Our feet were eager to discover every hidden alley as we walked around the Old Town, our eyes struggling to adjust to the constant change of light which alternated from the bright sunshine of a summer day to the dark shadows cast by the imposing medieval buildings. That was Bergamo Alta, the historic centre of one of Northern Italy’s gems. We spent 24 magical hours there and that was enough to capture the essence of this often underrated Italian city. Without further ado, here’s our guide on how to spend one day in Bergamo, the splendid walled city of the Italian North.
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Why spend at least one day in Bergamo
Bergamo is home to Italy’s third largest airport. This doesn’t say much about the city’s popularity, though. The thing is that it is usually cheaper to fly to/from Bergamo Airport than other airports in Northern Italy. Therefore, more often than not, travellers who arrive at or leave from Bergamo Airport head straight to their destinations (Milan, Venice, Verona etc) without even bothering to spend some time in Bergamo itself. What a huge mistake they are making. Especially considering how super easy it is to check out all Bergamo highlights in just one day.
Bergamo consists of two parts. The Lower Town or Città Bassa and the Upper Town or Città Alta. The Lower Town is the modern part of Bergamo whereas the Upper Town is the fortified historic centre built within the embrace of seven hills. Just like Rome. If you plan to spend 24 hours in Bergamo and don’t want to rush things, you will most probably spend all your time in Bergamo Alta. That’s what we did in the hopes that we’ll get the chance to explore the charms of the Lower Town in a future trip. In the heartbreaking event that you have less than a day to spend in Bergamo, head over to the city’s official tourism website. There you can find ideas on what to do in a few hours, including an amazing 6h Bergamo itinerary.
Where is Bergamo
Bergamo is a city in the region of Lombardy in Northern Italy. Its close proximity to Milan, the Italian Lakes and Switzerland renders Bergamo an ideal base from where to explore the beauties of this extended area.
How to get there and around
Bergamo Airport lies just 5km from the city centre, to which it is connected by public bus. As with the rest of Italian cities and towns, one can also reach Bergamo by train. Bergamo is very small and you can get everywhere on foot. That said, the walk from the Lower to the Upper Town is uphill and quite steep. Not to mention that, when in Bergamo, you MUST ride the amazing cable cars. So, the best deal is to grab a 24h tourist ticket. It costs 5€ and it is valid for unlimited rides in all means of public transport, including the bus to and from the airport. For all available ticket types, click here.
12 things to do in Bergamo in one day
We have limited our list of top things to do in Bergamo in one day to the Upper Town. If you are spending more time in the city though, you should definitely add the Lower Town to your itinerary as well.
1. Stroll along the Venetian Walls
Bergamo Alta is totally enclosed within strong defensive walls which the Republic of Venice commissioned in 1561. They are more than 5km long and there are four gates along their perimeter. The walls are the natural border between the Lower and the Upper Town. They enjoy UNESCO World Heritage Status since 2017 alongside other 16th and 17th Venetian fortifications that are scattered across Italy. A walk along the almost intact Venetian walls is one of the best things to do in Bergamo. Suffice it to say that the views throughout this walk along Viale delle Mura are simply stunning.
2. Take in the beauty of San Giacomo Gate
San Giacomo Gate is hands down the prettiest and most impressive of all four gates that lead to Bergamo Upper Town. Made of local white marble, this gate used to be the entrance for those coming from Milan. The stone bridge and the winding path that starts from the beautiful gate only add to its overall romantic ambience.
Don’t miss the chance to walk down this stone path towards the Lower City. You will soon find yourselves descending the steps of the marvellous Salita della Scaletta, among lush greenery. Don’t worry, you won’t have to climb back up. Your feet will eventually take you right at the doorstep of the Città Alta funicular station. Which brings us to the ultimate must-do in Bergamo.
3. Ride the Bergamo City Funicular
The most comfortable and exciting way to get from the Lower to the Upper Town is the city’s vintage cable car. Ever since 1887, the two super cute coaches go tirelessly up and down the hill offering passengers the most stunning, otherwise impossible to admire, views. It only takes a few minutes to get to Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe in Bergamo Alta, the starting point of one’s stroll around the city’s historic centre.
4. Visit the Campanone and the Palazzo del Podestà
The heart of Bergamo Old Town beats at La Piazza Vecchia, the Old Square. Complete with a central fountain around which architectural marvels serve as the perfect backdrop for lively cafés and restaurants, the square represents the Italy we know and love. One of the square’s most impressive buildings is the Palazzo del Podestà. The latter houses an interactive 16th Century Museum as well as excavations dating back to Roman times.
The adjacent Campanone or Civic Tower is the best place to visit for breathtaking panoramic views to Bergamo and the surrounding countryside. The best part is that the top of the 53m bell tower is accessible by lift.
5. Marvel at the Piazza Duomo
Piazza Duomo, the Cathedral Square, is right next to Piazza Vecchia and it feels rather crammed by Italian standards. The size and splendour of the buildings that adorn the Cathedral Square are inversely proportional to the surrounding space. Not to mention that Piazza Duomo feels as though it’s squeezed to the side by the more airy and spacious Piazza Vecchia. Yet its treasures are captivating. First and foremost, the Duomo boasts a magnificent white facade. However, it is the Romanesque Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore next door that remains the locals’ favourite church up to this day. Don’t look for a door that leads from the square to the church’s interior, though. The basilica lacks a main entrance and only features side ones.
In terms of architecture though, the Cappella Colleoni is by far the most impressive edifice of all. With a facade crafted by red and white marble, the chapel is regarded by locals themselves as the most beautiful building in Bergamo. Last but not least, the octagonal Baptistery has a very interesting story to tell. Initially built inside the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, the Baptistery was relocated several times before ending up to its current and final (?) position facing the Duomo.
6. Climb La Rocca di Bergamo
This fortress occupies the Sant’Eufemia Hill and it’s a pleasant stroll from Bergamo Alta. Overlooking the plain of the River Po, La Rocca di Bergamo is in essence a park which comprises large green areas, historical buildings and magnificent views. What more could we ask for?
7. Get lost in the mysterious alleys of Bergamo Old Town
The historic centre of Bergamo has a distinct aura of mystery and darkness about it that is captivating. This is most evident while wandering around its narrow streets which are almost always in the shadows because of the tall buildings that line them.
These are a couple of the most enchanting streets in Bergamo Alta:
- Via Gombito: With its 52m high Tower and the beautiful medieval buildings, this is a seriously enchanting street and highly representative of Bergamo’s dark ambience.
- Via Corsarola: This is the main street of the Upper Town and its official name is Via Bartolomeo Colleoni. Via Corsarola, as locals prefer to call it, is lined with some of the best cafés and eateries and is a lively hub for visitors and locals alike. The street eventually leads to Piazza Cittadella, a lovely open space which used to be yet another defensive fortress that protected Bergamo from potential enemies.
8. Eat gelato stracciatella at its birthplace
Just outside the walls of the old citadel, lies La Marianna. The latter is a vintage pastry shop famous for inventing the stracciatella ice-cream flavour back in 1961. By the way, this ice-cream flavour is the most popular one throughout Bergamo.
9. Admire the view from San Vigilio Castle
Apart from the city funicular we talked about earlier, there is also another cable car that leads to the castle built atop San Vigilio Hill. Walking around the ruins of San Vigilio Castle is an utterly pleasant pastime, especially around sunset. If you are in a super romantic mood, you can have dinner at one of the restaurants near the funicular station on the hill. They are not cheap but the views are gorgeous.
10. Enjoy a fantastic aperitivo
There are many many things we love about Italy. Aperitivo is one of them. This tradition of having a drink alongside a light meal before dinner is just amazing. We have come to notice that aperitivo is more of a big deal in the North rather than the South of Italy. Therefore, Bergamo couldn’t possibly be an exception. For a huge Aperol Spritz and a buffet filled with mouthwatering goodies head over to Caffè Corsarola after 18:00 and you can thank us later.
11. Try Polenta e Osei
This is the typical dessert of Bergamo. It is a cake-like, marzipan-based treat which is yellow in colour and adorned with small chocolate birds on its top.
12. Be at Piazza Vecchia at 22:00
It is imperative that you spend the night in Bergamo Alta. This is the only way to experience the unique ambience of the dimly lit medieval town. Whatever you do during the day, just make sure to be at Piazza Vecchia a little before 22:00. Take a seat under the romantically lit arches of the all-white Palazzo Nuovo and wait. Soon you will hear the bells of the Campanone sound. They will do so for 100 times filling the otherwise tranquil night air with their chimes and creating a unique atmosphere not to be missed. This is a centuries-old tradition that used to signify the closing down of the four city gates for the night.
Where to stay in Bergamo
If you’re only spending one day in Bergamo, then there is no time to waste in useless comings and goings. Therefore, it only makes sense to splurge on a fantastic room right in the heart of Bergamo Old Town. During our short trip to Bergamo, we had the immense pleasure to stay at one of the most picturesque hotels in the historic centre. Gombit Hotel, as its name suggests, is adjacent to the Gombito Tower, one of Bergamo’s landmarks. Yet this is hardly the main reason why one should choose this specific hotel over all the others. A member of Design Hotels, Gombit features rooms which are smartly decorated, impeccably clean and utterly comfortable.
What we loved most about this hotel though is that it is renovated and inclusive of all modern amenities without compromising the building’s historical character and value. Furthermore, the location of the hotel is literally everything. It is situated just a stone’s throw from the splendid Piazza Vecchia. Last but not least, breakfast at Gombit Hotel is prepared with top quality ingredients and has a wide selection of sweet as well as savoury treats.
The only thing we didn’t like about our stay at Gombit Hotel is that it was painfully short. We wish we had more time to spend in our gorgeous room taking in the beauty of the medieval wonder that is Bergamo from the comfort of our balcony.
So, that’s all about our short trip to Bergamo. If you’re planning to spend one day in Bergamo soon, we’re sure that you are going to like this medieval gem of a city a lot. Are we right? Let us know in the comments! Arrivederci!
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Disclosure: We were guests at Gombit Hotel but, as always, we express nothing but our honest opinion about the experience we had.