There are many good reasons to visit Bergamo, Italy.
With a population of around 120000, located northeast of Milan, in Lombardy, and not far from Lake Iseo, Bergamo is a true hidden gem of Italy. This is city with a rich history, and beautiful sights, that has yet to be discovered by mass tourism. Having retained all of its local character, you could easily call it one of Italy’s hidden gems.
The first thing you will notice once in Bergamo is that the city is characterized by two parts: the Città Bassa in the flat part of town, with Neoclassical and modern buildings; and the Città Alta, a hill that proudly rises up with its 16th century buildings, where you will find Romanesque and Renaissance buildings, narrow cobbled alleys and swiping views. The Città Bassa and the Città Alta are connected by a funicular.
With so much to see and do there, it goes without saying that if your trip to Italy takes you to the north of the country, you should definitely visit Bergamo.
In this post, I highlight all the reasons to visit Bergamo, suggest the best things to do in Bergamo and share some tips to make the most of your time there.
10 Reasons To Visit Bergamo, Italy
It is still quite undiscovered
If you are looking for just one reason to visit Bergamo, Italy this should be it! Bergamo has yet to fall on the main tourist radar, which means it never gets crowded with tourists and it has fully retained its local character.
The city is pleasant to walk around – it’s the kind of place where life goes by as usual; locals go about their daily business undisturbed by the small group of tourists that occasionally pass by – usually on the way to another place.
Mind you though: this won’t last very long. Such a charming city is bound to get under the radar of tourists soon, especially as it is very easily accessible (more about that later), and more and more people will want to visit Bergamo.
There are many things to do in Bergamo
Visit Bergamo and you will quickly realize that there are many more things to do in Bergamo than you had imagined.
Bergamo has a rich interesting history, reflected in its architecture, and you should definitely take your time to learn more about it. Much of Bergamo architectural splendor and artistic inspiration are due to the influence of Venice, which ruled the city between the 15th and the late 18th century.
The following is a selection of the best things to do in Bergamo.
Hang out in Piazza Vecchia
Piazza Vecchia, in Bergamo Alta, is the ideal place to begin exploring the city. This is where the 12th century Torre del Comune (Civic Tower) is located. Even nowadays, every night at 10 pm its bell rings 100 times to announce the curfew and the closing of the city gates.
Located on Piazza Vecchia you will also find the 16th century Biblioteca Civica and the 12th century Palazzo della Regione.
Go to Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore
Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica is another must see. The construction of this Romanesque-style basilica started in 1137 in honor of the Virgin Mary to whom people prayed for protection from the plague.
There is no main gate but two doorways guarded by two marble lions each. Inside, you can admire the beautiful Renaissance choir stalls, Baroque stuccos, tapestries and the tomb of Italian composer Donizetti.
Not far from Basilica di Santa Maria you will find the Aula della Curia Vescovile, a beautiful palace with impressive murals and paintings that hardly gets any visitors.
Admire Colleoni Chapel
This is quite simply one of the unmissable things to do in Bergamo, Italy. If you visit Bergamo, it really is a must-see. Cappella Colleoni was built in 1487 to commemorate Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of Bergamo’s most prominent historical figures, known for being a blood-thirsty mercenary.
Colleoni Chapel is the city’s most beautiful building, with a stunning facade of red and white marble and a just as lavish interior. The chapel – which is free to enter – is decorated with various works of art and statues – which obviously include that of Bartolomeo Colleoni.
Make sure to pass by the chapel at night. According to legend, if you rub the coat of arms on the gate at midnight, you will have good luck!
Right off Cappella Colleoni there is an octagonal Baptistery that dates back to 1340. It used to be located inside Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, from where it was removed in 1661 to be reassembled in 1856, taken down again and finally placed in its current position in 1898.
Visit the Cattedrale di Sant’Alessandro
There’s no denying that one of the unmissable things to do in Bergamo is visiting its cathedral. Located in Piazza Duomo, next to Piazza Vecchia and accessed via the archway of the Palazzo della Regione, the church is dedicated to Saint Alexander – whose remains are in an urn placed on the altar.
Bergamo Neoclassical Duomo was built in the 15th century. Inside you can admire the gorgeous frescoes and decorations.
Go to one (or more) museum
Among the many reasons to visit Bergamo, there are the many excellent museums. The following ones are the most famous.
Accademia Carrara Museum
The Accademia Carrara Museum is good enough a reason to visit Bergamo in and of itself. The private collection of 18th century count Giacomo Carrara, this museum is an impressive art collection of more than 1800 paintings dating from the 15th to the 19th century, with works of Botticelli, Bellini, Mantegna, Pisanello and Raphael.
Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali Caffi
At just 5 minutes walk from the Cappella Colleoni, one of the best things to do in Bergamo – especially if you are traveling with kids – is visiting the Natural Science Museum, which has an impressive exhibit that will walk you through natural science, paleontology, archeology and more.
As soon as you enter the main hall you will be welcomed by a massive mammoth – it’s the reconstruction of remains that were found in the 20the century in Petosino plain, at a short distance from Bergamo.
Right next to the Natural Science Museum is the Archaeology Museum. About 7 minutes walk you’ll find the Botanical Garden.
If you are a fan of Italian composers, then visiting the Museo Donizettiano is one of the things to do in Bergamo. This was established in 1906 in honor of composer Gaetano Donizetti, and located on the first floor of Domus Magna, a beautiful 12th century palace.
Fondazione Museo di Palazzo Moroni
Located inside a gorgeous 17th century Baroque building, this small museum houses a good exhibit of paintings by local artists. Don’t miss the beautiful gardens at the back!
Walk along the Venetian Walls
Should you visit Bergamo, you simply can’t miss its Venetian Walls. Walking along them is simply one of the things to do in Bergamo.
Known as the Cinta Muraria, these were built in the 16th century, when the city was under Venetian rule (hence their name). Back then, the city used to act as a defense point for Venice, hence the walls that are built around it, measuring more than 6 km and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Bergamo has its own ancient Roman Roads, – the cardo (going north to south) and the decumano (going east to west). They intersect at the Torre del Gombito.
Walk through Bergamo City Gate
Another must-see if you visit Bergamo are the various gates located along the Cinta Muraria. The most impressive one is Porta San Giacomo. Close to Donizetti Museum you will find Porta Sant’Alessandro.
Ride the funicular to Bergamo Alta
One of the best things to do in Bergamo is riding the funicular from Bergamo Bassa all the way to the Bergamo Alta. The funicular was founded in 1897, when it was powered by steam engines.
Nowadays, although there also is a bus to go all the way up to the Città Alta, this remains an unmissable attraction for those who visit Bergamo – the views along the 240 meters journey are swiping!
Explore Bergamo Bassa
Albeit missing the quaint charm of Bergamo Alta, Bergamo Bassa remains an interesting place to explore. Its main sights are Piazza Matteotti and the nearby Piazza Vittorio Veneto, where the Torre dei Caduti, a war memorial, is located. Other interesting buildings to admire are the Teatro Donizetti, and the monument to Gaetano Donizetti Piazza Cavour.
The Città Alta offers swiping views
One of the things you’ll notice as soon as you visit Bergamo is that the city has several viewpoints from where you can enjoy impressive views.
I have already mentioned the views from the funicular that goes from Bergamo Bassa to Bergamo Alta.
For more views of the city, one of the coolest things to do in Bergamo is climbing the 230 steps (or riding the elevator) to the top of the Torre Civica, the Civic Tower – also known as the Campanone, a 56 meters tall tower which was built between the 11th and 12th centuries. From there you can enjoy great views of both the old and the modern part of town.
Torre del Gombito is another incredible vantage point. It was built in the 13th century and stands at more than 50 meters. There are 263 steps to reach the top – each of them worth it. It is free to visit, but it’s only open on Mondays and visits must be booked in advance.
Other places to admire the views are the Rocca di Bergamo, a 14th century fortress; and the Rocca di San Vigilio (where you will find the Castello di San Vigilio), which offers breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding mountains. You can get there by funicular.
Food is delicious
One of the highlights of visiting Bergamo is definitely trying its many traditional dishes. Bergamo is where 9 famous Italian cheeses – among which taleggio and stracchino, which I love – are produced.
Among the things to do in Bergamo, don’t forget to try casoncelli, a ravioli kind of pasta which is filled with (among other ingredients) salami and pork meat and served with a sauce made of butter and bacon. Not exactly light, but oh so tasty and definitely worth a run to burn the calories afterwards.
Polenta, cornmeal cooked till firm and served with a variety other ingredients, such as mushrooms, is another must-have.
If you visit Bergamo in the summer, make sure to try gelato alla stracciatella: you may not know it, but this vanilla ice-cream with chocolate shavings was invented here in a restaurant called La Marianna, to reminisce a soup from Rome which has the same name.
If you care to learn more about local specialties, I also recommend joining a cooking class. I did one with Food Lab 3.0 and in 3 hours I (well, sort of) prepared a fantastic meal.
If you are looking for the best places to eat in Bergamo, these are some recommendations:
Giopi e Margi offers fantastic local traditional (and revisited) cuisine in a cozy setting and with a great selection of wines.
Caffé della Funicolare, in the Old Town of Bergamo Alta, has great daily dishes (such as casoncelli or involtini, meat rolsl served with cabbage) and a fantastic view over the Città Bassa.
Cantiere Cucina is a tiny family style restaurant in Borgo Santa Caterina, in Bergamo Bassa, and offers some of the staples of local cuisine as well as other dishes, in a very relaxed atmosphere.
Ristorante da Mimmo, in Bergamo Alta, takes pizza to a whole new level: the quality of ingredients used for the toppings, the perfectly raised pizza dough, the choice of beers, the incredible desserts, the nice setting, the elegant yet relaxed environment and the great service make it a great place to have dinner.
And so is the wine
Among the things to do in Bergamo there’s trying the local wines. As a wine connoisseur (I have traveled all the way to Stellenbosch, in South Africa, just for that!) I truly enjoyed visiting Scanzo, whose moscato wine has been included in a list of selected Italian DOCG wines (strictly protected).
Moscato di Scanzo is typically a meditation wine, very thick, rich and fruity in flavor and thus it is not meant to accompany food. Azienda Agricola Biava is one of the best places for wine tasting.
The surroundings are gorgeous
Bergamo surroundings are very interesting. Picturesque villages, medieval castles, countryside, lakes and mountains – there literally is something for any kind of traveler. Since getting out of the city is so easy, when you visit Bergamo you should definitely make the most of the nearby places too.
Among the most interesting places to visit there is Crespi d’Adda, a tiny village in the municipality of Capriate San Gervasio that now counts no more than 600 inhabitants.
About 20 minutes drive from Bergamo, Crespi d’Adda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a great example of the 19th and 20th century “company towns” which were built in Europe and North America by industrialists in order to meet the workers’ needs.
The entire village is built around a cotton mill (the factory stopped working in 2004). There was a school, a theatre, a church, a cemetery and a wash-house. Local houses were built following the model of English architecture.
Another unique place to visit at short distance from Bergamo is the Castello di Malpaga – it’s one of the best things to do in Bergamo if you are traveling with children.
Malpaga is a 15th century castle which used to have defensive functions. Built upon request of Bartolomeo Colleoni (the same of the Chapel), who ruled the area and lived there with his wife and a number of daughters, it features rooms painted by Il Romanino – the most precious frescoes are in what used to be Colleoni’s bedroom.
One of the most fun ways of visiting Castello di Malpaga is on guided tours during which you get to wear costumes that are styled to resemble 15th century attires.
Finally, if you have enough time when you visit Bergamo make sure enjoy one of the many hiking trails in the surrounding mountains and to pop by the nearby Endine Lake, a locals’ favorite for activities such as kayaking, sailing and windsurfing.
It’s easy to get to
Sure enough, if you want visit Bergamo you won’t have a hard time getting there. At a stone’s throw from Milan, Bergamo Orio al Serio airport has become one of the most important European hubs for budget airlines. This means that it is really cheap to get there from pretty much all over Europe (and beyond).
Getting from the airport to the city is easy enough – buses take less than 30 minutes and cost a few Euro.
The city is also incredibly well connected to the rest of Italy by bus and train.
Watch out for the added costs of budget airlines if you plan to use this mode of transport when you visit Bergamo. The flights may be dirt cheap but at times they land at odd hours so you end up spending the night in (not so budget friendly) hotel near the airport. Gemma and Craig learned this at their expenses when they had a not so cheap layover in Bergamo, which added to their backpacking Europe costs.
You can go on many day trips
Bergamo is so well connected to other places in Northern Italy that you can certainly use it as a base to visit other places.
San Pellegrino, in the Val Brembana is where the famous San Pellegrino water comes from. Visiting is definitely one of the best things to do in Bergamo.
About 30 minutes drive from Bergamo, San Pellegrino is fabulous example of an art nouveau town, its most iconic buildings are the Grand Hotel, the Casino and its Thermal Baths. These are a fantastic place to relax and get pampered.
Sitting in one of the outdoor pools of QC Terme in San Pellegrino when it is cold and gloomy outside is truly atmospheric. The spa has an incredible amount of rooms and activities, including a music and color pool (where it is possible to listen to music under water); various kinds of saunas; aromatherapy rooms.
Guests can also enjoy a light dinner accompanied by plenty of prosecco wine,
One of the most popular day trips from Bergamo is to Milan, where you can get in around 45 minutes by train. There, you will find a plethora of interesting places to visit – the Gothic Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, Sforza Castle and – quite importantly – Leonardo’s Last Supper.
Should you decide to visit, make sure to get your tickets well in advance. You can do so here.
Check out this post for the best free things to do in Milan.
Bergamo is also a good starting point for a day trip to Venice, home of the beautiful Basilica di San Marco and St. Mark’s Bell Tower. Mind you, Venice definitely deserves more than a day, but if that’s all you have you may as well make the most of it. It takes around 3 hours to get there by train, but it’s much quicker to get to by car or on a guided day trip such as this one.
At about one hour and 30 minutes, Verona – home of the beautiful Arena and of Romeo and Juliet’s home – and the nearby Sirmione, on the shores of Lake Garda, are another good day trip.
You can easily go to Verona independently, or alternatively join a guided tour such as this one.
It’s a perfect weekend getaway
With so many things to do in Bergamo, so many nearby attractions, and being so easy to reach, the city is the ideal getaway for a long weekend or a short break. So you don’t really have to include it in a longer Italy itinerary, but you can just visit Bergamo on its own!
People are genuine
Last, but definitely not least one of the reasons to visit Bergamo is that people are truly friendly, welcoming and pleasant to talk to, and since tourists are so few still, it’s incredibly easy to meet them and befriend them.
Where To Stay In Bergamo
Have I convinced you to visit Bergamo? Now you need to look for suitable accommodation. Worry not! You won’t have a hard time finding a good place to stay. Here’s a selection of good hotels:
- Relais San Lorenzo has fantastic, comfortable room in a stylish setting. Click here for the latest rates.
- Casa di Charme Monica is a fabulous apartment in Bergamo Alta. Click here for the latest rates.
- Petite Suite is a beautiful hotel in lower Bergamo. Click here for the latest rates.
Are you planning a trip to Italy? Make sure to read the following posts:
- A Guide To The Best Places To Visit In Italy
- A Perfect Italy Itinerary: What To See And Do With 10 Days Or More
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- 17 Things Italians Do Better Than Others
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 21 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch
- How To Order Coffee In Italy: The Best Italian Coffee
- 13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan
- 22 Incredible Things To Do In Venice