Bergamo is a charming small town in northern Italy. It has cute stone houses, romantic cobbled streets and delicious food. Given the short distance, it is an easy day trip from Milan, but worth a longer visit.
Although Milan is the star of the region, Bergamo used to be a very important city back in the day. In fact, during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Venice and Milan even went to war over it!
In reality, Bergamo is two cities, not one. Namely, there is an older Città Alta and a more modern Città Bassa. Citta Alta means Upper Town and indeed it is up on a hill. By contrast, Città Bassa or Lower City is in the plain below. Nowadays, the two cities are well connected by road and a cable car. The latter is popular with visitors and locals alike. Besides being an easy way to travel, the cable car also offers amazing views to the whole area.
Bergamo is just about 45 km from Milan or one hour by train. It so happens that the fastest way to travel between the two cities is by train, not by car. Unfortunately, road traffic can be quite bad. It is not unusual to take more than 2 hours!
In addition, Bergamo is near the popular Italian Lake District. For example, Lake Iseo is less than an hour way by car and makes a great day trip. The best thing about it is that it’s just as charming as the more famous Lake Iseo, but without the crowds.
Bergamo: a tale of two cities
As mentioned before, Bergamo is actually two cities, not one. Even though both are beautiful, Città Alta is admittedly the prettier of the two. With its cobbled alleys and charming medieval houses, you cannot help but to love it. There are cozy cafés and vinerias in every corner, while the medieval walls offer gorgeous views to the whole plain.
On the other hand, the modern Città Bassa is an elegant town, well designed and easy to explore on foot. Additionally, for art lovers, Città Bassa has two amazing art galleries, the Academia Carrera and GAMeC, and the lovely opera house, Teatro Donizetti.
Bergamo Città Alta: the highlights
- Piazza Vecchia, the main square. This is where you’ll find most cafés and restaurants. Le Corbusier called it “the most beautiful square in Europe”.
- The Venetian Walls, recently named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Porta di San Giacomo, the most beautiful gate of the Venetian Walls.
- Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni chapel) with its rich decoration.
- Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, between the Cappella Colleoni and the city’s cathedral.
- Accademia Carrara, the oldest art academy in Italy. It hosts works by famous artists such as Raphael, Botticelli, Canaletto, Lorenzo Lotto and Giovanni Bellini.
- The Campanone, or Civic Tower, for the view from above.
- Bergamo Cathedral, or Duomo di San Alessandro, for the wall paintings and religious relics.
- Take the funicular (cable car) to San Vigilio. This is the highest point of Bergamo. It offers for spectacular views of the area. Not to be confused with the lower funicular that connects the Upper to the Lower town!
- Watch an opera at Teatro Donizetti in Città Bassa
- Visit GAMeC, the modern art gallery in Città Bassa. It houses over 3,000 works by modern masters, such as Balla, Boccioni, de Chirico, Kandinsky, and Morandi
Where and what to eat in Bergamo
- At Da Mimmo for real Pizza Margherita, made to a secret 60-year-old recipe.
- Almost any bakery for Polenta e Osei, Bergamo’s famous dessert. It is a cake made of polenta (corn mash) and marzipan (almond paste).
- Hostaria del Relais San Lorenzo, to dine among ancient Roman ruins.
- Caffè del Tasso, for delicious cakes and coffee in Piazza Vecchia.
- Al Donizetti, in the chic Via Gomboti, for coffee and dessert.
- Vineria Cozzi, for the cozy, warm atmosphere.
- La Marianna, where the stracciatella ice cream was first created in 1961
- Not to mention the delicious focaccia of Il Fornaio!
Where to stay Bergamo
It’s hard to beat Città Alta for its charm and beauty. Granted, most places to stay in the upper city are Bed & Breakfasts. So far, there is only one 5-star hotel, the chic Relais San Lorenzo. At the same time, for luxury at friendlier prices, try the Relais San Vigilio al Castello or the more modern Le Funi Hotel.
In the case of Città Bassa, there are many good options. Even more, there are several popular chains too. For example, if you want to be close to public transport, the Best Western Hotel Piemontese is just 50m from the train station. Furthermore, there is a bus stop for the airport right outside the hotel.
How to get there
First of all, Bergamo has its own international airport, the Orio Al Serio. Another option is to fly to Milan. From there, you can take the train or the bus/car.
It’s easy to t from the airport to the city. The best way is to take the No 1 bus. The bus runs every 30 minutes, between 6.00 am and midnight. It takes just 10-15 minutes to reach the city centre. You can buy tickets from kiosks at the airport, Bergamo train station and the Transport offices at Largo Porta Nuova. They cost 2 Euros.
Finally, whichever way you go there, Bergamo is sure worth your time!