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Christmas time in Lugano, Switzerland
Here is one to keep in your hat. Lugano, Switzerland is a charming place to spend the Christmas holidays. It is a super Swiss destination for short-term vacations, and Lugano in December is perfect for Christmas spirit.
Lugano at Christmas is what you would expect from a traditional Swiss-Christmasy city. They have a beautifully impressive Christmas tree in the main piazza, and about 50 picturesque chalets lined up along the main squares and pedestrian streets. And Lugano comes with Italian flare, being in the southern, Italian-speaking canton of Switzerland.
There is something special about Christmas Markets in the Alps and you could easily plan an itinerary around these traditional events.
On a fluke, we booked a last-minute train ticket from Nice to Lugano via Milan to see what Christmas would be like, and we were not disappointed. My friend was born on Christmas Eve and we wanted to be someplace where it really felt like Christmas.
Lugano is a great place for a short Switzerland holiday
Our criteria were simple. We were looking for a place for 3 nights, with big Christmas appeal, in Switzerland, where they spoke Italian. It had to be easy to navigate as we were traveling by train, and it had to be easy to get to. We were somewhat limited in our choices, but Lugano ticked all the boxes and more. It’s a great place for your holidays in Switzerland.
Lugano Christmas Market Dates – 1 Dec, 2021 – Jan 6, 2022
The Christmas market in Lugano starts on December 1st when the lights are turned on. The market stalls are open until December 24th, but many of the food and drink stalls will remain open until January 6th.
The main Christmas festivities take place in Piazza della Riforma, Piazza Manzoni and along Via Nassa where you find plenty of market stalls selling unique handmade gifts. You find loads of decorations, fluffy mittens, hats and scarves that you can’t resist buying to ward off the crisp chill in the air.
There are plenty of kiosks serving local specialties such as bratwurst, pretzels, sausages and potatoes au gratin. Most stands offered hot, mulled wine of some sort. You will find plenty of stands with panettone, chocolate, sausages, potatoes with melted fondue cheese, and a variety of craft beers and wines.
What to eat at the Lugano Christmas Market
Lugano is, after all, Switzerland, and Switzerland in generally expensive. If you are on a budget like we were, these small food stands really offered a welcomed ease on the wallet. We paid about $6 for a decent local brat, called a Luganega, plumb full of ketchup and mustard, and another $4 for steaming-hot, au gratin potatoes. Mulled wine was $3. These tasty specialties really took the edge off when we were in the firing line of the cool air directly coming off Lake Lugano.
Weather in Lugano in December
Also surprisingly, we thought we’d have snow in Lugano in December. But no. The weather was actually quite sunny and nice during the day, but the temperatures at night drop quite a bit.
Not all of Switzerland is freezing and Lugano is proof. People were tightly bundled up at night sharing a beer or a glass of wine around high bar tables while chatting with their friends. There were a variety of portable heat lamps where people congregated.
How to get to Lugano from Milan
This was actually one of the easiest train journeys I’ve ever taken. I somehow thought that traveling to Switzerland from Italy would be more complicated. In reality, you take the train from Milano Centrale to Lugano Centrale. It’s the same line that continues on to Zurich. Even booking at the last minute, we paid €24 one way for a trip that took 1 hour and 10 minutes. The distance is surprisingly short. Add that to the train trip from Nice Central station to Milano at €45 and it’s truly one of the cheapest ways to visit Switzerland.
For an even cheaper train journey, travel from Milano Central to the Paradiso neighborhood of Lugano. There’s one stop and a change in Chiasso, but it was only $9! Then you are literally a 15-minute walk from the center of Lugano.
Traveling around Lugano
Another big score for us was the funicular in Lugano. Lugano is at the base of some steep mountains and the train station happens to be a hike up from the main town. From Lugano Train Station, the funicular heads down into the central town. It’s only a 10-minute ride. You can always take the stairs down, but it’s not practical with a suitcase. We arrived on Dec 23rd and left on the 26th and the funicular was free both days. Otherwise, it’s $1.30 one way to ride.
Another great point is that our hotel, the Hotel Lugano Dante, was literally falling-out-of-the-funicular distance. It was extremely convenient. And there was even a cute outdoor bar in their little piazza with ski-lift cubicles as part of the bar. That’s the main photo on top. So cool.
Lugano has a decent bus network that will easily take you to neighboring areas and towns. It will cost around $2.25 for a 1-way ticket, which isn’t cheap. Note that Lugano itself is small and very walkable, so stretch your legs and get moving. You can also get massive discounts with a 2-for-1 coupon booklet that will help you save even more.
Lugano’s hotel prices can be expensive, but we lucked out with a last-minute booking at the 4* Hotel Lugano Dante for $135 a night. There are a couple of 2* hotels on Via Nassa that would have been sufficient or a few nights and could have saved us money. Another note is that Lugano is extremely clean and while I might shun 2* hotels in some cities, I would not hesitate in Lugano.
Another great location right on Lake Lugano is the Hotel Walter Au Lac Lugano. Many rooms face Lake Lugano and it’s well positioned to see everything in the heart of Lugano. Also, you can get some good deals on Lugano Hotels over the Christmas season as most people are with family. So check the prices. You can strike some great last minute deals on hotels in Lugano the week in-between Christmas and New Years.
Lugano is quite pricey, but not as expensive as Zurich. While staying in Lugano central was a certain cost, we could have saved a lot by staying in a hotel in Paradiso, which is an area of Lugano. Paradiso it’s quite residential, but there are a variety of quality, budget hotels well worth a stay if you want to see Lugano on a budget. There are a couple Hotel Lugano Dante, for instance, that were reasonable. Paradiso is about a 15-minute walk from the heart of Lugano and it’s easy in December if you are bundled up.
Compare all Lugano Hotel Prices here:
Things to do in Lugano Switzerland – Boat Tour on Lake Lugano
I strongly recommend you take a tour of Lugano and the 2-hour tour on Lake Lugano is breathtaking. The GiroGolfo costs €24 pp and you visit Paradiso, Gandria, the Campione d’Italia which is the casino, and Morcote, all from the comfort of a heated boat.
The winter schedule offers two full tours a day and if you get on the first one you can choose to stop in one of the villages and pick up the last boat of the day.
Otherwise, you need to catch a taxi or a local bus back to Lugano. Morcote is lovely and was named one of the most beautiful villages in Switzerland in 2016. You also might find a Switzerland Travel Guide will be helpful.
This boat tour was a wonderful way to see Lugano from the lake and the surrounding villages. It’s so beautiful and we would have loved to see some snow on this tour, but it was lovely none the less. And there were only about 15 people on our boat so there’s plenty of space to move around. Plus if you want to crack open a beer on board, they sell them.
View an exhibit at the LAC in Lugano
Take in an exhibit at the LAC, the Lugano Art and Culture Museum. Magritte was there when we were, plus there was an installation out front of spiraling prisms. Great fun to spin them around and see the light reflection. On freezing days, it’s a great way to spend a few hours inside, and is just at the edge of Lake Lugano toward Paradiso.
Ride the Funiculars up to Monte San Salvatore and Monte Bre
We got conflicting information and walked to the funicular heading up Monte San Salvatore only to find it closed for the holidays. Actually, it’s closed until early March. The journey takes 12 minutes, goes every 30 minutes, and costs $30 round trip.
The funicular to Monte Bre is opened from the first Saturday in March until January 6th, but is closed during Christmas, January and February. A round trip will cost around $25 and it goes every 15 minutes. But when these are open, you should definitely head up for some fantastic views of the valley, and Lake Lugano.
Ride the Lugano City Tour by Train
To give your feet a rest, take the Lugano City tour by train. For just $8.50 you can ride for 40 minutes around Lugano, Paradiso, where you’ll find the funicular for Monte San Salvatore; and Cassarate, where you find the funicular for Monte Bre. It seemed like everywhere we went, the train was following, so it would have been better to catch a ride and see everything and then plan where we wanted to spend more time.
Fun fact: If you over 100 years old, you ride free. Given they put that in the brochure means there are probably a few people of that age heading to Lugano and enjoying the fresh mountain and lake air.
Dining in Lugano
Again, Lugano is quite pricey to dine and many places were understandably closed over the holidays, but we found pasta at $18-20, which is expensive for a plate of pasta. The main meat/fish dishes were easily around the $25 to upper $30 mark. We dined a couple times at the Nassa Caffe on Via Nassa the pedestrian street. While it’s a café, the pasta was made to order and you’ll spend around $14 for a decent, filling meal. A 50cl of wine will cost you $25, which is expensive. A glass will cost around $8. Considering I pay $6 for a bottle and $2 for a glass in Nice, enjoying wine was difficult.
Nassa Caffe is also the place to go for a traditional, thick Italian hot chocolate for $4. You can have a lovely plate of pasta carbonara or a plat du jour for $14-16.
Lugano is fantastic for a couple of days and they really offered us a delightful Christmas experience. Of course, it would have been better in the summer with a milder climate, but the holiday atmosphere would have disappeared. You will love it!
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