Bergamo may just be Italy’s undiscovered gem of the north. It’s a thriving city overshadowed by nearby popular Milan, but what sets it apart is its historical charm. Its ancient upper city, Città Alta, is delicately perched above the lower city, Città Bassa, fortified with 16th-century Venetian walls to protect from invaders in history’s past. The wonderful thing about it is it’s far less touristy than other Italian cities, but still with so much untouched beauty to see. Discover the best things to do in Bergamo and why you should visit this gem of the North.
While Bergamo has been a best-kept secret of Italy for a while now, you may actually recognize the name in light of recent world events. Bergamo was the first and hardest-hit city in Italy at the beginning of the pandemic. Luckily, the city is back on its feet just in time for Italy’s reopening to tourism this summer!
If you need any other help planning your trip to Italy, visit my ultimate guide to planning a trip to Italy. I’ve combined what I’ve learned over my last few years of traveling all around Italy to help make planning a trip as easy as possible.
And if you need inspiration for your trip beyond Bergamo, I’ve written on some of my other favorite cities in Italy to inspire you.
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How to Reach Bergamo
There are four convenient options you can use to reach Bergamo. You can travel by renting a car, by train, by bus, or arrive directly in the city at its international airport.
Being only 40 minutes away, Bergamo is accessible as a day trip if you’re staying in Milan. Trains run back and forth daily, which you can learn more about in my essential Italy train travel tips to easily navigate the transportation.
Companies like FlixBus also offer buses from Bergamo to Milan, as well as other destinations, for as little as 5 euros.
If you choose to go by car, you may need to take the highway, so make sure to factor in the cost of tolls on your trip budget. It will vary based on the distance you are traveling, but for example, the toll from Milan to Bergamo costs around 4 euros one way.
Bergamo also has its own airport, Orio al Serio (BGY). It’s the third-largest hub of RyanAir, so it could be a perfect budget travel trip if you are coming from Europe!
Where to Stay in Bergamo
Hotel Excelsior San Marco is in Città Bassa but only a few minutes walk to the funicular up to Città Alta or the walking path.
Budget: B&B Entro Le Mura
Mid-Range: Hotel Excelsior San Marco
Luxury: Relais San Vigilio al Castello
Near airport: Winter Garden Hotel
Things to Do in Bergamo: Città Alta
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
One of the first things to do in Bergamo that you should add to your list is head over to Piazza Duomo and visit the 3 big monuments to religion in the city.
What I love about the Basilica Santa Maria Maggiore, Cappella Colleoni, and Duomo di Sant’Alessandro is that they are in the center of the city, but are tucked behind Palazzo della Ragione. It makes the reveal to these huge and decorated churches so special. You stroll through the big open piazza and go around the palazzo to be met with stunning, sacred architecture.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is unique because its entrance and facade are not grand or even very clear. You’ll first notice Cappella Colleoni and then to the left is an unassuming door to where you enter the Basilica.
Based on its outer appearance, you may expect Cappella Colleoni to be the main church of Bergamo. The facade is ornately decorated, grandiose, and frankly, humongous!
Inside, you’ll find it just as decorated as the outside, flooded with art and opulent detail.
Duomo di Bergamo
The Duomo of Bergamo is to the left of the Basilica and the Cappella. It’s smaller than the Basilica but no less impressive.
Inside are various artworks, statues, and even the tiara of a pope – Pope John XXIII to be exact, who was from Bergamo and is now a saint.
After visiting Piazza Duomo, the next things to do in Bergamo are close by – the Campanone and the Piazza Vecchia. This 12th-century tower constructed across from the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and in the piazza offers panoramic views of Bergamo from the top.
The Campanone is a bell tower, with the largest bell in Lombardy. Long ago, the bell would be rung 100 times at 10 pm. This was to let residents know the gates to Bergamo were closing. It still rings as such today to preserve that tradition!
You can enter for 5 euros and read more about it for planning your visit at Visit Bergamo.
It’s everything you love in an Italian plaza. There are restaurants, cafes, lots of people, and beautiful architecture. Piazza Veccia is not too small and not too big, creating a center to the city that makes it feel like a home.
If you come during certain times of the year, there may even be festivals occurring, such as this garden show in September.
Path Up To The Porta San Giacomo
The Porta San Giacomo is a white facade along the Venetian fortified walls of the upper city of Bergamo. In history, it was the door to the city of Bergamo of which travelers from Milan would enter.
The path leading up to the figurative door to the city is winding cobblestone from which you can take a beautiful photo of the opening to Città Alta or the sprawling Città Bassa below.
Walk Along the Walls
Along the 500-year-old walls of Città Alta, there are wide grassy parks to literally sit on top of history and take in the breathtaking views. Just over the walls, you’ll peek at the cascading villas down to Città Bassa.
Enjoy some moments at sunset on a park bench, take a jog on the paths against the walls, or simply stroll as you make your way to the historic center of the city.
Get Stracciatella at La Marianna
La Marianna is a famous gelateria in the heart of Città Alta. They invented the flavor of Stracciatella, that milky vanilla taste decorated with pieces of chocolate.
I highly recommend stopping by in the evening or at night. The outside of the cafe and it’s seating area are decorated with beautiful twinkling lights, beautiful enough to pinch yourself that you’re really in Italy eating that tasty gelato.
Shop the Local Main Street of Città Alta
When in the center of Città Alta, you will most likely find yourself on Via Colleoni/Via Gombito. This is the main street that connects the Piazza Della Cittadella to the Piazza Vecchio and then to where the Funicolare is located form Città Bassa to Città Alta.
It is the bustling street of the historic center, lined with shops, restaurants, and bakeries to satisfy your sweet tooth. Take a moment to stroll this street and observe the interactions between locals.
What’s wonderful about Bergamo is that it has not been overrun by tourism as opposed to other major cities in Italy.
You will see far fewer tourists in Bergamo and much more character, which makes it a wonderful destination to visit!
One of the most characteristic parts of the city of Bergamo is the Funicolare. It may not seem like much, but it’s a cable car that speaks to the old charm and interesting geography of the city.
You can take the funicular from Città Bassa to Città Alta, as well as another funicular from Città Alta to the highest point of San Vigilio.
The cable car costs 1-2 euros per person and the ticket is valid for 75 minutes.
Pro Tip: Wait to validate your ticket until the cable car arrives to pick you up and the attendant checks you in!
Il Castello di San Vigilio is a castle at the highest point of Città Alta. Like I previously mentioned, I highly recommend taking the funicular up to this part of town so you can experience the sweeping views over the region from the cable car.
The funicular will drop you off at a little terrace where you can take beautiful pictures of the main part of Città Alta below.
Hike a little further up the path to the right where you’re dropped off and you’ll make your way to Castello di San Vigilio in only a few minutes.
Normally you are able to enter the castle and go to the top, where there is a lovely park and the highest views of Bergamo. (The upper part is currently not open due to COVID-19.)
Enjoy Bergamo’s Famous Dishes, Casoncelli alla Bergamasca or Polenta
It’s no secret Italy’s cuisine is a main draw to the country. I absolutely love how every region, down to every city, has its own special dishes characteristic of the area.
Bergamo’s two most famous dishes are Casoncelli alla Bergamasca and Polenta. Casoncelli is similar to ravioli, filled with beef and coated with a light dressing of melted butter and sage.
Polenta takes on many forms in a dish! It can be a simple side, the first course with other ingredients, or even a cake! Polenta is a must try and you’ll find it in almost any restaurant in Bergamo.
Hike Up To The Walls
Now, I like to stay pretty active so I thought a 15-minute hike up to the walled Città Alta would be completely fine. Low and behold, I barely reached the top, with my heart beating out of my chest!
But if you are a fan of hiking and love to stay fit while traveling (you should read all my tips about that here,) then you’d love this steep climb to Città Alta.
Park near where Via Dello Statuto meets Via Fontanabrolo, then follow the brown sign pointing to Mura di Bergamo.
You’ll walk up a very steep and scenic stone path. The walk and the views took my breathe away!
Things to do in Bergamo: Citta Bassa & Around
Via XX Settembre
Make your way to Città Bassa and you experience modern Italy. It’s the financial and working district of the city, with its bits of historic charm. I suggest the first of things to do in Bergamo’s Città Bassa is to make your way to Via XX Settembre. This street is pedestrian-only and lined with shops and restaurants.
Piazza Matteotti is in the central part of bustling Città Bassa. Located on Via Roma that takes you towards the entrance to Città Alta, Piazza Matteotti has great bars for aperitivo, space for a nice stroll, and is also right behind the Largo Porta Nuova – the “doors” to Bergamo.
Gelateria La Romana
If you are in Città Bassa craving a good gelato, I highly recommend Gelateria La Romana! It is a chain of gelato cafes, but I promise, it is a good one!
I suggest you grab a cone and ask for a pump of either white chocolate or chocolate at the bottom. Then choose your flavors and take a seat at a bench outside.
You’ll love the chocolate surprise on your last bite – a unique twist I haven’t seen anywhere else!
It may be a bit odd to suggest to go to a mall of all places when visiting a new city. However, if you have the time, Bergamo’s mall, OrioCenter is actually worth it.
It’s not only beautifully designed, but it has the most stores in a mall in ALL of Europe. It is shopping heaven!
I also find it interesting when I travel not only to visit the historical sites and natural wonders but the commonplace locations that locals go to on a daily basis.
I believe it opens your eyes up more to what a place is like to see not only tourist attractions!
If you’ve run out of things to do in Bergamo (which you shouldn’t with this list,) then head to nearby Lago D’Iseo. The north of Italy is rich with lakes and Lago D’Iseo is only a 25-30 minute drive from Bergamo center.
Lago D’Iseo is smaller than other lakes but no less gorgeous. There is actually an island in the middle of this lake, Mont’Isola. Discover a stunning fisherman’s town and beautiful castle, Rocca Martinengo, on the island.
I also recommend checking out Darsena 21 for aperitivo (the traditional Italian outing before dinner.) It’s a refurbished lakeside-home-turned-restaurant that has converted their dock and its gorgeous views into a bar.
San Pellegrino Terme
Also nearby to Bergamo is something luxury vacationers and those who love to relax on a trip will enjoy!
QC Terme at San Pellegrino is a wellness spa in the mountains. Experience thermal baths in the outdoors, a range of spa services, and bathe in the luxurious architecture of the QC Terme villa.
Lago di Garda
And of all the things to do in Bergamo, this is the furthest, but well worth it. Lago di Garda is famous for its picturesque villa towns and soaring mountain peaks. It’s also known for its large size compared to lakes in the area.
Lago di Garda is about an hour from Bergamo, so if you are planning to stay in Northern Italy for a while, I highly suggest making it out here. Small but beautiful lake towns include the well-known Sirmione or hidden gem Lazise.
These are on the southern ends of the lake in the region of Veneto. If you have more time to spend, you can venture north where the region becomes Trentino Alto-Adige and visit towns like Riva del Garda at the foot of the Alps.
There you have it! These are the 20 things to do in (and around) Bergamo to fully experience this part of Italy.
I highly encourage you to go off the beaten path and visit this hidden gem city!
Don’t forget to save these ideas for your trip on Pinterest!
I hope you enjoyed all these things to do in Bergamo and make your way over to this Italian gem soon! Buon Viaggio!