WHAT TO DO IN LOCARNO, SWITZERLAND
So, are you ready to find out about the best things to do in Locarno, Ticino? 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 is 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 (ASCONA)
I visited Locarno on my first trip to Switzerland 11 or 12 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 it 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: VILLA ORSELINA – With its privileged location above Locarno, the elegant Villa Orselina – Small Luxury Hotel Resort & Suite Hotel boasts an outdoor pool offering breathtaking panoramic views over Lake Maggiore.
The hotel features an on-site tennis court, as well as an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, spa, and fitness center that guests can use free of charge. Villa Orselina is conveniently located just 50 meters from the Madonna del Sasso Church, the Cardada-Cimetta Cable Car, and the historic train connecting Orselina to Locarno. BOOK YOUR STAY AT VILLA ORSELINA HERE
MID-RANGE: PICCOLO HOTEL – The Piccolo Hotel is situated in a tranquil location, just an 8-minute walk from both the Locarno Train Station and the city center. The hotel features cozy rooms, some of which offer balconies and en-suite facilities. Piccolo Hotel has a limited number of 8 free private parking spaces, and public parking is also available nearby for a fee of CHF, which can be reached within a 5-minute walk.
Within just 10 minutes on foot, guests can reach the banks of the beautiful Lake Maggiore. BOOK YOUR STAY AT PICCOLO HOTEL HERE.
BUDGET: LOCARNO YOUTH HOSTEL – The Youth Hostel Locarno is set amidst a verdant garden, and it is located 1.5 km away from both the train station and Lake Maggiore. The hostel’s restaurant serves up a tempting range of Swiss and Mediterranean cuisine.
The hostel features a children’s play area, complete with toys, and an outdoor table tennis facility for guests to enjoy. The hostel’s bright rooms come with shared or private bathrooms, and some rooms feature a work desk to cater to guests’ needs. BOOK YOUR STAY AT THE YOUTH HOSTEL LOCARNO HERE
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.
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. 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.
- A Swiss Travel Pass 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 all over Switzerland without any additional costs.
- Find out more about a Swiss Travel Pass here.
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.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN LOCARNO / ASCONA
Here are my favorite places to visit in Locarno as well as in Ascona.
Locarno Promenade /Muralto
- Free to visit
- Open 24/7
Locarno is beautiful – and has a charming promenade with palm trees, flowers, and lovely views of the Swiss 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 – which is an actual resort of its own but it seamlessly merges with Locarno – 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.
Lake Maggiore stretches from the Swiss region where Italian is spoken, far into the Piedmont and Lombardy areas of Italy. It is the second-largest lake in Italy and the largest in southern Switzerland!
The lake enjoys a mild climate that favors the growth of lush Mediterranean flora along its shores. In the inland regions lies a rugged and enchanting mountainous terrain with awe-inspiring vistas.
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 (unlike some brownish lakes I have seen here in Germany) 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. Whether you just hop on a boat in Locarno to get to Ascona, the Brissago Islands or
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 it 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, which is one of the top Locarno activities. 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
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.
- You can get there with a regular bus (included in the Swiss Travel Pass), or by funicular from Locarno to Orselina (a 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)
The church itself is quite big and really stunning. It is also free to visit – what else can you ask for?
Cardada / Cimetta
Cardada/Cimetta is a mountain, situated in the Lepontine Alps, that rises above the town of Locarno and overlooks Lake Maggiore. From there, you have a great panorama of Locarno, Bellinzona, and Lake Maggiore.
You can get easily from Orselina to Cardada by funicular.
- Ticket prices for the funicular from Orselina to Cardada are about 25€. Discount with a Swiss Travel Pass.
I visited on a pretty hot day and walking around cost too much energy. So I just enjoyed the scenery while not moving too much. These views…were absolutely stunning and some of the best views in Ticino.
There is at least one restaurant but I would bring some snacks, drinks, and a blanket – this is the perfect spot for a nice picnic in Locarno. If I remember correctly, you have free drinking water right when you get off the funicular station, by the way.
This beautiful Swiss town is one of the best places to visit near Locarno – Ascona.
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.
The old town is particularly charming, with beautiful architecture – I probably liked it even more than Locarno´s 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. Check out my Ascona post for more detailed information.
Then it is time to leave Ascona and see more of the places in/near Locarno.
Another beautiful place in Locarno (or the region of Locarno) are the Brissago Islands – just a short boat ride away from Locarno/Ascona.
- There is an entrance fee of about 5€ to get to the Brissago Islands
- The boat cruise is free with a Swiss Travel Pass
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 – a gorgeous place for nature lovers who yet are not adrenaline junkies but rather like short walks and beautiful “things”.
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, which is one of the most famous and popular places in the region of Locarno.
Verzasca Valley (or Valle Verzasca) is a 25-kilometer-long valley in the district of Locarno and comprises several municipalities including the picturesque Lavertezzo.
Nestled in a beautiful mountain area, the Valle Verzasca is a great place for hiking, biking, and enjoying nature. In the middle of the valley is the emerald-green Verzasca River with smooth rocky areas and deep pools perfect for swimming in the summer.
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 valley is about cute villages but also about the water… That water! The watercolor is just amazing!
- 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 (finding parking spots on sunny days might be tricky though).
- There is also public transportation, so you can get there by bus (the yellow Postautos).
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 more crowded, when I visited in 2022 it was jam-packed. This is definitely not a Swiss 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.
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).
It got its name because it has many smaller valleys on both sides of the main valley. For a very long time, it has been an important place for people traveling between Switzerland and Italy. The natural beauty here is amazing, with lots of opportunities for nature lovers and people who enjoy hiking.
- Free with a Swiss Travel Pass
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 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 (Verzasca Dam).
If you want to do it like it was done in the James Bond movie (GoldenEye) 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 THE BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN LOCARNO
Locarno offers a delightful blend of cultural richness, natural beauty, and recreational activities for travelers. From exploring the charming Old Town with its historical treasures to basking in the serene ambiance of Lake Maggiore, there’s something for everyone. Don’t miss the mesmerizing landscapes of Centovalli and Verzasca Valley, perfect for hiking and outdoor adventures.
Additionally, the annual Locarno Film Festival adds a touch of glamour to the town’s cultural scene. Whether you’re seeking relaxation, adventure, or cultural immersion, Locarno has it all, making it a must-visit destination that truly encapsulates the essence of Switzerland.
Locarno 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 on the best things to do in Locarno/Ascona in a few days. Enjoy and stay safe!