Bergamo is a unique city located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy and is characterized by its split lower and upper sections that are segregated by the immense historic Venetian walls. With a population of 120,000, this city is the fourth largest in the region and its greater metropolitan area has a population of 500,000. Bergamo serves as a main transport hub for Italy and Europe with its busy Caravaggio International Airport and is also an important economic centre for Lombardy.
During the Middle Ages, Bergamo served as the seat of the Lombard Duchies and became a city of immense wealth due to the vast treasures stored there. As an independent city, Bergamo was part of the Lombard League and raised armies to fight against Frederick I Barbarossa in the 12th century. During the 19th century, the city actually became part of the Austrian Empire before integrating into the Kingdom of Italy.
As a tourist destination, Bergamo has a wonderful combination of historical architecture such as the Colleoni Chapel, combined with its strange dual height Upper & Lower cities, and a plethora of gorgeous Piazzas and high-quality shopping streets. Furthermore, the city lies in close proximity to Milan, and serves as a great base from which you can explore this region of Northern Italy.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Bergamo:
1. Piazza Vecchia
This delightful square is one of the main attractions in the historic upper city and is a fantastic place to start your tour of Bergamo after taking the funicular.
Surrounding the Piazza Vecchia is a series of beautiful buildings including the Campanone Torre Civica, the gorgeous Palazzo della Ragione, and the central decorative fountain.
Events are often held within this charming square and there is also a series of cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a quality meal and the fine Italian weather.
Many of the main sites of the old city surround the Piazza so it is one of the easiest places to find your bearings from.
2. Basilica of St. Mary Major
To the south of the Piazza Vecchi, through a small ornate archway is the fantastic Basilica of St. Mary Major.
Originally constructed in the early 12th century, the basilica was not completed until the 14th century due to the churches financial problems.
The front facade of the church features a plethora of decoration and above a huge central opulent window is a 3D cube design made from polychrome marble.
Furthermore, the church features two decorative porches that contain marble arches and detailed statues of various Italian saints.
Inside the basilica, you will be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of detail and decoration and the ceiling and arches are covered with gold and colourful frescos.
3. Colleoni Chapel
Fixed to the right hand side of the Basilica is the Colleoni Chapel which is dedicated to Mark, John the Baptist and Bartholomew.
This chapel was a later addition to the Basilica and was built after it’s completion.
The front facade of the chapel is truly magnificent and features a series of polychrome decorations in both cream and pink hues.
Crowning the chapel is a large dome that is topped with a hexagonal spire.
Inside the chapel is the sacred altar dedicated to the three apostles and features their statues together with various opulent religious iconography.
4. Baptistery of St. Mary Major
The final structure of note in the grounds of the Basilica of St. Mary Major is the unique Baptistery.
This strange structure sits just to the north of the Basilica and features an octagonal shape.
It is strange due to this design feature as it wasn’t a common element for buildings of this period.
Furthermore, the baptistery was actually located inside the cathedral of Bergamo, but was moved outside in 1659. The fantastic design of this structure is quite impressive and inside the baptistery is a series of religious bas-reliefs that represent the Life of Christ.
5. Bergamo City gate
The old city of Bergamo is surrounded by a series of amazing venetian walls, and there are several gates that stand today in fantastic condition despite their age.
The most notable of these gates is the Porta San Giacomo – this dazzling white rosewood marble gatehouse was constructed in the 16th century and stood as part of the cities defensive walls.
Divided by a series of ornate columns, the gate is truly impressive and stands as a testament to the cities historical influence.
Walking up to the gate along the arched walkway you can look out towards the modern city of Bergamo and to the wider countryside.
6. Rocca Museum
Situated to the north of the main segment of the Venetian walls, the Rocca Museum is housed within one of the old defensive bastions, complete with a round tower and immense stone walls.
Within the walls is the Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza which is dedicated to the formation of the Kingdom of Italy and the countries struggle for independence.
Furthermore, from the top of the battlements you can see for miles around and look down onto the modern centre of Bergamo.
Additionally, there is a beautiful park just below the fortress that is a great place to walk through.
7. Bergamo Venetian Walls
As mentioned previously, the old upper city of Bergamo was once encircled by a series of vast defensive walls.
Much of this defensive network remains today and it is possible to walk along sections of the these venetian constructs.
Built during the 15th and 16th centuries, the walls had a typical star shaped design with several pointed towers at set intervals.
Today if you walk along the Viale Della Mura that stretches around three sides of the old city, you can see several sections of the walls.
Possibly the most impressive stretch of wall can be found to the east of the Porta San Giacomo and is lined with a series of trees – from here you can admire the architecture and look down onto the modern part of Bergamo.
8. Museo di Scienze Naturali e Archeologico
At the far north western edge of the historic old city of Bergamo is the Museum of Natural Science and Archaeology.
For those who love the natural world and ancient history, this establishment is a real treat.
Within the halls of this building you will find a large and varied collection of artefacts and relics.
Subjects covered include finds from the cities ancient Roman past such as mosaics, stone tablet inscriptions and pottery.
Additionally, there is a collection of historic weaponry, coins, jewellery and every day household objects.
Each exhibit is well presented and has a great amount of detail on the objects history and use.
9. Piazza Matteotti
In the centre of the modern new town of lower Bergamo, the Piazza Matteotti is one of the most beautiful and well known attractions.
Located on the Via Roma, this immense square covers a huge amount of open space and contains some fine buildings including the Torre dei Caduti, the Teatro Gaetano Donizetti and the Chiostro di Santa Maria.
Furthermore, the square contains two fantastic monuments – the Monumento a Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Monumento Al Partigiano.
Much of the square is shaded by beautiful trees and there is also a selection of cafes, restaurants and shops in the surrounding streets.
10. Accademia Carrara
Housed within an old historic palace, the Accademia Carrara is a stunning building, and its exterior is just as interesting as the collection of art held within.
The museum is located in the northern part of modern Bergamo near the Piazzale Gulielmo Oberdan and the Parco Suardi.
Inside this monumental building is a wonderful art collection with some truly impressive works from Italian artists such as Lorenzo Lotto, Biovanni Bellini, Titan, Paolo Veronsese and Sandro Botticelli.
11. Walk on ancient Roman roads
Due to Bergamo’s ancient past, several exquisite Roman roads were constructed here, and you can still walk on these roads today.
The two main Roman roads are il Cardo and il decumano – il Cardo or Cardo Maximus was always the main street in a Roman town and is where most of the trade and commerce happened.
At the crossroads next to the gigantic Torre del Gombito you can find two sections of the Roman roads and walk along their cobbled surface.
12. Shop on the popular Via XX Settembre
Whilst the old town of Bergamo features some amazing historical structures, the new lower town features some fantastic shopping opportunities.
The Via XX Settembre is one of the central streets in the city and is known for its host of high street shops.
If you want to relax and enjoy some retail therapy, this is the street for you! Shops included on the street are Zara, Mango, Pandora, Swatch, Swarovski and Falconeri to name a few.
13. Take a day trip to Milan
Bergamo lies to the North East of Milan and serves as a perfect base from which to explore this monumental city.
Milan can be reached via train in 48 minutes from Bergamo’s central station and trains leave every hour.
Milan is packed full of historical buildings, high-end fashion, fantastic nightlife and culture.
Be sure to marvel at the impressive Gothic Duomo, check out the designer shops in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, or climb the Torre Branca for panoramic views of the city.
Alternatively, you could explore the beautiful Botanical Gardens or walk through the grounds of the medieval Sforza Castle.
14. Take the old Funicular to the old town
No trip to Bergamo would be complete without taking the historic Funicular railway from the lower new city, to the upper old town.
This railway has stood for hundreds of years and has served as the most convenient method of transportation to the higher ground of the old town.
The station in the new town is located on the Viale Vittorio Emanuele II and tickets can be purchased from vendors in the foyer.
You will instantly recognise the bright orange rail carts and marvel at the design of the track and its tunnels.
As you ascend, you will have fantastic views of Bergamo and pass through the ancient Venetian walls.
15. Enjoy a fantastic meal at the Enoteca Zanini restaurant
For a first class dining experience, the Enoteca Zanini restaurant in the new town is a fantastic place to eat.
Located on the Via Borgo Santa Caterina, this restaurant has a great location and from here you can easily explore the city or find a bar to enjoy a drink after your meal.
Inside the establishment you will find a series of brick arches, exposed stone walls and tasteful decor.
The menu presents a selection of homemade Italian dishes such as Carbonara and Lasagne, but also a fantastic seafood selection with Prawns and Fish.
Each meal uses fresh ingredients that are locally sourced where possible, and the service is second to none.