The square is encircled by typical town houses, amongst which is the Torre Communale civic tower with its striking clock face. However what really sets the piazza apart is its cobblestone pavement. The lake used to come right up to the houses, but as the waters receded, the piazza was created and, in 1825, laid with stone sourced from the nearby Maggia river. Not much has changed in terms of the square's appearance since its redesign in the 20th century.
Used as escape routes when the lake flooded the piazza, they are now a practical way of reaching Locarno's ancient heart, a jewel of alleys, boutiques, cafés and venerable buildings. The Madonna del Sasso pilgrimage church is also easily accessed from the Piazza Grande. It's best to walk through the old town quarter and take the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) up to the rocky outcrop where stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso, which was founded in 1480. Its location offers wonderful views over the region and Lake Maggiore. A more relaxing way up is to take the cogwheel railway to Orselina. Between the Piazza Grande and the wonderful lakeside promenade – a perfect place for a stroll – is the Walk of Fame with Its handprints of stars who have graced the Moon&Stars with their presence in the past.
By the way, have you ever wondered what those rails are doing in the Piazza Grande? It's a good question, because anyone who knows Locarno knows that it doesn't have trams. But that wasn't always the case: in the early 20th century, Locarno was something of a railway hub. The city had a tram, a railway line (the Valmaggina) went up the Maggia valley, and another line (the Centovallina) went all the way to Domodossola – and still does. The tram service was discontinued in 1960, followed by the Valmaggina line in 1965. The urban section of the Centovallina was put underground in 1990, since when the Piazza Grande has definitively been train-free. At that point, the piazza was used as a car park until the beginning of 2000.
Summer and winter, it's a popular place to meet friends and start adventures together. Whether these extend only as far as the nearest café or turn into an entertaining open-air screening during the Locarno Film Festival, the Piazza Grande has always been one of the city's key venues where things happen.