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One Day in Lugano: The 10 Best Things to Do

the small building on the top of monte san salvatore: one day itinerary in Lugano Switzerland

Lugano is a picturesque town located on the steep shores of a stunning alpine lake that stretches into both Switzerland and Italy. The city blends Swiss efficiency with Italian charm. This was our last stop from our week-long road trip from Munich (our home) to Italian destinations: Jesolo, Venice and Lake Como; and Swiss destinations: Lugano and Beinfeld. It boasts an array of attractions, including Renaissance churches, belle époque hotels, modernist villas, casinos, and lush gardens with palm trees and snowy winters. This region is commonly referred to as the Swiss Riviera. It’s a major destination in Ticino, Switzerland’s only Italian-speaking canton. It has its own unique culinary, wine, and cultural scene. With about 65,000 residents, the town offers a diverse and exciting experience for visitors. Overall, Lugano is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the best of Swiss-Italian culture and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Swiss Riviera, and you can easily do a Milan-Lugano day trip, if you want to. While we stayed for three days in Lugano, we did most of the sightseeing in one day. My partner really thought it through so we could get the most out of it, so below you can find some of the best things to do in Lugano, Switzerland.

I want the comforts of Lugano day trip tours

Explore Lake Como (Italy) and Lugano (Switzerland) through a lovely guided cruise: Check available dates and rates here. Viator and Getyourguide has a lot of guided tours in Lugano to choose from.

From Milan: Lake Como, Bellagio, Lugano Day Trip with Cruise (Recommended)
From Milan: Como, Lugano and Bellagio Exclusive Boat Cruise
From Como: Lugano and Bellagio with Exclusive Boat Cruise (Recommended)

Where to stay in Lugano to get the most of your one-day stay?

We stayed near Funicolare Monte San Salvatore, so it will be an easy start of the day. Staying near Piazza della Riforma also makes sense if you want to have endless restaurant options, and you will beclose to the boat stop: Lugano Centrale. We also curated the best hotels to stay in Lugano if you’re interested.

The Best Place for Couples: Lakeview Panorama Penthouse with Washer & Dryer
The Best Place for Families: Al Nido Della Stazione
The Best Place for Solo Travelers: Hotel&Hostel Montarina

the view from the top of monte san salvatore with Melide and the bridge: Lugano See
the view from the top of monte san salvatore with Melide and the bridge

Is Lugano worth visiting?

Yes, Lugano is definitely worth visiting. Located in the southern part of Switzerland, Lugano is a beautiful and charming city that offers a lot to see and do. With its stunning scenery, picturesque lakeside promenade, vibrant cultural scene, and delicious cuisine, Lugano has something for you, for sure.

Some of the top attractions in Lugano include the historic Old Town, the famous Parco Civico, the stunning Villa del Balbianello, and the beautiful Lake Lugano. Visitors can also explore the local art and culture scene at the Lugano Art and Culture Center, or take a scenic boat tour of the lake to soak in the breathtaking views.

Overall, whether you’re interested in history, culture, outdoor activities, or just enjoying the beauty of Switzerland, Lugano is definitely a destination worth adding to your travel itinerary.

the front view from the top of monte san salvatore: Lugano See
the front view from the top of monte san salvatore

The 10 Best Things to Do in Lugano, Switzerland

In a nutshell, what we did was: funicular to Monte San Salvatore, took in all the sights, trekked down to some small villages, down to the lakeside in Melide, had a swim, a peek at Swissminiatur, and took a ferry to Lugano Centrale, enjoyed the Swiss alpine scenery from the boat, had yummy Italian dinner, and walked through the promenade back to our hotel. 

For an alternative itinerary, check below.

If you intend to use our itinerary, you have to wear or bring

  • comfortable walking-friendly shoes
  • a hat
  • sunscreen 
  • sunglasses 
  • a daypack 
  • packed snacks and lunch (alternatively, there is a restaurant on top of Monte San Salvatore)
  • water
  • lightweight towel
  • extra pair of clothes 

1. Reach Monte San Salvatore by an Old-School Funicular

Via delle Scuole 7, 6902 Paradiso, Switzerland

MONEY-SAVING TIP: If you don’t want to do our route, you can have it cheaper by joining a group tour on GetYourGuide . It is a lot cheaper than the individual fare.

You have two options to get to the top of the mountain, which is about 2.5 miles away from the base—hike or take the funicular. We had initially planned to hike up, but the weather was scorching hot at over 90 degrees Fahrenheit and extremely humid. Therefore, we opted to take the funicular instead, which I personally hadn’t seen or experienced in my entire life. So it was an easy decision.

The ride up provided some breathtaking views. But it is nothing compared to the panoramic view from the top. It’s just simply breathtaking. 

Tip: sit right in the first funicular capsule so you get to see the changing view as the ride goes up. 

Funicular monte san salvatore price/fare in 2023-2024
Funicular monte san salvator winter timetable

2. Enjoy the 360-View from the Top of Monte San Salvatore 

A short hiking trail leads to various viewing spots, and there is even a small church where you can climb outside stairs for even more views of the city and Lugano lake below. This spot has the best view of the massive Lugano Lake, so I highly recommend that you go all the way of the church to see the magnificent view of the lake. 

In our case, we had lunch in the little church yard, overlooking Lugano Lake. Not a bad spot for lunch at all. #lunchwithaview. 

the small building on the top of monte san salvatore: one day itinerary in Lugano Switzerland
the small building on the top of monte san salvatore

3. Trek down to Melide 

Duration of the trek: 2-3 hours
Intensity: Low

scenes from the trek from monte san salvatore to melide: the best things to do in Lugano in one day
scenes from the trek from monte san salvatore to melide

After taking all in the views from the top of Monte San Salvatore, we took the route behind the restaurant. The route was fairly easy to navigate. It was a very easy downhill and won’t be a problem for anyone with functioning knees. 

The trek down to Melide was shaded and sometimes punctuated by small quaint villages. It was a refreshing trek. The route was marked, but you can also easily double-check the route on Google Maps. 

4. Rest and Have a Swim at Lungolago Mario Gallino

It was quarter to 4 when we reached Lungolago Mario Gallino, an open, grassy part by the lake where swimming was allowed. A restaurant with a pool next to it made it very convenient for some after-trek snacks and drinks. 

We lounged here for an hour or so. And after, we walked towards the boat stop, which is only a 5-minute walk from Lungolago Mario Gallino

the trees at Lungolago Mario Gallino
the trees at Lungolago Mario Gallino

5. A quick stop at Swissminiatur

SwissMiniatur Ticket Price:
Adult: 21CHF
Children: 14CHF

If you buy the ticket online, it is 2chf cheaper per ticket. 

Swissminiatur is a fantastic park that you can enjoy alone, with your partner or with the whole family. The admission fee for adults is 19 CHF, and the park offers ample parking space. It’s an amazing place that offers an incredible view of Switzerland with realistic miniatures of castles, houses, trains, and more.

Swissminiatur is one of the best things to do in Lugano Switzerland if you are traveling with children

You can walk around and explore the miniatures, grab a bite to eat in the food area, and relax while taking in the beautiful scenery. For an extra 2 euros, you can ride on the small electric train around the park. It’s an unforgettable experience that I highly recommend.

Swissminiatur is especially a great place to visit with kids as they get to see the different Swiss building styles and learn about the country’s history. The quality and upkeep of the models are excellent, making it a perfect spot to take photos and create lasting memories.

6. Boat to Lugano-Centrale

Just a minute away from Swissminiatur is a boat stop named Melide Swissminiatur on Google Maps. Make sure you check the boat schedule. You can ask the information desk on Swissminiatur about it, you can also check it on Google Maps. You can pay for your ticket on the boat. It won’t be a problem at all. It is quite affordable and a very scenic open-air ride. 

Boat to Lugano-Centrale from Melide
Boat to Lugano-Centrale from Melide

Aside from seeing the twilight and city lights, one of the highlights is passing through Campione d’Italia, a piece of Italy inside the Swiss border. 

7. Have a Delectable Dinner at Piazza della Riforma

We had a really yummy Italian dinner at Ristorante Commercianti, which is a three-minute walk from Piazza della Riforma. Lugano is the Italian-side of Switzerland, so it only made sense to try authentic Italian food. We had seasonal ravioli and tagliatelle. They were chef’s kiss. 

dinner at Ristorante Commercianti in Lugano
dinner at Ristorante Commercianti in Lugano

Dinner for two in Lugano starts from €90, main and wine.

8. Have a nice walk at the promenade

Full and a bit tipsy (you can’t have Italian food without drinking wine), we needed a bit of a walk. So we decided to talk from Piazza della Riforma all the way back to our hotel, which was just an easy thirty-minute tripse. 

A lake-side city, Lugano is such a beautiful place to walk through. So far, it’s the cleanest city I’ve ever visited. Munich pales in comparison. Paris won’t hold a candle. The promenade is especially striking at night when the hillside houses lit up, creating these dancing lights in the water. 

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Alternate Lugano itinerary 1: How to experience Lugano in One Day

Morning: 

Start your day with a stroll along the picturesque lakefront promenade. Enjoy the stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains as you take a leisurely walk.

Next, head to the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angioli, a beautiful 16th-century church that houses a famous Renaissance fresco, “The Passion and Crucifixion”. Take some time to admire the stunning artwork and learn about its history.

Afterward, head to the nearby Piazza della Riforma, the main square of Lugano, and take a seat at one of the outdoor cafes. Enjoy a cup of coffee or a pastry and soak in the local atmosphere.

scenes from walking around Lugano, Switzerland: a little river and Lugano Lake
scenes from walking around Lugano, Switzerland: a little river and Lugano Lake

Late morning/early afternoon: 

After taking a break, head to Monte San Salvatore, one of the two peaks overlooking Lugano. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain, which offers stunning views of Lake Lugano and the Alps. The summit features a restaurant where you can enjoy a delicious lunch while admiring the view.

Afternoon: 

After lunch, head to the Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana, which features a collection of modern and contemporary art. The museum is housed in a beautiful 18th-century villa and features works by artists such as Salvador Dali and Max Ernst.

Late afternoon/evening: 

End your day with a visit to the Alprose Chocolate Museum, where you can learn about the history of chocolate-making in Switzerland and sample some of the delicious chocolate on offer. Afterward, head to the nearby Lido di Lugano to take a dip in the lake and enjoy a drink or a snack at the beachside bar.

Overall, this itinerary offers a great mix of history, culture, and outdoor activities, and is perfect for anyone visiting Lugano for a day.

Alternate Lugano One Day Itinerary 2

Morning: 

Start your day with a visit to the historic town center of Lugano. Take a stroll along the lakeshore promenade, enjoy the stunning views of the lake and the surrounding mountains, and admire the beautiful architecture of the old town. Stop by the Piazza della Riforma, the main square of Lugano, and the Chiesa di Santa Maria degli Angioli, a 16th-century church that houses a famous Renaissance fresco.

Late morning/early afternoon: 

After exploring the town center, head to the top of Monte San Salvatore for panoramic views of Lugano and the surrounding area. You can take a funicular to the top of the mountain, which offers stunning views of Lake Lugano and the Alps.

Lunch: 

For lunch, head to one of Lugano’s many restaurants that serve Italian-influenced cuisine, like risotto or polenta, and regional wines.

Afternoon: 

After lunch, take a stroll around the Parco Civico, a beautiful park located on the lakeshore that features exotic trees, sculptures, and a small pond. You can also visit the nearby Museo d’Arte della Svizzera Italiana, which features a collection of modern and contemporary art.

Late afternoon/evening: 

End your day with a visit to the Alprose Chocolate Museum, where you can learn about the history of chocolate-making in Switzerland and sample some of the delicious chocolate on offer. Afterward, head to the Lido di Lugano to take a dip in the lake and enjoy a drink or a snack at the beachside bar.’

Overall, this itinerary offers a great mix of history, culture, and outdoor activities, and is perfect for anyone visiting Lugano for a day.

Jona of Backpacking with a Book

Hi there, I’m Jona, originally from Cebu, Philippines, had live in Hanoi, Vietnam, and now currently based in Munich, Germany. This blog used to house thoughts on life and books, but eventually it morphed into a travel blog. For collaborations, projects, and other things, please email me at backpackingwithabook@gmail.com. For essays, creative nonfiction, and others, find me elsewhere.

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4 Comments

  1. […] Lugano, there are two things that come to mind, Lugano Lake and the mountains. For us, who only had one day in Lugano (check if you want see how maximized our day in Lugano), we picked Monte San Salvatore over Monte […]

  2. […] If you’re curious what we did in our three-night stay in Lugano, Switzerland, check out our very own Monte San Salvatore experience and how we squeezed everything (Monte San Salvatore, trekking, swimming, boat ride, lovely dinner at Central Lugano, and lovely evening walk at the gorgeous Lugano promenade) in one day in Lugano […]

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  4. […] From our two-week road trip that spanned three countries: Germany-Italy–Switzerland […]

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