The Top 14 Things to Do and See in Bergamo, Italy

| Mattia Bericchia / Unsplash
Olga Lenczewska

Bergamo is a small town in Lombardy to the east of northern Italy’s big hitters, Milan and Lake Como. Pressed up against the southern foothills of the Bergamo Alps, the town is laid out in tiers: the upper, older città alta, and the lower, modern città bassa. Take a look around and you’ll find a rich variety of architecture and some great food. If you find yourself in the north of Italy, a short stop in Bergamo is a must. Here’s our selection for the things to do in Bergamo.

1. Take a walk along the Venetian Walls

Historical Landmark, Architectural Landmark, Park, Building

Venetian Walls of Bergamo, Italy
Mattia Bericchia / Unsplash

The Venetian Walls were built in the 16th century by the Republic of Venice, when Bergamo belonged to the state. They mark the old town, also called the upper historic centre, the città alta. The walls were built to protect the city from the Republic of Milan and France during the decline of Venice’s control over maritime trade. Nowadays, the walls are a symbol of Bergamo’s history and enclose a fairytale-like town devoid of modernity. You can walk alongside the walls and through the parks that constitute a large part of Bergamo’s città alta.

2. See Italian masters at the Accademia Carrara

Art Gallery

This art academy is one of the oldest in Italy. It is also an excellent, well-organised art gallery, which hosts a valuable collection of about 1,800 paintings from the 15th to the 19th centuries by fine Italian artists such as Raphael, Bellini, Botticelli, Canaletto and Pisanello. In the 1990s, a contemporary art gallery, GAMeC, was added to the complex, enlarging the range of the artwork to the 20th and 21st centuries.

3. Master Italian cuisine with a local cooking class

Building

Close up shot of muchroom pasta wrapped around a fork
Jean-claude Attipoe / Unsplash

Food permeates throughout every facet of Italian culture, and that’s no different in Bergamo. There are few better ways to truly understand an Italian city than by learning to make its finest foodie creations and, of course, taste them. There are plenty of great food tours around the city, but we recommend getting stuck in with a hands-on cooking class led by local experts. Get a guided visit of the market, sip fines wines and espresso and rustle up classic pasta dishes, as well as some mouthwatering Italian sweet treats. Recommended by Gethin Morgan.

4. Explore the many nearby wonders of Northern Italy

Natural Feature

A mansion perched on the shores of Lake Como, with mountains in the distance
Photo by Lewis J Goetz on Unsplash

There’s plenty within the walls of città alta to keep you entertained, but when you are in Bergamo it’s hard to ignore just how well placed you are to explore some of the most exciting destinations in Northern Italy, many of which are just a stone’s throw away. If you’re here for long enough, it would be remiss to ignore the fact that you can book day trips to Venice or Verona, Lake Garda and Lake Como. Whether you’re after serene lakeside views, a dash of history, a glug of wine or another iconic Italian city, it’s all on your doorstep in Bergamo. Recommended by Gethin Morgan.

Explore every corner of Piazza Vecchia

Piazza Vecchia is upper Bergamo’s vibrant heart. Dominated by buildings and monuments of great importance, as well as great cafés and gelaterie, it can consume your whole day. It is worth examining the façade of the 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione, whose arches are decorated with animal busts, or the central fountain with four magnificent lion sculptures. Once on Piazza Vecchia, you should also have an ice cream at Caffè del Tasso, considered the best gelateria in town by locals. Book a food tour of the city and you can be the judge of that for yourself.

Admire Cappella Colleoni

The church and mausoleum Cappella Colleoni is the masterpiece of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo, a local artist from Pavia. It is located next to Piazza Vecchia and Bergamo’s cathedral. However, Cappella Colleoni stands out from the multitude of wonderful buildings thanks to its colourful marble façade and curious design. Its façade features biblical scenes and mythological stories , and its architectural style is a combination of renaissance, mannerism and later baroque. Inside, you’ll find a large number of valuable Italian frescoes and sculptures, plus the Colleoni family’s sarcophagus.

Visit Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Among the best things to do in Bergamo, is to enjoy the view at the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. This Basilica is located near Cappella Colleoni and the cathedral. Its complicated history dates to the ancient Romans, when the site was a temple. It was subsequently turned into a Christian church, and in the 12th century became a basilica. From the outside, the building looks similar to the way it did in medieval times (Romanesque architecture), with the exception of the entrance and the transepts, which were clearly added later. The transepts columns stand on marvellous marble lions.

Relax at Orto Botanico

Bergamo’s beautiful botanical garden is a part of the Museum of Natural Sciences. This nature space used to have only alpine flora, but has now broadened its collection to the local flora of Lombardy, as well as some foreign and exotic species. It is the finest green space in town, famous for its charming wildlife landscapes and mountains.

Walk the ancient Roman streets

Bergamo is one of the rare towns where you can walk on an ancient Roman road, or even two – namely the traditional, main streets called cardo and decumano, the first leading north-south, the latter east-west. These two streets were a stable and fundamental component of every Roman city; found now in many cities in Italy, Croatia, Bulgaria, Syria, Jordan and Israel. These oldest elements of Bergamo intersect where the 52m (170ft) medieval Gombito Tower stands.

Go shopping on Via XX Settembre

If you like shopping and modern surroundings, you do not have to leave Bergamo. The so-called lower city, the città bassa, will provide you with a variety of vibrant cafés, boutiques and shops. Via XX Settembre, named to celebrate the last steps in the creation of modern Italy in 1870, is the most enchanting and busiest street in the modern part of Bergamo. If you find yourself on it, walk to Feltrinelli, a large international bookshop where you can find anything from contemporary Italian novels to world classics and guidebooks.

Soak up the views from Torre Castello San Vigilio

This panoramic spot will provide you with the best view of Bergamo and beyond, including several mountain ranges and the nearby towns. To get here, take the tiny funicolare railway one level above the rest of the upper city. Once at the top, it will take around three minutes to reach the San Vigilio panorama spot. Look out for the map that explains what – and how much – you are seeing.

Visit the Rocca di Bergamo

The Rocca fortress in the città alta marks the highest spot in Bergamo, with panoramic views of the lower town and countryside. The fortification was started in the 14th century, but construction was interrupted many times by war. The building played an important role in the unification of Italy. Located next to the flowery Remembrance Park, you can come to the Rocca di Bergamo simply to admire the old town’s bell towers peeking out from between shrubs and trees.

Get classical at Museo Donizettiano

The Museo Donizettiano was established in 1906 with the purpose of preserving the memory of the Bergamo-born composer Gaetano Donizetti, author of The Elixir of Love. The museum is divided in sections based on the composer’s life and it tells the story of his works. Aside from the narrative, the setting is also interesting, featuring Neo-classical decoration aplenty. Recommended by Carlotta Bosi.

Do some learning at Museo di Scienze Naturali

The Natural History Museum of Bergamo was established in 1871, but only since 1918 has it been open to the public, and in 1960 it changed its setting, moving to his current home on Palazzo Visconteo. The museum is divided into four sections: zoology, entomology, palaeontology and geology, with over a million in its collection, from plants to fossils to recreations of dinosaur skeletons. Recommended by Carlotta Bosi.

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