Allow us to introduce you to Locarno: an Italian-speaking resort city in Switzerland, positioned on Lake Maggiore at the base of the Alps. Marvel at the Piazza Grande, hike around Cardada or book tickets for the world-famous Locarno Film Festival.
Locarno occupies a sun-drenched spot all year round, decorated with pastel-hued buildings and a picture perfect promenade that dates back to the 12th century. It’s quintessentially Swiss with a certain Mediterranean flair and has fantastic restaurants, a lively music and film scene and plenty of scope for outdoor adventures. Discover Culture Trip’s top recommendations of things to do in Locarno.
Few towns are as pretty and charming as Locarno, with its beautiful palazzos and views over Lake Maggiore. But it’s the pedestrianised Old Town that draws people in: think narrow cobblestone alleyways, colourful houses and quaint eateries. Keep an eye out for the details. A crumbly arch with a family coat of arms, beautifully crafted window sills or an ancient fresco speak to how special this town is. Time your visit with the weekly farmers market in Piazza Grande on Thursdays.
Throughout its 74-year history, the Locarno Film Festival has occupied an important position in the landscape of the major film festivals. The open-air Locarno74 takes place over 11 nights, when the city will become the world capital of auteur cinema. The magical setting of the Piazza Grande accommodates up to 8,000 filmgoers per screening. It’s here that film fans and industry pros share their passion for cinema through a rich and diverse programme.
Well, you can’t just stand and look at it. Explore Lake Maggiore by taking a scenic cruise on its blue sparkling waters. There are a range of options, such as a shoreline trip between Brissago and Ascona, or longer journeys that cross over into Italy and down to the beautiful town of Stresa or Luino. Why not stop at the Brissago Islands, a sub-tropical botanical paradise? Some cruises offer a lunch service or bring a picnic.
Locarno’s biggest square and the heart of local life, Piazza Grande hosts international events that attract thousands of visitors every year such as the Moon & Stars music festival, Locarno on Ice and the aforementioned Locarno Film Festival. Look up to see the Lombard-style buildings skirting its outer edges, including the Torre Communale (civic tower). Explore a network of pretty arcades and alleys that spiral off the square, lined with shops, restaurants and bars. The cobblestones were sourced from the nearby Maggia River in 1825.
The Falconeria Locarno is a wonderful addition to an already fascinating city. Enjoy hour-long, twice-daily shows featuring spectacular birds of prey such as eagles, hawks, owls and vultures in various demonstrations of the ancient art of falconry. Seating is covered, and a refreshing water mist cools spectators in the hot summer months. The birds fly freely in between shows. The Flintstones-themed snack bar serves sandwiches, salads and pasta.
What better way to recharge after a busy few days of exploring on foot than with a trip to this natural saltwater spa? It’s only a 15-minute drive from the centre of Locarno and offers salt-infused thermal pools, saunas and indoor and outdoor relaxation areas with views over the lake and Ticino’s mountains. There is an excellent menu of treatments including body wraps and massages. If hunger strikes, the on-site bistro serves healthy Italian cuisine.
There is a place from where you can simultaneously see the lowest (Lake Maggiore) and highest (Monte Rosa) points in Switzerland. It’s called Cardada, and it’s Locarno’s local mountain. Easily reachable by gondola, this area is a nature wonderland, especially if you want to spend a day hiking and biking, surrounded by forests and mountain flowers. There are several paths to take, plus a restaurant with several panoramic terraces for enjoying lunch with a view.
A day trip to Val Verzasca is a must when staying in Locarno. Under half an hour from the town centre, the road starts to climb up the valley with views of an impressive dam, where the Bond movie Goldeneye was filmed. Stop in Lavertezzo to see locals jumping from the ancient Roman bridge into the river, then continue all the way up to Sonogno, where you can hike, admire waterfalls and tuck into a tasty polenta-based dish with a glass of local red wine.
Chiara Assi contributed additional reporting to this article.
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