If you are looking for a place that combines the charm of Switzerland with Mediterranean vibes, plus the gorgeous panorama of the mountains over a lake, you’ve found it: it’s the town of Ascona in Ticino, Switzerland. Find out about Ascona – here are the best things to do in Ascona + some useful travel tips.
Welcome to the Pearl of Lake Maggiore, Ascona! This charming lakeside town boasts a perfect blend of history, art, and culture, making it an ideal vacation spot. You’ll fall in love with its pristine lake promenade, bedecked with colorful homes that create a picturesque Mediterranean atmosphere – here is more about what to do in Ascona + more
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Is Ascona Worth Visiting?
Ascona is worth visiting. It is a beautiful town on the shores of Lago di Maggiore – it is well worth to spend one or two days in Ascona and fall in love with the charming Swiss destination.
If you use public transportation, I recommend getting a Swiss Travel Pass. I visit Switzerland often, and most of the time I get one.
- It is only available to non-Swiss residents and allows you to use trains and buses without any extra costs (there is a reservation fee for some panorama trains like the Glacier Express).
- You can also do boat cruises without additional costs – and you can cruise Lake Maggiore with the regular boats to get around (in the Swiss part of the lake).
- It also gives you a discount on most mountain rides.
- You can visit more than 500 museums without any additional costs.
Travel Passes are quite expensive. But it pays for itself if you get around via public transportation and are active in Switzerland for more than three or four days. So, check out prices for boats and trains and then calculate if it is a good option for you.
For me, it usually makes sense as I am very active and use public transportation/mountain rides often. I also love boat rides – which means many, many boat cruises for me whenever I have a Swiss Travel Pass. Check out the pass here.
Best Things to Do in Ascona, Switzerland
Ascona is famous for its pretty Old Town full of colorful houses, for the beautiful lake promenade, and for many art museums with interesting pieces. The Mediterranean vibe and the warm climate make it a special place to visit in Switzerland.
It’s easy to spend a day in Ascona, or even longer, relaxing and discovering the town and its surroundings.
Stroll the Borgo (Old Town)
The old town “Borgo” faces Lake Maggiore from the north around the harbor. Its long history is visible in the architecture of the buildings, especially the churches which date back to the Middle Ages.
The harbor, the main Church of Saints Peter and Paul (first mentioned in historical documents dating back to 1264), and a few surrounding streets compose the “Borgo”, the old town of Ascona. The pedestrian streets are narrow and the buildings are so colorful. Nice boutiques and pretty cafés and restaurants make the atmosphere very lively and charming.
Admire the Art – Iside and Outside the Museums
Even though I am not very much into art, I couldn’t help but notice lots of art museums, exhibitions, and sculptures around Ascona.
The Modern Art Museum was founded in 1922 when numerous artists who were staying in Ascona decided to donate some of their works to the municipality. The most famous works are by Jawlensky, Amiet, and Klee.
- Modern Art Museum – Opening hours – 5 March 2022 – 8 January 2023:
- Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 12 pm / 2 – 5 pm
Sunday and holidays: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm
Monday: closed, might also be closed during some other periods.
At the Museo Castello San Materno, instead, there is a permanent collection of artists from the German area from the late 1800s to the 1920s.
- Museo Castello San Materno – Opening hours – 2nd April 2023 to 7th January 2024
- Tuesday – Saturday: 10 am – 12 pm / 2 – 5 pm
Sunday and holidays: 10.30 am – 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm
Closed on Mondays from 26.6. — 13.7.23 and 2. — 13.10.23
But even without entering museums, throughout the old town, you will find art galleries and workshops, which foster a very creative vibe.
Also, there are lots of sculptures everywhere, as well as temporary installations: in 2019 there were colorful plastic animals all around, and the area of Monte Verità boasts interesting exhibitions too.
Walk Along the Lake Promenade
Of course, it is just the most relaxing thing to walk along the promenade of Lake Maggiore in Ascona.
The scenery is wonderful: colorful houses, lush hills, elegant villas, and the mountains in the background. One of the iconic spots is at the “Grand Tour of Switzerland Photo Spot” on the edge of the harbor, with the town on the left: it’s the perfect postcard thanks to the bright houses and the church bell tower.
On the other side of the harbor, you’ll find the “I Heart Ascona” sign, another great spot with a beautiful view. The promenade continues towards Locarno, paved wide with stones between the lake and a park. At the end, you’ll find a beach area.
Swing the World
Yes, there is one of the famous Swing the World swings in Ascona! It’s right at the center of the harbor, tied to a massive tree.
Make sure you enjoy yourself, take a picture, and share it on social media. If you like them, find the others located in the nearby towns and valleys – each of them offers fantastic views.
Enjoy a Boat Tour or Swim in Lake Maggiore
You know me. I love boat tours! So I am certainly going to recommend a boat tour on Lake Maggiore.
Otherwise, you can also head to the Bagno Pubblico Ascona and to the Lido di Ascona: the sandy beach is perfect to enjoy a warm summer day and swim in the lake.
- With a Swiss Travel Pass, you can enjoy free boat cruises on Lake Maggiore –. at least on the Swiss side of the lake.
Explore the Brissago Islands
Close to Ascona, there are two islands on Lago Maggiore: the Isole di Brissago.
Thanks to the unique, Mediterranean climate of the area, the larger island host the only botanical garden in Switzerland. It is incredibly rich in flora and fauna from warmer areas of the world, like Chile and the Americas, Japan and China, South Africa, and Australia.
Even though it’s a tiny island, it’s a nice place to spend a few relaxing hours. There’s also a restaurant in a beautiful villa and sculptures and fountains around the park.
You can reach the Botanical Garden on Brissago Island by boat from Ascona, Locarno, Porto Ronco, and Brissago.
- The park is open from April to November.
If Ascona is your base, make sure to visit Locarno which is just next to Ascona. Locarno is also an Italian-speaking resort city on the shores of Lago Maggiore and just 4 kilometers from Ascona.
Locarno was founded in the 12th century and is home to the15th–century Santuario della Madonna del Sasso, an art-filled pilgrimage site overlooking the city. However, it is more to do and see in Locarno – with a day there, you can visit the lovely and lively Piazza Grande, head to Camellia Park with more than 850 different camellia varieties, enjoy the views from Cardada Mountain or stroll the old town.
- You can get to Locarno by bus, boat, or walk there (about 4 kilometers).
FAQ: ASCONA TRAVEL TIPS
The whole Canton Ticino is famous for its unique mix of Swiss and Italian lifestyles, and Ascona is just as special.
Ascona is located on the shores of Lake Maggiore, in the south of Switzerland, just 10 km north of the Italian border.
With an elevation of 196 meters above sea level and the lake nearby, the climate is really quite Mediterranean: there are even palm trees! But luckily the summers are not as hot as in Italy. The highest temperatures in July and August often stay below 30°C, and the lowest in winter barely reach 0°C (but it can still snow).
The language most spoken in Ascona is Italian, but you will also be able to communicate in German or English with most people.
How to Get to Ascona
Ascona is a small town easily accessible via public transportation. Though it does not have a train station, you can get from Locarno to Ascona by bus – or you just walk (it is just about 4 kilometers). You can also take the boat from Locarno boat station and get to Ascona by boat.
How to Get Around
You do not need a car. However, If you travel by car, you might have difficulties finding parking (and parking fees can be expensive).
Many activities mentioned here can be visited on foot. Wear comfy shoes because you might have to do some down/uphill walking, plus there are some cobbled–stoned streets.
You might need public transportation here and there. Public transportation in Switzerland is reliable, on time, and gets you everywhere. And Ascona is no exception. You´ll get to all the recommended places by public transportation – as Ascona doe not have a train station, you can take the buses if needed.
Also, there are funiculars/cable cars that you can use (I will talk about that later).
My favorite mode of transportation is – and probably will always be – boats. I used boats several times (sometimes just for fun) and had scenic rides. Lake Maggiore is a beauty, and boat cruises are a great way to get around.
Where to Stay in Ascona
Honestly, I did not stay in Ascona but just visited a couple of times for a day. So, I have some tips for places to stay in Locarno as well as Ascona.
- Luxury – I have stayed at a couple of very luxurious hotels, but this is probably my favorite – ever. Villa Orselina is a top luxurious small boutique hotel in Orselina, just a few minutes from Locarno. Check out prices here.
- Mid-Range- Hotel Garni Muralto. I did not stay here, but it is one of the best-rated hotels in that price range. Find out prices here. It is not directly in Locarno, but Muralto just borders Locarno and you can get there within minutes.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BEST ASCONA ACTIVITIES
Ascona is a lovely town – combining the best of Switzerland and Italy. Whether you visit Ascona for a day or longer, it is a perfect place to enjoy a mix of culture & art, and nature. It might not be the most famous place amongst international visitors, yet it is well worth a visit, so add it to your Switzerland itinerary.