Located in the southern part of Switzerland in the canton of Ticino, set by the northern shores of Lake Maggiore, the Italian-speaking town of Locarno offers the perfect blend of Switzerland and Italy. This charming town is known for its Mediterranean flair, which beautifully complements the scenic landscapes of the Swiss region. Locarno’s moderate climate makes it an ideal destination for year-round travel, so grab your bags and let’s go on a little tour of the things to do in Locarno, Switzerland.
1. Stroll Around the Piazza Grande
This one is hard to miss; The Piazza Grande is considered the very heart of the old town of Locarno. The delightful main square is set on a beautiful cobblestone road that is built with river pebbles and dates back to 1825. The Lombard architecture style, together with the colorful facades of the buildings, invite you to wander around and let the town work its magic. The restaurants nearby are the perfect choice if you feel like having an Italian-style meal combined with Swiss hospitality.
Apart from restaurants, numerous shops, bars, and businesses you can explore are located in the square. Further on your walk, you will see the Torre del Comune (Municipal Tower), a medieval clock and bell tower built by the Visconti family. Piazza Grande is also the starting point of the rest of the city’s attractions, so we recommend starting your tour here.
2. Visit the Locarno Film Festival
Locarno Film Festival is a 10-day festival held every year during the hot summer days of August. It has become an important tradition that gathers film enthusiasts from the Swiss region and from all over the world. The 73-year-old festival is a staple of Locarno tourism and has showcased films from directors such as Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch, Aleksandr Sokurov, and Abbas Kiarostami before they were world-renowned directors. Their open-air Piazza Grande venue seats around 8000 spectators each year. So, if you happen to be in Locarno during the summer, make sure to check out this famous European film festival.
3. A Glimpse of History in Castello Visconteo
The majestic Visconteo Castle is situated just a walk’s distance from the Piazza Grande. This municipal and archaeological museum’s oldest remaining parts date back to the late 12th or 13th century. Part of this castle—which is known as Leonardo’s Rivellino—is a Renaissance fortification designed and built by Leonardo da Vinci during the 16th century and has remained intact to this day. Furthermore, in the museum, you can find an extensive display of ceramics and Roman glassware, as well as various artifacts from the region of Ticino.
4. The Sacred Mount of Madonna Del Sasso
From Locarno’s center, you can either climb by foot or hop on the funicular for a charming ride to visit the Sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso in the municipality of Orselina just below Locarno. This is a sacred place of pilgrimage that Franciscan friar Frá Bartolomeo built in 1487 as a place of worship after his apparition of the Virgin Mary on the night preceding the Feast of the Assumption in 1480. This complex now consists of a monastery, a church, chapels, and a large forecourt from which you can see the most picture-worthy views of Locarno, Lago Maggiore, and the Maggia delta.
5. Observe Prey Birds at the Falconeria Locarno
The Falconry Locarno is the place to be if you are fascinated with wildlife. Here, you get the chance to encounter and take pictures of majestic birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, owls, vultures, marabous, ibis, and storks. This animal-friendly falconeria provides sheltered seats, from which you can observe the prey birds as they fly free over your head. The program is offered in Italian or German, which makes for the perfect chance to brush up on your language skills. However, if you speak neither of the languages, the show is quite enjoyable either way.
6. Walk by the Blooming Parco delle Camelie
The Camellia Park in Locarno, situated near the shores of Lake Maggiore, is the perfect spot to enjoy a walk among the vivid colors of the multiple varieties of the Camellia flower. The park is set in a labyrinth-like arrangement of over 900 varieties of Camellias. Additionally, the park hosts an annual scientific exhibition where you can see a showcase of different plant types from all over the world. The Locarno Camellia exhibition, now at its 23 edition of the event, will be held in 2021 from 19th to 21st March.
7. Swim Your Worries Away at Lido Locarno
If you feel like going for a swim (you’re at a lakeside town after all!) Lido Locarno is the place for you. This “lido”—the Italian word for “outdoor swimming pool”—set on the shore of Lake Maggiore, is a nice entertaining spot if you prefer being by the water. Here you can find numerous outdoor and indoor swimming pools accessible year-round, no matter the weather. The facilities offer recreational activities, sports, and modern bathing facilities for the ultimate relaxation.
8. Enjoy the Music at the Moon and Stars Festival
The Piazza Grande once again gathers art lovers from all over, this time for the lovely atmosphere of the Moon and Stars Festival, the largest music festival in the Southern Alps. Every July, thousands of festival-goers get to enjoy music performances from renowned international artists. Recent years’ program included names such as Rita Ora, James Arthur, The Script, Snow Patrol, Jamiroquai, among many others. The ten annual open-air concerts make for an unforgettable summer experience in Locarno.
9. Take a Trip to the Nearby Village of Ascona
Ascona is a small picturesque village just nearby that you can quickly reach in about 12 minutes by taking the city bus, or you can enjoy the sights from Lake Maggiore by boat. This village is relatively small, and easy to get around in; you can practically circle the whole village on foot and not get tired. Here, too, you can get a taste of Italy through the Italian-style dishes served in the cozy restaurants located in the village’s cobblestone alleys. Ascona offers you the local feel and is a delightful place to visit if you want to spend a slow day relaxing by the waterfront views of the lake.
10. Bungee Jumping James Bond-style in Verzasca Dam
If you are an adrenaline junkie, the Verzasca Dam welcomes you for James Bond-inspired bungee jumping. From Locarno, a 20-minute ride by bus will take you to the enchanting valley of Verzasca. The magical green river of Verzasca and the surrounding villages with beautiful house fronts make for a view that looks like something straight out of a postcard. On the bus ride there, you can stop for a bungee jump adventure from the dam where the opening scene of the James Bond movie “GoldenEye” was shot.
These were some of the attractions that visitors of Locarno swear by. This wonderful lakeside town in Ticino is now waiting for you to explore it.