Things to do in Bergamo – a travel guide covering what to see, do, eat and drink.
Disclaimer: this was a press trip organised by the Visit Bergamo tourist board. I did not have to pay for my activities, accommodation or food. However, this is an honest account of my experience and all opinions expressed are my own.
Where is Bergamo?
Bergamo is a city in northern Italy located in the Lombardy region. It is northeast of Milan.
How do I get to Bergamo?
To get to Bergamo, you fly into Bergamo Airport. This is Il Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport. This is branded as Milan Bergamo Airport (BGY). Bergamo ‘Orio al Serio’ Airport is right in the middle of Bergamo, Milan and Brescia. It is the third busiest airport in the country and where Ryanair operates. So, next time you see cheap flights to Milan Bergamo, don’t just think of Milan, think about a short break in Bergamo instead.
In fact, Bergamo ‘Orio al Serio’ Airport is just 6km from the centre of Bergamo and some 57km from Milan. You can get into Bergamo city centre from the airport in less than 15 minutes. It takes over an hour to get to Milan. So, if you have bought flights and want to make the most of your holiday time, don’t go to Milan, go to Bergamo instead. I’ve been to both cities and I think Bergamo is much more charming.
Bergamo to the Lake District
You can also combine a trip to Bergamo with a holiday in the Italian Lake District.
Bergamo Airport is around 70km from Lake Como and you can get there in less than two hours on the train. Bergamo Airport is about 91km from Lake Garda and takes about 1h 40m to get to Peschiera del Garda by train. The nearest lake to Bergamo is Lake Iseo. It is just 55km from Il Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport. It takes about two and a half hours to get there using public transport. I’ve been to Lake Iseo and you can easily pop over there for a day or two.
Bergamo to Brescia day trip
Another great trip you can do from Bergamo is to historic Brescia. With a direct bus that takes just one hour, this is an ideal city to visit if you want to see more of the Lombardy region but don’t have a car. I’ve been to Brescia and it is a beautiful city full of history and heritage, cosy streets and delicious eats. If you are interested in visiting Brescia, have a read of my Brescia travel guide.
Bergamo is a two-tiered city
But, back to Bergamo. Bergamo is a tale of two cities. There is the older upper district, called Città Alta and the newer lower district called Città Bassa.
Bergamo Old Town
Città Alta is a hilltop medieval citadel surrounded by Venetian walls and characterised by cobblestone streets and narrow vicoli (alleys). It is positively brimming with character, atmosphere and all the romance you hope to find in a medieval hilltop Italian city. And oh my, it is pretty.
Bergamo New Town
The lower city, Città Bassa, fans out beneath the fortifications and is characterised by wide boulevards, elegant buildings, buzzing bars and plenty of shopping. Whilst on the subject, Bergamo is home to the Oriocenter, one of the largest shopping centres in the whole of Italy.
The lower city is much more modern with fewer tourists. But that doesn’t mean that there are fewer things to do. The lower city in Bergamo is where you’ll find St. Mary Immaculate of Grace church, Santa Lucia Church, Teatro Donizetti, Palazzo della Provincia, Sala Manzù and Museo Bernareggi.
Getting from Bergamo old town to new town
The Città Alta Funicular connects the lower to the upper town. This 19th-century red and white funicular climbs almost vertically up through the lush hills and tiered gardens giving terrific views of the Po Valley’s plains. I visited here in October, and the landscape was a shimmering, quivering riot of colour as the leaves put on a final dramatic display before yielding to winter. It was an outstanding arrangement of fiery reds, glistening golds and butter yellows that complemented the earthy tones of the buildings. It was postcard-perfect and possibly the prettiest place in Europe for leaf-peeping and admiring the fall foliage.
Where to stay in Bergamo
I stayed in the lower city in the NH Bergamo in Bergamo Bassa. It was a very nice, big room that had lots of amenities. I think this hotel is aimed more at business travellers, but, I have to say, the service, breakfast and size of the room and bathroom were brilliant. The bed was super comfortable too and I had a great night’s sleep.
Things to do in Bergamo Bassa
Donizetti Opera Festival
Enjoy a night at the opera in the 18th-century Teatro Donizetti. Better still, visit Bergamo during the bi-annual Donizetti Opera Festival. Donizetti is one of Italy’s most beloved and celebrated composers. He was born, lived and died in Bergamo. He is the city’s most famous son.
Bergamo food market
The marvellous Mercato della Terra di Bergamo (Bergamo Earth Market) takes place in Piazza Matteotti, in front of the Town Hall (Palazzo Frizzoni). Set within a small tree-lined avenue along Sentierone, the city’s central street, this market has loads of delicious food and drink from the region by stallholders carefully selected by the local Slow Food convivia. Leave room in your suitcase for the wonderful wine of the region and jars of condiments and preserves.
Accademia Carrara art gallery
See priceless works of art in the Accademia Carrara. This art gallery is home to some of the greatest Italian artworks. There are around 2,000 works dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries including religious and Renaissance masterpieces by the likes of Mantegna, Lorenzo Lotto, Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Titian and Botticelli.
GAMeC modern art gallary
For something a bit more modern, across the road from the Accademia Carrara is GAMeC Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea. Here, in a beautifully restored 15th-century convent you’ll find 20th-century Italian artworks and pieces by emerging artists. The gallery’s collection also includes works by Wassily Kandinsky, Albert Marquet and Auguste Rodin.
Where to eat in Bergamo lower town
For some of the best food in the city where you can taste regional specialities, head to the popular restaurant Giopì and Margì. This country-style restaurant is housed in a 1700 palace brimming with character. Staff wear traditional costumes, but this place doesn’t feel kitsch or touristy at all. It feels authentic and charming and you’ll see lots of locals and Italian’s from other cities dining here too.
Local food to eat in Bergamo
The menu consists of traditional dishes made with local ingredients. You can sip local wine too (Bergamo is in the Northern Italy winemaking region).
Some dishes try when in Bergamo include the local salami, casoncelli alla bergamasca and polenta. Polenta is a staple of this region and it is served with everything in all manner of ways.
When it comes to dessert, I was in heaven! Not only is there a fully laden dessert trolly but there is a cheese trolly too! Oh my! Try the local cake, tiramisu and salami di cioccolato. And all of the cheese. All of it.
Getting around Bergamo
You can walk between the lower and upper cities. It takes a lot more effort to walk up than down, but people do it. You’ll see the locals doing it every Sunday morning with their dogs. There are good doggos everywhere in this city. It feels like everyone in Bergamo has at least one furry family member. As a dog lover, this is a heartwarming sight. The walking routes are picturesque and take you up and down curving roads and cobblestone steps which are lush with overhanging ivy.
Tuk Tuk Tour
Tuk Tuks are a new addition to the city. They are a fun way to get around and cover a lot of ground. A tuk tuk Bergamo tour is a great way to get off the tourist trail and venture into the suburbs for a glimpse of life everyday life here. Some of the houses are huge!
I took a tuk-tuk tour from the lower city to the upper city and my guide was full of fun, wit and knowledge. His English was excellent. Better than mine and with that lovely Italian accent. Mamma mia!
He took us to some lovely spots including La Chiesa del Santo Sepolcro, a former Roman Catholic monastery in the Astino Valley and the tranquil Botanic Garden of Bergamo, Astino Section.
We also stopped at the Bergamo-San Vigilio funicular station at the top of San Vigilio hill. Here we took in the views over the higgledy-piggledy rooftops.
The best part of the tuk-tuk tour is taking the scenic route from the lower city to the upper city. With open sides, I had unobstructed views of the shimmering glimmering scenery that sprawled out and rose up all around me. It was simply breathtaking. Which pretty much sums up Bergamo.
Things to do in Bergamo Alta
If you get the funicular to the upper city, it leaves you at Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (Shoe Market Square) where Bergamo’s medieval quarter untangle ahead. Amble between the weathered palazzi through the narrow Via Gombito, past butchers, bakers and gelato makers to the magnificent Piazza Vecchia.
Flanked by renaissance-era buildings with wrought-iron balconies and grand arched columns and a 12th-century bell tower, Piazza Vecchia is “the most beautiful corner of Italy” as described by German writer Hermann Hesse who visited Bergamo in 1913. Even after all these years, it hasn’t lost any of its charms.
Things to do inPiazza Vecchia
In the square, you can climb the bell tower for sweeping views. Also in Piazza Vecchia, you can admire the artwork and Donizetti’s tomb in the Romanesque Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
You can also visit the Duomo di Bergamo, the city cathedral, and the grand Cappella Colleoni, a chapel with 18th-century frescoes by Tiepolo.
Where to eat in Bergamo Old Town
Ristorante Sant’Ambroeus is located in Piazza Vecchia. You can dine alfresco under the clock tower or head inside and downstairs into the cosy, atmospheric cellar. The restaurant serves typical dishes of the region and is a great way to enjoy the city’s great gastronomy. Ristorante Sant’Ambroeus also has a great wine cellar with over 300 different wines on the menu. Of course, as always, I recommend sticking with the local wine.
Eat local in Bergamo
I enjoyed local specialities of salami and cured meats, creamed cod, polenta and black truffle and the moreish pumpkin cream, with smoked cheese and goose liver pate. Wow! What a dish. And that was just for starters, or antipasto in Italian.
For the primo piatto, I had Milanese style risotto (with beef bone marrow and saffron) andcasoncelli del Santambroeus (crescent shaped ravioli with bacon, melted butter and parmesan cheese). For dolce, I devoured a portion of tiramisu and a pistachio and strawberry millefeuille with coconut sauce.
Walking around Bergamo
The only thing to do after a meal like that is to walk and walk and walk. Thankfully, Bergamo is a very walkable city with so much to look at and enjoy as you stroll. As I walked from the upper town to the lower, I peered into the windows of the charming shops and I visited the public wash house in Piazza Angelini. This is where, in the old days, women would come to wash their clothes. I made my way down Borgo Santa Caterina lined with unique shops, clubs, cocktail bars and microbreweries and I stopped along the way for gelato, when in Bergamo…
Is Bergamo worth visiting?
Most definitely, yes. It is a charming city that is sure to win you over and warm your heart with its romantic setting, winding, narrow atmospheric cobbled stone streets and its old-world feel.
When it comes to culture, Bergamo is essentially an open-air museum with important artworks everywhere. If you like to shop, it has traditional stores as well as one of the biggest shopping centres in Italy. Into sport? Supporting Serie A football team, Bergamo Atalanta is a religion here. Into the other type of religion? There are enough churches and cathedrals here to keep you busy for a whole month of Sundays. As for the food, well, UNESCO declared Bergamo a Creative City for Gastronomy in 2019 for its authentic and strong food culture and, well, delicious dishes! You eat well here, that’s for sure.
With its fairytale setting, fabulous food and fascinating history, Bergamo is a romantic and culturally rich city that captures the heart and feeds the soul.
Thanks for reading Things to do in Bergamo
So, what did you think of my Bergamo travel guide?
Have you been? Did I leave anything out? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.
If you liked this post, you might also like my Lake Iseo Travel Guide and my review of the Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa in Lake Iseo. I also have a guide on the things to do in Brescia and my post on theGuido Berlucchi Winery Tour tell you how you can visit a winery in the Franciacorta wine region which is close to Bergamo.
You might also like my Franciacorta Wine Guide to learn more about the local sparkling wine.
If you are looking for another great destination for food lovers, have a read of my guide on how to eat and drink like a local in Madrid.