One of Switzerland’s most famous tourist destinations is in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland. In this beautiful region, you’ll discover ancient churches and chapels, as well as vineyards, forests, and crystal clear lakes.
Bellinzona is one of the most popular destinations in Switzerland. It is an incredibly beautiful and historically rich place. In fact, Bellinzona is known for its three castles (Castelgrande, Montebello, Sasso Corbaro). The three castles, the defensive wall, and ramparts of Bellinzona have been listed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List since 2000.
With its rare example of medieval military architecture that includes multiple castles in the Alpine region, its excellent state of conservation, and its historical influence in managing the entire Ticino valley, the town of Bellinzona deserves a visit.
This article will discuss the various things you need to know about Bellinzona if you wish to visit.
Bellinzona Has 3 Famous Castles
The city of Bellinzona is famous for its three castles: Castelgrande, Castello di Montebello, and Castello di Sasso Corbaro. The castles in this area are among the best preserved in all of Switzerland. The three castles located in Bellinzona are UNESCO World Heritage sites and so should not be missed.
Still today, three castles dominate the city. Bellinzona’s castles are nestled higher on top than the rest of the town, so they have an excellent view of the surrounding area. They were used as defensive castles and are great examples of medieval defensive architecture.
Together with the double circuit of walls, these castles were built by the Milanese back in the 15th century.
- Castelgrande was constructed over the city center on a Roman castle.
- Castello di Montebello on the eastern side of Bellinzona was built in the 13th to 15 centuries.
- Castello di Sasso Corbaro is set on a high rocky outcrop with panoramic views of the mountains and valleys. It was built in under six months in 1479.
The castles today house several museums, including ones for history, art, archeology, and local costumes.
Castelgrande Is (Mostly) Free to Visit
The last time we visited Bellinzona, it was free to go up to Castelgrande. Take the lift or look for the signs going up the castle from the old town. You are free to roam around the castle’s grounds and its ramparts.
There is a fee of CHF 10 for visiting the castle museum and other interior areas. The rest of the castle, going up and down the ramparts, viewing the surroundings as well as the other two castles, or just sitting on the grass under the huge tree – this is all free of charge.
The opening time for the ramparts is 10:00 am, closing time is 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm.
Bellinzona Is Easy To Reach From Other Swiss Cities
Bellinzona is ideally located and easily accessible from many other large towns and cities in Switzerland. In just 20 minutes you can reach it from Lugano or Locarno. Bellinzona is less than two hours away from cities further north, such as Lucerne and Zurich. Bellinzona is only 1 hour and 24 minutes away by train from Lucerne.
Basel and Bern, two other big Swiss cities, are around 240 to 250 kilometers away. As a result, the journey from these other cities will take longer. For a one-way train trip, it will take around 2.5 to 3 hours.
As a result of its strategic location, Bellinzona is fairly easy to reach by train from other Swiss cities. The car trip can also take the same amount of time if the traffic is good. However, during peak holiday travel times, there will be heavy traffic on the way, especially in the Gotthard tunnel. Therefore, you should plan accordingly.
A summary of the travel times and approximate distances (kilometers) from various Swiss cities to Bellinzona is shown below. The rightmost column includes an estimate of train travel time.
|Distance (in km)
|Travel Duration by Train
|1 hour 24 minutes
|1 hour 39 minutes
|2 hours 39 minutes
|2 hours 40 minutes
Bellinzona Is Ticino’s Second-Largest City
Ticino’s second-largest city is Bellinzona, behind Lugano. It also has an old city with Italian-style townhomes that is worth exploring. They are very beautifully decorated and have wall paintings from the 16th century.
Bellinzona Has a Strategic Location
Bellinzona has been strategically located for centuries. Its excellent location made it popular with several rulers as a venue for their defensive fortifications. Bellinzona is situated at the meeting point of three primary north-south routes over the alpine passes. St. Gotthard, San Bernardino, and Lucomagno can eventually be controlled via Bellinzona.
- St. Gotthard – Gotthard is an important north-south axis in Europe connecting Bellinzona to Lucerne, Basel, and Zurich.
- San Bernardino – San Bernardino links the Posterior Rhine with the Misox valley to the south. The two places are in the canton of Grisons (Graubünden). It is an alternative route to the Gotthard for people living in Eastern Switzerland.
- Lucomagno – Also known as Lukmanier Pass, the Lucomagno road connects Disentis / Mustér with the Blenio Valley and Biasca in Ticino. It is also a route from Ticino to Grisons (Graubünden).
Piazza Nosetto Has Medieval Roots
The oldest square in the city is Piazza Nosetto. It was developed in the 11th and 12th centuries during the medieval era. It is located at the foot of Castelgrande Hill.
Due to its central location, Piazza Nosetto also became quite a focal point for the city. It branches off in three directions from this piazza. Via Camminata leads to the south, Via Teatro leads to the west, and Via Nosetto leads to the north.
The former Palazzo Ghiringelli stands on the square. Also worth checking out is Casa Rossa. This beautiful home was built in 1864 and is an interpretation of late Gothic Lombard architecture. It is really pretty.
Caduti Monument Is Dedicated to the Soldiers During the War
“Monumento ai caduti” was created by a local sculptor named Apollonio Pessina. A central high-relief was carved as a tribute to the soldiers who lost their lives during the First World War in 1920. In the beginning, the relief was located in Piazza Governo.
The sculpture was turned into a triptych in 1948, which is an artwork consisting of three panels. Afterward, it was dedicated to all the victims of both world wars.
This monument is located today near the old town, by the city walls.
Quintour as a Culinary Experience With an Electric Bike
By using Quintour, you can explore the gastronomic choices available in Bellinzona on your bicycle. It involves a journey from Bellinzona to the Magadino Plains, passing through hills and vineyards, and crossing the Ticino River. While exploring, you will be able to enjoy numerous treats and fresh products from the region.
The tour begins around mid-morning and ends around late afternoon. A lunch package with local products is included during the tour. And you can definitely enjoy the beautiful views of the surrounding countryside on your rented electric bike.
After the tour, you can have an aperitif as a final treat. There is an aperitif in Quintorno between 4:30 and 5:30 PM.
Located at the Bellinzona train station is BikePort, where you can get all the necessary information.
Summary: Is Bellinzona Is Worth Visiting?
Switzerland’s Bellinzona is a place I highly recommend. It is both historically and geographically significant. For travelers in Switzerland, this means that the city is relatively easy to reach even if you live in Central Switzerland.
It is Ticino’s second-largest city and has a lot of shops and restaurants. You can see more than 3 world-famous castles and beautiful architecture in this charming place. You can also enjoy the Dolce Vita way of life. There are nearby vineyards if you travel further.
Moreover, there is also the option of staying in one of the hotels in Bellinzona itself. If you can’t find one, there is definitely another one in the surrounding neighborhood. And even if you do decide to stay in Lugano, Locarno, or Ascona, Bellinzona is only 20 minutes away.
Definitely, Bellinzona is worth going to and one place you will not regret visiting.
- “Three Castles, Defensive Wall and Ramparts of the Market-Town of Bellinzona.” UNESCO World Heritage Center. 2000. Accessed on 30 August 2021. https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/884/.
- The 3 Castles of Bellinzona: Castelgrande, Montebello and Sasso Corbaro
- Best Historical Landmarks of Ticino
- Most Beautiful Villages In Ticino
- 10 Beautiful Medieval Towns in Switzerland
- Lugano vs. Locarno: Which is better?
- Best Ascona Activities and Attractions
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Darla Uhl is the owner of TouringSwitzerland.com. Her home is in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. Having lived almost 20 years in Switzerland, she's traveled extensively all over the country.
Darla's favorite regions to visit in Switzerland include Engadin, Lake Geneva, Bernese Oberland, Ticino, and Valais. She loves spending time with her family, hiking, visiting museums, and reading books.