Bergamo is a beautiful treasure in the heart of the Alpine foothills, just 30 miles from Milan. As one of the most striking cities in Lombardy, Bergamo is structured on two very different levels. The lower city gives off a more modern and dynamic vibe, while the famous upper city – the main tourist attraction – boasts a stunning historic center.
If you’re interested in stunning monuments and superb works of art, Bergamo, Italy should definitely be on your traveling list. Aside from exploring the city, you can also venture outside the town and visit the Iseo Lake, which will not disappoint, as well as the sanctuary at Caravaggio and Crespi d’Adda. Read more below about what you can visit in Bergamo and where you spend the night in the most luxurious way.
About Bergamo, Italy
The seat of the Province of Bergamo, this city boasts a population of around 120,000. As the fourth-largest city in Lombardy, Bergamo relies heavily on tourism. Beyond the administrative city limits, the metropolitan area of the city spans over a highly urbanized area which is home to around 500,000 inhabitants.
As of 2015, Bergamo has been classified as the second most visited city in Lombardy, second only to Milan. The beauty and culture that can be found in Bergamo has more and more people booking a ticket to visit the city.
The history of Bergamo dates from 49 BC. The city features two important centers. Alta is in the upper city, while the Bassa is in the lower city. For the convenience of all, the two centers are connected by walking trails and a funicular. If you’re interested in visiting as many historic sites as your heart desires, head over to Alta (read about the tourist attractions below).
Go to Bassa for the modern and residential part of the city; here you visit the shopping district called Via 20 Settembre. If you drive to Bergamo, keep in mind that Alta City is usually quite a busy area so parking spots can be difficult to find.
For economic traveling, contact Ryanair, an air company that has several flights a day from either Gatwick or Stansted to Orio al Serio airport. You can also take a flight from East Midlands, Glasgow and Liverpool for the same inexpensive prices.
The airport is about 3 miles from the town center, so just hop on the local bus line and make your way into the center of town. The bus makes its final stop at Porto Sant’Alessandro, just outside upper Bergamo. From there, it’s just a short walk to many shops and fancy hotels.
Top Tourist Attractions in Bergamo
One of the first things you will notice upon your arrival in Bergamo is the strange topography. At first, the lower town is perfectly flat, but the old town rises steeply and suddenly on the crest of the hill. The contrast is sharp and emphasized by the way the straight lower streets are lined with modern and Neoclassical buildings. On the other side, the old town’s narrow streets wind unpredictably between Renaissance and Romanesque structures.
Of course you can take the steep, winding roads to get from one center to the other. However, it’s much more convenient to take the funicular which connects the two parts of Bergamo. Be sure to remember to visit the monumental gates of the old city – they’re definitely worth a look!
Must-visit places in Old City, Bergamo
1. Piazza Vecchia
The heart of old town is framed by a beautiful assembly of gorgeous patrician houses and the Palazzo della Ragione (City Hall). Like most old European cities, the center of Bergamo is a popular square – called Piazza Vechhia. The upper side is made up by the Palazzo della Ragione’s stone staircase, the three Gothic arches, and the tall tower – Torre del Comune. On the lower side, you can visit the late-Renaissance Palazzo Nuovo, which houses the municipal library. The Contarini Fountain, a superb monument decorated by lions, stands tall in the middle. Take in the scenery from the nearby café; it’s a good spot for taking a break.
2. Cappella Colleoni
The Cappella Colleoni is a must for every tourist, built in the early Lombard Renaissance style and featuring a lavishly decorated façade of multicolored marble. Built between 1470 and 1476, this chapel was meant to house the tomb of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni and his daughter Medea. Giovanni Amadeo was the designer of the chapel; he also designed the tombs inside.
3. Santa Maria Maggiore
Located next to Capella Colleoni, the church of Santa Maria Maggiore is one of the most impressive attractions on our list. Go through the archway at the top of Piazza Vecchia, enter Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), and be amazed by the Bergamo’s most treasured architectures. Santa Maria Maggiore was built in 1137 as a Romanesque basilica; the doorways at either side of the church are guarded by lions and you can’t help but notice the beautiful Gothic canopies (1353 and 1360). Local fans still leave fresh flowers on the tomb of the composer Donizetti, one of the most famous Bergamo natives buried in the chapel.
4. Cathedral of Sant’Alessandro
You will find the cathedral of Sant’Alessandro at right angles to Santa Maria Maggiore, right at one end of Piazza del Duomo. Built in 1459, the cathedral features a neo-classical dome and façade added later, in 1889. Inside, you can admire paintings by Previtali, Tiepolo, and Moroni, as well as the beautiful Baroque choir-stalls.
5. City Gates and Viale delle Mura
Starting from Porta Sant’Alessandro More, you can take a 4-kilometer walk along the walls of the city. Built by the Venetians to surround the old city, these impressive walls will lead you along the Viale delle Mura, near the Donizetti Museum, and past Porta San Giacomo – the most beautiful town gates. If you end your walk at Porta Sant’Alessandro More, you can take the Viale Vittorio Emanuele II, which descends past the lower station of the funicular and straight into the center of the lower city.
Accommodations in Bergamo, Italy
Both of Bergamo’s cities make a great base for sightseeing. You can choose to book a room in the medieval upper town or the 19th-century lower town. You can see multiple tourist attractions and find plenty of things to do in each of the two. Below are some highly-rated hotels in Bergamo that you can check out.
Excelsior San Marco Hotel
One of the best choices in Bergamo, Hotel Excelsior San Marco offers a rooftop restaurant right in Piazza della Repubblica, the central square. You’ll be set with free Wi-Fi throughout and the fact that you’re a 2-minute walk away from the main shopping center of Bergamo Bassa.
Book a room here to enjoy the gym and the relaxing sauna. Each room features an LCD TV with Sky Vision Gold, a minibar, air conditioning, and a private bathroom with a complementary slippers and hairdryer.
Breakfast is usually buffet style, where you can serve Italian specialties. What better way to enjoy the Italian delicacies than at the rooftop restaurant, where you can see the panoramic views across Bergamo? The Excelsior is remote enough to keep away from noisy traffic; it overlooks a beautiful public park.
If you’re looking for something more romantic, we recommend the Petronilla. It’s a boutique hotel located in Bergamo’s lower city, in the heart of the historic San Lazzaro area. Each room is uniquely decorated with modern art and features free Wi-Fi. Hotel Petronilla is just a short walk away from Bergamo’s main shopping district.
An extensive buffet of homemade food serves as breakfast at this hotel. During the summer, you can wine and dine outside in the courtyard. A dinner of specialties is available from the Lombardy region (on request). The Petronilla Hotel also offers guests a hot tub, a sauna, a gym, and a small meeting room. If you’re unsure of what to visit, the staff is available 24 hours a day and ready to recommend you the best places to visit.
Located in Bergamo’s upper city center, GombitHotel is just a 2-minute walk from Santa Maria Maggiore Cathedral. It offers everything you would want from a cozy hotel: free Wi-Fi, TV, air-conditioned rooms, and minibars. GombitHotel also offers services like 24-hour reception, car rental and a chic bar. The hotel’s design blends in perfectly with the history-infused surroundings; it’s right next to the Gombito Tower.
Last but not least, we recommend you try the NH Bergamo Hotel. Just 300 m from the Bergamo Train Station, the building is also quite close to the shuttle departures for Orio Al Serio Airport. Each of the stylish rooms features a minibar, a spacious bathroom with shower, air conditioning, and free Wi-Fi.
You will definitely relax in the rooms decorated with dark-wood floors and blue and orange furnishings. Enjoy the varied breakfast buffet that’s available every morning. NH Bergamo has the upper hand due to its location; you’re just a short walk from the restaurants and shops of the lower town and 10 minutes by cable-car from the upper town.