There are so many wonderful things to do in Bergamo, Italy. This little northern Italian town is so underrated, but it has quickly shot up to become one of my all-time favorite Italian cities (maybe just behind my beloved Bologna).
After visiting Bergamo on two separate occasions (with a third one in the works!), I wanted to start shouting about this city and how cool it is because it seems like many people leave it off of their list when they travel northern Italy.
Where is Bergamo Italy?
Bergamo is located in Northern Italy in the Lombardy region of the country. It is 56 kilometers or about 35 miles northeast of Milan. It is about 100 kilometers or 60 miles from the Swiss border, about 30 minutes from Lake Como, and only a few hours from Venice and Verona.
Bergamo is a great place to add to your Northern Italy itinerary if you plan to be in this region for a long period of time. You can easily explore the major sights in a day or two and then continue on to the larger city of Milan or the calm lakeside views in Como.
How to Get to Bergamo
Getting to Bergamo is incredibly easy if you are flying into the Milan-Bergamo airport (code: BGY). The Milan-Bergamo Airport is about a 15-minute bus ride to the train station in Bergamo which is right in the downtown area of the new part of the city.
If you plan to stay in the Citta Alta, you can stay on the bus all the way to this part of the city. Buses leave from right outside the arrivals terminal at BGY and cost just over €2.
If you are coming from Milan, you can take the train from the Milano Centrale Train Station. There are several trains a day and it costs about €6 one way and takes about 50 minutes. Find the train times on the Trenord website here.
Getting Around Bergamo
Getting around Bergamo is very easy. It’s a very walkable city and you can easily spend your day or two here simply using your feet as transportation.
However, if you want to cover more ground in less time or you don’t want to walk for miles up and down the hills of the Citta Alta, you can use the bus network and the funicular system here.
You can find out about the buses on the Bergamo city bus website (and you can download the app onto your phone as well). You can use this app to pre-book bus tickets so that you don’t have to worry about getting on the bus without a ticket.
Where to Stay in Bergamo Italy
If you have never been to Bergamo before, I highly recommend staying in the old town or the Citta Alta. This part of the city is up higher than the downtown area near the train station, but it is so easy to get to by bus.
So even if you are only staying in Bergamo for a short layover, you can still base yourself in this nicer part of town and enjoy the restaurants and cafes here before heading back to the airport in the morning.
- La Torre Bergamo House: This cute little B&B only has a few rooms and is run by a very friendly family. The hotel is located about a two-minute walk from the funicular and a 7-minute walk to the bus stop that can take you to the airport. It’s incredibly quiet at night and close to some fantastic restaurants. It has a hearty breakfast of pastries, fruit, yogurt, meat and cheese, juice, and coffee included. They even made me a perfect cappuccino to start the day! Rooms start as low as €45 per night. Book a stay at La Torre Bergamo House here.
- In Centro Charme: This historical building is home to a stunning B&B also run by a wonderfully kind family. The rooms are well-finished and quite large for the size of the hotel. It has charm and is close to the Venetian walls of the city as well as the bus stop to the airport and train station. Breakfast is wonderful. Rooms start at €85 per night. Book a stay at In Centro Charme here.
- BGY Central Apartments: For privacy and a spacious apartment that will allow you to self-cater with ease, this is a fantastic spot. I stayed here for a night before my flight from BGY and it was perfect. There is a supermarket right next to the apartment where you can get fresh produce, meats, delicious cheese, and freshly baked bread. It’s close to some of the best restaurants in the downtown area of the city and a 2-minute walk to the bus stop that takes you to the airport. The apartments start at €65 per night. Book a stay at BGY Central Apartments here.
Absolute Best Things to Do in Bergamo Italy
These are some of the absolute best things to do in Bergamo. Many are located in the Bergamo old town, but there is also quite a bit to see, do and, most importantly, eat, in the newer part of town as well.
1. Walk along the Venetian Walls
One of my favorite places to visit in Bergamo to enjoy a long walk is at the Venetian Walls.
This length of the wall and walking paths along it stretch for six kilometers or about 3.7 miles. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, these defensive walls were built beginning in 1561 by the Republic of Venice.
Lucky for the residents and for those of us that now get to enjoy their beauty, the city was never under siege and has sustained almost no damage at all since its original construction.
The Venetians caused quite a lot of trouble during the building of this wall. They had to knock down over 250 buildings, including several churches. This caused them to be ex-communicated by eight different clergy members.
If you have the time and energy, I highly recommend starting the walk from the bottom and following the road here from the Funicular all the way up to the top rather than taking the funicular. This view up to the wall allows you to see it from the base as well as to take in the stunning architecture of the homes along the way.
2. Take the Funicular to the Citta Alta
If you walk up to the Citta Alta, you can take the funicular back down. Or simply use it both ways. A ticket on the funicular costs €1.30 each way and takes about 5 minutes to roll ever so slowly up the hill.
It’s a fun little ride and a much quicker way to the Venetian Walls as well if you don’t want to walk. Just note that it only runs once every 30 minutes, so if you time it badly you could be waiting a little while.
3. Eat Local Cuisine
The local cuisine of the Lombardy region is utterly delicious, although what food in Italy isn’t? A quick trip to Bologna’s best restaurants or to explore the food scene in Florence will show you that.
Bergamo is no different. One of the best Bergamo places to visit is a restaurant.
Some of the dishes you’ll see all over the area of Lombardy include:
- Polenta – ground cornmeal that is cooked like porridge and usually served with slow-cooked meat. Polenta taragna is a delicious dish made of polenta mixed with cheese and buckwheat flour. Bergamo in particular is well-known for using polenta in desserts.
- Risotto – much of the Lombardy region is full of rice fields. This is where arborio rice is grown, the rice that is used to make risotto. You’ll find it on menus all over this region with the most famous being from nearby Milan. Risotto Alla Milanese is made with parmesan and saffron to make it a stunning shade of yellow.
- Casoncelli – This is a type of pasta much like tortellini, but shaped slightly more like a crescent moon. In Bergamo, you’ll find casoncelli alla Bergamasca which is this type of pasta stuffed with meat and tossed in parmesan, bacon, butter, and sage.
4. See the Bergamo City Gate Porta San Giacomo
Completed in 1592, Porta San Giacomo was one of the city gates through which people could pass through the Venetian Walls. This was the original entrance to the city if you were coming from Milan.
The gate is made of white marble which was extracted from the nearby quarries of Zandobbio. The gate actually used to have a draw bridge that closed at 10 pm every night to protect the city from intrusion. The gate was removed in the 18th Century and many of the roads around it have been completely replaced, but the gate remains.
5. Walk Ancient Roman Streets
Bergamo is one of the few places in this region of Italy where you can still walk on an ancient Roman road.
At the corner of Via Tassis and Via Vagine, a section of road and walls have been discovered that date back to the first century AD. Walk along Via Tassis from Via Colleoni to discover some of the oldest parts of the Citta Alta.
6. Rocca di Bergamo
Rocca di Bergamo is one of the most interesting places to visit in Bergamo, especially if you enjoy learning about history or you love historical architecture.
Rocca di Bergamo is part of the History Museum of Bergamo, of which there are several different locations which you can see here.
Not only does this tower have some of the best views back over Bergamo, it is also packed with historical information and lots of places to walk around to see more history and beauty.
The Rocca itself is not only a museum but a fortress and turret that looks like a castle. It dates back to the 14th century when it was part of the military efforts to protect the city from attacks.
You can walk along the patrol walkway and go into the houses of the soldiers to see what it would have been like to be stationed here.
This museum focuses on the time between the ancient regimes of the Venetians all the way up to the Italian unification and how Bergamo played a role in all of these different events.
Tickets cost €5 per person. Children and teenagers under 18 years of age go for free. The tower is only open Friday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm.
7. Museum of Natural Science and Archaeology
This museum is actually two museums, but they are located inside the same complex. You can visit the Natural Science museum, which is particularly fun for kids.
The Natural Science Museum is relatively small but very hands-on with a zoological exhibition of local fauna. There is an enormous earth sciences collection of stones, fossils, and insects that have been discovered in this region of Italy.
The Archeology Museum dates back to 1561 when a collection of antiques and epigraphs were put on exhibition by decree of the local government. Now the museum is packed with artifacts from around the world, but particularly from around Italy that will make history truly come to life.
8. Shopping on Via XX Settembre
If you’ve come to Italy to do some shopping, well, to be honest, head down the road to Milan and go to Via Gian Giacomo Mora.
However, you can also do some amazing shopping in Bergamo. Via XX Settembre is the main shopping street in Bergamo where you’ll find brands like Tod’s, Mali Atelier, LiuJo, Max and Co., and Furla to name a few.
The thing I like about this street is that while you will find big brands like Benneton and Zara, there are also locally owned boutiques and Italian brands up and down this boulevard, too. For even better shopping head off the side streets into the small boutiques.
9. Piazza Matteotti
This Piazza in the newer part of Bergamo is a wonderful place to sit in the sunshine.
It seems to be a sort of meeting point for people since it’s at a large crossroad in the city and whenever there are events or fairs going on in the city, you can be sure at least part of it will be around Piazza Matteotti.
Around this plaza, you will also find several monuments. Monumento Al Partigiano or the Monument to the Partisans is a bronze war memorial that was unveiled in 1977 and honors the victims of the Italian resistance who stood up against the Nazis and Fascists in Italy during World War II.
This is also where you will find Porta Nuova or New Gate. This gate was constructed in 1837 to replace an old wicket gate. This was the main gateway to the commercial area of Bergamo and remains so today at the junction of one of the main streets of the “lower town.”
10. Accademia Carrara
The Accademia Carrara di Belle Arti di Bergamo is an art gallery as well as being a fine arts academy. The gallery was originally opened in 1780 and it is now home to a large collection of art from the Renaissance period to the late nineteenth century.
This is one of the most wonderful places to go in Bergamo if you enjoy art.
There are mostly paintings, but you’ll also find sculptures, drawings, prints, historical letters, and pottery. It costs €10 to visit the museum and it is open every day of the week except Tuesdays.
You can learn more about this gallery on their website.
11. Piazza Vecchia
The Piazza Vecchia is the heart of the Citta Alta neighborhood of Bergamo. If you want to enjoy the sunshine, people watch, sip an espresso or eat a gelato in the main plaza, this is the one to head to on your trip to Bergamo.
The piazza itself has been for centuries and continues to be, the seat of power in this region. The current piazza was built on top of the old Roman Forum.
Take note of the Palazzo Della Ragione, which is the oldest municipal building in the entire Lombardy Region. In the piazza, you’ll also see Torre Civica which has a beautiful old bell tower.
On the other side is the Palazzo Nuovo, which was the Bergamo Town Hall until 1873. Now it is a library with ancient manuscripts and books from the 16th Century.
12. Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
One of the most popular things to do in Bergamo also has one of the best stories.
In 1100, the plague was spreading across Europe. The people of Bergamo decided they would pray to the Virgin Mary. They asked her to help them stay healthy and to keep the plague from entering their city. They promised that if she helped them, they would dedicate a church to her.
In 1137, the construction of the Basilica began. The exterior of the basilica is in a Romanesque style, but inside the church is all baroque. It is ornate and colorful. Over the centuries, the basilica was adorned with tapestries, stuccos, frescoes, and wooden carved pieces that are all over the church’s interior.
Something quite interesting (at least to me), is that outside of the church you will see iron bars fixed to the side of the church. Every city around Italy was left to figure out its own forms of measurement.
These methods of measuring weight and height were left in public spaces so that everyone would know what they were. These bars were one of the forms of measurement in Bergamo during the Middle Ages.
13. Cappella Colleoni
This chapel is named for Bartolomeo Colleoni. Colleoni was one of the most famous mercenary captains in Italy.
He was born in Bergamo and spent much of his life as a soldier fighting around Italy for the Republic of Venice. He came back to Bergamo at the peak of his power and is said to have had this chapel built in his own honor (what a guy!).
Legend has it that the clergy of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, which sits just next door, was opposed to it. So Colleoni sent his men to “have a word” with the clergymen until they could no longer disagree.
The exterior of the chapel is what you see as you head towards the Basilica. The red and white marble facade makes this one of the most incredible places to see in Bergamo. The city of Bergamo calls it a true Renaissance masterpiece.
They say that if you touch the coat of arms outside of the chapel at midnight, you will have good luck.
14. Bergamo Cathedral
The Basilica, the Cappella, and the Bergamo Cathedral are all in a little bit of a circle so you can easily visit all three in a short period of time. It’s actually a little bit confusing if you don’t know that they’re all back there.
The cathedral was originally constructed during the 5th and 6th centuries. Archaeologists have discovered several layers of frescoes during different construction phases and many of them date back to the 13th century. Some pieces were even being discovered as recently as 2004.
The large-scale cathedral that exists today was built during the 15th century.
The interior of the cathedral is nearly an art gallery considering the work that sits inside. There are paintings by Giovan Battista Moroni, Andrea Previtali, and Giambattista Tiepolo.
There is also a tiara that was worn by Pope John XXIII who was born near Bergamo. The tiara is made of gold and has emeralds, pearls, rubys, and diamonds in it.
15. Torre Castello San Vigilio
Located very high up in the Citta Alta, you will actually want to take a second funicular to get to this site of castle ruins. You can take the second funicular from this location.
San Vigilio Castle is one of the coolest things to do in Bergamo and is often left off of people’s list of places to see in Bergamo because it’s a little bit further away than most of the central city things to do.
However, it is well worth taking the time to head up to this viewpoint to see what all of those Venetian walls were protecting.
The castle was home to many of the ruling families of Bergamo for several centuries. The first mention of the castle in historical documents is in the 6th century, although it’s possible that it existed during Roman times.
During the 16th century, the castle was under siege almost constantly by both French and Spanish attacks. The castle is now really just in a park that you can wander around and explore on your own. It’s free to enter.
16. Church of Sant Agata del Carmine
I didn’t even know about the Church of Saint Agatha before coming to Bergamo. I had done quite a lot of research on things to do in Bergamo and while many of the churches I mentioned above seem to make every list, this little church off of the main street in the Old Town seems to go unnoticed.
I almost didn’t go inside, but it was a little bit chilly as I was walking down the street and I thought it would at least be a good way to warm up for a few minutes. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the inside of the church was seriously breathtaking.
I highly recommend checking it out if you have a few extra minutes. Next door is the restaurant, Il Circolino, which does excellent food.
However, that also used to be part of the church before it was deconsecrated by Napoleon in the 19th century. Be sure not to miss the arches and ceiling inside this restaurant when you visit.
17. Citadella Viscontea
Once used as the barracks for the soldiers who worked along the Venetian Walls, the Citadella Viscontea is now where you will find the Natural Sciences Museum. However, you can explore from the outside and around the back as well as walk through the gates on either side of this citadel.
It used to be much larger and while some of the frescoes can still be seen, unfortunately, many of them are no longer visible. Take a look at the arches once you go inside the gate.
The architecture here is slightly different from other parts of the fortification that you find around the city and while it’s not a parking lot, you still get a sense of the grandeur.
18. Saint Grata Inter Vites
This little church looks so different from the other churches on this list of things to do in Bergamo. The exterior is a beautiful shade of yellow, which stands out against the near-constant blue skies of Bergamo.
Inter Vites means among the vines, which is sort of how you feel as you stand up above the city in this little hidden alley. When the church was built back in the 18th century, it used to be surrounded by vineyards and despite the fact that the vineyards are gone, the name remains.
Head inside and keep your eyes out for the living skeletons fresco which was painted by Paolo Bonomini in the 19th Century. At the time it was very dark work that many people didn’t like.
19. Scalone San Gottardo
Just across from Saint Grata are perhaps the most famous stairs in Bergamo.
There are staircases or “scalone” all over Bergamo that are worth visiting, but this one stands out as a must for things to do in Bergamo for a few reasons.
The staircase leads up and away from the entrance of the church and offers some of the most incredible views back over the city. If I lived here, this would be one of my favorite places to see in Bergamo on a daily basis. It feels like the sort of place you can come and quietly think and relax.
The staircase was named after the monastery that used to be located here.