Lugano, the capital of the Tessin, perfectly combines a Swiss soul and a Mediterranean heart. Located on the shores of the homonymous lake, the city is popular because of the elegance of its pastel-colored buildings and an innate dolce vita style that can be felt everywhere in its streets. A decidedly milder climate than in German-speaking Switzerland makes it, together with the whole of Ticino, one of the most popular destinations for tourism in Switzerland and beyond. Big public parks, elegant fashion boutiques and excellent restaurants make Lugano a perfect destination all year round. But during the Christmas period Lugano hosts a charming and rich Christmas market and turns the Parco Ciani, one of the largest and most elegant city parks, into a magical enchanted forest. We were there during a day trip and here is our travel story.
We love... Christmas in Lugano!
Where to stay in Lugano
The city center
Lugano is truly beautiful. The heart of the city is small and on a human scale, easily explored on foot with no effort. Starting from the station and walking down the steps, we stop for a few minutes in front of the ancient Cathedral of San Lorenzo. The church dates back to the 11th century, but much of what is visible today is the result of an extension in 1400. The interior is elegant and richly decorated, but what is certainly striking is its bell tower, which stands out between the blue of the lake and the green of the city’s mountains. In front of the church, a large square offers you the possibility to take some photos of the town from above and of Monte Brè. We continue our descent down Via Cattedrale, a pleasant little cobbled street slightly downhill lined with numerous boutiques, craft shops, art galleries, antique shops and picturesque corners that deserve a photo! This part of the city is truly charming and here, perhaps more than anywhere else, the atmosphere is lively and authentic. From here, it’s only a few minutes to the heart of the city, where we are greeted by the elegant cobbled streets and pastel-coloured buildings. The streets of the city centre are rather crowded today, after all it is Saturday afternoon and it is almost Christmas time: for many it is shopping time! We first go down Via Pessina, a narrow street full of bars and restaurants, ideal for an aperitif! But the real heart of shopping in Lugano beats under the elegant arcades of Via Nassa, where you can find the most important fashion brands and many jewellery shops. From here we continue along Piazza della Riforma, the political and administrative heart of the city. This square, which has always been Lugano’s “parlor”, hosts all the city’s main cultural events. We take a few photos of the big tree, but decide to wait until it is dark and the Christmas lights come on.
In the meantime, we opt for a walk along the lakeside promenade. This area of the city is really charming, especially when the sky is blue and the lake mirrors the beautiful natural surroundings and elegant buildings on the coast.
The promenade from Parco Ciani, the city’s most famous lakeside garden, is about a kilometre and a half long and ends at the Paradiso landing stage. It is a real pleasure to walk along it and during the summer many boats depart from here to cross the lake and provide a taxi service. If you visit Lugano in the summer, we suggest you treat yourself to a special evening out by hiring a taxiboat to take you to one of the many Grottos (typical local restaurants serving home-cooked food) on the lake shores that can only be reached by boat. We suggest the Grotto Descanso, near the Cantine di Gandria, where we ate very well during a summer visit. Continuing our walk, we reach the Belvedere Garden, a panoramic terrace full of greenery and relaxation areas and an excellent observation point for photography lovers. Behind it stands the majestic building of the LAC (Lugano Arte e Cultura), a cultural centre built in 2015 that houses the Museum of Contemporary Art of Italian Switzerland. The building is decidedly charming and, although modern in style, is in perfect harmony with its surroundings and the nearby church of Santa Maria degli Angioli. From here, we lose ourselves for a while in the narrow streets of the old town. It is now dark, the Christmas lights are on and it is time to explore the Christmas markets.
The Christmas Market
In Lugano, Christmas means “Natale in piazza” (Christmas in the streets), the great Christmas event that brings to the city the magical atmosphere of the holidays. The Christmas market is held this year from December 1st, 2023 to January 7th, 2024 and the traditional wooden houses will be located in the central Piazza della Riforma and neighboring streets. Here you will find local handicrafts (there is a remarkable stand selling small and elegant ceramic creations in Piazzetta San Carlo), toys for children, Christmas decorations and of course gastronomic specialties from Ticino and nearby Italy. In Piazza della Riforma there is also the big Christmas tree. The largest part of the market, however, is located in Piazza Manzoni, right next to the Town Hall. Here you can have a quick snack, sweet or salty, or simply drink a good Vin Brulè (mulled wine). But the “Christmas in the Square” is not only a market. Every year, in fact, the Parco Ciani, the largest and most famous civic park, is transformed into a magical enchanted forest full of lights. Of course, we took a tour and loved it. Moreover, the view of the city lit up for the festivities that is reflected in the lake from here is even more beautiful.
On the official website of the event you can find all the latest information on Lugano’s Christmas market.
Arriving by public transport
Arriving by car
In Lugano you can eat really well and every time is a pleasant (re)discovery for us! This time for our dinner we opted for the “Ristorante Commercianti”, a traditional trattoria with a tasty home cooking. The staff is courteous and competent and the prices are within the Swiss average. We opted for meat dishes and a dessert. The risotto was absolutely excellent and the ossobuco with polenta is not to be missed. If you really want to end on a high note, don’t miss a portion of the excellent homemade tiramisù! You won’t regret it! And let us know what you think!
Another famous event of Christmas in Lugano is the Presepe Sommerso. A large crib placed on the bottom of the lake during the evening is illuminated by large reflectors that make it visible even from the promenade. The large statues are located in the Riva Albertolli area and will be visible until January 6th. Unfortunately, we had to give up the visit this time. However, if you are in Lugano during Advent, do not miss this opportunity and, if you like, please let us know by leaving a comment below!
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