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If you are in Zurich because of the cheap tickets that are frequently from US most cities and want to take a day trip, we suggest you visit Lugano. One of us recently visited and here are her tips should you want to visit this very picturesque town.
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When people think about Switzerland, they often conjure up images of picturesque landscapes of snow-capped mountains, placid lakes and rivers, and rolling grassy hills. And they are entirely right in that assumption. One of our TFD members was fortunate to spend two weeks in this very expensive (though beautiful!) country. While based in Zurich, she did a weekend trip to Lugano.
If you don’t have a strong sense of the geography of Switzerland, it is entirely landlocked. It is generally broken down into three regions: German, Italian, and French sides. Depending on which region you are in, the languages spoken will differ accordingly. Zurich, the largest city in the country, is located all the way in the north (not far from the border of Germany). Lugano is down south, nearly at the Italian border and very close to Lake Como. However, Switzerland is a very small country and despite traveling the length of the country, from north to south, it was just a 2.25 hour train ride. You can easily do a day trip down to Lugano from Zurich but we suggest spending at least a night there as it is beautiful.
Getting Here From Zurich
The train system in Switzerland is superb in that it is both extensive and efficient. If you plan on spending a good chunk of time here and plan on exploring the country, you may want to consider purchasing a half-price pass. It costs 180 francs but then all of your in-country tickets will be 50% (at time of writing, it is nearly a 1:1 exchange rate between USD and Swiss francs). You would have to purchase this at the station (best to go to Zurich HB, which is the main station). If you choose this option, be sure to have a form of photo ID and a passport/visa-sized photo. Don’t throw the card away, even after they register your half-price card into your profile, as you will be asked to show this card on each train ride.
The people at the counter are extremely helpful (and speak English!). If you tell them your tentative travel plans, they will calculate what is the best and least expensive way to purchase your train tickets. Also, if you need to take passport photos, there is a photo booth machine just outside the main office. It costs 10 francs for 5 photos and it is best to have cash on you for this.
We were able to score the half-price tickets, which were roughly 33 francs each way. Once you arrive at the Lugano train station, you may want to consider taking the funicular for 1.30 francs. We did not even realize this was an option when we initially arrived so we ended up walking down quite a bit of spiraling pathways, stairs, a tunnel, etc. It wasn’t so bad when walking down the steps but climbing up those steps while hauling our belongings was definitely a good exercise! If you want to take the funicular, look for the Läderach chocolate shop. Directly next to Läderach, you will see escalators, which lead you to street level but do NOT take this. Simply walk around the escalators and you cannot miss the funicular.
Culture & Food
Lugano is an Italian-speaking city so you will see Italian restaurants galore. Their coffee offerings are extensive (one restaurant menu we came across had nearly 30 coffee variations!). Food is absolutely scrumptious though extremely expensive as you are still paying Swiss prices.
The overall vibe in Lugano is very relaxed, reminiscent of many coastal cities and towns on the Mediterranean. It is a town that resides on a large lake flanked by mountains. Take a leisurely stroll around the lake or go kayaking on a sunny day, where you could possibly get up close and personal with the swans.
The vast majority of places (restaurants and shops) are closed on Sundays in Switzerland. However, we were very surprised that many restaurants, even in the town center, were closed on Saturday night! It would be wise to make restaurant recommendations that pique your interest. If you are a bit of a foodie, we would recommend a restaurant called La Fattoria, which is in the town center and has a great ambience.
Lugano has an abundance of shopping. In fact, it appeared that there were more shops than restaurants/cafes/bars alongside the lakefront. There are a plethora of designer brands sold here. From our perspective, it seemed that a good majority of the shops sold either clothing or watches. A bit too expensive for you? Not to fret! One of the most popular outlet shops is located just outside of Lugano called Fox Town.
The easiest way to reach the Fox Town outlets is by train, which takes 16 minutes. You take it from Lugano to Mendrisio S. Martino station. The one-way ticket cost us 4.40 francs. From the station, it is about a 4-5 minute walks to the outlets. Shockingly, the outlets are open on Sundays and most holidays. It is very much like an American mall (versus many outdoor outlet shopping you find in the States) with different wings so be sure to really walk around or you will miss out on some stores. There is quite a wide range of stores: athletic sportswear, designer name brands, children’s clothing, luggage and so on. Keep in mind that there are very limited places to eat here and there is no food court. The eateries and cafes are all located on different floors.
You will have no issues finding a place to stay here, from hotels to serviced apartments to resorts. Keep in mind that taxis are expensive so if you have a tight budget, it may be better to find a decently priced accommodation in the city center so you can just walk to everything.
We ended up choosing Splendori Suites, which are serviced apartments with a fantastic location (within walking distance of both the lake and the train station). It had a very modern aesthetique and the process of staying here was new to us! There is a self check-in machine, where you would need to type in your booking information. Should you choose to stay here, be sure to make sure your phone is charged as you will be sent QR codes, which act as the key for both the elevator and your room! If this sounds too complicated, then you should definitely book a hotel with a reception desk and/or concierge.
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