The Best Things to Do In and Around Locarno

Lake Maggiore, Switzerland
Lake Maggiore, Switzerland | © Glenn Steiger / WikiCommons
Locarno is one of those picture-perfect towns that has it all: from easy access to the mountains and a fun beach on the lake to good restaurants and a lively cultural scene. While still being quintessentially Swiss, it also has a certain Mediterranean flair, and lots to offer for those who pick it as a destination.

Wander around the Old Town

There are few lakeside towns as pretty and charming as Locarno, with its beautiful palazzos and incredible views over Lago Maggiore. Small and compact, its historical centre is much loved by tourists and locals alike and is perfect to explore on foot, as most of it is pedestrianised. Take your time to enjoy the narrow cobblestone alleys, the pretty pastel-coloured houses, the interesting museums, and the chic and unique boutiques and restaurants that surround the area.

Feel small in Piazza Grande

Piazza Grande in Locarno, Switzerland
Piazza Grande in Locarno, Switzerland | Piazza Grande in Locarno, Switzerland

The Piazza Grande is Locarno’s biggest square – as the name suggests – and is one of the most famous and impressive squares in Switzerland. Admiring it from every angle is a must, as is visiting it during one of the many festivals that animate the town throughout the year.

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Enjoy a festival in Locarno

Locarno is famous for hosting some world-famous open-air festivals: from the Festival di Locarno, in August, which has brought the most important names in movie-making to the region for over 70 years, to the Moon & Stars festival, which sees Swiss and international musicians and bands on stage for several nights of live pop and rock music under the stars. The flower exhibition, Camelie Locarno, is a must for nature lovers, as it showcases some of the most beautiful and colourful camellias you will ever see.

Everything is ready for the Festival di Locarno in Piazza Grande © vco24 / Pixabay

Meet birds of prey at Falconeria

Amusement Park, Living Museum, Zoo

Much loved by local children, the Falconeria Locarno is wonderful at any age, as it offers its visitors the chance to witness spectacular shows featuring birds of prey such as eagles, hawks and owls. The birds fly free and undisturbed in between shows, so you can observe them in their natural habitat. The show itself is fascinating and demonstrates how, over the centuries, humans and birds have worked together in interesting and unexpected ways.

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Relax at Termali Salini & Spa


Termali Salini & Spa is the place to be if you want to relax, recharge and feel rejuvenated after too many busy days exploring the area or travelling on the road. The thermal pools here are filled with saline water, and the centre is designed to gently guide you through different phases of relaxation: from baths to saunas, you can truly rest and forget about the outside world. The beautiful views over Lake Maggiore add to an already enjoyable experience. If hunger strikes, the on-site bistro has a good selection of healthy, delicious local cuisine.

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Take a cruise on the lake

What better way to explore the waters of Lake Maggiore than by taking a cruise? Ferries travel to numerous destinations and for cruises of different lengths, so depending on how much time you have and what you want to see, you will find the right combination for you. From short trips, such as to neighbouring Ascona and Gambarogno, to longer ones that cross into Italy, to Luino and Stresa, there is a cruise for everyone, including those who want the chance to dine on board.

Hike, bike and eat in Cardada

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, ideal if you want to get away from the heat and spend a day hiking, biking and relaxing surrounded by forests, peaks, and mountain flowers. There are several paths to take, some easy, others more demanding, and there is a restaurant with several panoramic terraces for enjoying lunch with a view.

Travel back in time in Val Verzasca

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, and there is so much to see and do around it that you will want to get an early start. The valley starts with views of an impressive dam, where the Bond movie Goldeneye was filmed, and immediately charms visitors with its lush woods, emerald waters and quaint villages.

Stop in Lavertezzo to see young 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 have a tasty polenta-based dish with a glass of local red wine. On the way down, stop at one of the numerous river accesses and see if you are brave enough to swim in the river… the water is very cold even on the hottest day.

Sonogno, Switzerland © Gerda Speelziek-Abou Shanab / Shutterstock

Visit the Gambarogno Botanical garden

Botanical Garden

Surround yourself with beautiful, colourful flowers at the magnificent botanic garden in Gambarogno, not far from Locarno, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Otto Eisenhut, a talented and enthusiastic gardener, bought the land in 1955 and began cultivating thousands of flowering plants, including 950 types of camellias, 450 different magnolias, azaleas, peonies and rhododendron, covering an area of more than 20,000 square metres, as well as ivy, pines, juniper and other rare European and exotic coniferous trees.

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Explore Val Bavona

The wildest, most rugged valley in the area, Val Bavona is a nature-lover’s paradise, and it offers the chance to enjoy fresh air and stunning views. The drive to the traditional settlement of Foroglio is spectacular in itself, as the road climbs between steep cliffs, rivers and a lush forest. The village, with its stone houses and eye-catching geraniums, is impossibly quaint and the nearby waterfall, dropping 108 metres, is a must-see before visiting the local restaurant, where visitors can dine on local favourites such as veal stew, polenta and drilled sausages.

These recommendations were updated on July 24, 2018 to keep your travel plans fresh.