Lake Lugano, Italy & Switzerland

Lake Locations:

Italy - Lombardy - Switzerland - Ticino -

Also known as:  Lago di Lugano, Ceresio

Lake Lugano, which curls through southeastern Switzerland just south of the Swiss Alps and borders northern Italy, features the best of both of these countries and cultures. The lake region enjoys northern Italy’s warm Mediterranean climate for three seasons of the year, and outdoor recreation choices are diverse and nearly unlimited, especially in the warm seasons: from walking the verdant valleys and escaping to the nearby mountains to following the biking and hiking trails, to climbing, sailing, water skiing, paddle boating, swimming, scuba diving, windsurfing and leisurely exploring the beautiful area and the local shopping districts, the active traveler will be thrilled with this location. Horseback riding is also popular, as is tennis, soccer, and golf. Funicular railways are available for young and old, allowing everyone to enjoy the mountaintop views.

Winter around Lake Lugano is just as popular. Ski resorts can be found within a half-hour drive of the city of Lugano, the lake’s namesake. Saint Moritz, one of the most popular Swiss resorts, is located to the north, a scenic 90-minute drive away. Views of mountaintops frosted with snow and excellent skiing conditions abound in the cold months, yet the climate remains quite mild and appealing throughout the winter season.

For more relaxing pastimes, ferry trips and boat cruises on the lake are a clear choice for absorbing the startlingly crisp and colorful scenery uninterrupted. Other attractions include a delightful outdoor theater in Lugano Lido for summer viewing of popular movies; and clubs, cafes, bars and a casino for memorable local drink, food and entertainment. Lake Lugano attracts visitors for its scenic beauty and wide choice of activity, yet remains a truly peaceful and relaxing getaway.

Although Lake Lugano has had its current name for more than 260 years, it was also known as Ceresio, a word derived from the Latin term for cherry, as early as 500 AD. It may have been called Ceresio because of the vast numbers of cherry trees that once grew around the lake. In 1752, the Treaty of Varese established the current Italian-Swiss border that divides the lake. The Dam of Melide was constructed in 1848 between Melide and Bissone, cities located on opposite sides of Lake Lugano. This dam separates the Swiss and Italian northern basin from the Swiss-owned southern basin. Water retention times vary, with the southern basin’s retention at 2.3 years, and the northern basin’s at 11.9 years; residence time averages 8.2 years.

Lake Lugano is a glittering glacial lake, yet its deep blue bathing waters can be downright balmy due to the Mediterranean climate. The lake has a surface area of 12,083 acres (48.9 square kilometers), with roughly two-thirds of that area in Switzerland’s Ticino region and one-third in Italy’s Lombardy region. The average width of the lake is about 0.6 miles (1 kilometer); its maximum width is 1.86 miles (3 kilometers). Average depth is 440 feet (134 meters), and its deepest point is 945 feet (288 meters). The St. Gotthard railways cross the Dam of Melide, as does the A2 roadway. This dam, built on a naturally occurring glacial moraine, connects Lugano on the west shore to Chiasso on the east. With a ferry service that runs the full length and and ports at several different locations along the lake, this area is very accessible and tourist-friendly.

Lago di Lugano, as it’s known in Italian, is surrounded by attractions on all sides. Two popular area family attractions include the Swiss Miniature Village, an enchanting display sure to be intriguing to all ages, and the Alprose Chocolate Factory, which is a delight for the senses–and a source for unforgettable edible souvenirs. South of the lake is Monte San Giorgio, a World Heritage Site known for its abundance of fossil deposits. On the Swiss end of the lake are the botanical park in Carona, a smuggling museum in Gandria, and a natural history museum. On the Italian end there is an enjoyable museum of sacred art and locally found fossils in Scaria. The impressive sights of Monte San Salvatore, Monte Generoso, and Monte Bre surround the lake, on the western, southeastern, and eastern shores, respectively. Lake Maggiore is found to the west, while Lake Como is located to the east of Lake Lugano. These three lakes together make up Italy’s Lake District. Although Lake Lugano is the smallest of the three, it is loved for its abundant beauty and endless activities.

Since 1752, the indigo waters of Lake Lugano have been shared legally by Italy and Switzerland. More than two dozen villages and towns surround the lake; the low crime rate and relaxed atmosphere of the region permeates all of them. Travelers will find a sophisticated culture, including a wide range of festivals of music and art, historic buildings, the architectures of many churches and cathedrals, grand piazzas, museums, galleries, parks, gardens, fine restaurants, a well-kept promenade along the lake in Lugano itself, upscale shops and boutiques, and more traditional markets that carry goods made by local artisans.

Fishing is allowed in most areas, the exceptions being a few protected regions. From local species to those introduced, fish are plentiful. The largemouth bass, zander, burbot, eel, welsh catfish, carp, European perch, European chub, tench, brook trout and the common whitefish are all in residence, with the common roach being the species with the largest numbers. A few species are protected, including the bleak and the white-clawed crayfish. Local eateries feature regional cuisines, which frequently includes fresh fish caught from Lake Lugano. The city of Lugano is found on the lake’s northwest shore, in Switzerland, though its inhabitants are Italian-speaking. Both northern Italian and Swiss cuisine are featured in this region, with nearly unlimited choices for dining ranging from intimate cafes to gourmet restaurants.

The area around Lake Lugano is dotted with self-catering vacation rentals that blend tastefully into the local architecture. From apartments, cottages, townhouses, and rusticos to luxury villas, there are many options and styles to choose from. Available real estate includes single-family homes, restored villas, apartments in small complexes, and even luxury houseboats. Building land is also available for those looking to build their holiday dream home in this hidden paradise.

Things to do at Lake Lugano

  • Vacation Rentals
  • Fishing
  • Boating
  • Sailing
  • Swimming
  • Water Skiing
  • Scuba Diving
  • Golf
  • Tennis
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Horseback Riding
  • Museum
  • Shopping
  • Casino Gambling

Fish species found at Lake Lugano

  • Bass
  • Black Bass
  • Brook Trout
  • Burbot
  • Carp
  • Catfish
  • Eel
  • Largemouth Bass
  • Perch
  • Roach
  • Tench
  • Trout
  • Whitefish
  • Zander

Lake Lugano Photo Gallery

Lake Lugano Statistics & Helpful Links

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Trophic State | LakeLubbers

Trophic State measures the level of algae and nutrients in a lake.

An oligotrophic lake is very clear (blue in color) and does not support much plant or fish life. A hyper-oligotrophic lake is the clearest of all lakes, and is nearly devoid of plants and fish.

A mesotrophic lake is slightly green and supports a moderate degree of plant and fish life. A lake's most desired trophic state is generally this mid-point - the mesotrophic state.

A eutrophic lake is somewhat murky and supports a large amount of plant and fish life. A hypereutrophic lake is clouded with algae, plant life, and fish life. A eutrophic or hyper-eutrophic lake can be difficult to navigate by boat - and is often an unpleasant place to swim.

The use of phosphorus-rich and nitrogen-rich fertilizer on lawns and golf courses surrounding a lake can cause it to become eutrophic or hypereutrophic.


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Catchment or Drainage Area | LakeLubbers

This is the surrounding area that drains into a lake, including land, rivers and their tributaries. This is also known as the lake's "catchment basin".

Small lakes at the highest peaks of mountains have small drainage areas. The world's oceans have the largest drainage areas.


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Lake-Area Population | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated number of people who live in a house with a view of a lake, plus those who self-describe the lake as their home, for example: "I live at Smith Mountain Lake."


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Water Residence Time | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated time that it takes for an amount of water equal to the entire volume of a lake to flow out of - or evaporate from - the lake.

Residence Time can be as short as a few days for fast-flowing small lakes, and can exceed 100 years for slow-flowing large lakes.


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Completion Year | LakeLubbers

This is the year that a reservoir was first filled to the reservoir's normal elevation - or the year that a natural lake was first dammed. A large reservoir can take more than a year to fill after its dam is first closed.

The Grand Anicut in southern India is generally considered the world's oldest dam that still operates. Grand Anicut was constructed in the second century BC. It now impounds an irrigation network that includes roughly one million acres.

You can find many of the the world's newest reservoirs on LakeLubbers. Many of the world's oldest reservoirs appear on the last page of that list.


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Water Volume | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated volume of water that a lake contains -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. By this measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal.

You can find many of the the world's largest lakes (by water volume) on LakeLubbers.

Water Volume can be measured in acre-feet, in cubic miles, or in cubic kilometers. One acre-foot is the amount of water needed to cover one acre (43,560 square feet) to a depth of one foot. One cubic mile equals 3,379,200 acre-feet. One cubic kilometer equals 810,713 acre-feet.

1 acre-foot is equal to 325,851 US gallons. Siberia's Lake Baikal contains about 6,276,367,740,000,000 gallons of freshwater - nearly 1 million gallons for every living person on earth.

The other - and more widely used - measure of a lake's size is the lake's surface acreage. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is North America's Lake Superior.


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Maximum Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated greatest depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. The world's deepest lake is Siberia's Lake Baikal; that lake's maximum depth is estimated at 5,314 feet.

You can find many of the the world's deepest lakes on LakeLubbers. If you select the last page of that list, you will find the (maximum depth of) the shallowest lakes in our database.


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Average Depth | LakeLubbers

This is the estimated average depth of the water in a lake -- measured at the lake's normal elevation. If the water volume and surface area of a lake are known, an estimate of the lake's average depth can be calculated:

Water volume ÷ Surface Area = Average Depth

Example: 1,000,000 acre-feet ÷ 20,000 acres = 50 feet average depth


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Maximum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's highest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can occur during flooding. A lake's highest possible maximum elevation is usually the top of the lake's dam or spillway.

At lakes that include residential development, government regulations usually forbid the construction of homes below a lake's maximum elevation.


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Minimum Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's lowest water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level, that can be reasonably expected to occur. Low lake levels can occur due to deliberate seasonal draw downs for irrigation or impending snow melt, reduced water inflows, drought and evaporation, residential or commercial water demands, and hydropower generation.

Some lakes' minimum and maximum elevations are virtually the same. Lakes that generate hydropower may vary by several feet - according to power demand. Lakes whose primary purpose is to prevent flooding can seasonally vary by 100 feet or more.

When some lakes reach their minimum elevation, their boat ramps may not be long enough to permit boat access - and boats docked on shallow parts of the lake may end up on dry ground. In those cases, kayakers and shore-based anglers may be among the few happy recreational users of the lake.


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Normal Elevation | LakeLubbers

This is a lake's normal water level, measured by the lake's surface distance above sea level. For a reservoir, this water level is also known as "full pond" or "full pool".

You can find many of the world's highest-elevated lakes on LakeLubbers. Lakes with the lowest elevations (known by LakeLubbers) are shown on the final page of that list.


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Shoreline Length | LakeLubbers

This is the length of the exterior shoreline around a lake - measured at the lake's normal elevation. The shoreline length can be considerably shorter or longer when lake water levels are lower or higher than normal.

A lake with many coves has a much longer shoreline than a lake of similar surface area that is nearly circular in shape.

When known, the shoreline miles that we report in our statistics include only the lake's exterior shoreline, and exclude the shorelines of islands located within a lake's boundaries. In lakes with many islands, those islands' combined shorelines may exceed a lake's exterior shoreline.

You can find many of the world's longest-shoreline lakes on Lakelubbers.


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Surface Area | LakeLubbers

This is the area (acreage, square kilometers, etc.) of the top surface area of a lake - measured at a lake's normal elevation. The surface area can be considerably smaller or larger when lake levels are lower or higher than normal. North America's Lake Superior is the world's largest freshwater lake by this measure.

The other measure of a lake's size is the lake's water volume. By that measure, the world's largest freshwater lake is Lake Baikal in Siberia.

You can find many of the world's largest lakes (acres) on Lakelubbers. There is no widely-accepted minimum surface area that defines a lake. What Lakelubbers describes as a lake, you might call a pond. The smallest lake that Lakelubbers currently includes is Hawaii's 2-acre Lake Waiau.


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Water Level Control | LakeLubbers

This is the organization that controls water releases or outflows from the lake or reservoir. In the USA, this is often the US Army Corps of Engineers, a power company, a municipal water system, an irrigation district, or a paper manufacturing company. In the case of private or gated lakes, a homeowners' association may be the lake's controlling authority.

Many lakes cross borders, including North America's Great Lakes. The control of such lakes and their coveted freshwater may be amicably shared - or hotly disputed.

"Water wars" continue at many lakes as growing populations and crop irrigation needs compete for the freshwater that lakes contain.


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Lake Type | LakeLubbers

There are 3 basic types of lakes that are currently included on LakeLubbers. 2 types may be dammed or not dammed, producing 5 classifications.

- A Reservoir is a man-made freshwater lake that is usually created by damming rivers.

- A Natural Freshwater Lake occurs naturally - often by glacial activity - and has a salinity of less than 30 parts per thousand. It may be dammed to produce electricity or for other reasons.

- A Natural Saltwater Lake occurs naturally and has a salinity of more than 30 parts per thousand (ppt). It may be dammed.

"Brackish" water may be categorized as freshwater or saltwater, depending on its salt content (salinity). Oligohaline water has less than 15 ppt of salt. Mesohaline water has 15-29 ppt. Polyhaline has 30-335 ppt.


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