Locarno or Ascona: Which Town at Lake Maggiore is Better?

The Ticino region in southern Switzerland has long been a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Visitors to this place are drawn in by the mild climate and the relaxed atmosphere that reminds them of Italy. When choosing where to stay, most visitors will choose a location near the lake.

Although Lugano is the biggest city in Ticino, not everyone will want to choose Lugano as their destination. There are some people who prefer staying at Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore). And they might end up choosing between Locarno and Ascona. Is it better to stay in Locarno or Ascona?

In Ticino, these two places are right next to each other on the shores of Lago Maggiore (Lake Maggiore). Locarno is busier and better connected in terms of public transportation, but Ascona is just as beautiful with a mostly car-free promenade, restaurants, and an old town that is a protected heritage site. 

In this article, we will provide you with a comparison between Locarno and Ascona so that you can decide which one is better for your next visit to Switzerland. How does Locarno compare to Ascona? We’ll take a look at it in more detail.

Towns: Locarno or Ascona

Locarno and Ascona are both located on the northern side of Lake Maggiore.  Here are the key differences between the two:

LocarnoAscona
Population: approx. 16,000Population: approx. 5,400
Area: 19.27 km2Area: 4.95 km2 
Elevation: 200 mElevation: 196 m
third-largest town in Ticinosmall medieval town with Swiss Heritage Site
Surrounded by: Ascona, Avegno, Cadenazzo, Cugnasco, Gerra, Gambarogno, Gordola, Lavertezzo, Losone, Minusio, Muralto, Orselina, Tegna, Tenero-ContraSurrounded by: Brissago, Gambarogno, Intragna, Locarno, Losone, Ronco sopra Ascona

Visiting Ascona-Locarno is a wonderful experience. To give you a taste of what the region is like, Ascona-Locarno Tourism just shared an excellent video. 

Now, let’s take a closer look at each town and find out what each one has to offer. 

Locarno

Image by TouringSwitzerland.com

Locarno is the third most populous city in canton Ticino, after Lugano and Bellinzona. The town lies on the northeastern bank of the Maggia River delta. 

Although Locarno is not the largest town in Ticino (Author’s Note: Lugano is), it is still larger than Ascona. Additionally, it is easier to reach with public transportation than Ascona. There is a train station in Locarno, with direct trains from Bellinzona.

Ascona

Ascona is located across Locarno, separated by Maggia. It is located on the southwestern side of the Maggia River delta.

Compared to Locarno, Ascona is a smaller town. Additionally, it does not have a train station, so you will have to take a bus from Locarno or Losone to get there.


Places to Visit: Locarno or Ascona

Places to visit in Locarno

Image of Castello Visconteo in Locarno by Wikimedia
  • Piazza Grande – Ticino’s biggest urban square is the Piazza Grande. It hosts a market with local produce every Thursday. This piazza is surrounded by arcades, a lake, and gardens.
  • Old Town – Locarno’s historical old town dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • Castello Visconteo – The old town is close to the Castello Visconteo (also known as Castello Rusca). It was constructed for Giovanni Rusca in 1497.
  • Falconeria Locarno – The Falconeria Locarno is located around 15 minutes from Piazza Grande in Locarno. The aviary houses a variety of birds, including eagles, vultures, owls, storks, and falcons. 
  • Museo Civico – Beautiful glass objects from the Roman era can be seen in the museum. Artifacts from the bronze age are also present.
  • Pinacoteca Comunale Casa Rusca – This museum is housed in a building dating back to the 18th century. The museum, which was founded in 1987, exhibits works by Swiss as well as foreign artists.
  • San Francesco Church – This church was built in 1316 for the German-speaking residents of Locarno. It was rebuilt in 1538 using stones from the Visconteo castle.
  • Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso – The Madonna del Sasso Church is one of the most important religious and historical sites in the canton. An apparition of the Virgin Mary is said to have taken place at this Franciscan site. In 1487, it was consecrated.

Places to visit in Ascona

Image of Ascona by adege from Pixabay
  • Ascona Promenade – the Ascona promenade is a very beautiful place for a stroll or a meal. It is mostly car-free and offers beautiful views of Lake Maggiore. 
  • Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Paolo –  A visit to Ascona’s old town would not be complete without visiting Saint Peter and Saint Paul’s Church (Chiesa dei SS. Pietro e Paolo). The church was built in the middle ages and then renovated in the 18th century. Many frescoes, some dating back as far as the 16th century, adorn its interiors. 
  • Casa Serodine – Previously known as Casa Borrani, Casa Serodine is one of Ascona’s most beautiful houses. The stunning palazzo is located near the lake and old town.
  • The Santa Maria della Misericordia ChurchIt was constructed between 1399 and 1442. The tower dates back to 1488.
  • Museo Comunale D’Arte Moderna – The art museum in Ascona is called Museo Comunale D’Arte Moderna. The museum occupies a historic 16th-century building. In this museum you will find works by Ascona-based artists. Among the works shown here are those of Paul Klee, Cuno Amiet, and Jawlensky.
  • Monte Verità – The hill of Monte Verità stands above Ascona and the nearby Lake Maggiore. Currently managed by a foundation of the same name, the building serves as both a congress center and a cultural center.

Day Trips from Locarno and Ascona

Considering how close Locarno and Ascona are to each other, there aren’t very many differences with regard to the day tours that you can take from either area. In any case, here is a rundown of all the diverse day trips that you can do from the two spots.

Image of Verzasca Valley by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Cimetta-Cardada – The mountain Cimetta is located in the Lepontine Alps, above Locarno and Lake Maggiore. The Locarno – Madonna del Sasso funicular connects the city center with Orselina. Cable cars connect there to Cardada, where a chairlift takes guests to the summit. It offers stunning views of Lake Maggiore and the Swiss Alps. There is also a playground and a treasure hunt for kids.
  • Valle Verzasca – Verzasca Valley is one of the beautiful valleys near Locarno. There are several beautiful villages (or hamlets) in the valley, such as Corippo, Sonogno, and Lavertazzo. Lavertazzo is famous for its  Ponte dei Salti bridge, which is frequented by swimmers. It is a must-see if you are in the area.
  • Valle Maggia – Ticino’s largest alpine valley. This valley is formed by the Maggia River and lies between the Centovalli and Lago Maggiore.
  • Brissago Islands (Isole di Brissago) – Brissago Islands are a pair of islands in Lake Maggiore close to Ronco sopra Ascona and Brissago. Isola Grande is a big island with many subtropical plants native to both the northern and southern hemispheres. Open since 1950, the big island has been a popular tourist spot since then. It is possible to reach them by boat.
  • Botanical Garden of Gambarogno (Parco Botanico del Gambarogno) – The Botanic Garden of Gambarogno is about 25 minutes by car from Locarno on the right side of Lake Maggiore. Magnolias, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, conifers, peonies, and junipers cover about 20,000 square meters of this garden. It was Otto Eisenhut’s dream to have this beautiful garden. Nowadays, his son Reto Eisenhut runs this park, which has the world’s biggest collection of magnolias. Also present are 950 types of camellias and 400 types of azaleas and rhododendrons
  • Brissago – The lakeside village of Brissago has a charming mountain landscape too. Some of the most famous monuments here are the Churches of Madonna di Ponte and of S. Pietro e Paolo, the paroque Palazzo Branca, and the Sacro Monte Oratory.

Summary

In Ticino, both Ascona and Locarno are gorgeous. And if you’re having trouble deciding between the two, I hope this side-by-side comparison was of some assistance. Personally, I enjoy both locations equally and have no preference for one over the other.

In any case, I believe that Locarno is the best option if you plan to travel primarily by public transportation, as it is better connected to the other regions of Ticino. And if you’re traveling by car, both Locarno and Ascona will be good options. There will be no clear advantage staying in one or the other if you are coming by car.

It will most likely come down to which lodging you are able to book, and whether you can find a hotel that meets your needs in either one of the two locations.

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