Castelgrande (Grand Castle) Bellinzona is only a 30 minute drive away, but somehow we never went. I was under the impression it would make for a nice indoor activity, it being a castle and all: roaming the rooms and halls, seeing what castle live used to be like. Boy was I wrong! It was the total opposite: outdoor and no rooms and halls to visit, but it made for a truly wonderful afternoon nevertheless!
First and foremost it’s a castle. The first fortification is from the 4th century, but what still remains today dates from the 13th and 14th century. It’s beautiful though and makes it worth the visit on a sunny day for a romantic day with your loved one without the kids, or, of course, a lovely place for a family picnic. You can choose to sit on a small stone wall overlooking the town, on the rocks along the water reservoir, on one of several spacious meadows or even on the grass between the two main, large stone walls (Murata).
There is a restaurant and a grotto (didn’t try either) and one tower you can climb all the way to the top. There is also a small museum. It has an interesting 15 minute movie on the history of the castle in English, French, German and Italian, but it’s truly not really worth going in: the collection of things on display is tiny and for sure doesn’t speak to smaller kids.
Time & Length
I was alone with my 4 yo and we spent 2 hours. We walked all around the grounds, talked a lot about what we saw, we discovered part of the Murata, went up the tower, had a small picnic (just water and home baked cake, no full lunch or so) and visited the museum…and bathroom ;-). After all this my son was not ready to leave and still protecting his princess (me) with his brought sword, but I was done.
5 Reasons you should go
1. Castelgrande is a UNESCO World Heritage site since 200o.
2. It is the perfect place for a family/romantic picnic or lunch/dinner on sunny days.
3. Kids going through their Princess or Knight phase can truly feel at home here.
4. The views are beautiful, particularly towards the two other castles.
5. Perfect stop on the way no matter if you’re heading to or from the San Gottardo or San Bernardino tunnel.
Stroller // Walk
There were quite some people with strollers and little kids, however, the roads in the castle are not paved and the place consists mainly of grass. If your’e stroller is sturdy you can easily maneuver it around though. The restaurant and toilets can all be reached by elevator. We didn’t walk all the way up from the town to the castle, we took the modern elevator, so I am not sure if the road up is stroller friendly. Note: not all walkable walls (particularly West Bailey) are “gated” so once the kids climb up these walls ,which can get pretty high, you will need to be there with them.
– Castelgrande, Via Salita Castelgrande, Bellinzona or see here for a written description.
– Best parking is Autosilo Piazza del Sole in the historic center. Costs are 1 CHF per 30 minutes. From this parking you can follow the “Castelgrande” exit signs and you’ll easily find the elevator up to the castle.
– Restaurants are both on castle grounds.
Interesting to know
– A small video impression of our afternoon: Family Discovers Castelgrande.
– Food: Ristorante Castelgrande and Grotto San Michele, both on the castle grounds.
– Would you like to bring your own food instead? Amongst many other shops around Piazza del Sole, there is a large Migros supermarket right on the square itself.
– Make sure to bring your kids sword and/or princess dress/crown to make a it a little themed day. My son was very happy I insisted on bringing his sword, he waved it around the whole afternoon.
– Forgot crown/sword? They sell them at the Info Point/Museum Entry too.
– From the parking/town you can either walk up, but we choose the elevator. Down in the parking follow the castle exit. From that exit you walk straight in to a narrow alley cut out in the rocks. At the end you will find the elevators to take you up.
– The Tower is high, but the stair case is very modern, not steep and definitely doable for small kids, but not with a pram of course. The last 10 steps are on a small spiraling stairs, where more caution is needed.
– You can walk around on the grounds, on the Murata and up the tower without passing a register where you have to buy a ticket. However, there is a sign on the tower suggestion you would need a ticket to enter “the museum”. In hind side I think we should’ve walked over to the museum when we entered the grounds to buy a ticket allowing us to access to the grounds and the tower “legit”. As we visited the museum at the end, it didn’t matter to us from a “doing the right thing” point of view, but if you want to make sure just ask the lady at the info point if you need a ticket to go up the tower or not.
– Even though it was really sunny and almost T-shirt weather (April 9th), it was by no means packed.
– We saw quite some local kids hanging out on the walls with their mini “getto blasters”. Though I didn’t like it much at first, I realized they are not like the “here comes trouble” teens like I have seen hanging out in parks in Berlin, Amsterdam, New York, L.A..