World travelers looking for a unique destination with the perfect blend of two countries should check out Locarno. Located in the Italian-speaking region of southern Switzerland, Locarno is known for its moderate Mediterranean climate complemented by the scenic vistas at the foot of the Swiss Alps. The quaint little town on picturesque Lake Maggiore features a 12th-century promenade and pastel-painted buildings.
Locarno is the ideal year-round getaway and offers traditional tourist attractions alongside action-packed outdoor adventures. This list of things to do in Locarno will have you planning and packing for a trip to the South of Switzerland.
Locarno is easy to reach from any part of Switzerland thanks to the country’s superior train system. It’s possible to do this as a day trip but once there, you’ll probably want to stay longer. Locarno/Muralto is the train station. Muralto is another small town that borders Locarno, and the two towns blend together. The trip takes two hours from Zurich.
You can, of course, go by car, but depending on where you start, you’ll have to drive through some hairy mountain passes. It will take at least a half hour longer by car from Zurich.
Once there, you can visit most places of interest on foot if you are moderately fit. However, public transportation is available.
Located in the heart of Locarno, the Piazza Grande is the town’s largest square and one of the largest in all of Switzerland. It’s set on a charming cobblestone road built with pebbles sourced from the Maggia River. The piazza features delightful Lombard architecture and buildings with colorful facades that lend a magical feel.
Stroll through the piazza and visit the various arcades, a series of Lombard-style arches with columns. Take some time to browse the shops and dine at one of the cafes on scrumptious Italian food served with Swiss hospitality. On Thursdays, you can visit the piazza market.
As you walk further past the numerous restaurants, bars, shops, and businesses, you’ll see a medieval clock and bell tower called the Torre del Comune (Municipal Tower) built by the Visconti family.
The Grand Piazza is a venue for concerts by world-renowned artists such as Snow Patrol, The Script, and Rita Ora, and international events like the Moon and Stars Festival and the Locarno Film Festival.
The piazza is the perfect place to begin your tour of the rest of the town.
Go for a refreshing swim in this lakeside town any time of the year at Lido Locarno. “Lido” is the Italian word for outdoor swimming pools, but there are also heated indoor swimming pools so you can swim no matter the weather.
You’ll also find other recreational activities at Lido Locarno such as sports, waterslides, and outdoor games.
One of the best things about this beautiful man-made oasis is the surrounding mountain scenery. It’s a scenic place to relax and perfect for families with children.
This modern facility was designed by architects Moro & Moro.
One of the most popular places to visit in Switzerland is the Verzasca River and Dam located in the Val Verzasca of Ticino. You can get there in 20 minutes by bus from Locarno. The village with picturesque houses is centered around the emerald-green river among some of Switzerland’s most beautiful scenery.
Also known as the Locarno or Contra Dam, the arched structure was constructed between 1961 and 1965. The dam produces hydraulicity and supports the 105 MW Verzasca hydroelectric power station.
But the most popular fact surrounding the Versasca Dam is that the opening scene was shot here for the James Bond movie “Golden Eye.” Clips show stuntmen for Bond jumping from the dam. Consequently, you can take a bungee jump here for an adrenaline-pumping adventure if you dare.
Everyone will enjoy a visit to Falconeria Locarno, especially wildlife lovers and bird photographers. Hour-long shows are presented two times a day and feature spectacular birds of prey such as hawks, owls, eagles, ibis, storks, vultures, and marabous. These majestic birds are free and uncaged between shows. Watch the birds in demonstrations involving the ancient art of falconry.
It’s a fascinating show, and visitors get to interact with the birds. The seating is comfortable and covered, and in the hot summer months, you’ll love the cooling water mist provided for guests.
The program is only offered in German or Italian. It’s a good chance to brush up on your foreign language-speaking skills, but either way, you’ll enjoy the show immensely even if you don’t speak a word of those languages.
There’s a Flinstone-themed snack bar that serves delicious salads, sandwiches, and pasta dishes. Check the schedule before paying a visit because the show states at different times for different seasons.
A fun and fascinating thing to do is a visit to the Sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso. Located just below Locarno’s center, in the municipality of Orselina, the sanctuary is a sacred place of pilgrimage built by Franciscan friar Frá Bartolomeo in 1847. The place of worship honors his apparition of the Virgin Mary that occurred on the night before the Feast of the Assumption in 1480.
Today, the complex consists of a church, chapels, a monastery, and a large forecourt with stunning views of Locarno, Lago Maggiore, and the Maggia delta. The interiors of the buildings are lavishly decorated. It’s easy to see why the Madonna del Sasso is a popular place for pilgrims and tourists from all around the world.
The fun part comes from riding the charming funicular that connects you to the Oselina and the Madonna del Sasso. Although you can climb to the sanctuary on foot, don’t miss this unique funicular ride. Operating since 1906, the train line has four stations and will take you around to the best places for soaking up the views.
If you’re visiting Locarno during the hot days of August, be sure to attend the Locarno Film Festival. The open-air festival takes place over10 days and 11 nights and is held at the Piazza Grande venue which seats about 8,000 spectators every year.
The 73-year-old festival is an essential part of local tourism and the town is known as the world capital of auteur cinema, a unique type of cinema that portrays the director as an author of the film. The festival has showcased films from directors such as Spike Lee, Aleksandr Sokurov, Jim Jarmusch, and Abbas Kiarostami before they became world famous.
Located near the shores of Lake Maggiore, Camila Park is a restful spot for walks and picnics amount the multiple varieties and vivid colors of the beautiful camellias. Enjoy more than 900 different types of Camellias set in a labyrinth pattern. The surrounding views around the park make the perfect backdrop.
But Camila Park has more than just camellias. The park also hosts a fascinating scientific exhibition where you can see specimens of different plant types from around the world.
Catch two superlatives at one time and point at Cardada, Locarno’s local mountain. Lake Maggiore is the lowest point in Switzerland and Dufour Peak in Monte Rosa is the highest. This is quite an achievement in a country like Switzerland and is a must-do.
It’s easy to get there by gondola, and once there, you’ll want to spend some time hiking and biking among the forests and mountain flowers. There are multiple paths to choose from, and a restaurant with panoramic terraces for a view while you dine.
Vallemaggia (Maggia Valley) is a region of lush meadows, dense forests, clear mountain lakes, and the green Maggia River perfect for outdoor adventures. Hike among beautiful alpine scenery or along the river, bike through charming villages, and swim in the cool, verdant waters of the Maggia.
Then to recharge and rest, look for a traditional grotti and dine on delicious local dishes.
Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!