Our membership with TrustedHousesitters has drastically changed the way we travel. Thanks to the magic of housesitting we kicked off 2019 in Lugano, Switzerland — a place we honestly hadn’t even heard of until a couple of months ago. After years of dreaming of an extended trip to Europe, the stars finally aligned and we made it to two new countries – Switzerland and Italy.
Lugano. What? Where? Why?
Italy has been at the top of our bucket list pretty much since we started dating. Switzerland, however, wasn’t really on our radar. But as soon as I saw the listing for a week-long cat and apartment sit in Lugano, that all changed.
Lugano is a lakefront city in Southern Switzerland’s Italian-speaking Ticino region. It is a picturesque town surrounded by mountains. The cobbled streets are filled with the beautiful architecture you’d expect from a European destination. It’s also extremely walkable, with easy train access to the rest of Switzerland and Northern Italy.
We stayed in a comfortable two-bedroom apartment with views of the city and the mountains in the distance. In exchange for the free digs, we took care of a pretty cool cat named Dude.
We got a good flight deal into Zurich, and took a scenic two-hour train ride to Lugano. Lugano is also very accessible from Milan, so if you’re planning a visit to Northern Italy, Lugano would be a great add-on to your trip.
Celebrating the New Year in Lugano
We arrived a couple of days before New Years Eve, and the town was bustling with activity. If you’re looking for a fun New Years travel destination, I’d definitely recommend considering Lugano next year. (After New Years Day, things were definitely on the quieter side, but in a good way. Aside from the holiday season, summer is one of the most popular times to visit. We were a little bummed not to get to do more outdoor activities while we were there. Hopefully we’ll return for a warmer trip one day.)
But back to that New Years celebration. Lugano goes ALL OUT for the holiday. Our first night in town, we wearily wandered down to the Centro Storico (town square) in search of dinner. We were delighted to find the square alight in Christmas decorations, a huge beautiful tree and half a dozen heated kiosks serving drinks and snacks.
The next night, the square was even more crowded with families, couples, teenagers and dogs. Although there was definitely an air of celebration, it wasn’t the kind of raucous, drunken NYE we try to avoid back in the states. Again, we enjoyed the outdoor wine stands which, on this evening, mostly came with complimentary snacks like pizza bread and potato chips (um, yes please) and listened to the live music playing nearby.
We exchanged cheers with strangers visiting Lugano from Italy, Greece and other parts of Switzerland. It was a peaceful and civilized New Years’ Eve, perfect for two jet-lagged travelers who usually stay home on the couch for that particular holiday.
How to Spend a Week in Lugano
Once the holiday was over, we still found plenty to do. Tom worked remotely while we were there starting around 2 p.m., so our days started out with a light breakfast at the apartment before heading into town.
We mostly just wandered around in the mornings until it was time for lunch, because that’s how we roll. Luckily, the views are pretty incredible from almost anywhere in town and Lugano is incredibly walkable. We didn’t take a taxi (which are reportedly very expensive) at any point during the trip. I will say, however, that it’s a mountain town so there are several steep hills to climb. Wear good shoes! There is a bus system that seemed easy to use, but since we prefer walking we didn’t utilize that service.
We’ll have a full Lugano food guide up next week, but in the meantime here are some of our favorite things to do in Lugano.
Explore Parco Ciani
Parco Ciani is a must-stop for all Lugano visitors, regardless of season. This expansive urban park sits along Lake Lugano offering stunning views and an array of beautiful flowers and sculptures.
Pro tip: Pack a lunch or pick up some sandwiches from the Gabbani deli on your way and have a peaceful picnic by the lake.
Visit Parco San Michele for a Bird’s Eye View of Lake Lugano
We really wanted to take a ride on a funicular to the top of one of Lugano’s surrounding mountains. Unfortunately, the funiculars were closed for the season. Instead, we headed to Parco San Michele for panoramic views of Lake Lugano and the surrounding area. Parco San Michele is located in the town of Castagnola on the slope of Monte Brè.
Note: We walked the whole way to Parco San Michele, around 55 minutes from the town square. It’s mostly uphill and the directions can be rather confusing. We definitely got more than a little lost. But it was great exercise! If you’re not into walking ’til your legs fall off, definitely look into a bus to take you closer to the park and then climb the rest of the way..
Take in Some Art at MASI Lugano
I was thrilled to find out that Magritte’s La Ligne de vie (“lifeline”) exhibit was being featured at MASI Lugano during our visit. Sadly, Tom couldn’t join me as the line was too long and he had to get to work. So I made sure to take tons of photos. The Magritte exhibit has left MASI, but they have an upcoming Surrealism Switzerland that is sure to be great.
The main facility, LAC – Lugano Arte e Cultura, is located just off the main square with views of the lake.
Other Activities in Lugano
- Take the Funicular (in season) to the top of Monte San Salvatore.
- Go shopping. Lugano’s streets are filled with high-end shops, local stores, chocolate shops (Swiss chocolate!) and more. We tend not to shop when we travel, but if we were so inclined the options would have been limitless.
- Get out on the lake. In the warmer months there are several options for getting out on the lake to see more of the surrounding areas and fishing towns.
- Visit the Herman Hesse Museum. I really wanted to do this, but sadly the logistics just didn’t work out during this trip. There is a bus that will take you there from town.
One last thing to note about Lugano, and Switzerland in general, is that it’s a pricy place to visit. Because we had free lodging, we didn’t balk so much at the prices at restaurants. I would imagine hotels are quite expensive, so I’d recommend going in the shoulder or off-season to offset the price if budget is an issue. Cheap eats can be found if you look hard enough, and the views are always free!
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