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A Comprehensive Guide about Living in Lugano

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Life in Lugano

Living in Lugano will make you fairly envied by other expats. The city is not only an excellent testament to the very high standard of life enjoyed by most of the population across Switzerland; it is also the home of the largest Italian-speaking community outside of Italy. As a result, life in Lugano means getting to experience a mix of two different cultures. The result is a diverse city that is unique in the country.

The First Step: Get to Know Lugano

Lugano is located in the Swiss canton of Ticino. This canton is in the far south of the country, and has embraced its border with Italy to the fullest. It is the ninth-largest city in Switzerland and allows you to enjoy the perks of a bigger city within the confines of a smaller area.

The city lies on Lake Lugano (Lago di Lugano). This lake is located to the south of the Alps, between the famous Lago Maggiore and Lago di Como. But living in Lugano doesn’t only afford you beautiful views of the lake.

The Alpine scenery is also stunning, as Lago di Lugano is framed by two mountains: Monte Brè, to the north, and Monte San Salvatore, to the south. Both offer amazing views of the city and lake beneath them. The beautiful landscape of the area has led to the presence of many celebrities, who choose to spend the summer in Lugano.

The climate is definitely favorable to those living in Lugano. The winters are quite mild, and the summers — although they do often see a lot of rain — are usually warm. These attractions have led Lugano to be nicknamed the “Monte Carlo of Switzerland”.

From Mountain Biking to Visiting Churches

Living in Lugano is heaven for those who love outdoor activities, and as one of the most popular tourist destinations in Switzerland, both natural and man-made activities abound. If you do enjoy the outdoors, your first activity should definitely be a cycle on some of Lugano’s 300 km of mountain biking trails. This is the largest network of trails in the country.

If you want to enjoy the scenery without so much exertion, you can opt to take the funicular railways to the summits of Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore — or alternatively, you can simply drive there by car. On top of the first, you will find Switzerland’s (supposedly) sunniest spot, and the old village of Brè. On top of the second, you will discover an ancient church and a museum.

If you decide to live in the center of Lugano, you will find yourself surrounded by historic points of interest. Seventeen sites across the town are nationally significant, and part of the Swiss heritage sites. These sites range from libraries, churches, and museums to a cemetery and the Radiotelevisione Svizzera di Lingua Italia (the Italian broadcasting facility).

Paying in Lugano

It is easy to assume that Switzerland is part of the European Union. However, living in Lugano means that you need to familiarize yourself with Swiss francs (CHF), or franco svizzero in Italian. Credit and debit cards are accepted across Lugano, and the Swiss railway, the airport and highway tolls accept euros, too.

For more information about daily life in Switzerland, check out our Family, Children, and Education guide.

Public Transportation in Lugano

The Swiss public transportation system functions excellently. In fact, many declare that they can set their watches by it. This should not be an exception in Lugano. However, the city’s proximity to more relaxed Italy might lead to some slightly longer delays in public transportation…

Short or Long Journeys? Go by Bus

Several bus companies operate in Lugano, separated into those running short distance trips, and those designated for longer journeys only. First of all, inner city buses run frequently and are operated by Trasporti Pubblici Luganesi (TPL). Their website is in Italian only. However, this map of the bus route, and this timetable, should be fairly easy to understand even without knowledge of the language.

Suburban buses operated by the Autolinee Regionali Luganesi (ARL) connect the center of Lugano to the neighboring towns and outlying city districts of Cadro, Canobbio, Davesco, Lamone, Sonvico, Tesserete and Villa Luganese. Clicking on the Orari section of their Italian website will take you to the various bus timetables. The Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano also runs buses to Gandria and Campione d’Italia.

All longer distance buses are operated by the national company, PostBus Switzerland. This is known locally in Lugano as AutoPostale. The main AutoPostale station and ticket office is located at Via Serafino Balestra 4 (Lugano center). One of the company’s most frequented routes is its “Palm Express” service linking Lucerne and Lugano.

Want to Travel Faster? Use the Train

The SBB CFF FFS is the Swiss national rail network. It has plenty of connections across the country, and serves Lugano very well. The Italian company, Trenitalia, also connects Lugano with cities in both northern Switzerland and with Milan.

Trains also run within the canton of Ticino, as administered by Treni Regionali Ticino Lombardia (TILO) — please note that this website is accessible in only Italian or German. These trains operate every 30 minutes, and connect Lugano to Bellinzona (the capital of Ticino) and Chiasso. Some services run to Milan as well.

The Wilhelm Tell Express only runs from May until mid-October. It connects Lucerne and Lugano. While it is aimed at tourists, there is nothing to stop locals from also using the route. Additionally, there are three funicular railways serving Lugano: one connects the railway station to the city center; one connects Lugano to Monte Brè; and the last connects Lugano to Monte San Salvatore.

The Fastest Way of Transportation: Flying

Given the excellent international links offered by the Swiss train service, the city’s airport falls slightly short. Lugano Airport, located at nearby Agno, operates mainly domestic flights, through Darwin and Swiss Airlines. However, a privately run shuttle bus service links Lugano to Milan’s international Malpensa Airport, only an hour or so away.

Education in Lugano

Learning Step by Step

Lugano’s education system is modeled on that of the Ticino canton. Children begin by attending three years of non-mandatory kindergarten. This is followed by five years of primary school, involving both standard and special primary schools.

After this, students attend lower secondary school. They are faced with two options here: either they spend two years studying at a middle school, followed by two years doing a pre-apprenticeship program, or they spend four years at school in preparation for higher education.

If students have chosen the vocational course, they can attend upper secondary school while they are completing their internship or apprenticeship. Otherwise, students will complete four years of upper secondary school and then go on to study at a university or college.

International Students

For the children of expatriates, it can be difficult to settle into local schools, especially if they do not speak the language. Education in Ticino is carried out in Italian. If this is not suitable, or your child has already begun their education elsewhere, expat kids can continue attaining their qualifications by attending an international school.

In Lugano, the American International School is the one favored by most parents. It is known locally as TASIS, which stands for The American School in Switzerland. It is located in Montagnola, a small town just outside of Lugano.

Higher Education

Lugano is the site of many different institutions of higher education. One is the Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI), also known as the University of Lugano. This university excels in architecture, informatics, economics, and communication sciences. It was founded in 1996, and has close links with universities in northern Italy.

Another is the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), which offers more than 30 different Bachelor and Master courses, and has a focus on linking theoretical knowledge to practical application.

Alternatively, students can attend Franklin College Switzerland. This is a liberal arts institution which is located in Lugano and offers an American four-year college education. The college is fully accredited in the United States and Switzerland.

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