Lake Lugano

Lake Lugano is a lake on the border of Italy and Switzerland, between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Nearly two-thirds of the lake is in Switzerland and the remaining part in Italy.

The lake, which is of glacial origin, is nestled among beautiful mountains and is a popular tourist destination for boating. Regrettably, Lake Lugano is still heavily polluted and bathing in it is considered risky.

Examples of well-establish hot spots for tourism around the lake are Monte San Salvatore, Monte Generoso and Monte Brè.

The UNESCO World Heritage site Monte San Giorgio is located south of Lake Lugano.

lake lugano


Italian name: Lago di Lugano

Alternative Italian name: Lago di Ceresio

German name: Luganersee

Latin name: Ceresius lacus

The name Lake Lugano is derived from the city of Lugano, located on the lake’s shore in southern Switzerland, within an Italian-speaking canton of Ticino, and surrounded by the Lugano Prealps.

The oldest known usage of the name Lago di Ceresio is from 590 AD when Gallo-Roman historian Gregory of Tours calls the lake by this name in one of this texts. This name is said to be derived from the abundance of cherry trees which used to grow along the lake’s shores. (The Latin word for cherry is cerasus.)

In some documents from the early 9th century AD, the lake is referred to as Laco Luanasco.

Short facts about Lake Lugano

Location The Swiss-Italian border region in Lombardy and Ticino
Coordinates 45°59′N 8°58′
Primary inflows Vedeggio







Primary outflow Tresa
Surface area Nearly 50 square kilometres
Max depth 288 metres
Average depth 134 metres
Surface elevation 271 metres

The northern and the southern part

The section of the lake located south of the Melide causeway is known as the southern basin, with the part north of the causeway being the northern basin. The northern basin is a bit less than 28 square kilometres, while the southern basin is a bit more than 21 square kilometres. The lake retention time is much longer in the nothern basin (average: 11.9 years) than in the southern basin (average: 2.3 years).

The causeway doesn’t completely cut the two basins off from each other, because a bridge in the causeway allows water to pass between the basins. Built on a moraine between Melide and Bissone in 1848, the causeway made it possible to establish a direct road connection between Lugano in Italy and Chiasso on the other side of the Swiss border. Today, the causeway is also for railway.

Cities, towns and municipalities

Examples of cities, towns and municipalities located around Lake Lugano.

In Italy

Campione d’Italia
Oria, Valsolda
Porto Ceresio
San Mamete


In Switzerland

Cantine di Gandria
Riva San Vitale


In both Italy and Switzerland

Ponte Tresa

Passenger boats on the lake

Società Navigazione del Lago di Lugano (The Lake Lugano Navigation Company) operates passenger services on Lake Lugano, both in Italy and Switzerland.

The fleet is comprised of various types of boats. Here are a few examples:

Name Passengers + Crew Max Speed
Vedetta 40+1 12.0 km/h (7.5 mph)
San Lorenzo 60+1 18.7 km/h (11.6 mph)
Sant’Ambrogio 60+1 18.5 km/h (11.5 mph)
Milano 150+2 20.0 km/h (12.4 mph)
Morcote 220+2 21.0 km/h (13.0 mph)
Paradiso 220+2 19.8 km/h (12.3 mph)
Ceresio 240+2 21.8 km/h (13.5 mph)
San Gottardo 300+2 25.6 km/h (15.9 mph)
Lugano 300+2 27.0 km/h (16.8 mph)
Italia 300+2 25.7 km/h (16.0 mph)

Prehistory and history


There is an area behind the southern shore of Lake Lugano that is very rich in fossils. This includes the UNESCO World Heritage site Monte San Giorgio. Many of the fossils have been dated to the mid-Triassic era, which means that they are around 220 million year old.

Medieval era

The first proof of a political body governing the shores of Lake Lugano are from the 9th century AD. After this, the lake was included in the County of Sperio, before falling under the domain of the Bishop of Como around year 1000.

Due to its strategic location, those seeking to control the region – and especially the traffic to and from the alps – have always wanted to take control over Lake Lugano. Control over the Alpine traffic was for instance why Como and Milan fought each other by Lake Lugano in the 13th century.

Modern era

In 1752, the border between Switzerland and Italy was fixed by the Treaty of Varese and the lake was shared by the two countries.

Campione d’Italia

Campione d’Italia is an Italian exclave on the shores of Lake Lugano, within the Swiss Canton of Ticino. By European Customs Law, the exclave – including some of the lake – is considered non-territorial for fiscal purposes and enjoys a special tax status. This includes, among other things, exemption from EU VAT.

The largest employer in the municipality Campione d’Italia is the famous Casinò di Campione, with over 50 tables and around 500 slot machines. Examples of available table games are roulette, black jack, baccarat, baccarat chemin de fer, and poker.

This casino has a mesmerising history; it was founded back in 1917 not to bring in money but to lure in foreign diplomats during the First World War and obtain information from them.

The casino is own by the Italian government but operated by the municipality, and they municipality earns enough money from the casino to run the municipality without the need for an income tax.

In 2007, the casino moved into new premises with more than 55,000 square metres of floor space, designed by Mario Botta. There are nine above the ground floors + three underground floors.