London lifestyle & travels with kids and babies
18 years ago, Lugano was love at first sight. The residence and retreat of one of my favourite writers (Herman Hesse) has all the magic ingredients : mountains standing tall, lake glimmering, Italian cuisine and Swiss neatness. We’ve been back few times since, but summer of 2019 we spent 4.5 days in Lugano with kids and friends – delightful. Milan to Lugano is a short 1 hour and 20 minutes drive or just over 2 hours if you pick the scenic Lake Como route. Top things to do in Lugano with kids or just grown ups? Here are our 12 suggestions.
1. Parco Civico Ciani. Lugano’s green heart is arty, filled with flower beds and bushes from all over the world and stunning villas, including Palazzo dei Congressi, cantonal Natural History Museum and Cantonal library. There’s also a playground that sits between river Cassarate and the lake and it’s large and fun.
2. Charming historical centre with pedestrian cobbled streets and alleys. One day we parked the car next to the train station and loved descending and ascending back up on the cobbled streets, taking in the views over the old town’s terracotta rooftops, lake and mountains; refreshing ourselves at old water fountains and recharging with gellatto. St Lorenzo cathedral is one of the landmarks, early 16th century architecture with fine frescoes and baroque statues behind its Renaissance facade.
3. Swiss Miniature in Melide – here is our dedicated article, this is your chance to see all Switzerland in 2 hours!
4. Lidos by the lake. There’s the main Lugano Lido but if you are by Swiss Miniature, Melide lido has the perfect splash for toddlers, inflatables in the lake for older kids, lunch for the whole family or simply aperols for parents.
5. Cute Minitrain around Lugano – 1.5 hour perfect for little feet exhausted by too much playground and running around. We embarked by the fountain and had the full tour – the children loved it! Piazza della Riforma is one of Ticino’s most beautiful squares and the meeting point for the luganesi – an ideal starting point as well for the network of pedestrian alleys or for the minitrain.
6. For cultured teens and grown ups, skip 5 straight to 6 – Herman Hesse foundation in Casa Camuzzi, where Herman wrote Siddhartha and The glass bead game. One idyllic spot above Lugano lake, filled with memorabilia plus thematic shows, lectures, concerts, films and readings.
7. Spend couple of hours by Cassarate river, splash and cool down, let the kids play with the pebbles – they will have lots of young local company. Have lunch at Osteria del Porto, there are even toys to be shared and played with or grab a sunchair and sip an aperol. Set back from Lugano’s sailing club, this is the place for local fish and Ticinese dishes like polenta crostini with porcini.
8. Jump on a funicular and climb one if the gorgeous mountains to soak in the view from the above. Monte Bre is one glorious option! For the adventurous and older kids, there are caves to be explored and bears relics to be found. A few hundred metres from the summit of Monte Generoso, on Italian territory, this is one striking spectaclar with reconstruction of bear skeletons and bones.
9. Paddle board, sail or take a pedalo on the lake – perfect for hot summer days.
10. Celebrate your birthday in Lugano and Switzerland means complimentary access to the funicular or lido! Sing away with friends and enjoy!
11. If the celebrations are more for the grown-ups, I personally love Villa Principe Leopoldo, an oasis of beautiful hospitality and history for the last 150 years! I stayed with them over 10 years ago on a business trip and loved breakfasts by the lake, dinner by balcony and their gorgeous zen swimming pool.
A leading small hotel of the world and relais et chateaux, they were graceful with our kids packing their pockeys with the complimentary candies! This is a place to return with monkeys a bit older and hopefully more civilised! And in true Swiss hospitality, they treated me with a little gift – a gorgeous glossy book with Villa Principe last 150 years. To many more, will come round and help with celebrations!
12.Last but not least, cross on the Italian side of Lugano Lake if you are a foodie tight with your budget. Just 10 minutes drive away, our friends took us for dinner one evening at Osteria La Lanterna, a charming restaurant just by the lake. Pamela is a fabulous chef gloriously travelled and engaging. The food was divine and the bill a fraction of what you’d pay in Switzerland for such treats.
Lessons learnt / tip/ reminder: Milan to Lugano is the easiest way in and if you are coming from Malpensa airport (like us) and you are hiring a car, you’d need a vignette for Swiss highways, a pricey ChF40 regardless of the number of days spent.
If you are not in a rush, just take the scenic route via Como Lake: Cernobbio, Argegno, Mennagio and then head to Lugano via national roads. There are heaps of charm, picture and refreshments opportunities just by Como and Lugano lakes!
For more inspiration in Central Western Europe, head to our dedicated article on Croatia. Or another great roadtrip around France, check out these gorgeous child friendly chateaux hotels.