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Lugano vs. Bellinzona: Which is Better?

Last Updated on October 20, 2023 by Admin

Unable to decide between Lugano and Bellinzona? The Italian-speaking part of Switzerland, Canton Ticino, is a charming, sunny region filled with treasures – from flowered promenades, turquoise rivers, quiet valleys, Grotti, museums, mountains, castles, and beautiful villages.

For those wanting to visit Ticino for the first time, the question would normally be – should I visit Lugano or should I choose Bellinzona? Which town in Ticino is better to visit? And which one would be a better base to explore the rest of the region? Let’s have a closer look.


Key Differences: Lugano vs. Bellinzona

The key differences are as follows:

LuganoBellinzona
Population: approx. 62,615Population: approx. 43,220
Lake: LuganoLake: Maggiore (15 kilometers away)
Elevation: 273 mElevation: 241 m
the largest town in Ticinosecond-largest town in Ticino
bigger and more vibrant compared to Locarno,
more hotels, restaurants, and shops
smaller and more laid-back
the third-largest financial hub of Switzerland
after Zurich and Geneva
Highlights: Three Castles; home to a total of 12
Swiss heritage sites

Towns: Lugano vs. Bellinzona

Both towns are similar in that they are heavily influenced by the Italian culture and they are near the Swiss-Italian Alps.

Lugano

Image of Lugano Lake by Andreas from Pixabay

Lugano, the largest town in Ticino, is bigger than Bellinzona. The town itself has more shops to peruse, restaurants to dine in, and hotels to choose from.

Lugano is the largest town in the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino and the ninth-largest in Switzerland. It has the largest Italian-speaking majority outside of Italy. The town lies right along Lake Lugano. 15 minutes away is the Province of Varese in the Italian region of Lombardy. Lugano is also easier or faster to reach from Zurich and Lucerne by train compared to Locarno. However, there will be more traffic coming into the city by the car.

Bellinzona

Image of Castelgrande by TouringSwitzerland.com

Bellinzona is the second largest town in Ticino following Lugano.  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.

If I had to choose one city in Ticino as a base, I’d pick either Lugano or Locarno instead of Bellinzona. Lugano has more attractions, restaurants to eat at, hotels to stay in, and is, in general, bigger and livelier. If I’m just doing a day trip from Zurich, then Bellinzona would be my pick. Bellinzona is charming, closer to Zurich (100 minutes) and Lucerne (75 minutes), and you likely won’t need a hotel if you want to visit it for a day. 


Places to Visit: Lugano vs. Bellinzona

Places to Visit in Lugano

Image of the Passion and Crucifixion Fresco. Credits: Wikimedia
  • Church of Santa Maria Degli Angeli  – It is the most important church in Lugano. Despite its simple exterior, the interior is absolutely stunning. “Passion and Crucifixion”, the massive Renaissance fresco with more than 150 faces and figures, is located in the church. As the painting’s title suggests, the artist depicts the crucifixion of Jesus Christ alongside Gestas and Dismas.
  • LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura – Those interested in arts and culture should visit LAC Lugano Arte e Cultura. Built only in 2015, the center supports various art forms, from visual arts to music. In this modern building on the banks of Lake Lugano, you’ll find events and shows for all ages.
  • Via Nassa for shopping for watches, jewelry, bags, and clothes.
  • Piazza della Riforma and Palazzo Civico – Piazza della Riforma is the main square of the city of Lugano. Different events (concerts, Christmas lights) may take place in this city square. It also houses the Lugano Hall called Palazzo Civico.
  • Catedrale San Lorenzo – The Cathedral has beautiful frescoes and valuable Baroque decors. It was founded back in the 15th century and completed in 1517.
  • San Salvatore – Monte San Salvatore is a mountain in the Lepontine Alps above Lake Lugano and the city of Lugano in Switzerland. Monte San Salvatore is accessible by funicular from the city. 

There are 17 heritage sites around Lugano that are designated as Swiss heritage sites. The city of Lugano as well as the districts of Barbengo, Brè, Gandria, and Biogno. Likewise, Cantine di Gandra and Castagnola are all part of the Inventory of Swiss Heritage Sites.

Places to Visit in Bellinzona

Image of Bellinzona’s Castles by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Castelgrande:  largest and most impressive of the three Bellinzona Castles, with its spectacularly stylish towers and ancient ramparts
  • Castello di Montebello: The second castle stands on a protruding hill on the mountain slope at approximately 310 meters. It was built by the Rusca family.
  • Castello di Sasso Corbaro: The smallest of the three castles in Bellinzona set overlooking Bellinzona and flanked by a grove of chestnut trees.
  • Piazza Nosetto: oldest square in the city that was developed in the 11th and 12 centuries.
  • Caduti Monument: A high-relief carved as a tribute to fallen soldiers by Apollonio Pessina, a local sculptor. You can find it near the city walls.
  • Casa Rossa: This red house of Bellinzona was built in 1864. It is one of the rare examples found in Ticino that can was inspired by the Lombards in the late 19th century.
  • Quintour: A gastronomic bike tour that will lead you to the Magadino Plains. It will allow you to try numerous treats and fresh products from the region.

Day Trips from Lugano vs. Bellinzona

Day Trips from Lugano

Morcote, Ticino
Image of Morcote by TouringSwitzerland.com
  • Morcote – It is one of the most beautiful villages in Ticino. The village of Morcote sits on the peninsula of Ceresio about 10 kilometers south of Lugano, in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland. Located on the shores of Lake Lugano, it offers a panoramic view of various Italian villages in the Varese region. 
  • Sentiero dell’Olivo – In Sentiero dell’Olivo we learn about the history and nature of olive tree growth along 3.5 kilometers of trails. There will be 18 information boards where you learn about olives and the olive oil they produce.
  • Gandria – Gandria is another picturesque village in the Lugano region. The buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are decorated with frescoes and stucco. From Lugano, it can be reached by boat. 
  • Carona – Carona is a charming village at the foot of Monte San Salvatore, just above Lugano. Despite its small size, it has an exceptionally rich cultural and historical heritage. During the 15th and 18th centuries, local craftsmen (architects, decorators, painters, and sculptors) worked all over Europe leaving traces of their expertise behind in Carona. 
  • Monte Genoroso – This mountain can be found in Switzerland’s Lugano Prealps, near the Italian border. This mountain is situated between Lake Lugano and Lake Como. Monte Generoso is nestled in a nature reserve that is known beyond our borders. The spectacular “Fiore di Pietra” (stone flower) stands majestically on the mountain’s rugged crest. The building, designed by Mario Botta, features picture windows that frame the breathtaking views. 
  • Monte Brè – The mountain is located east of Lugano on the flank of Monte Boglia, and it offers views of the bay of Lugano and the Pennine Alps as well as the Bernese Alps. It is considered one of the sunniest places in Switzerland.

Here is a more detailed article about the day trips you can take from Lugano: 8 Best Day Trips From Lugano.

Day Trips from Bellinzona

  • Curzútt – A settlement with ancient hamlets surrounding San Bernard. With its chestnut woods and peasant culture, it also has fantastic views of Bellinzona and its castles.
  • Monte Carasso – Mornera – Connected by a cable car, Mornera can be reached within 12 minutes of Monte Carasso.
  • Santa Petronilla Waterfalls – The waterfall of Santa Petronilla is in Biasca located in the Blenio Valley.
  • Piora Valley – In Ritom, you can ride the funicular going up from Leventina to the Piora Valley. You can walk along the lake in this quiet mountain area and enjoy the serenity of the surrounding Alps.
  • Ascona – On the picturesque shores of Lake Maggiore, Ascona is a town with lots of Mediterranean-style architecture. Public transportation can take you there in 7 minutes from Locarno.
  • Locarno – Ticino’s third-largest town. The town lies right along the northern side of Lake Maggiore and the northeastern part of the river delta of Maggia.

Hotels: Lugano vs. Bellinzona

In contrast to Lugano, Bellinzona has a limited selection of hotels available and is frequently booked to capacity. If you plan on lodging in Bellinzona, I suggest making reservations well in advance. Nonetheless, if rooms become unavailable, you can conveniently opt to stay in Lugano instead. Frequent and swift train rides connect the two cities.

Image of Lugano from wikimedia

Recommended Hotels in Lugano

  • Grand Hotel Villa Castagnola (5-star) – Right on Lake Lugano’s shores, this grand hotel set in a private park is just a few steps from the old town. You can enjoy complimentary WiFi, an indoor pool, a tennis court, and three restaurants at the hotel.
  • Hotel Splendide Royal (5-star) – The elegant hotel is situated on Lugano’s main lakeside street and features fantastic rooms, Gault Millau-recognized restaurants, a pool, a sauna, and a steam bath. Most of the rooms have a classic touch, and some offer spectacular views of the lake.
  • Swiss Hotel Apartments (5-star apartments) – For those who prefer more space and don’t mind not being directly in the city center or on the lakefront, this apartment hotel may be a suitable fit. Compared to hotels at the same price point, this apartment hotel offers larger rooms, a TV with cable channels, a private bathroom, a dishwasher, a microwave, a refrigerator, a kettle, and a coffee maker. The apartment has a terrace as well. Particularly for business travelers and parents with children, it’s an excellent choice.
  • LUGANODANTE (4-star) – The newly renovated hotel sits right on the Piazza Cioccaro, in the heart of Lugano. As it is air-conditioned and soundproof, the hotel is a smart choice during summer when it gets hot out. With its modern rooms and free WiFi, this hotel is a great option when you want to stay in Lugano. Lugano’s Città-Stazione funicular connects the main train station with the city center every five minutes.
  • Hotel Federale (3-star) In a central location, Hotel Federale is a convenient hotel with reasonable rates, within walking distance of the train station, Lugano town center, and Piazza Riforma.

Recommended Hotels in Bellinzona

  • Locanda Marco, Bellinzona (3-star) – With stunning mountain views and amenities such as air conditioning, private bathrooms, and terraces, Locanda Marco offers 3-star accommodation in Bellinzona. The hotel is highly recommended for its thoughtful details, excellent restaurant, friendly staff, and stunning location. The hotel’s proximity to the city center makes it convenient for guests to explore the local attractions on foot.
  • Hotel Internazionale Bellinzona (3-star) – Hotel Internazionale is a modern and air-conditioned hotel located in the heart of Bellinzona, offering stunning views of Bellinzona’s three medieval castles. The hotel features a restaurant serving delicious Mediterranean and regional cuisine, including many seasonal specialties, and a great breakfast selection. Guests can enjoy free access to a spacious spa area equipped with several amenities. The hotel is conveniently located near the train station, making it easy to explore the city and its surroundings.

Summary

It is indeed difficult to choose between Lugano and Bellinzona. Both of these charming towns in Canton Ticino have pleasant climates, lush parks, and mountains nearby.

If I had to choose between the two, I’d pick Lugano. Lugano has more hotels, restaurants, and places to visit compared to Bellinzona. Then I’d do a quick day trip from Lugano to Bellinzona to see the three castles and the old town. You can also visit many other beautiful towns from Lugano such as Morcote, Locarno, Ascona, and more. Monte San Salvatore Mountain is also nearby.

However, if you’ve already visited Lugano or are more interested in seeing Bellinzona’s three castles, you won’t regret exploring it either.

Enjoy Lugano or Bellinzona, whichever you choose! 

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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.

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