Ascona lies on Lake Maggiore close to the Swiss-Italian border, and it’s one of many picturesque lakeside towns in Switzerland. It’s not quite as famous as Lugano or Interlaken, which means smaller crowds but equally stunning views.
Whether you want to spend your days lounging on the lake beaches or you want to explore the history and culture of an old Swiss town, Ascona will not disappoint. Read on to learn more about the beautiful Swiss town, and get all the information you need to plan your trip to Ascona, Switzerland!
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History of Ascona
Ascona is an old town with a very rich history. There is evidence of human activity in the area dating back to the Late Bronze Age, but the first recorded mentions of the town date back to the 12th century.
Ascona was established as an independent town by the 17th century and by the late 18th century, it would also be granted the right to self-government, to a certain degree. After the Ticino canton was formed in the early 19th century, Ascona became just a political municipality.
The history of this lovely town is too long to be summarized in just a few sentences. The good news is that you can discover more about it if you visit the town. Explore the museums, see all the buildings built in different time periods, and observe the remnants of the oldest buildings that testify to just how long this town has existed.
How to get to Ascona
Ascona is situated in southern Switzerland and the closest airports are across the border in Italy. The Milan Malpensa Airport is around 60 kilometers away from Ascona, but traveling (by public transport) to the under-the-radar village in Switzerland isn’t exactly easy or quick. You’d have to switch trains 3-4 times and take the bus, and the entire journey would take around 3 hours.
Other airports that are close to Ascona are Milan Linate, Milan Bergamo, Turin, and Zurich. For travelers on a tighter budget, look for flights to Milan Bergamo because Ryanair services this airport. You won’t have the best experience flying with them, but you’ll get your plane tickets dirt cheap.
The easiest and quickest way of traveling to Ascona is to fly to Milan and then rent a car and drive to Switzerland. No matter which airport you land at, you’ll need to make your way to the Milan central station if you want to take the train.
You can ride the train from Milan to Locarno (about 1 hour and 50 minutes), then ride the bus for 10-15 minutes from Locarno to Ascona. This route takes about 2 hours and 15-25 minutes, plus the time it takes you to get from the airport to Milan Central Railway Station.
Flying to Zurich and then traveling by train from there won’t be much faster, but it will likely be more expensive. There’s no train station in Ascona and you would need to switch trains a couple of times, plus ride that same bus from Locarno to Ascona.
Things to Do in Ascona
Explore Lake Maggiore On A Boat Tour
Lake Maggiore is one of the largest lakes in Switzerland. If you’re staying in a town on its shores, it only makes sense to go on a quick boat tour of the lake and discover its top sights. The only problem is that there aren’t really any cruises or tours that depart from Ascona and you will need to ride the bus to Locarno to go on a proper lake cruise.
Most cruises explore only the Swiss side of the lake, taking you to all the wonderful little towns and hidden gems in the northern part of Lago Maggiore.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that you can rent a boat in Ascona and take it wherever you like on like. There’s a sailing boat school/rental service where you can rent a boat and get recommendations on the best spots to park it, so you can feel like you have the entire lake to yourself. Asconautica also offers sailing lessons, which could come in handy if you decide to rent the boat and enjoy cruising on the lake.
Visit San Pietro e Paulo Church
San Pietro e Paulo Church is one of the most important landmarks in the town of Ascona. It is situated in the heart of the old town, directly across from the Ascona Town Hall. The church boasts a pretty tall clock tower, which is easily noticeable from other parts of the town.
The church is pretty small and you can tour it in 10-15 minutes, or even less. There are some beautiful artworks and stained glass windows inside, which make it worth it to take the time to see the church interior.
Walk Down Via Borgo In Old Town
Via Borgo is the main street in Ascona’s old town and it’s where you’ll find most of the shops in town. It’s the heart of the town and home to many museums, stores, bars, and restaurants, so there’s always something going on there.
It’s worth noting that we wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating out at any of the restaurants along Via Borgo. They’re generally more expensive than locales in others parts of the town simply because of the location, while the food quality doesn’t necessarily justify the price points.
In any case, if you want to grab a drink while doing some people-watching, or you’re just in the mood to go shopping, Via Borgo is the place to be in Ascona.
Swim And Sunbathe At Lido Ascona
Lido Ascona is a lakeside beach and swimming area ideal for anyone who wants to spend their time in a Swiss town relaxing and working on their tan. The beach can be easily accessed by a walk along the lake promenade just some 20 minutes from the heart of the town.
The beach is pretty big so there’s room for many people here. It boasts a volleyball course, a beach lounge (bar/restaurant), and a parking lot for easy vehicle access.
It’s worth noting that the beach isn’t always open for visitors. It’s open from June to August, and the entrance to the beach is charged 6 CHF for adults and 3 CHF for children. Lido Ascona is always free for the locals, and it’s free for anyone who arrives after 5 PM.
Discover The Hidden Brissago Islands
Brissago Islands are situated southwest of Ascona and they’re worth visiting if you want to see some spectacular nature and a huge botanical garden. It’s the only botanical park on an island in the entire country, so it’s definitely a unique sight worth checking out.
It’s possible to reach the islands from Ascona, but the boats aren’t very frequent. You’ll have better luck if you head to Porto Ronco – the islands are directly across from the town’s shore and boat transfers are frequent.
It’s recommended to bring your own drinks and snacks if you’re going to spend several hours exploring Brissago Islands. There’s only one restaurant on the bigger island, and most customers agree that it’s ridiculously overpriced for the quality of food and service.
Visit Madonna del Sasso Sanctuary
Madonna del Sasso is a hilltop sanctuary situated a 10-minute drive from Ascona. If you want to get out of the village for the day and explore the area, this is by far one of the best places to visit. The sanctuary is also accessible by public transport, funicular, and walking and mountain biking trails, and at the most, it will take you about an hour to reach it from Ascona (on foot).
The sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso is an important pilgrimage destination, but also one of the best viewpoints in town. Discover the history of the place, visit the on-site museum, and enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of Lake Maggiore and the lakeside towns.
Where to Stay in Ascona
Ascona is a tiny village so it genuinely doesn’t matter that much where you’re going to stay. It takes less than an hour to walk from the eastern edge of the village all the way to the western edge. The center of the village is about 30 minutes away from either edge, so you’ll never be too far from all the action.
Where you should stay in Ascona depends on why you’re traveling to the picturesque Swiss town. If you want to be close to the museums, galleries, and all the restaurants in the heart of Ascona, look for accommodation near the town center. Via Borgo is the central street in Ascona’s old town, and a great location if you want to be right in the center of all the action.
On the other hand, if you’re visiting Ascona for the beaches and swimming opportunities, the houses and apartments on the western side of the town are best for you. Most are situated below the main road and they’re directly on the lake, with their own little beaches and some even have a swimming pool.
The eastern side of the village boasts a nice golf course, public beaches, and the largest hotel resort in the Swiss town. If you want to stay in a hotel with an outdoor pool and room service, look for accommodation in the eastern part of Ascona.
Where to eat in Ascona
Most restaurants in Ascona are situated in the heart of the town. Sure, you’ll find other restaurants in hotels or neighborhoods outside the center, but for the best selection of local delicacies, you’ll need to stroll down the cobbled streets of Ascona’s old town.
For the best views, you’ll want to eat at the lakeside cafés and restaurants. Ristorante Osteria Nostrana is the best-rated lakefront restaurant in Ascona, so check it out if you’re in the mood for Mediterranean cuisine with a side of a fabulous view. Antico Ristorante Borromeo, Ristorante Al Pontile, and Ristorante da Gina are also very highly rated and serve traditional Italian cuisine.
Via Borgo boasts (too) many restaurants, but they’re not exactly the best in town. Just like in most other towns and cities, the centrally located restaurants are usually overpriced for the quality of food and service they offer.
There’s also a Papa Joe’s in Ascona, in case you get a craving for burgers, fries, and other American-style specialties.
It’s important to note that, because Ascona is situated in the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland, most restaurants in town serve Italian cuisine and have menus in Italian. If you were hoping to try some authentic Swiss cuisine, you will likely be disappointed since there’s a serious lack of burli and rosti in Ascona.
Best time to visit Ascona
The best time to visit Ascona depends on why you’re traveling to the city. Generally speaking, you’ll experience the best weather if you visit between April and October. The summer months are the peak season in the Swiss village, and the best time to visit if you’re planning a summer vacation in Ascona.
The average daily temperatures are in the high twenties (°C) and sometimes go above 30°C, which is ideal weather for swimming and just lounging on the beach. However, this is also when you can expect the largest crowds in the lakeside village.
Consider a visit in September if you still want to enjoy nice weather but with fewer crowds. Spring visits to Ascona are also great if you’re not going there to swim and relax on the beach. There are fewer crowds, but the weather is still nice enough for long walks on the lakeside promenade.
Winters in Ascona are pretty cold and dull and not the best idea if you really want to enjoy this place. The temperatures are barely above 0°C, it snows quite a bit, and it gets dark around 5 PM.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Ascona worth visiting?
Yes, Ascona is definitely worth visiting if you are into culture and history as well as lakeside village charm and an Italian Riviera vibe. There are countless museums and galleries in town as well as great food and weather right on the shores of Lago Maggiore.
If you have never been to Switzerland before, then it might be worth heading to other more famous areas first to explore the best of what Switzerland has to offer. Ascona is more of a relaxed place for a weekend away and some almost guaranteed sunshine and Dolce Vita.
Can you swim in Ascona?
Yes, there are lots of places to go for a swim in the lake in Ascona and it is often warmer than in other parts of Switzerland making it even more inviting.
Is Ascona in Switzerland or Italy?
The Italian-speaking town of Ascona is located in the southern canton of Ticino in Switzerland. It sits on the shores of Lago Maggiore and is not far from the Swiss border with Italy.