WHAT TO DO IN LOCARNO AND ASCONA
- 1 WHAT TO DO IN LOCARNO AND ASCONA
- 2 TRAVEL TIPS FOR LOCARNO AND ASCONA
- 3 TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN LOCARNO / ASCONA
- 3.1 Locarno Promenade
- 3.2 Lake Maggiore Boat Tour
- 3.3 Old Town of Locarno
- 3.4 Sightseeing Train Tours
- 3.5 Locarno Lido
- 3.6 Camellia Park / Parco delle Camelie
- 3.7 Orselina / Madonna del Sasso
- 3.8 Cardada
- 3.9 Ascona
- 3.10 Brissago Islands
- 3.11 Verzasca Valley
- 3.12 Centovalli Railway
- 3.13 Maggia Valley
- 3.14 Bungee Jumping
- 4 FINAL THOUGHTS ON BEST THINGS TO DO IN LOCARNO
So, are you ready to find out about the best things to do in Locarno and Ascona? Then this post is for you. Here you will find your answer to the question “what to do in Locarno,” and you´ll also find important travel tips for your trip.
Switzerland is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries in the world. While everyone knows Zurich, Lucerne, Interlaken, or Geneva, not everyone knows the smaller, but no less gorgeous, places – places like Locarno.
Locarno and Ascona are located in the canton of Ticino, which is in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. This canton amazes with stunning sceneries, colorful villages & towns, breathtaking valleys, and gorgeous lakes.
With 2,300 hours of sunshine per year, Locarno is also the town with the warmest climate in Switzerland. So, while it can get hot in the summer, it is one one the best places to visit in Switzerland and one more reason to visit in spring, fall, and winter.
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TRAVEL TIPS FOR LOCARNO AND ASCONA
I visited Locarno on my first trip to Switzerland 10 or 11 years ago. Back then it was just a day trip, but it was clear to me that I needed to come back. And so I have revisited a few more times. Based on that, I have listed my favorite activities for you.
But first: here are some travel tips for your trip.
Where to Stay in Locarno/Ascona
- Luxury Hotels in Locarno – 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 Hotels in Locarno – 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.
- Budget Hotels in Locarno – Do not expect bargains when traveling in Switzerland, so there are no real budget hotels. But here are some general money-saving tips, check out my post with the best advice.
How to Get to Locarno
Locarno has a train station which makes it easily accessible from any part of Switzerland. It can be quite time-consuming to get to Locarno from Zurich or Zermatt, however, thanks to public transportation it is all possible to do day trips. The train station is Locarno / Muralto. Muralto is a small town just bordering Locarno, but they are blending into the other.
- From Zurich to Locarno, it just takes two hours by train.
- From Lugano to Locarno, it takes about 20 minutes by train.
You can also get to Locarno by car, though you most likely have to drive some mountain passes (depending on where you start exactly). Locarno itself is quite busy (though it is a small city) and parking – especially on a warm and sunny day – can be stressful.
I would suggest getting to Locarno by train, but if you get there by car, this is about how long it can take.
- From Zurich to Locarno, it just takes 2,5 hours by car.
- From Lugano to Locarno, it takes about 50 minutes by train.
How to Get Around Locarno
Wear comfy shoes because you might have to do some down/uphill walking, plus there are some cobbled-stoned streets. It is always worth walking as much as possible, as this is the best opportunity to stumble upon a hidden gem.
- Many activities mentioned here can be visited on foot. You can walk to most attractions if you are semi-fit.
- For this Locarno itinerary, you could get around by car. However, I do not necessarily recommend it. The only exception might be Verzasca Valley. I went there by car both times and it was probably more convenient than getting there by bus because I stopped quite a number of times along the way because of the beautiful views. However, public transportation will also get you there.
- In general, the best way to travel in Locarno/Ascona is by public transportation. Public transportation in Switzerland is reliable, on time, and gets you everywhere. And Locarno is no exception. You´ll get to all the recommended places by public transportation.
- 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.
Swiss Travel Pass
If you use public transportation, I recommend getting a Swiss Travel Pass. I visit Switzerland often, and most of the time I get one – even if I road trip Switzerland.
It is only available to non-Swiss residents.
- It allows you to use trains and buses without any extra costs.
- 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.
- Find out more about a Swiss Travel Pass here.
The initial prices for a Swiss Travel Pass are quite high. 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 prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.
Safety Tips for Solo Female Travelers
I visited Locarno once with a female friend and several times by myself. I felt safe! I think Ticino is a great place for solo female traveling.
The crime rate is low, and if you exercise common sense and watch your bag and valuables, you should be fine.
TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN LOCARNO / ASCONA
Here are my favorite places to visit in Locarno as well as in Ascona.
- Free to visit
- Open 24/7
Locarno is beautiful – and has a charming promenade with lovely views of the Alps and Lake Maggiore. What a nice way to chill and relax! The town is located on Lake Maggiore’s northern shore, and you can easily spend a full day here just relaxing, strolling, and enjoying the Italian way of life.
I recommend starting with walking the promenade of Lake Maggiore. You can start in Muralto and walk all the way to Camellia Park.
Lake Maggiore Boat Tour
- Free with your Swiss Travel Pass
A boat tour on Lake Maggiore is also a great thing to do. However, I have to admit that Lake Maggiore did not make it in my unofficial “top 5 of Switzerland´s most beautiful lakes”.The lake is blue, which is a good thing, but Switzerland spoils its visitors with numerous green and turquoise lakes, so I have become very picky. Lago Maggiore rather felt like an Italian lake and reminded me a bit of Lake Como. Either way, it is nice and I highly recommend a boat tour.
Old Town of Locarno
- Free to visit
- Open 24/7
However, it is not only about the stunning lake and its promenade – Locarno has more to offer.Locarno also has a cute old town that is worth discovering, with many colorful buildings and lively squares. For example, the lovely Piazza Grande, which is one of the biggest squares in all of Switzerland. The colorful and lovely square is always worth a visit. If you need a particular reason to visit, check out the weekly market on Thursdays, the Moon & Stars concerts in July, or the evening film projections during the Film Festival in August.
Sightseeing Train Tours
- Tickets for adults are around 7€.
- I did not have to pay for my dog.
A small sightseeing train is a good way to get around and see the most important places in the old town of Locarno – especially if you are short on time or do not/cannot walk anymore.
It takes about 30 minutes and the Locarno sightseeing train gives you a good overview of the town.
- Lido Locarno is open throughout the year.
- There are different tickets available – to use all pools and slides the ticket prices are around 17€ for adults
Lido Locarno is a popular place amongst those who want to spend time in the water. Whether you want to be indoors or outdoors, here you have the option to choose from several pools – or you can swim at Lake Maggiore which is also accessible from the lido.Here you have slides, thermal or play pools, and more. I have not visited myself but it is known as one of the best bathing facilities in Ticino if not all of Switzerland.
Camellia Park / Parco delle Camelie
- Free to visit
If you walk all the way along the promenade (away from the train station) you will eventually get to Camellia Park in Locarno. You will find more than 850 different camellia varieties, with a flowering period of nine months.
But it is not only about camellias. You will also be able to find some tranquility in this park.
Orselina / Madonna del Sasso
- You can get there with a regular bus
- Or take the funicular from Locarno to Orselina (return ticket is about 7€ – a discount is available with a Swiss Travel Pass)
- Opening hours daily: 07:00 am to 6:30 pm (no entrance fee)
Before getting up to Cardada Mountain, you can stop in Orselina (which is a municipality in the district of Locarno situated on a hill) and at Madonna del Sasso.The founding of the sanctuary goes back to a vision of the Virgin Mary that the Franciscan brother Bartolomeo d’Ivrea experienced in the 15th century. It is one of the most famous pilgrimage churches in Switzerland and sits at about 370 meters above sea level. Thus, you get an interesting attraction plus great views.
The church itself is quite big and really stunning. It is also free to visit – what else can you ask for?
- Ticket prices for the funicular from Orselina to Cardada are about 25€. Discount with a Swiss Travel Pass.
You can get easily from Orselina to Cardada by funicular. From there you have a great panorama of Locarno, Bellinzona, and Lake Maggiore.Cardada is one of the top tourist attractions in Locarno in summer and winter. In winter, Cardada is a popular place to ski and for nice snowshoe hikes, and in summer it is a great place to hike – or to enjoy these amazing views!
I visited on a pretty hot day, and walking around did cost too much energy. So I just enjoyed the scenery while not moving too much. These views…were absolutely stunning.
You have free drinking water right when you get off the funicular station, by the way. There is at least 1 restaurant but I would bring some snacks, drinks, and a blanket – this is the perfect spot for a nice picnic in Locarno.
Ascona should also be on your Ticino itinerary, and it is a great (half) day trip from Locarno. You could actually walk to Ascona from Locarno – it is easier to hop on a bus that brings you there in just a few minutes. A more scenic way to arrive in Ascona is via boat from Locarno.Beautiful and colorful – the promenade of Ascona is one of Switzerland’s favorites because I am totally into colorful houses and buildings.
It looks as pretty as on postcards, and I am happy I managed to see it this time.
The old town is particularly charming – I probably liked it even more than Locarno´s old town. So, get lost in this cute old town.
Ascona is quite small and since it does not take long to get there from Locarno, you will just need 4-5 hours for this whole trip.
Then it is time to leave Ascona and see more of the places in/near Locarno.
- There is an entrance fee of about 5€ to get on the Brissago Islands
- The boat cruise is free with a Swiss Travel Pass
Another beautiful place in Locarno (or the region of Locarno) is the Brissago Islands.
From Ascona, hop on a boat to the Brissago Islands the boat gets there also from Locarno. The beautiful main island of the Brissago Islands is gorgeous. It is known for its botanical garden.
It was very hot the day I visited, and my dog and I missed some parts of the island (free maps available) because the weather killed us. I still enjoyed my time on the island.
Now it is time to talk about the stunning Verzasca Valley. It is a 25-kilometers long valley in the district of Locarno and comprises several municipalities of including Lavertezzo.
- I got there by car, which takes about 40 minutes. It is a scenic yet sometimes challenging drive, and I passed the famous bridge in Lavertezzo.
- There is also public transportation, so you can get there by bus (the yellow Postautos).
Before arriving at the Ponte de Salti in Lavertezzo (the famous stone bridge), I passed cute little villages and places and stopped here and there.
The car park in front of the bridge might be full and you might have to drive a bit until you find a good spot to park.
The valley is about cute villages but also about that water… That water! The watercolor is just amazing!
This is one of the most beautiful places in Ticino – probably even the most beautiful.
When I visited in 2016 for the first time, it was almost empty. In 2018, it was already much busier and crowded. This is definitely not a hidden gem anymore. People come here from all over the world to see the bridge and the river. So, on Sundays, it gets busier and so it does after 11 am or so. So, try to come early and avoid Sundays and bank holidays.
- Free with a Swiss Travel Pass
A wonderful way to see some lesser-known parts of Ticino is by doing a train ride known as Centovalli (Railway). This is a scenic train ride from Locarno in Switzerland to Domodossola in Italy which runs through the Centovalli (meaning “100 valleys” in Italian).
The window views include rocky gorges, quaint stone villages, and many waterfalls. You can get out at any stop and take the next train if you want to continue your journey.
If you plan to get out several times, you need to plan one full day for this train ride.
TIP: Next to the train station in Locarno, you will find an underground station where the Centovalli railway departs. Please keep in mind, that trains do not depart hourly. Some trains do not stop at every stop and some do not run all the way to Domodossola.
So, you need to plan in advance to make sure you see everything you would like to see + get back in time to Locarno.
Another must-see in Locarno is The Vallemaggia (Maggia Valley). It is lesser-known than Valle Verzasca and yet absolutely stunning – with its idyllic Ticino villages, the crystalline river, the lush vegetation, and its wild nature.
See the Foroglio Waterfall, the Maggia Gorge, or one of the many other beautiful spots – Valle Maggia is a perfect place for any outdoor lover. It has villages, waterfalls, a river, beautiful hiking options, and everything you will need to spend a day or two.
Valle Maggia is easily accessible via car or bus. The local bus number 315 leaves regularly from Locarno. You can get out at any stop and explore an area/sight and then get on the next bus 30 or 60 minutes later.
Make sure to plan in enough time for Valle Maggio – to see the main attraction in this valley, you will need about one day.
Are you up for a thrilling activity in Ticino? Then you might enjoy a bungee jump.
On your way to Valle Verzasca, you will pass the Contra Dam. If you want to do it like it was done in the James Bond movie you can jump….of course, not just jump but do a bungee jump from the bridge with professional people. I would never do it in my life – like never, but you might be braver than me!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON BEST THINGS TO DO IN LOCARNO
Locarno / Ascona is surely one of the most beautiful regions in Switzerland. It is a perfect mix of Italy and…the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Actually, it feels a lot like Italy. And Italy is never a bad idea, right?
Though Locarno isn’t as famous as other areas, I hope you will enjoy the area and the tips with the best things to do in Locarno/Ascona in a few days. Enjoy and stay safe!
- Check out my post on the top things to do in Lugano
- Here are tips for visiting the most beautiful village in Switzerland – Morcote
- Check out prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.