Your Ultimate Weekend in Locarno, Switzerland

Tucked in the mountains that divide Italy from Switzerland’s Italian speaking region of Ticino, a weekend in Locarno, Switzerland offers a welcome change of pace from the hustle and bustle of big cities like Zürich and Milan.

What do falcons, Elton John’s handprints, New Orleans Jazz, international film festivals, and relaxing spa days have in common? They’re all things you can experience on your weekend in Locarno. And I’ve included an interactive map for you so it’s easy for you to find everything you’re interested in.

Yes, I’m serious! This tiny lakeside town punches far above her weight when it comes to the sheer range of activities you can do there. I didn’t expect Locarno to be so incredibly eclectic, but it really does have something (or a few somethings!) for everyone.

Read on to find out why I love a weekend in Locarno and why I think you will too.

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My Interactive Locarno Map

Why Visit Locarno?

It’s true that Switzerland has the market cornered on the whole, ‘too picturesque to be real,’ thing. But the flip-side is, Switzerland can also start feeling a little too perfect after a while. What if I told you if there’s a sunny corner of Switzerland where you can eat authentic Italian cuisine in a cozy cafe and enjoy that friendly, laid back Mediterranean vibe you’ve been craving? The thing I love about Ticino is that it’s Italy without the chaos. It’s Italy with trains that run on time! It’s Italy with Swiss efficiency. In my book, that’s the perfect match.

Other Things to do in Switzerland

Spending a little more time in Switzerland? Our friends at Viator tours can hook you up with some tours that will help you see the best of what Switzerland has to offer!

Need inspiration on what to do in Zürich? Check out my guides to cheap Zürich and cool Zürich!

Getting to Locarno

Everybody knows I’m a train geek. On my most recent visit to Switzerland, I was pleased to discover that it’s now possible to get from Zürich to Locarno in under three hours via the world’s longest high speed train tunnel. Just how long is it!? 57 kilometers! I know this because as I whizzed through the Gotthard Tunnel, the train’s LED screens proclaimed it to me in multiple languages. The Swiss are proud of their train infrastructure, as well they should be.

The only drawback? Racing to Locarno underground lacks the charm that taking the train over the Gotthard Pass has. I used to love watching for the spire of the church in Wassen that can be seen three times from three different angles as the train whizzed over the pass. The fast train makes a weekend in Locarno from Zürich a cinch. However, if you’ve got more time and love an iconic view, give the slow train a pop.

Best Places to Stay in Locarno

Our view from the terrazo of our room at Hotel Garni Muralto.

In the end, my choice to spend a weekend in Locarno came down to money. I knew I wanted to go somewhere in Ticino. I’d already been to the big rock star towns of Bellinzona and Lugano. Even in shoulder season, hotel prices were that much cheaper in Locarno.

There are so many wonderful places to stay in Locarno at reasonable price points.

We stayed at Hotel Garni Muralto. It was clean, comfortable and walking distance to all the sights. I highly recommend this place because the staff was super friendly and the buffet breakfast was plentiful.

Just because Locarno is smaller doesn’t mean it’s sleepy! We were pleasantly surprised with how much there was to do, even in the off season.

A weekend in Locarno would be amazing in any season. However, Locarno makes an ideal winter weekend away. Most restaurants and attractions were open, the shopping was great, and we really enjoyed a festive Christmas Market with live music in Piazza Grande! Why contend with the big crowds in other cities in the run-up to the holidays when you could spend a weekend wandering the cobbled streets of Locarno?

Stroll or Take a Boat Ride on Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore, a do not miss stop on your weekend in Locarno

View of Paddle Boats on Lake Maggiore in Locarno

Lake Maggiore is the largest lake in southern Switzerland and her waters span the boarder between Switzerland and Italy. Located around the corner from the train station, the shores of Lake Maggiore are and ideal place to take a stroll and get your bearings when you first arrive.

If you just need to get out there on the water, you can book a boat cruise or even hire a paddle boat.

Check out Locarno’s Walk of Fame

Located within view of the lake, Locarno’s Walk of Fame is a collection of bronze handprints from all of the great musicians who have had the pleasure of visiting Locarno. Displayed on rotating cubes, the handprints are interactive, so you can compare your paw-print to those of Sting, Santana, Elton John, the Backstreet Boys and more. Talk about a fun photo op!

Situated in Giardini Rusci between the lake and Piazza Grande, the Walk of Fame is an easy stroll on your way to or from either destination.

Sip a Cappuccino on Piazza Grande

Polenta with mushroom in an open air cafe on my weekend in Locarno.

Noshing on polenta with mushrooms in an outdoor cafe in Piazza Grande had to have been a highlight of my weekend in Locarno

Located in the heart of town, this grand cobbled square plays host to events throughout the year, from the Locarno Film Festival to Locarno on Ice. It’s the ideal place to dine alfresco watching the world go by, or take a pause in the sunshine with an espresso. If you’re not sure how to begin or end an evening in Locarno, head to Piazza Grande and you’ll soon sort yourself out. From authentic pizzarias to trendy bars to live music, Piazza Grande is where it’s at for your weekend in Locarno!

When we visited, Piazza Grande was the hot spot for a Christmas Market featuring all kinds of live music. Locarno’s Christmas Market was totally different than any European Christmas Market I’ve ever been to. The vibe was very much an adult night out, with a variety of live bands making the evening the feel of a rock concert. Make sure to check it out if your weekend in Locarno lands in the run-up to the holidays!

The piazza was poppin with a series of live music events!

Shop Till You Drop!

I was unfortunate enough that my suitcase got detained on my way to Switzerland. I arrived with the clothes on my back, a carry on full of British sweets for my hosts and…not much else. We were scheduled to go to Locarno the next day. What would I do?

Fortunately, the Locarno shopping district had my back. Locarno’s charming cobbled streets are ideal for a bit of retail therapy. There’s everything ranging from boutiques to typical European high street shops like H&M and C&A. I was able to re-outfit myself affordably in one afternoon.


Visit Madonna del Sasso

Madona del Sasso is a must see attraction during your weekend in Locarno

Located on the hills overlooking the town of Locarno, the Church of Madonna del Sasso was the highlight of my trip to Locarno and an absolute do not miss in my book.

The compound includes a basilica and a Franciscan convent. This breathtaking mountaintop sanctuary features some of the most unusual religious art I’ve ever seen, such as an ornate church and a series of elaborate statues featuring tableaus of the stations of the cross.

We took the funicular up the mountain from the center of town, but you can also walk up via a set of stairs as the pilgrims of old did for centuries.

When you’re done wandering around on on the convent grounds, make sure you pop across the street to the tiny village of Orselina. The cafe bakery there has a terrace where you can sip a coffee while enjoying a sweeping view of the church, the mountains and the lake below. Perfecto!

Fancy Some Falconry? Locarno’s Got It!

Did someone say falcons!? Falconeria Locarno is where you’ll get up close and personal with a variety of birds of preys from falcons, to owls eagles, hawks and more.

Located just outside of town, Falconeria Locarno is a short bus ride from the main train station. Their covered ampitheater is protected from the sun and the rain and heated in the winter. Any day is a great day for Falcons!

Splash Around at the Lido

Lido Locarno is a lakeside aquatic paradise featuring indoor and outdoor pools, waterslides and more. It’s open year round so don’t forget your swimsuit and flip flops!

Enjoy a Flick at the Locarno Film Festival

Every summer Locarno’s Piazza Grande transforms into a magnificent outdoor cinema, welcoming a star studded barrage of international film superstar for the Locarno Film Festival. The vibes don’t stop with the films though. There’s a festive atmosphere throughout the city with events and parties happening around the clock.

Take a Side Trip to Other Ticino Gems

I know I opened this post by telling you all about why I think a weekend in Locarno beats a weekend in other Ticino destinations. The real deal is that you don’t have to choose between one and the others! Switzerland’s train system is so interconnected that it would be a cinch to book a hotel room in Locarno where it’s cheaper and chiller and then take a half day to explore some other Ticino attractions.

Not sure what’s possible? I’ve got you covered…

Castle Spotting in Bellinzona

The ramparts of Bellinzona castle are well worth it as a day trip from Locarno.

Have a blast walking the grassy ramparts of castle Bellinzona

When it comes to castles in Switzerland, Bellinzona is where it’s at. The three castles, ramparts and defensive walls make up one kickass UNESCO world heritage site and it’s easy to see it all in one day!

Bellinzona is about a 30- minute train ride from Locarno and once you step off the train, almost everything you’ll want to see is walkable, making it a really low effort day trip if you just want to do something different but don’t want to go too crazy with the planning.

Walking around the castle ramparts will definitely work up an appetite. Don’t forget to make a stop in Bellinzona’s picturesque town square for a delicious pasta lunch or a tasty gelato.

Visit Valle Verscaza

Photo by Michael Giugliano via Pexels

This stunning valley features a river of crystal blue water, breathtaking rock formations, and miles of hiking against a dramatic alpine backdrop. If you think it looks like something from a film, that’s because it is! Parts of the James Bond film ‘Goldeneye’ were filmed here.

Valle Verscaza is about 26km from the center of Locarno, and you can get there via the 321 Post bus from the center of Locarno.

If you wind up making a trip to Valle Verscaza, please let me know. This place is high on my Ticino bucket list but I’ve never visited. Because my luggage got lost on my last trip to Switzerland, I didn’t have the proper gear for hiking so I had to give it a pass this time around. Someone reading this needs to go live my dream and send me photos!

Experience Jazz Ascona

Can’t get enough culture? Jazz Ascona has you covered.

Look, as a music lover, I have to tell you that I normally give jazz events in central Europe a miss. Why? Because to me often they feel disappointingly sanitized and whitewashed.

So why am I about to tell you to give Jazz Ascona a try? Because apparently, it’s the only jazz event outside the USA to be supported by the birthplace of Jazz, the city of New Orleans. This simple fact makes me hopeful that it’s more than just an overpriced exercise in cultural appropriation.

Give it a whirl and let me know what you think!

The village of Ascona is less than 2km from Locarno and easy to get to by bus, car or water taxi.

Kick Back at Termali Salini Spa

It’s just a fact, nobody does spas better than the Swiss. Nobody.

Indoor/ outdoor heated pools? Check. Saunas? check. Massages and spa treatments? Check.

Dramatic lake and mountain views? Check, check, check!

So what are you waiting for? Grab your swimsuit and get thee to Termali Salini Spa. It’s a 10-15 minute walk from the main train station and 10 minutes by the public bus.

Looking for more ideas for easy weekends away in Europe? Check out my guides to Budapest, Colmar and Lisbon!

Do It Your Way

As you’ve seen, whether your thing is culture and nightlife, hiking and the outdoors, shopping, bars and restaurants or just plain chilling, a weekend in Locarno has something for everyone. The ease of getting there from major cities, affordability and variety of attractions make it a real no-brainer if you’re looking for a low effort weekend getaway that ticks all the boxes.

I hope you love your weekend in Locarno and if you do, please let me know what you did in the comments.

As always, keep wandering my friends!

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