Things to do in Bergamo City
Bergamo is a beautiful city in the mountainous Lombardy region of northern Italy. Though it’s close to many Italian Alpine ski resorts and the renowned city of Milan, Bergamo is often used as a jumping-off point rather than a destination. However, there is a lot to discover in the versatile neighborhoods of this unsung city, from impressive historic stories to delicious cuisine.
1. Piazza Vecchia
Located at the very center of the old historic district of Bergamo lies the city’s main square Piazza Vecchia. This grand area is surrounded by some of Bergamo’s best architectural highlights, each from a different time in history. Have your camera ready while you make your way through the little alleys that lead to the square.
Alongside the impressive buildings, you’ll also find a few little terraces where you can admire the medieval environment. Enjoy a nice specialty coffee as you soak up the sun and listen to music playing in the background.
2. Basilica of St. Mary Major
Known as a city of churches, Bergamo is dotted with many intricately built architectural treasures. Santa Maria Maggiore, sandwiched between the Cappella Colleoni and Bergamo’s cathedral, is the most impressive church in the city. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the beautifully detailed building was constructed in the 12th century as a thank-you for protection during Europe’s plague outbreak.
The story goes that the town promised to build a church in Mary’s honor if they were kept from sickness. Staying true to their word, Bergamo’s people constructed the grand building as a thank-you for their health.
The exterior of the Basilica is incredible, though it’s really the inside that’s memorable, leaving you in awe of all the beautiful artwork on display. From rich frescoes and stuccos to beautiful tapestries and many wooden details, the Santa Maria church is one of the best things to do in Bergamo.
3. Colleoni Chapel
As if attached to the Santa Maria Maggiore stands the ornately designed chapel of Colleoni. This beautiful mausoleum was built a few centuries later than the church and is one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in the city.
With red and white marble embellished on the front, the exterior makes for a stunning picture. Take a moment to admire the details of the building before looking at the artwork inside the chapel. Note that much of the collection is private here, so you can’t take any photos, though the chapel is free to enter.
The eye-catcher of Piazza Vecchia is most definitely the Civic Tower, also known as Campanone. This 56-meter-high tower stands proud at the center of Bergamo. From up top, it offers some of the most incredible panoramic views of the city and its surroundings.
Scale the 230 steps, or opt for the more comfortable option of the elevator to reach the top. Here, you’ll find the largest bell in the whole Lombardy region. The bell tower, though centuries old, still rings every night at 10 PM to pay homage to its ancient function as a reminder to close the city gates along the Venetian walls.
5. Rocca Museum, Bergamo
Via the funicular of the Upper city, make your way up to the complex of Rocca, one of the locals’ favorite places on the Sant’Eufemia hill. This short walk is rewarded with an incredible 360-degree view of the old district, the surrounding countryside, and the Alps. You can even spot Milan’s skyline in the distance on a clear day!
The ancient fortress construction takes you back in time as you walk along the patrol walkway and discover the rescue doors. Inside there’s a museum that introduces you to the city’s transformation over time.
6. Tempietto di Santa Croce
Hidden in plain sight, tucked between the much larger buildings of the upper city, lies one of Bergamo’s hidden gems: a stunning Romanesque chapel. This small stone structure is often overlooked because of its grand neighbors but gives a beautiful glimpse into the city’s history.
Though it’s not always open, the inside of the tiny Tempietto di Santa Croce has some beautiful frescoes. Many of the paintings date back to the middle ages and depict scenes of Jesus’ life. Wander through the alleyways of Bergamo’s Città Alta as you search for this lovely little chapel. Once you find it, make sure to snap some pictures of the quirky building!
7. Streets of Bergamo Città Alta (Old Town)
As Bergamo lies nestled in the foothills of the Italian Alps, it’s no wonder that there are so many rolling hills across the area. Bergamo’s Città Alta sits perched on top of a hill and dates back thousands of years. This part of the city overlooks the rest and is easily accessible through a funicular railway.
It’s divided into two parts, the first being the tourist center full of medieval buildings and delicious restaurants. The second is the Rocca di Bergamo area, where you’ll find the ancient fortress and many beautiful terraces.
Many influences from the different rulers over time make wandering through the cobblestone streets of the Old Town one of the best things to do in Bergamo, Italy. Marvel at the stout Venetian walls or look over the city and its surroundings from the central medieval tower.
If you’re looking to dive a bit deeper into the city’s rich history or into the culinary highlights of the town, you can also book a tour with a knowledgeable local guide.
8. Walk Bergamo’s Venetian walls
Stretching roughly 5,5 kilometers around Bergamo, and heavily fortifying the ancient city, are the impressive Venetian walls. Labeled a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you can walk along the high walls, which makes the perfect introduction to some of Bergamo’s history.
Constructed during the Renaissance era, the walls are some of the best preserved of this time period in the world. Originally built to protect the city from any advancing enemies, the walls never went under siege. Because of this, people of today can marvel at its beauty.
Walk along the historic defense walls, taking in the stunning views of Bergamo’s surroundings. Or, join in with the locals, who love to come here in the late afternoon to watch the sunset over the city.
Bergamo City Gate
The Venetian walls are accessed through a couple of gates meant for road and foot traffic to travel between the upper and lower part of the city. These gates are beautifully designed, highlighting the historic feeling of the city as you pass through the entrance. Travel between the two districts on foot, and you’ll surely come past one of these impressive ancient structures.
9. Visit Lake Como
If Bergamo is your base for traveling the Lombardy region of northern Italy, then a day trip to the stunning Lake Como is a must-do! This upscale resort area, set against some of the world’s most romantic and picturesque sceneries, makes for a popular location on any Italy itinerary.
The lake, resembling an upside-down Y, is created by melting glaciers that joined the previous Adda river. This occurrence led to the two southern branches of the lake, which are home to the famous locations Como, Lecco, and Bellagio.
Spend your day hopping around the various enchanting towns, soaking up the sun on the small beaches, or joining a boat tour out on the water.
Getting from Bergamo to Como: is about a 1-hour drive by car. Alternatively, you can travel by train to Milan and continue the journey to Como by bus. If you plan on seeing more along the lake but don’t have your own transportation, make sure to plan ahead. Or, join in on an organized day trip from Milan.
10. Bergamo City Cathedral
Just next to Piazza Vecchia and the other highlights of Bergamo’s old town stands the Bergamo Cathedral. The city originally had two, but only this one survived. The building is often overlooked by the more luxurious Santa Maria Basilica that stands next to it, though both are part of the Roman Catholic church.
Take a moment to discover the inside of the cathedral, full of incredible frescoes, intricate decor, and the tiara of Saint John XXIII (Pope). The building is free to visit and is open daily from 7 AM – 7 PM.
11. Watch the sunset from Belvedere S.Vigilio viewpoint
After a long day of sightseeing, take the higher funicular straight up to San Vigilio, the very top of the city, where Bergamo’s beautiful position in the Alpine foothills really shows. From here, you can look out over both districts and the many miles of nature surrounding the city. During sunset, all slowly covers in a bright orange glow – a truly magical experience.
Roam around the ancient walls of the Castello di San Vigilio as you capture some of the views. Or, stay a while and enjoy a bite in one of the many restaurants on the edge of the rocks.
Best Cafes and Restaurants in Bergamo
No matter where you find yourself in Bergamo, there are plenty of amazing restaurants to choose from. In Città Alta, you’ll find more traditional restaurants serving fresh pasta and pizza. Local specialties include risotto alla Milanese, made with saffron, and casoncelli, a stuffed pasta dish with an incredible butter sauce. Top that off with some delicious local wine – yum!
Though Northern Italian cuisine heavily focuses on butter and meat-based dishes, a few places also serve alternative options. Some of our favorite restaurants and cafes in Bergamo were:
- Il Fornaio (delicious takeaway pizza!)
- Pizzeria Assaje Bergamo (great pizza)
- Mimi • La Casa dei Sapori (lovely dinner spot)
- Al Donizetti (nice cakes & drinks on a beautiful location)
- La Piadella (perfect takeaway lunch)
- Da Mimmo Bistrot (good food in the middel of the old center)
- Bugan Coffee Lab (great coffee)
Where to Stay
Though you could easily see Bergamo’s highlights in a day, we recommend spending two nights in town to get the best taste of the city. Bergamo gets a few waves of visitors throughout the day in the summer months, who typically leave again around noon. This allows you to really soak up the local atmosphere of the beautiful medieval region.
There are plenty of accommodation options for every budget, from luxurious BnBs in the upper town to cheaper hostels in the newer part of the city. Search all hostels in Bergamo here.
How many days in Bergamo
We recommend spending 2-3 days in Bergamo. This will give you enough time to visit the historic Città Alta with its cobbled streets, the beautiful Piazza Vecchia, and the stunning Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. You could also add in an extra day for a trip to Milan.
How to Visit Bergamo, Italy
The easiest way to get to Bergamo City is to fly into Milan Bergamo International Airport, which lies only 5 kilometers from the city and has connections with over 100 destinations in Europe.
Rent a car from Milan Bergamo Airport and drive a short 12 minutes into the city. We recommend this option if you plan to explore other parts of Italy after your visit to Bergamo.
Once you arrive at the airport, it takes about 15 minutes by bus to get to the city center. Bus 1 and 1A take you to the upper part of town, and you can opt for a tourist transport ticket that allows unlimited travel during your stay.
Alternatively, if you’re starting your Italy itinerary somewhere else, you can travel to Bergamo by train. During the day, there are frequent train connections between Bergamo and Milan or Brescia.
Once you get to Bergamo, you can easily explore the city on foot or by using the iconic funicular. This railway system is a fast and easy way to get from one sight to another as it moves between the different parts of Bergamo. From the Città Bassa, you can reach the upper town, and from there, travel up further to San Vigilio Hill.
Not only is the funicular in Bergamo a convenient way to explore the ancient city, but it’s also immensely entertaining! As you slowly move up the hill, you’ll see stunning panoramic views over both city areas. The 100-year-old ‘sky train’ journey only takes a few minutes, ascending about 85 meters. There’s a ticket machine right next to the entrance where you can buy your tickets in cash (not by card, unfortunately). A single ticket costs about 1,30 EUR (return 2,60 EUR).
Best Time to Visit Bergamo
Bergamo is a great destination to visit all year round! The shoulder seasons (spring/fall) are great as the days remain sunny, and the temperatures are perfect for sightseeing.
Bergamo, however, remains a hidden gem in Italy, making the summers a great time to visit too. During the day, it’ll be slightly busier because of people visiting on day trips. However, it’ll quickly quiet down in the late afternoons, allowing you to have the streets to yourself together with the local Italians.