Best Things to Do in Locarno and Ascona

WHAT TO DO IN LOCARNO AND ASCONA

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 to Locarno/Ascona.

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, and stunning lakes. And Locarno is one of the beautiful towns.

With 2,300 hours of sunshine per year, Locarno is also the town with the warmest climate in Switzerland. So, and 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 need to come back and spend some more time. And so I have revisited a few more times – and here are my recommendations for Locarno.

However, before talking about the best activities, here are some travel tips for your Locarno trip.

Where to Stay in Locarno/Ascona

  • Luxury Hotels in Locarno – I have stayed in 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 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 are within minutes in Locarno.
  • Budget Hotels in Locarno – Do not expect bargains when traveling in Switzerland, so there are no real budget hotels.

For general money-saving tips, check out my post with the best tips.

How to Get Around Locarno

You can also walk and hike – it is always worth walking as much as possible as this is the best opportunity to stumble upon a hidden gem. Wear comfy shoes because you might have to do some down/uphill walking plus there are some cobbled-stones streets.

  • 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. If you travel by car, you might have difficulties finding parking (and parking fees can be expensive).  Plus, you will be faster with public transportation most of the time.  
  • The only exception was when I visited Verzasca Valley – both times, I went there by car and it was probably more convienet than getting there by bus because I stopped quite a number of times. However, public transportation will also get you there. 
  • 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 it’s a road trip. It is only for non-Swiss residents though.

  • 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.

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 (even if I road trip Switzerland).  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 totally felt safe, and 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.

Click here for all my Switzerland posts.

Okay, finally we get the top things to visit in Locarno /Ascona.

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TOP PLACES TO VISIT IN LOCARNO / ASCONA AND THINGS TO DO

Here are my favorite places to visit in Locarno as well as in Ascona.

Locarno Promenade

  • Free to visit
  • Open 24/7

I recommend starting with the town center of Locarno itself. The town is located on Lake Maggiore’s northern shore at its northeastern tip in the canton, and you can easily spend a full day here just relaxing, strolling, and enjoying life (and even more).

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Locarno is beautiful – and has a charming promenade with lovely views of the Alps and Lake Maggiore. So walking along the promenade is one of the best things to do in Locarno. What a nice way to chill and relax!

points of interest Locarno
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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”.

Lago Maggiore in Locarno
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The lake is blue, which is a good thing, but Switzerland spoils its visitors numerous green and turquoise lakes, so I have become very picky. Lago di Maggiore rather felt like an Italian like 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 old town in Ticino with Arzo Travels
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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. 
Locarno old town
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The colorful and lovely square is always worth a visit. If you need a particular reason to visit, visit 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.

Sightseeing trains in Locarno
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It takes about 30 minutes and the Locarno sightseeing train gives you a good overview of the town.

Locarno Lido

  • 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 time 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.

Lido in Locarno with Arzo Travels
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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.

Camellia Park - Parco delle Camelie in Locarno
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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 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 and at Madonna del Sasso. 

Madonna del Sasso @shutterstock
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Madonna del Sasso @shutterstock

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.

MADONNA DEL SASSO in Locarno, Switzerland Arzo Travels
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Cardada

  • Ticket prices from Orselina to Cardada are about 25€.  Discount with a Swiss Travel Pass.

From Orselina you can get easily to Cardada. From there you have a great panorama of Locarno, Bellinzona, and Lake Maggiore. 

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Cardada is also one of the top tourist attractions in Locarno in summer and winter. In winter, Cardada is a popular place to ski and in summer it is a great place to hike – or to enjoy these amazing views!

When I visited it was pretty hot that day, and walking around did cost too much energy – so I just enjoyed the scenery while not moving too much. These views…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.

Cardada - View over Lago Maggiore @shutterstuck
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Cardada – View over Lago Maggiore @shutterstuck

Ascona

Ascona should also be on your Ticino itinerary, and it is a great day trip from Locarno.

What to see in Locarno
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 Beautiful and colorful – the promenade of Ascona is one of Switzerland’s most 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 the old town even more than Locarno´s old town. So plan in a few hours to get lost in Ascona´s old town – it is one of the best things to see in Ticino.

Where to go in Ascona
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The above-mentioned places are pretty, but there are more fun things to do in Locarno.

Brissago Islands

  • There is an entrance fee of about 5€ to get on the Brissago Islands
  • The boat cruise with a Swiss Travel Pass is free

Another beautiful place in Locarno (or the region of Locarno) is the Brissago Islands. 

Places to visit in Locarno
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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 was very hot the day I visited, and my dog and I missed some parts of the island (maps available) because the weather killed us. I still enjoyed my time on the island – it is definitely one of the most beautiful places in Locarno.

Fun things to do in Locarno
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Verzasca Valley

Now it is time to talk about the stunning Verzasca Valley. I had seen many pictures on social media lately, and thus I was very keen on visiting. It is a 25-kilometers long valley in the district of Locarno and comprises the municipalities of Mergoscia, Vogorno, Corippo, Lavertezzo, Brione, Gerra, Frasco, and Sonogno.

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I got there by car. It is a scenic yet sometimes challenging drive, and I passed the famous bridge in Lavertezzo. There is also public transportation so that you can get there by bus (the yellow Postautos).

Before arriving at the Ponte de Salti (the famous stone bridge), I passed cute little villages and places. Since the car park in front of the bridge was full, I drove another 5 minutes until I found a spot I could park. This was my luck because it was a tranquil area, and I had the place almost all to myself.

The color of the water was just amazing, and I think it should be on the list of every visit to Ticino.

Best places to visit in Locarno Ticino is Valle
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This is one of the most beautiful places in Ticino – probably even the most beautiful. If you are wondering what to do in Locarno in 1 day, this place is probably a must-see.

This is definitely not a hidden gem anymore but still not crowded, and there is a reason this has become a point of interest in Locarno. When I visited in 2016 for the first time, it was almost empty – in 2018, it was already much busier and crowded.

Centovalli Railway

  • 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).

Window views in Centovalli Railway
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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.

Maggia Valley

Another must-see in Locarno is The Vallemaggia (Maggia Valley). It is lesser-known than Valle Versazca and yet absolutely stunning – with its idyllic Ticino villages, the crystalline river, the lush vegetation, and its wild nature.

Valle Maggia in Locarno
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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.

Bungee Jumping

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?

To find out more about bungee jumping in Ticino, click here.

Locarno / Ascona is surely one of the most beautiful regions in Switzerland. Though it 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 prices for a Swiss Travel Pass here.

Safe Travels, Arzo
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