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Bergamo is a charming historic town of Lombardy in northern Italy, complete with medieval walls, romantic cobblestone streets and delicious cuisine. It is a real secret gem, often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour, Milan, but definitely worth a longer visit than just a day trip.
Bergamo is located about 45 km from Milan, which is either 1 hour by train or over 2 hours by car or bus, due to the notorious traffic of the A4 motorway connecting the two cities. It is just as chic as Milan, but has considerably better prices, making it a better base for exploring the area. Moreover, it has its own airport, Orio al Serio, just 5 klm from the Bergamo city center and excellent connections by road and rail to the northern lakes. It is less than 1 hour distance from Lake Como and is even closer to the less known but very charming Lake Iseo.
In reality, Bergamo is a town split in two: the medieval Città Alta (Upper City) up on the hilltop and the modern Città Bassa (Lower City) below. The two towns are well connected by roads and the Bergamo funicular/cable car, the latter offering some gorgeous views to the whole area.
The more picturesque Città Alta seems made for Instagram, as it is full of charming cobblestone streets, cute cafés, cozi vinerias and beautiful views to the valley below. Nevertheless, the modern lower town is elegant, well designed and easy to explore. For art lovers, Città Bassa is the place to be, as this is where Bergamo’s best two art galleries (Academia Carrera and GAMeC) as well as the opera house, Teatro Donizetti, are located.
The top sights in Bergamo Città Alta
- Piazza Vecchia, the delightful main square of Bergamo Upper Town and center of all activity, with many beautiful renaissance buildings, as well as charming cafés and restaurants. In fact, the famous architect Le Corbusier once called it “the most beautiful square in Europe”.
- The Venetian Walls surrounding the city, which have recently been officially named a UNESCO World Heritage Site
- The Porta di San Giacomo, the most picturesque entryway to the upper town of the Venetian Walls.
- The Cappella Colleoni (i.e. Colleoni chapel) with its distinct and rich outer decorations
- The Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, built between the Cappella Colleoni and the city cathedral; in fact it predates both other churches and was built on top of a pagan Roman temple
- Accademia Carrara, the oldest art academy in Italy, housed in an impressive historical building and holding impressive works of art, including works of Renaissance greats like Raphael, Botticelli, Canaletto, Lorenzo Lotto and Giovanni Bellini
- The Campanone, or Civic Tower, which offers fantastic views to the whole area around Bergamo
- Bergamo Cathedral, or Duomo di San Alessandro, with its impressive wall paintings and other artefacts, such as a papal tiara of Pope John XXIII
- The funicular (cable car) to San Vigilio, the highest point of Bergamo, for spectacular views of the surrounding area; not to be confused with the lower funicular that connects the Upper to the Lower town!
- Teatro Donizetti in Città Bassa, especially if you can actually watch an opera, as it is worth it
- GAMeC, the modern art gallery in Città Bassa, with over 3,000 works by modern masters, such as Balla, Boccioni, de Chirico, Kandinsky, and Morandi
Where and what to eat in Bergamo
- Go to Da Mimmo for authentic Pizza Margherita, baked according to a secret 60-year-old recipe and a DOP certification (DOP is short for Denominazione di Origine Protetta, i.e. “Protected Designation of Origin”)
- Any bakery for Polenta e Osei, Bergamo’s signature dessert, a kind of cake made of polenta (mashed corn) and marzipan (almond paste)
- At the luxurious Hostaria del Relais San Lorenzo for a truly unique experience of dining among ancient Roman ruins
- At the historic Caffè del Tasso, for delicious cakes and coffee in Piazza Vecchia
- At Al Donizetti at the fashionable and chic Via Gomboti, for coffee, desserts or a light meal
- At Vineria Cozzi for traditional Italian cuisine and cozy, warm atmosphere
- At La Marianna, for some authentic stracciatella ice cream, as this is the place where the flavour was first created in 1961
- Focaccia with a huge variety of toppings at Il Fornaio
Where to stay Bergamo
For an authentic experience, I would suggest that you opt to stay in Bergamo Città Alta, as this is also Bergamo’s most charming and beautiful part. Most of the hotels in Bergamo Alta are actually cozy Bed & Breakfasts, but there is also the more luxurious option of 5-star Relais San Lorenzo. More big chain hotels can be found in Città Bassa, such as Best Western Hotel Piemontese.
How to get there
The nice thing about Bergamo is that it has its own international airport, just 20 minutes by bus for city centre. If your favourite airline doesn’t fly to Bergamo, you could instead fly to Milan. From there, you could take the train (about 1 hour trip) or the bus/car, although the latter will take at least 2 hours, due to road traffic.
The Orio Al Serio airport of Bergamo is well connected to the city by the No 1 bus, which leaves every 30 minutes from/to the airport, between 6.00 am and midnight. It has stops at the train station, the Lower Town, the funicular and the Upper Town itself. It also makes stop at popular Lower Town hotels. Tickets are available from airport kiosks, the city’s train station, as well as the main Bergamo Transport offices at Largo Porta Nuova and cost 2 Euros.
One thing is certain, no matter how much time you’ve got or how you get there, a visit to Bergamo is a must and well worth your time!