Locarno in Ticino is a popular place to go for long weekends. The entire region of Ticino is quite popular with those who live in the German-speaking region of Switzerland, especially in the spring. As soon as the ski season is over, people are looking forward to warmer weather and other outdoor activities. Ticino is usually the first place that comes to mind.
It is not surprising that some visitors to Ticino are also travelers from Northern Italy, specifically Milan, who wish to explore the country bit by bit. Locarno is one of the options along with Ascona.
The town of Locarno is located in Ticino, on the northern edge of Lake Maggiore. Palms, pines, and chestnut trees surround this place, giving it a Southern flair. There is an abundance of subtropical flora, as well as cafes, frescoes in their churches, and swimming lidos.
Locarno used to be a very wealthy town centuries ago. Its location made it ideal for collecting customs duty from Italian travelers passing through the Alpine passes. Additionally, they had good markets. However, the reformation forced out 55 wealthy families who moved to the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Zurich became the new home for the families. Zurich, we now know, is one of the wealthiest cities in the country, if not the world.
How can you make the most of your long weekend or stay in Locarno? Locarno offers a wide variety of activities and things to do. Following are some ideas that will make your stay in Locarno more enjoyable.
Piazza Grande – it is the picturesque town square in the center of Locarno. Furthermore, it is the largest square in Ticino.
The Piazza Grande hosts international events, concerts, and festivals, as well as a weekly market every Thursday. The arcades are built in the style of the Lombards and are filled with shops and restaurants. The stones came from the nearby Maggia River.
Madonna del Sasso
Ticino’s Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso 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. With Lake Maggiore and mountains as its backdrop, the views heading to and inside the church are stunning.
Getting to the church is easy with the Locarno-Madonna del Sasso funicular. In addition, it is near the base station of the Orselina-Cardada-Cimetta cable car. It is open from 7:00 AM until 6:30 PM.
Near the old town is Castello Visconteo (also known as Castello Rusca). A Renaissance building, the Castello Visconteo sits in the Piazza Castello on the edge of the old town. The residence belonged to a Captain called Orelli. Next, it passed to the Ghibellines, then to the Viscount of Milan. The name comes from Visconti, the Viscount of Milan who seized it during an attack in 1342.
Currently, it is home to an archaeological museum dedicated to events that transpired or affected Locarno, as well as eighteenth-century artifacts.
The mountain Cimetta is located in the Lepontine Alps, above Locarno and Lake Maggiore. 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.
Switzerland’s two extremes can be seen from the top – its lowest point is the delta of the Maggia River, and its highest point is the Dufourspitze on the Monte Rosa massif.
Cardada offers views of Lake Maggiore, the Magadino Plain, the Brissago Islands, and the rest of the Swiss Alps. There is also a playground and a treasure hunt for kids.
If you would like to read more about Cardada Cimetta, you can check out our article Cardada Cimetta Mountain: A Must-Visit Destination For Families.
Falconeria Locarno is an aviary in Locarno located around 15 minutes from Piazza Grande.
A variety of birds live in the aviary, including eagles, vultures, owls, storks, and falcons. The Birds of Prey Show is the highlight of visiting the aviary. As part of the show, they demonstrate how different birds can fly to and from various places on command. The birds, especially the larger ones, are impressive. Additionally, the place has a restaurant and a small playground for children.
If you would like to read more about Falconeria Locarno, you can check out our article Falconeria Locarno And The Remarkable Birds of Prey Show.
Valle Verzasca is one of the beautiful valleys near Locarno. It is located between Leventina and Maggia and is formed by the Verzasca River. The valley is still considered isolated. In this region, houses are built out of stone and are called Rustici. These stone houses have been converted into holiday homes.
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. Located in the valley is the Verzasca Dam, which is known for its 220-meter high bungee jump, which appeared in the James Bond film GoldenEye.
If you would like to read more about Valle Verzasca, you can check out our article Valle Verzasca: How to Get There.
The picturesque town of Ascona, around 7 minutes away from Locarno, is a popular tourist destination. The beautiful waterfront promenade and historical old town make it a perfect holiday destination. There are many Swiss heritage sites in the town of Ascona. In fact, the entire town of Ascona is listed on the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites.
A visit to nearby Ascona is definitely worthwhile if you’re in Locarno.
If you would like to read more about Ascona, you can check out our article Is Ascona Worth Visiting?
Valle Maggia is Ticino’s largest alpine valley.
Maggia Valley is formed by the Maggia River and lies between the Centovalli and Lago Maggiore. There are 800 kilometers of hiking trails in the valley, which go through beautiful scenery, waterfalls, stone bridges, typical villages, churches, chapels, fine sand beaches, and more.
One interesting place to visit in Maggia Valley is the German-speaking village of Bosco Gurin.
Botanic Gardens in the Ascona – Locarno Region
Having mild weather in Lake Maggiore, it’s no wonder there are botanic gardens in and around Locarno. Here are three options for those who want to visit botanic gardens.
- Camellia Park Locarno (Parco delle Camellie) is located between the Maggia Delta and Piazza Grande. This park has almost a thousand species of camellia.
- Brissago Islands (Isole di Brissago) 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.
- Botanic Garden of Gambarogno (Parco botanico Gambarogno) is a beautiful garden approximately 25 minutes by car on the right side of Lake Maggiore. Magnolias, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, conifers, peonies, and junipers cover about 20,000 square meters of this garden. Originally brought to life by Otto Eisenhut, today it is run by his son Reto Eisenhut. This garden has the world’s biggest collection of magnolias with over 450 types. Also present are 950 types of camellias and 400 types of azaleas and rhododendrons.
Summary: Visiting Locarno for a Long Weekend
Visit Locarno, the third-largest town in the Italian-speaking region of Ticino. In the town itself, visitors will find an old town, a piazza (the main square), restaurants, churches, etc. If you have a couple of days in Locarno, it would be a shame not to spend some time exploring the nearby valleys of Verzasca and Maggia; both offer beautiful scenery owing to the rivers and surrounding mountains. On Lake Maggiore, you can take a cruise on the ship. Stop at Brissago Islands and discover the garden there. It is also possible to go to Ascona, which has a beautiful waterfront and historic buildings.
No matter what you choose, I hope you enjoy your stay in Locarno.
- 12 Best Day Trips From Locarno
- Zurich To Locarno Train: All You Need To Know
- Lugano To Locarno Train: All You Need To Know
- When Is the Best Time to Visit Locarno, Switzerland?
- Best Ascona Activities and Attractions
- Most Beautiful Villages In Ticino
- Falconeria Locarno And The Remarkable Birds of Prey Show
- Lugano vs. Locarno: Which is better?
- History of Bosco Gurin And Why It’s Worth A Visit
- BoBosco Trail In Amazing Verzasca Valley
- Make the Most of a Long Weekend in Lugano
- Corippo, Switzerland: Ticino’s Charming Hilltop Village
- 5 Best Amazing Valleys in Ticino, Switzerland
- Best Italian Switzerland Cities and Towns
Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.