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Lake Lugano in Italy and Switzerland

Lake Lugano is the fifth largest lake of the Italian Lakes. It is located partly in Italy and partly in Switzerland. Its Italian name is Lago di Lugano. The name of the lake comes from the city of Lugano, which lies on its shore. The Swiss shore of Lake Lugano is entirely in the canton of Ticino, and the Italian shore is entirely in the Italian region of Lombardy.

Among the lakes of Northern Italy, Lake Lugano is one of the most spectacular, because it is surrounded by high mountains and therefore its shores are very steep. That is why it is very popular with travelers and with hikers. Several towns and villages are picturesquely located on its shores and the area is known for its mild Mediterranean climate and beautiful nature. On this page you can find all the important information about Lake Lugano.

The geography of Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano is the fifth largest lake of the Italian Lakes after Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Iseo. It has an area of almost 50 square kilometers. This area is about two-thirds in Switzerland and about one-third in Italy. As mentioned above, the Swiss canton of Ticino and the Italian region of Lombardy have shares in the shores of Lake Lugano.

The picture shows Lake Lugano seen from the east. The direction of view is towards the southwest. The front part of the lake is in Italy, the mountains in the background are already in Switzerland.
The picture shows Lake Lugano seen from the east. The direction of view is towards the southwest. The front part of the lake is in Italy, the mountains in the background are already in Switzerland.

Shape of the lake

Lake Lugano lies branched in the southern foothills of the Alps. It is so ramified that it is difficult to determine its length and width. Roughly, it is 3 kilometers wide at its widest point and a little more than 30 kilometers long.

The water surface of Lake Lugano lies at 271 meters above sea level and reaches a depth of almost 300 meters. By comparison, Lake Constance, which is much larger in area, only reaches a maximum depth of around 250 meters.

The following table shows an overview of the five largest Italian lakes.

NameItalian nameArea in km²Deepest point in m
Lake GardaLago di Garda370346
Lake MaggioreLago Maggiore210372
Lake ComoLago di Como150425
Lake IseoLago d’Iseo70251
Lake LuganoLago di Lugano50288
Table with the most important data of the five largest Italian lakes

Lake Lugano, like the other Italian lakes, is a glacial lake formed during the Ice Age.

Bisection

In the southeast, Lake Lugano has been divided into two parts by an artificial dam since 1848. This dam is called the Melide causeway and on it run two important roads and a railroad line. Anyone who has ever driven by car from Germany to Tuscany, for example, has most likely crossed the Melide lake dam.

The mountains around the lake

Lake Lugano is surrounded by steep mountains, some of which reach a height of almost 2,000 meters. The difference in altitude between the peaks and the water surface of Lake Lugano is therefore very large. This makes the landscape around the lake quite impressive, especially since in many places the mountains slope very steeply towards the lake. From some of the peaks you have impressive views of Lake Lugano and the surrounding landscape.

Well-known mountains on Lake Lugano are for example:

  • Monte Generoso: It is 1,701 meters high and lies directly on the border between Italy and Switzerland on the south side of the lake. The view from its summit is magnificent and a rack railroad goes almost all the way up.
  • Monte San Salvatore: It is 912 meters high and is prominently located near Lugano. A cable car leads to its summit.
  • Monte Boglia: It is 1,516 meters high and is located north of Lake Lugano on the border between Italy and Switzerland.
  • Monte San Giorgio: It is 1,097 meters high and lies between two of the arms of Lake Lugano on the southern shore. The mountain is known mainly for fossil finds.

Many hiking trails run over the mountains around Lake Lugano, and there are always spectacular views to be had on trails away from the peaks.

View from the path on Monte Piddagia to the opposite Monte Galbiga. In the valley, Lago di Piano, a small lake east of Lake Lugano.
View from the path on Monte Piddagia to the opposite Monte Galbiga. In the valley, Lago di Piano, a small lake east of Lake Lugano.
A waterfall in the mountains above Porlezza on Lake Lugano: the Cascate di Begna
A waterfall in the mountains above Porlezza on Lake Lugano: the Cascate di Begna
Around Lake Lugano there are many impressive canyons, like here near its northern shore.
Around Lake Lugano there are many impressive canyons, like here near its northern shore.

Towns and villages on the shore

The largest city on Lake Lugano is the namesake Lugano. Lugano is located on the northwestern shore of the lake and has over 60,000 inhabitants. This makes it not only the largest city on Lake Lugano, but also the largest city in the canton of Ticino. In addition, Lugano is the ninth largest city in Switzerland and the largest Italian-speaking municipality outside of Italy.

In the very northeast of Lake Lugano lies the Italian town of Porlezza. Porlezza has about 5,000 inhabitants and is a good starting point for visits to Lake Lugano and Lake Como. Because from Porlezza to Lake Como is only a few kilometers.

In Melide, where the Melide causeway dividing Lake Lugano into two parts is located, is the widely known exhibition Swissminiatur. On many thousands of square meters, huge numbers of important Swiss buildings have been recreated on a scale of 1:25 and the whole thing is embedded in a garden. A great destination especially for children. More information can be found at swissminiatur.ch.

On the northern shore of the lake on the Italian side is the municipality of Valsolda. About 1,500 people live there. Valsolda is a prime example of why Lake Lugano is so beautiful! The colorful houses climb steeply from the surface of the lake up the slope of the mountains, which further up becomes a sheer cliff. Above the settlement begins a beautiful natural area, excellent for hiking and mountaineering.

Hiking at Lake Lugano

The mountains, valleys and gorges around Lake Lugano are great for hiking. The paths are very scenic in many places and spectacular peaks are comparatively easy to reach.

Unfortunately, walking around the lake, on the other hand, is not so good everywhere. This is partly due to the fact that the shores of the lake are very steep. This means that there is not always a path that runs parallel to the shore along the lake. And for another, the busy lakeside road winds its way along Lake Lugano. This may be great for driving (it’s really a nice drive around the lake), but it’s annoying when hiking and walking. So for those who like to take long sap walks or hike along the lakeshore, the northeast shore in particular is not suitable. From Porlezza to the neighboring Cima, for example, you can currently (also because of construction sites) not walk at all.

For those who like to hike steeply uphill and deeply downhill, however, Lake Lugano is a true Eldorado. In most places there are numerous short circular hikes and day tours.

The hiking trails on Lake Lugano are very well signposted and marked. The time indications on the signposts are obviously rather aimed at experienced hikers, so they are reasonably realistic.

The commercially available map material, on the other hand, seems to be rather sparse. Overall, I am not satisfied with the experience I have had. That’s why I recommend using the maps from outdooractive.com. They are by and large correct and are always easy to carry around on a cell phone. The reception of mobile data is mostly very good around Lake Lugano.

Good shoes are absolutely recommended for hiking on Lake Lugano. Because even the most inconspicuous forest path quickly becomes a full-blown mountain hike due to the enormous steepness of the slopes.

In the picture you can see the varied landscape of Lake Lugano. The best way to get to know it is by hiking.
In the picture you can see the varied landscape of Lake Lugano. The best way to get to know it is by hiking.

Lake Lugano in winter

Lake Lugano has a Mediterranean climate. This means that even in winter, double-digit temperatures are quite possible here. Often the sun shines on Lake Lugano and its surroundings in spring-like weather, while in Germany it is deepest winter. Therefore, Lake Lugano is a perfect place to escape winter for a few days in a few hours. But be careful: you should take a look at the weather forecast. Because even if the winters at Lake Lugano are often very mild, there can still be phases with bad weather or lots of snow. Also, when hiking or driving, for example, one must remember that a mild winter can very quickly change into deep snow and icy roads when climbing or driving from the shore of Lake Lugano to the surrounding mountains.

An Italian exclave

On the eastern shore of Lake Lugano lies the Italian exclave of Campione d’Italia. It is completely surrounded by the Swiss canton of Ticino and the lake respectively. Like the rest of the Italian shore of Lake Lugano, Campione d’Italia belongs to the Italian region of Lombardy. Less than a kilometer away from the exclave is the main country of Italy. About 2,000 people live in Campione d’Italia. The exclave is subject to some special regulations, for example of an economic nature. Also, until its bankruptcy in 2018, the largest casino in Europe was in Campione d’Italia.

How to get there

By car, Lake Lugano can be reached from Germany in a few hours drive. Either take the Swiss Autobahn 2, which runs over the Gotthard Pass or through the Gotthard Tunnel. Or take the Swiss Autobahn 13, which runs over the San Bernardino Pass or through the San Bernardino Tunnel.

By the way, Milan, the capital of the Italian region of Lambardei and at the same time the second largest city in Italy, is only a good hour’s drive from Lake Lugano.

Around Lake Lugano

The beauty of Lake Lugano is that it is not only beautiful itself, but it is located in the middle of the beautiful region of the Upper Italian Lakes, which itself is probably one of the most beautiful regions in the whole world. From Lake Lugano it is only a few kilometers to Lake Maggiore and Lake Como. Both are situated in the southern foothills of the Alps. Lake Como awaits you with its unique contrast between picturesque little villages on the shore and its brute background of gigantic rock formations. Lake Maggiore, on the other hand, spreads its lovely landscape and its lush green shores in front of you and captivates you with the famous valleys of the rivers Maggia and Verzasca.

And behind it all lies the wonderland of the high mountains. The Monte Rosa massif, more than 4,000 meters high, is home to some of the highest mountains in the Alps and is within easy reach. In spring, you can enjoy the contrast of the summery shores of the lakes with the deep snow-covered peaks. In summer you can go swimming and hiking alternately, because mountains and Mediterranean lakes are right next to each other here.

Below are a few ideas for destinations around Lake Lugano:

  • Verzasca valley and Maggia valley at Lake Maggiore
  • Bellagio on Lake Como with its unique position “in the middle” of the lake
  • Milan
In the picture you can see Bellagio, which is absolutely and perfectly picturesque located on a peninsula in Lake Como.
In the picture you can see Bellagio, which is absolutely and perfectly picturesque located on a peninsula in Lake Como.

Spend the night on Lake Lugano

On the shores of the Italian lakes there are many great accommodations with beautiful views over the water and the landscape. So, of course, also on Lake Lugano. With a little research on the usual websites, you will quickly find what you are looking for. The higher the location of an accommodation on the mountain, the wider and better the view. However, it must be noted that the approaches to higher situated palces can sometimes be very steep and in winter at higher altitudes with snow is to be expected. In addition, the way to the shore of Lake Lugano is of course longer from those places.