Locarno Travel Guide: 14 Best Things to Do

Locarno, the charming town on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, is a true paradise in Switzerland. Nestled between picturesque mountains and a sparkling lake, Locarno offers a unique blend of Italian flair and Swiss perfection. Here are the best things to do in Locarno, including helpful insider tips for a unique time in Ticino.

What are the Best Things to Do in Locarno, Switzerland?

Locarno is a picturesque town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in Switzerland. The city is idyllically situated on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore and is only a few kilometers from the Italian border. Known for its historic old town, Locarno offers sights such as the Piazza Grande, the Castello Visconteo and the Madonna del Sasso pilgrimage church. Every year, the famous Locarno Film Festival attracts film enthusiasts from all over the world. The surrounding region offers numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, including hiking, water sports and mountain biking. With its unique blend of Mediterranean flair and alpine scenery, Locarno attracts numerous visitors. Here is an Ultimate Travel Guide with the best things to do in Locarno, insider tips, events and much more.

1. Piazza Grande – the heart of Locarno

Start your day in Piazza Grande, the vibrant center of Locarno. This historic piazza is the perfect place to enjoy a coffee, admire the impressive architecture and watch the hustle and bustle. The surrounding colorful buildings and elegant arcades provide an impressive setting.

In the narrow alleyways around the Piazza Grande, you will also find a variety of boutiques, souvenir stores and art galleries. On Thursday mornings, the piazza is transformed into a lively market where you can discover fresh regional produce, handmade goods and unique souvenirs.

Tip: Look out for local specialties such as Ticino honey and cheese – perfect as a souvenir for those back home.

2. Discover the Old Town of Locarno

The old town of Locarno is a charming labyrinth of cobbled streets and historic buildings that will enchant you. The narrow, cobbled streets are lined with trendy boutiques, cool cafés and cozy wine bars. Historical sights such as the Chiesa di San Francesco and the Castello Visconteo are waiting to be discovered.

3. Stroll along the promenade of Lake Maggiore

The lakeside promenade of Lake Maggiore in Locarno is the perfect place to stroll and enjoy, with breathtaking views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Great cafés and bars line the promenade, ideal for lunch or a relaxed aperitivo at sunset.

4. Walk through Parco delle Camelie

The Parco delle Camelie in Locarno is a beautiful botanical garden on the shores of Lake Maggiore. It is known for its impressive collection of over 950 camellia species. In spring in particular, the park is transformed into a colorful sea of flowers that attracts visitors from all over the world. The winding paths and romantic bridges make the park an ideal place for relaxing walks and photographs. A central pond and artistic landscaping provide a tranquil oasis of relaxation. The park is also the venue for the annual Camellia Festival, which attracts many flower lovers.

5. Drink a cappucchino at Al Porto, Locarno

A cappuccino in Locarno is more than just a coffee – it’s an experience! The people of Ticino attach great importance to quality and taste, and this is reflected in every cappuccino. Enjoy your coffee at Al Porto Locarno with a beautiful view of Lake Maggiore. The perfect place to relax and unwind.

Tip: The best time for a cappuccino in Italy and Switzerland is traditionally in the morning. Treat yourself to a break after a walk along the lakeside promenade or after visiting the Parco delle Camelie.

6. Water activities on Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is known for its crystal-clear water and breathtaking mountain scenery. Stand-up paddling (SUP) is particularly popular and offers a relaxing way to explore the lake and the surrounding nature. For adrenaline junkies, there is wakeboarding and water skiing, while sailing and windsurfing are perfect options for wind lovers. Kayaking offers a quiet but exciting way to discover hidden bays and coastlines. Swimming in the clear waters of the lake is a must, especially at the numerous beautiful beaches. Rental boats are also available, ideal for a day trip to the picturesque Brissago Islands.

7. Trip to Brissago Islands

The Brissago Islands, a highlight of Lake Maggiore near Locarno, are another best thing to do in Locarno. The larger of the two islands, Isola Grande, is home to an impressive botanical garden with exotic plants from all over the world. The journey from Locarno takes around 45 to 60 minutes, the boat timetable can be checked online. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere and the perfect backdrop for Instagram-worthy photos. A short boat trip takes you from the mainland to the islands.

Get your tickets for Brissage Islands here (boat tickets not included).

8. Admire Madonna del Sasso

Madonna del Sasso is the famous sanctuary above Locarno and an absolute Best Thing to Do. Madonna del Sasso was founded in the 15th century and is considered one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Ticino. It is not only a place of religious significance, but also a cultural highlight that will inspire you.

A picturesque hiking trail leads from Locarno up to Orselina. The ascent takes around 45 minutes and offers great photo opportunities along the way. Alternatively, you can take the funicular from Locarno to Orselina. The ride also offers impressive views of the town and Lake Maggiore. Opening hours and prices can be checked on the official website.

Tip: From the terrace of Madonna del Sasso you have a spectacular view that is especially magical at sunset.

9. Climb the Cadarda di Cimetta

A trip up the Cadarda Cimetta is an absolute best thing to do in Locarno. This mountain not only offers spectacular views, but also a variety of activities that are perfect for adventure seekers. Once at the top, breathtaking views of Locarno, Lake Maggiore and the surrounding Alps await you. Here you can go hiking, mountain biking or simply enjoy nature.

The ascent to the Cardada Cimetta is an experience in itself. From Locarno – Orselina, you first take the cable car to the Cardada middle station. From there, a chairlift takes you up to the summit of Cimetta. The ride itself offers breathtaking views of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains.

10. Lido di Locarno – Sun, sand & cooling off

The Lido di Locarno is the ideal place to relax and enjoy the crystal-clear waters of Lake Maggiore. Especially after an eventful day in Locarno. The beach offers both sandy and grassy areas, perfect spots for sunbathing or playing beach volleyball. There are also pools, water slides and a thermal bath if you want to pamper yourself.

Tip: Visit the Lido early in the morning or late in the afternoon to get the best spots and avoid the crowds.

11. Visit the Verzasca valley

A day trip to the nearby Verzasca Valley is definitely worthwhile and a best thing to do in Locarno. The valley is known for its emerald-green rivers and the spectacular Ponte dei Salti, a historic arched bridge. Adrenaline junkies will get their money’s worth when bungee jumping from the 220-metre-high Verzasca dam, famous from the James Bond film “GoldenEye”.

You can easily reach the Verzasca Valley from Locarno by car or bus. The journey takes around 30 minutes and offers spectacular views of the Ticino landscape along the way.

Tip: Take bus line 321 from Locarno – the journey through the valley is scenically beautiful and you don’t have to search for a parking space.

12. Day trip to Ascona

Ascona is known for its picturesque old town and relaxed, exclusive atmosphere. The narrow streets, elegant boutiques and charming lakeside cafés give the town an upscale yet relaxed charm. The beautiful town, also on Lake Maggiore, is only about 15 minutes away by car or bus. The perfect day trip if you’re staying longer in Locarno!

13. Explore the local cuisine

Round off your day with a culinary highlight. Ticino cuisine offers delicious dishes such as risotto, polenta and fresh fish specialties.

Tip: Try the local wines. Ticino is known for its Merlot wines, which go perfectly with a hearty dinner.

14. Nightlife in Locarno

When the sun goes down, Locarno awakens to a lively nightlife. Numerous bars and clubs along the lake offer a great atmosphere for partying. Keep an eye out for local events and concerts – spontaneous parties often take place on the lake shore and last until the early hours of the morning.

Discover Events in Locarno 2024

Locarno 2024 offers a variety of exciting events that will delight you. Here are some highlights you shouldn’t miss:

Locarno Film Festival (August 7 – 17, 2024): The famous Locarno Film Festival attracts movie lovers from all over the world. New films and classics are screened under the stars on the Piazza Grande. The festival also offers workshops, discussions and parties – a perfect mix of culture and nightlife.

Moon&Stars Festival (July 12 – 21, 2024): This music festival brings international stars and up-and-coming artists to the stage on Lake Maggiore. The open-air concerts on the Piazza Grande offer a unique atmosphere, while the street food mile provides culinary highlights.

Settimane Musicali di Ascona (September 5 – October 13, 2024): This classical music festival offers first-class concerts at various historical locations in and around Locarno. A highlight for music lovers who appreciate the interplay of culture and history.

Locarno on Ice (November 2024 – January 2025): In winter, the Piazza Grande is transformed into a magical ice skating rink. With music, light decorations and mulled wine stands, this is the perfect place to enjoy the festive atmosphere. In the evening, the ice rink becomes a meeting place for locals and tourists alike.

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Locarno depends on your interests, as each season offers something unique.

In spring (March to May), the temperatures in Locarno are mild and nature comes to life. A highlight is the Camellia Festival in March. The weather in Locarno is perfect for walks along the lakeside promenade, hikes and exploring the surrounding area.

In summer (June to August) you can expect sunny weather and warm temperatures in Locarno. This time of year is ideal for water activities on Lake Maggiore, hiking in the surrounding mountains or simply soaking up the sun in the Mediterranean flair. However, the Locarno Film Festival is held in August and in

In the fall (September to November), the temperatures in Locarno are pleasant and there are generally fewer tourists. The weather is perfect for hiking, cycling or enjoying the autumn landscape.

Even winter (December to February) in Locarno still offers mild temperatures thanks to the Mediterranean climate. Compared to other regions in Switzerland, you can escape the snow and soak up some sun here. Experience the winter atmosphere, enjoy the Christmas market or ice skate on the Piazza Grande.

How many days should you spend in Locarno?

We recommend spending around three to four days in Locarno to fully enjoy the city and its surroundings. This period allows you to enjoy the historical, cultural and natural beauty of the region without being in a hurry.

Where is Locarno in Switzerland?

Locarno is located in the canton of Ticino in the southern part of Switzerland. The city is picturesquely situated on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore, a large lake that belongs to both Switzerland and Italy. Locarno is around 20 kilometers northwest of Bellinzona, the capital of the canton of Ticino, and around 120 kilometers north of Milan in Italy. Locarno’s geographical location ensures a mild climate and an impressive landscape that is characterized by both Alpine and Mediterranean influences.

How to get to Locarno in Switzerland?

Locarno is easily accessible and you have several options, depending on where you are traveling from and which means of transport you prefer. In our Locarno Travel Guide we present some options:

By car: From Zurich, the drive to Locarno takes around 2 1/2 hours. The best option is to take the A2 south via the Gotthard tunnel and then follow the A13 and the cantonal road towards Locarno. The best way to get from Milan to Locarno is to take the A2 and then the cantonal road towards Locarno. The journey takes about 1 hour and 45 minutes.

By train: There are direct connections from several large cities with the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB). Locarno’s train station is centrally located in the city. There are direct connections from Zurich to Locarno that take just over 2 hours. There are also regular trains from Milan to Locarno, with the journey taking around 2 hours. Other Swiss cities such as Geneva, Basel and Bern offer connections to Locarno, usually with a change in Bellinzona.

By air: The closest airports to Locarno are Milan-Malpensa Airport or Zurich Airport. Milan Malpensa Airport (MXP) is about 115 kilometers away and there are train connections to Locarno. Zurich Airport (ZRH) is the largest airport in Switzerland and is around 210 kilometers away. From Zurich you can easily travel to Locarno by train.

Locarno is well connected and easily accessible, whether you arrive by train, car or plane. Each of these options offers a comfortable and often scenic journey to this beautiful destination in Ticino.

How to get around in Locarno, Switzerland?

Locarno is generally compact and pedestrian-friendly. Most destinations and best things to do in Locarno can be easily reached on foot. Alternatively, there is an excellent public transportation network operated by Ferrovie Autolinee Regionali Ticinesi (FART). There are numerous bus services connecting Locarno with the surrounding towns and villages.

Where to stay in Locarno, Switzerland?

Locarno offers a variety of accommodation options to suit every taste and budget. We have a few recommendations in our Locarno Travel Guide:

Budget accommodation: Budget accommodation in Locarno includes the Youth Hostel Locarno, a cheap and friendly place to stay, ideally located near the train station. Besides, Pensione Olanda is a family-run bed & breakfast that offers a cozy atmosphere and affordable prices.

Mid-range hotels: Beautiful hotels in Locarno include the H4 Hotel Arcadia Locarno, a comfortable 4-star hotel right on the lakeshore with an outdoor pool. Or the Hotel la Palma au Lac, a charming 3-star hotel right on the lake, just a few minutes’ walk from the main Best Things to Do in Locarno.

Luxury hotels: Great luxury hotels in Locarno are the Hotel Belvedere Locarno and the Villa Orselina. The Hotel Belvedere Locarno is an elegant 4-star hotel with beautiful views of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains, including a spa, swimming pool and fine dining restaurant. Villa Orselina is a luxurious 5-star boutique hotel above Locarno with breathtaking views over the lake, a first-class spa and an excellent restaurant.

Apartments: Locarno also has a number of vacation apartments. From cozy studios to luxurious apartments with lake views, there is certainly something for everyone.

Camping: For nature lovers, there is a popular campsite directly on Lake Maggiore. It offers both pitches and bungalows for rent.

Where to eat in Locarno, Switzerland?

Locarno offers a variety of culinary experiences, ranging from traditional Ticino cuisine to international specialties. You can find some recommended restaurants in our Locarno Travel Guide:

Ticino cuisine

The Grotto Broggini is an authentic Ticino restaurant with rustic charm, known for its polenta, brasato and local wines. It is located just outside the town center in Losone, but is well worth a visit. Ristorante Sensi is a traditional restaurant near the lake that offers typical Ticino dishes such as risotto, ossobuco and fresh lake fish. The cozy atmosphere and friendly service make it particularly inviting.

Fine cuisine and gourmet experiences

The Ristorante Locanda Locarnese in the old town, which serves creative Mediterranean cuisine with local ingredients. The ambience is elegant and ideal for a romantic dinner or a special event.

International cuisine

The Ristorante Fiorentina is a cozy Italian restaurant in the heart of Locarno, known for its homemade pasta and pizza. A good choice for a relaxed lunch or dinner. The Ristorante Vallemaggia is a restaurant that offers Swiss and international dishes in a stylish setting. The seasonal specialties and exquisite wine selection are particularly recommended.

Cafés

Al Porto Locarno is a charming café right on the lake that offers a variety of coffee specialties, delicious snacks and homemade desserts. Ideal for a relaxing break with a view of the lake. Another popular café is Caffé Bartolomeo in Piazza Grande, which not only serves excellent coffee but also delicious breakfast and brunch options. A great place to watch the hustle and bustle of the old town.

How expensive is Locarno, Switzerland?

Locarno, like many other places in Switzerland, can be considered rather expensive, especially when compared to other European destinations. However, the cost depends heavily on your lifestyle, the activities you choose and the type of accommodation. However, by planning carefully and choosing budget options for accommodation and food, you can control costs. A mix of self-catering, use of public transport and targeted visits to places of interest can help to save your travel budget.

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