many boat trips on offer around Lake of Lugano which is a great way of spending a day. For a day of guaranteed fun for the children then look no further than the large, innovative play area on Monte Tamaro and which is just a short distance from the cableway and restaurant.
Lugano has many parks and one of the best is the Parco Civico on the shores of the lake. Stroll around amongst the sub-tropical plants and its centuries old trees and enjoy the atmosphere of this beautiful park. Another lovely park is the Belvedere Gardens also with sub-tropical plants but also has magnificent magnolia trees and camellias which are shown off to its best in the spring time. Also on display are modern works of art. Or there’s Tassino Park, a few minutes’ walk from the train station where wide pathways twist and turn along the slopes to the summit of the hill. With beautiful views it also home to a small herd of deer and mouflon sheep on the lower slopes of the hill.
There are several interesting and diverse museums around Lugano. One is the Museum of Swiss Customs which gives visitors an in depth look into how the Swiss customs officers deal with daily smugglings, drug raids, prevention of the endangered species trade, etc. This unusual museum shows how the customs officials have progressed over the years to meet the cunning of today’s modern smugglers.
Another is the intimate Hesse Museum in Montagnola in memory of the famous writer Hermann Hesse. The Alprose Chocolate Museum will undoubtedly entice any chocoholic visitor to this town to the world of chocolate starting from its origins to observing from above, the process of producing today’s most famous Swiss chocolates … and even free tasting is available.
San Lorenzo Cathedral is situated above the old town and is built in the Lombardy Renaissance architectural style. It has numerous frescoes and many valuable Baroque artifacts can be viewed inside the cathedral. The Church of Santa Maria degli Angioli situated at the end of the Via Nassa is a former Franciscan monastery built around 1500 and houses Switzerland’s most famous Renaissance fresco which covers the whole wall of the nave. It’s well worth a visit to study this beautiful fresco in full detail.
The Museo Cantonale d’Arte houses paintings by Renoir, Degas, Klee, Jawlensky and many other famous artists. Over the last 50 years, the Ticino area and especially Lugano have developed into an important region for architecture which is known as the ‘Ticini School’. This ‘school’ has also produced its most famous students, Luigi Snozzi and Mario Botta. The architectural work of Botta such as the Banca del Gottardo and the Palazzo Ransila can be seen as fine examples of his works.
Shopping in Lugano
Shopping in Lugano is a pleasant experience with its extensive range of department stores and shops of the high end brand names in fashion, watches and jewelry, etc such as Hermes, Versace, Gucci, Issey Miyake, Armani, Rolex and Cartier. Two of the most popular streets or boulevards for shopping are Via Nassa and Via Pessina in the town centre. There are also many delicatessens and exquisite bakeries to delight the taste buds and then every Friday, there is a market selling fresh produce and flowers near the Piazza Riforma which is well worth a visit.
Eating Out in Lugano
There is a wide range of European cuisine on offer throughout Lugano offering a mix of German, Mediterranean, Austrian, Swiss, Italian as well as other international food such as Indian, Chinese, Mexican and Japanese.
There’s a good selection of fine restaurants producing gourmet meals, and one specializing in traditional Swiss and Tuscan dishes is the L’Antica Osteria del Porto near Lugano’s sailing club. This is a pleasant venue overlooking the Cassarate stream and with views of the lake. And for a venue of historical interest and fine dining then the Grand Café al Porto has a history dating back to the very early 1800s and houses the Cenacolo Fiorentino fresco upstairs in the building as this was once a monastery dining hall.
There are also plenty of less formal eateries and restaurants such as the local bars and cafes but whatever venue is chosen, the mouth-watering continental meals coming out from the Swiss kitchens will be a thoroughly satisfying and enjoyable experience even though tourists may struggle with many of the long tongue twisting dish names on the menu.
Nightlife in Lugano
As the sun begins to set on Lugano the entertainment scene comes alive.
Lugano’s Casino Municipale has changed the way of life for its locals and visitors to this city as it is becoming one of the best casinos in operation in Europe. Although situated just over the Italian border and a 20 minute ferry ride away, the currency of the casino is Swiss francs. Visitors flock here for the unlimited number of tables and slot machines available. To keep the sophistication of the casino, the men must be dressed in jackets and ties. The casino boasts a restaurant with panoramic views of the lake. It also has five bars and therefore the casino is not just for gambling but for visitors to enjoy a pleasant and relaxing evening of entertainment. It is therefore no wonder this casino has achieved a change of entertainment lifestyle for the townspeople and a valuable addition to their economy.
For a more informal evening there are plenty of quiet places to drink including cocktail bars. These intimate venues suddenly come to life after 10.00; the music intensifies and dancing begins. After the cocktail bars, patrons then move onto one or more of the several night clubs in the city. Most of them do charge a cover fee. Perhaps the Morandi night club is the best known as its dance floors cover several rooms and people of all ages are attracted to this lively venue.
Of local interest
Switzerland is famous for its many festivals ranging from folk and artisanal to classical music, and Lugano is no exception. With activities all year round there is bound to be something on offer whatever time of the year is visited.
During March and April it is Pasqua in città when many entertaining activities celebrating Easter both for its religious and holiday significance are held throughout this period suitable for both the young and old.
April to June is the time of the Lugano Festival. This cultural attraction is mainly dedicated to classical music and artworks and is an important part of Lugano’s heritage.
The LongLake Festival is another summer event held at the end of June to end of July. This festival has over 200 events and guest artists who bring life into the streets, squares and parks every day for the month.
The Lugano Festival Jazz is also one of the major attractions in Southern Switzerland taking place in July and July, and is promoted by the local music loving citizens of Lugano. This festival which is funded mainly by private and a little public money is totally free and has had many of the world’s top jazz icons such as Dizzy Gillespie, BB King and Van Morrison playing at this festival over the years.
Then during August and September is the popular ‘Blues to Bop’ festival playing throughout the town on stages and squares bringing all styles of music including gospel to the streets of Lugano. However there are many, many more festivals held in and around Lugano creating one seemingly long party throughout the year.
One important day in the city’s calendar is 1 August. This is Switzerland’s National Holiday celebrating and commemorating the country’s confederation. After a programme of civic events throughout the day starting at 6.00am with the drum Reveille playing, it culminates in a grand firework display.