Nikolai Lugansky was born on 26 April 1972 in Moscow, Russia, to research scientist parents. At the age of five, before he had learned to read music, he played a Beethoven piano sonata learned completely by ear. He studied piano at the Moscow Central Music School and the Moscow Conservatory. His teachers included Tatiana Kestner, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Sergei Dorensky.
During the 1980s and early 1990s, Lugansky won prizes at numerous piano competitions, most notably the Silver Medal at the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1994 (no first prize was awarded). At the same time he began to make recordings on the Melodiya (USSR) and Vanguard Classics (Netherlands) labels. His performance at the Winners' Gala Concert of the 10th International Tchaikovsky Competition was recorded and released on the Pioneer Classics label, on both CD and video laser disc formats. This was followed by more recordings for Japanese labels. He went on to make recordings for Warner Classics, Erato Records, PENTATONE, Onyx Classics, Deutsche Grammophon, and Naïve Records. In 2018, Lugansky signed an exclusive recording contract with Harmonia Mundi.Lugansky has performed together with Vadim Repin, Alexander Kniazev, Anna Netrebko, Joshua Bell, Yuri Bashmet, Vadim Rudenko, Mischa Maisky and Leonidas Kavakos, among others. In addition, Lugansky has collaborated with conductors such as Riccardo Chailly, Christoph Eschenbach, Vladimir Fedoseyev, Valery Gergiev, Neeme Järvi, Kurt Masur, Mikhail Pletnev, Gennady Rozhdestvensky, Yuri Simonov, Leonard Slatkin, Tugan Sokhiev, Vladimir Spivakov, Yevgeny Svetlanov, Yuri Temirkanov and Edo de Waart.
In addition to performing and recording, Lugansky teaches at the Moscow Conservatory.