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Geneva vs. Lugano: Which is Better?

Last Updated on June 3, 2024 by Darla Uhl

In Switzerland, Geneva and Lugano are two cosmopolitan and picturesque lakeside cities. While Geneva is the largest city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Lugano is the largest city in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. Have you been trying to decide whether you want to visit Geneva or Lugano?

Geneva sits on the shores of Lake Geneva, which is a picturesque region with mountains, vineyards, bustling cities, museums, and spas. On the other hand, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Canton Ticino, is a charming, sunny region filled with treasures – from flowered promenades, turquoise rivers, quiet valleys, Grotti, museums, mountains, castles, and beautiful villages.

It would be difficult to choose between Geneva and Lugano for those considering visiting Switzerland, but they do not know which of the two to pick. And which one would be a better base to explore the rest of the region? Let’s have a closer look.

Overview: Geneva vs. Lugano

The key differences between Geneva and Lugano are as follows:

GenevaLugano
Population: approx. 200,000Population: approx. 62,615
The largest city in the French-speaking part of SwitzerlandThe largest city in the French-speaking part of Switzerland
the second-largest financial hub of Switzerland
after Zurich
the third-largest financial hub of Switzerland
after Zurich and Geneva
Elevation: 375 mElevation: 273 m
Area: 15 km²Area: 75.93 km²
the largest city in the Italian-speaking part of SwitzerlandHighlights: Old Town, Church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli, San Salvatore Mountain
Lake: Geneva (or Lac Léman)Lake: Lugano
Canton: GenevaCanton: Ticino

Cities: Geneva vs. Lugano

Geneva

Image of UN Geneva by TouringSwitzerland.com

Geneva is a global city in every sense, and soon after arriving here, you’ll hear people speaking languages from all over the world. On the shores of Lake Geneva, it is the second-most populous city in Switzerland and the most populous in the French-speaking part. 

Thanks to its many international organizations, Geneva is a global city, a financial center, and a diplomatic hub. As home to the United Nations, Red Cross, World Trade Organization, World Health Organization, and many more, Geneva truly is an important city for diplomacy, international cooperation, and humanitarian engagement.

As a major financial center, Geneva ranks fifth in Europe after London, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Luxembourg. The Pictet Group, Bank Lombard Odier & Co., Union Bancaire Privée, Mirabaud Group, Bordier & Cie, Edmond de Rothschild Group, and One Swiss Bank are just a few banks with headquarters in Geneva.

Lugano

Image of Lugano by TouringSwitzerland.com

Lugano is the largest town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and the ninth-largest in Switzerland. It has the largest Italian-speaking majority outside of Italy. The town lies right along Lake Lugano. 15 minutes away is the Province of Varese in the Italian region of Lombardy.

Tourists, even those from the German-speaking regions of Switzerland, are usually drawn to Lugano because of its mild weather compared to the rest of the country.


Things to Do: Geneva vs. Lugano

Fantastic Views of Geneva from the Tower by TouringSwitzerland.com

While there are many things to do and places to visit in Geneva, we have provided some of the highlights of this city below:

  • Geneva’s Old Town – Geneva’s Old Town is its historic center. In addition to Saint Peter’s Cathedral, you’ll find Bastion Park, the Reformation Wall, the Place du Bourg-de-Four, the Treille Promenade, and more.
  • United Nations Building – If you want to see one of the world’s most important diplomatic centers, the Palace of Nations is a must. There are tours available upon request. 
  • Jet d’Eau – Check out Geneva’s water jet, the Jet d’Eau. Bains des Pâquis is also nearby.
  • St. Pierre Cathedral – The Cathedral was built between 1160 and 1252. It was used by John Calvin, one of the key figures of the Protestant Reformation. St. Pierre Cathedral is one of the most important landmarks in Geneva.
  • Visit the museums – Geneva also has its fair share of museums.
    • A standout is the Maison Tavel, which is an example of medieval civil architecture. 
    • You can also see ancient artifacts, glass, and ceramics at the Ariana Museum. You can also check out nearby Ariana Park.
    • If you’re into watches, you can visit the Patek Philippe Museum.  
  • Lake Geneva – On top of all of that, you can stroll along Lake Geneva or cruise on it – the largest lake in Switzerland is indeed a place where you can swim in summer, cruise in a boat, or just stroll around. 
  • Enjoy a walk in one of the parks – The two parks worth mentioning are Parc de la Grange and Parc des Eaux-Vives. These parks have well-tended flower beds, and it’s always a pleasure to walk through them. Come see the flowers when they are blooming.
Image of Mount San Salvatore as seen from Parco Ciani Lugano by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli  – It is the most important church in Lugano. Despite its simple exterior, the interior is absolutely stunning. “Passion and Crucifixion”, the massive Renaissance fresco with more than 150 faces and figures, is located in the church. As the painting’s title suggests, the artist depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ alongside Gestas and Dismas.
  • LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura – Those interested in arts and culture should visit LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura. Built only in 2015, the center supports various art forms, from visual arts to music. In this modern building on the banks of Lake Lugano, you’ll find events and shows for all ages.
  • Via Nassa for shopping for watches, jewelry, bags, and clothes.
  • Piazza della Riforma and Palazzo Civico – Piazza della Riforma is the main square of the city of Lugano. Different events (concerts, Christmas lights) may take place in this city square. It also houses the Lugano Hall called Palazzo Civico.
  • Catedrale San Lorenzo – The Cathedral has beautiful frescoes and valuable Baroque decors. It was founded back in the 15th century and completed in 1517.
  • San Salvatore – Monte San Salvatore is a mountain in the Lepontine Alps above Lake Lugano and the city of Lugano in Switzerland. Monte San Salvatore is accessible by funicular from the city. 

Day Trips Nearby: Geneva vs. Lugano

Geneva and Lugano are both close to many beautiful towns and mountains. The cities of Geneva and Lugano are also close to France and Italy, respectively. Therefore, Geneva might make more sense if you’d rather see France after, while Lugano might make more sense if you’d rather see Italy after.

ViewFromLausanneCathdral
Image of Lausanne by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Nyon – this lovely lakeside town is about 25 kilometers northeast of Geneva; it’s actually part of the bigger Geneva metro area. This lovely town has a castle and the entire town itself is on the Swiss Heritage Inventory.
  • Prangins – in this town, Château de Prangins is a great place to learn about the history of the country and its heritage. The town of Prangins recently received the Wakker Prize in 2020  for preserving and treasuring its architectural heritage.
  • Vevey – is a beautiful town near Montreux that has lots of interesting museums such as the Alimentarium, Chaplin’s World, Museum of Fine Arts and Prints, the Swiss Museum of Games, and more.
  • Lausanne –  with its charming old town and fantastic views of Lake Geneva, also has a lot of historical buildings and museums to visit. Other places to visit in Lausanne are the Cathedral, Bellerive Plage, the Olympic Museum, Plateforme 10, and Aquatis Vivarium.
  • Lutry – The Lutry Castle or Rôdeurs Castle, the Roman Catholic Church of Saint-Martin, the Swiss Reformed Church of Saint-Martin, and a Gothic facade house are just some of the historic places you can visit in Lutry. This whole region is also famous for being part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site: Lavaux, Vineyard Terraces.

In case you would like to read more about the various towns that you can visit from Geneva, you can check out this article – 9 Beautiful Towns Near Geneva, Switzerland.

Day Trips from Lugano

Morcote, Ticino
Image of Morcote by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Morcote – It is one of the most beautiful villages in Ticino. The village of Morcote sits on the peninsula of Ceresio about 10 kilometers south of Lugano, in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland. Located on the shores of Lake Lugano, it offers a panoramic view of various Italian villages in the Varese region. 
  • Sentiero dell’Olivo – In Sentiero dell’Olivo we learn about the history and nature of olive tree growth along 3.5 kilometers of trails. There will be 18 information boards where you learn about olives and the olive oil they produce.
  • Gandria – Gandria is another picturesque village in the Lugano region. The buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are decorated with frescoes and stucco. From Lugano, it can be reached by boat. 
  • Carona – Carona is a charming village at the foot of Monte San Salvatore, just above Lugano. Despite its small size, it has an exceptionally rich cultural and historical heritage. During the 15th and 18th centuries, local craftsmen (architects, decorators, painters, and sculptors) worked all over Europe leaving traces of their expertise behind in Carona. 
  • Monte Genoroso – This mountain can be found in Switzerland’s Lugano Prealps, near the Italian border. This mountain is situated between Lake Lugano and Lake Como. Monte Generoso is nestled in a nature reserve that is known beyond our borders. The spectacular “Fiore di Pietra” (stone flower) stands majestically on the mountain’s rugged crest. The building, designed by Mario Botta, features picture windows that frame the breathtaking views. 
  • Monte Brè – The mountain is located east of Lugano on the flank of Monte Boglia, and it offers views of the bay of Lugano and the Pennine Alps as well as the Bernese Alps. It is considered one of the sunniest places in Switzerland.

In case you would like to read more about the various day trips that you can take from Lugano, you can check out this article – 8 Best Day Trips From Lugano.


Hotels: Geneva vs. Lugano

A variety of hotel options are available in both Geneva and Lugano to suit any budget. We have compiled a list of some of our favorite hotels in both cities:

Image of Beau-Rivage Genève Hotel by TouringSwitzerland.com

Hotels in Geneva

  • Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva (5-star) – Set in a historic building from 1834, Four Seasons is one of the best hotels in Geneva. You can’t go wrong with this hotel with its elegant interiors, fine dining restaurant, indoor infinity pool, spa, business services, and multi-lingual concierge.
  • Beau-Rivage Genève (5-star) – With its panoramic views of the lake and Mont Blanc, this elegant 5-star hotel is right on Lake Geneva. Cornavin Train Station is just a five-minute walk away. This hotel has a highly-rated French restaurant called Le Chat Botté.  There is a 24-hour front desk, fitness center, concierge service, a business center, and more.
  • Hotel Bristol (4-star superior) – Between Geneva’s train station and the lake, this 4-star superior hotel Hotel Bristol makes a great choice for tourists. This hotel has a wonderful spa area with saunas, a hot tub, and a hammam. Besides that, it’s got a great restaurant called Côté Square.
  • citizenM Geneva (4-star) – citizenM Geneva is close to some main attractions, including St. Pierre Cathedral, Jet d’Eau, the Flower Clock, and Geneva Town Hall. The hotel has air-conditioned rooms, a restaurant, and a bar, too. 
  • Hotel Bernina Geneva (3-star) – Located opposite Geneva’s train station, the Hotel Bernina Geneva is a convenient 3-star superior hotel with clean, modern rooms. 
  • MEININGER Geneve Centre Charmilles (Hostel) – Although this hostel isn’t in the center of the city, it’s well connected, so you can easily get to all the sights. With 24-hour reception, free WiFi, luggage storage, a washing machine, a dryer, a kitchen, a bar, and a game zone, you’ve got everything you need for your stay in Geneva. 

Hotels in Lugano

  • Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola (5-star) – Right on Lake Lugano’s shores, this grand hotel set in a private park is just a few steps from the old town. You can enjoy complimentary WiFi, an indoor pool, a tennis court, and three restaurants at the hotel.
  • Hotel Splendide Royal (5-star) – The elegant hotel is situated on Lugano’s main lakeside street and features fantastic rooms, Gault Millau-recognized restaurants, a pool, a sauna, and a steam bath. Most of the rooms have a classic touch, and some offer spectacular views of the lake.
  • Swiss Hotel Apartments (5-star apartments) – For those who prefer more space and don’t mind not being directly in the city center or on the lakefront, this apartment hotel may be a suitable fit. Compared to hotels at the same price point, this apartment hotel offers larger rooms, a TV with cable channels, a private bathroom, a dishwasher, a microwave, a refrigerator, a kettle, and a coffee maker. The apartment has a terrace as well. Particularly for business travelers and parents with children, it’s an excellent choice.
  • LUGANODANTE (4-star) – The newly renovated hotel sits right on the Piazza Cioccaro, in the heart of Lugano. As it is air-conditioned and soundproof, the hotel is a smart choice during summer when it gets hot out. With its modern rooms and free WiFi, this hotel is a great option when you want to stay in Lugano. Lugano’s Città-Stazione funicular connects the main train station with the city center every five minutes.
  • Hotel Federale (3-star) In a central location, Hotel Federale is a convenient hotel with reasonable rates, within walking distance of the train station, Lugano town center, and Piazza Riforma.

Final Thoughts: Geneva vs. Lugano?

Let’s get back to the question: should you visit Geneva or Lugano? Visiting either place will be great, as they both have lots of hotels, restaurants, museums, and things to do. Moreover, both have picturesque old towns, promenades along lakes, gardens, and shopping areas. 

The two cities are comparable in price, so I wouldn’t really use this as a comparison point. The scenery around both of them is also beautiful. Despite this, both Geneva and Lugano have their own advantages.

Advantages of Visiting Geneva

  • The city of Geneva is larger, more cosmopolitan, and more international than Lugano. If you wish to stay in a more international setting or if your group is more international, this is the perfect option.
  • Ideal for those who wish to visit France before or after Geneva. Closer to the French Alps.
  • Ideal for those who come in via Geneva Airport for practical reasons.
  • In the Geneva region, hiking can take you through vineyards, the Arve River, the Rhone, along Lake Geneva, and the Versoix woods. It is possible to go on easier hikes if that is more your style.
  • Geneva has more hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants.

Advantages of Visiting Lugano

  • Despite being the largest city in Ticino, Lugano has a fraction of Geneva’s population. The Italian influence is very strong which will make it more enjoyable for you if you enjoy Italian culture and tradition.
  • Ideal for those who wish to visit Italy before or after Lugano. Closer to Italy and popular destinations such as Como and Milan.
  • Ideal for those who come in via Milan Malpensa Airport for practical reasons.
  • Throughout the region of Lugano, there are more than 940 kilometers of trails, varying in difficulty and availability. Near the city are the mountains of San Salvatore and Bre. If you are interested in hiking and being outdoors, the Lugano region is the ideal choice.
  • Grotti are local taverns in Lugano that serve delightful food, polenta, cheese, and wine in a relaxed atmosphere. A visit to Lugano is ideal if you prefer to dine in grotti rather than in Michelin-starred establishments.

It is indeed difficult to choose between Geneva and Lugano. Both are fairly easy to reach, have pleasant climates, beautiful places to visit, and mountains nearby. As far as both of these places are concerned, I really like them both and can’t pick one. Choosing a destination depends on your wants and needs.

Enjoy Geneva or Lugano, whichever you choose! 

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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.

Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.

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