11 must-see things to do in Ticino

Ascona-alpes-suisses

Planning a holiday in the Swiss Alps? Discover the best things to do in Ticino, a canton with strong Italian influences.

An Italian-speaking canton in southern Switzerland, Ticino is a little slice of paradise. Lake Maggiore, half-Swiss and half-Italian, is one of its main attractions. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be transported back in time by the picturesque stone villages and bridges spanning the crystal-clear waters of the Alpine waterways.

Glacial lakes, medieval castles, fine cuisine: this is just a brief overview of what the region has to offer. For everything else, check out the 11 best things to do in Ticino!

1. Lugano

The old town

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Ekaterina Pokrovsky

Lugano’s historic center is the first thing to see in the most important city in Italian-speaking Switzerland. You won’t have much time to explore the city center, but it’s full of colorful facades, pedestrian streets and charming terraces overlooking the lake.

You’ll also come across the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli and its pretty frescoes as you stroll through the narrow streets. This makes the center of Lugano a charming starting point for visiting Ticino.

Lake Lugano

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – elesi

It would be a shame not to take full advantage of Lugano’s lakeside setting. On its shores, stop off at a lido, a kind of bar with a private beach, to enjoy the true Lugano experience. It’s the perfect break from your visit to Ticino!

2. Museums

Villa Ciani

Villa Ciani-visiter-tessin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – aiko3p

Lugano’s famous Villa Ciani has been hosting major exhibitions since 1933. Its 30 rooms, spread over three floors, are particularly well-suited to scientific exhibitions and other special events.

This magnificent historic residence is also located in the park of the same name. The park features pleasant footpaths overlooking the lake.

Musée en Herbe

Museo in Erba-lugano

Photo credit: Facebook – Museo in erba

The famous Parisian Musée en Herbe has chosen Lugano as the location for its first establishment abroad. Using humor and playful methods, its mission is to help youngsters aged 3 and over discover art and the world around them. A visit to Ticino for the whole family!

Baumgartner Gallery

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Photo credit: Facebook – Galleria Baumgartner

The municipality of Mendrisio, in the far south of the canton, is home to the original Galerie Baumgartner. If you’re a fan of scale models and/or trains, don’t miss this visit to Ticino.

A huge collection of models from brands such as Märklin, Fulgurex, Hermann and Metrop is on display on three floors. Getting there couldn’t be easier: the gallery is just 100 metres from Mendrisio station!

Swissminiatur

Swissminiatur

Photo credit: Facebook – elesi

Here’s a highly original museum to visit in Ticino. Located in Melide, a town on the shores of Lake Lugano, come and admire miniature models of the country – in the open air! In just two hours, discover the diversity of Switzerland and its monuments. This visit is accessible to young and old alike.

Museum of Cultures

Musée des Cultures-lugano

Photo credit: Facebook – Stefano Ember

At this anthropology museum in Lugano, Ticino, you can admire a large collection of objects from Asia, Oceania and Africa, all housed in a charming 18th-century villa.

3. Monte San Salvatore

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Peter Stein

Looking for an original activity to do in Ticino? Near Lugano, Monte San Salvatore, 912 meters high, can be reached by funicular from Paradiso. It’s a fairly quick ascent: you’ll reach the summit in just over 10 minutes.

Once you’ve arrived, head to the panoramic restaurant for a bite to eat and a drink, while taking in the magnificent plunging view over Lake Lugano.

4. Castles

Montebello Castle

Château de Montebello-suisse

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Boris Stroujko

Located in Bellinzona, this castle is also known as Château Saint Martin or Château de Schwytz, and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Very well preserved, a visit to this medieval fortress will teach you a great deal about the defense systems in use at the time.

Stroll along the ramparts of this magnificent fortress and admire the panoramic view over the town: a must-do in Ticino!

Sasso Corbaro Castle

Château de Sasso Corbaro-visiter-tessin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Peter Stein

This is the second castle in Bellinzona, and is part of the same UNESCO World Heritage site. It is also known as Château Sainte Barbara and Château d’Underwald.

The building, dating from 1478, was constructed by enlarging a defense tower that had been present in the town since 1400. From here, you can enjoy an admirable view of the region, its valley and mountains.

Chateau Visconteo

Château Visconteo-visiter-tessin

Photo credit: Shutterstock – BLAZE Pro

This fortress is located in the municipality of Locarno, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, and is an interesting place to visit in Ticino. The building was conquered by the Italian ruler Visconti in 1342, who enlarged its construction. It was subsequently renovated in the Renaissance style in the 15th century.

Today, the part of the castle that can be visited includes a small inner courtyard, a loggia and the castle rooms, as well as a large Lombard fresco. It also houses Locarno’s Municipal and Archaeological Museum.

5. Monastery of the Madonna del Sasso

Monastère de la Madonna del Sasso-visiter-tessin-suisse

Photo credit: Shutterstock – Peter Stein

This monastery is one of the most important religious sites to visit in the canton of Ticino. Set on a rocky outcrop above Locarno, the sanctuary is said to have been built in the 16th century following an apparition of the Virgin Mary to a Franciscan monk from the town’s convent.

Today, it’s a place of pilgrimage from which you can enjoy fantastic views of the valley, lake and surrounding peaks. You can reach it on foot along the Via Crucis from the center of Locarno, and enjoy a beautiful stroll through chapels and landscapes. The climb can also be made by funicular.

6. Lake Maggiore

Le Lac Majeur-suisse-italie

Photo credit: Shutterstock – saiko3p

Straddling Switzerland andItaly, Lake Maggiore is lined with lush vegetation and enjoys mild temperatures. On the menu are splendid, wild mountain landscapes and lovely escapades to be had in the towns bordering the lake.

These include Locarno, Ascona and Gambarogno. Looking for other things to do while visiting this Italian-Ticinese lake? Just ask: organize a boat trip to the romantic Brissagio archipelago. Yes, Switzerland has islands too!

7. Verzasca Valley

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Restuccia Giancarlo

The Val Verzasca is a hilly area crossed by the Verzasca river, comprising the municipalities of Locarno and Mergoscia. It is undoubtedly the Ticino paradise for hikers. The Grand Sentier du Val Verzasca follows the old muleteer route through landscapes featuring chapels, waterfalls and small bridges.

This is a fairly easy hike in Ticino. It can be done with the whole family, starting from Mergoscia or the Verzasca dike and passing through the Bivio di Corippo. Continuing towards Brione, you can admire an open-air art trail with sculptural milestones that blend in perfectly with the natural surroundings.

8. Ascona

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Boris Stroujko

Ascona is a charming municipality on the northern shore of the Swiss part of Lake Maggiore. At 196 meters above sea level, it has the distinction of being the lowest municipality in Switzerland.

If you’re looking for a truly unplugged experience when visiting Ticino, this is the destination for you. It’s also well known for its pleasant temperatures, lakeside promenade and countless terraces overlooking the lake.

9. Contra dam

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Mor65_Mauro Piccardi

The dam is located in the municipality of Tenero-Contra, in the Val Verzasca. It’s a legendary place to visit in Ticino. Built between 1960 and 1965, it enabled the formation of Lake Vogorno.

If this location is so well known, it’s because it was the filming location for several James Bond movies, including Golden Eye. In this film, Agent 007, played by Pierce Brosnan, makes a 220-meter bungee jump that has gone down in cinematic history.

Accompanied by an instructor, take your turn at leaping into the void and re-enact this mythical stunt in your own way.

10. The village of Morcote

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Photo credit: Shutterstock – Anton_Ivanov

Voted Switzerland’s most beautiful village in 2016, this small fishing village in Ticino exudes a Mediterranean air. In the upper part of town, climb the long flight of steps to the church of Santa Maria del Sasso. From here, admire the most picturesque part of the village and its breathtaking view of Lake Lugano.

Then take a stroll through the surprising Scherrer Park, designed by artist-gardener Arthur Scherrer. Divided into a Mediterranean and an Asian section, you’ll wander from Renaissance terraces to Indian and Thai buildings, baroque statues and bamboo hedges. A botanical gem of a garden!

11. Locarno Falconry

Fauconnerie de Locarno-suisse

Photo credit: Shutterstock – mountainpix

Here’s something unusual to do in Ticino! In Locarno, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, you’ll be treated to an hour-long show. Discover the fascinating world of birds of prey and watch them take flight. Eagles, vultures, falcons, owls and even storks: a wide variety of species are on show.

The master falconers will fly their little protégés just a few centimetres from your head and those of the other spectators, a magical moment you’ll probably remember for the rest of your life.

How do I get to Ticino?

By plane

Ticino has its own airport at Lugano. This operates a single scheduled route to Zurich. In other words, you’ll need to board a flight with a stopover in Zurich to get to Lugano.

You can also book a flight to Milan, Italy. Once in Milan, you can reach Lugano by train in less than 1h30. Check ticket availability on a flight comparison site like Skyscanner.

By train

Lugano, the largest city in Ticino, is easily accessible by train from major Swiss cities and from Italy.

If you’d prefer to start your visit to Ticino from the north of the region, there are a number of smaller towns that can be reached from Berne or Zurich: Airolo, Faido, Biasca – it’s up to you to choose how you’d like to design your itinerary!

Where to sleep in Ticino?

With a surface area of almost 3,000 m², Ticino offers a wide range of accommodation. Whether you’re planning a city break in Ticino’s biggest cities or a rural getaway in Val Verzasca, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for on a hotel comparator or Airbnb.

To enjoy the beauty of Lake Lugano and the surrounding area, what better than to stay in the town of Lugano itself? Alternatively, the charming little village of Morcote offers breathtaking views of the lake. Alternatively, you can choose to stay in the pretty little towns on the shores of Lake Maggiore, such as Locarno, Ascona or Gambarogno.

The canton boasts a wide range of luxury hotels and spas. For a 100% relaxing stay!

So, are you clearer about your schedule for visits to Ticino?

Map of hotels and accommodation – Ticino