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Bergamo – A City of Two Halves

Home » Travel Blog » City Breaks » Bergamo, Italy

Bergamo is one of the two Italian cities of culture for 2023. Its proximity to the more box-office Italian names such as Venice, Verona or Milan often means that tourists pass by. I relish such off-the-beaten-path destinations, so I made sure I popped by – for 3 nights!

It’s worth noting that the prices of Milan Bergamo Airport (not to be confused with Milan Malpensa) are often much cheaper than other Italian airports. Bergamo airport is just 5kms from the city centre so it makes sense to include Bergamo in the province of Bergamo Italy in your itinerary maybe, like me, just before you return to the UK.

City of Culture 2023

Something I learned yesterday was that the reason both Bergamo and Brescia are the cities of culture in 2023 is that in 2020, both cities suffered terribly from COVID-19. When it came to the voting process all the other cities in Italy decided to “gift” Bergamo and Brescia this title for 2023. How nice is that… I can’t see Leeds gifting our City of Culture to Manchester, can you? Anyhow, before I upset my Yorkshire mates… back to Bergamo!

The Bergamo Tourist Office like to promote 6 hours in Bergamo. This is a whistle-stop tour of the Lower Town or Città Bassa and the more popular Upper Town or Città Alta. I however don’t think it does the city justice as due to the hill climbs it is hard work – well it is for me! To make life easier you can, for just €4, buy a 24-hour tourist ticket that includes unlimited access to the buses and the two funicular railways that take you from the Lower Town to the Upper Town. Alternatively you can pay just 7 euros which includes the above PLUS a bus to the airport so again great value for money!

History Of Bergamo

There is heaps of history in Bergamo. The 5 km long UNESCO-protected Venetian walls built in 1561 house a lot of the treasures of the city including the Piazza Vecchia, the Campanone or Bell Tower that you can climb (or take the lift) for 5 euros. There is also the beautiful Palazzo del Podestà and alongside it, the Duomo. At 22:00 every evening, the Bell Tower strikes 100 times in recognition, during the Venetian times, when occupants had to return inside the city walls.

The second of the funicular railways takes you from just outside the upper gate, to San Vigilio Castle. Whilst this is not the most exciting castle, it does offer some amazing 360-degree views of the city. When the sun came out I went up there to explore the ruins of the medieval castle and enjoy a picnic in the park. There are a couple of lovely restaurants/cafes up there too – that always helps!

Out and About in Bergamo

Bergamo, Italy, offers a delightful blend of historical charm, cultural attractions, and scenic beauty. Here are some things to do and see in Bergamo:

Città Alta (Upper Town): Explore the medieval hilltop district of Città Alta, surrounded by Venetian walls. Wander through its narrow cobblestone streets lined with historic buildings, charming cafes, and shops selling local crafts. Don’t miss the Piazza Vecchia, the heart of the Upper Town, with its stunning Renaissance architecture and the Palazzo della Ragione.

The main street in the Citta Alta is the Via Corsarola. This truly magical street comes alive in the evening. Shops include bakeries, fashion boutiques, jewellers, crafts and souvenirs while the restaurants are as stylish as any you will see in Northern Italy.

Bars and Cafes are equally as enticing with the Bar Flora on Piazza Vecchia an institution offering Aperol Spritz and fabulous aperitifs, while The Tucans Irish Bar at Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe, next to the Funicular Railway is also a great shout for us Brits.

Not To Be Missed

Rocca di Bergamo (Bergamo Fortress): Visit the imposing fortress overlooking Città Alta, offering panoramic views of the city and surrounding countryside. The fortress houses the Museo del Risorgimento, which showcases the history of Italy’s unification.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore: Admire the beautiful facade and interior of this 12th-century basilica, known for its stunning frescoes, intricate marble carvings, and ornate chapels. The basilica also houses the Colleoni Chapel, a masterpiece of Renaissance art.

Accademia Carrara: Discover one of Italy’s finest art galleries, home to an impressive collection of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, including works by Botticelli, Raphael, and Bellini

Venetian Walls: Walk along the well-preserved Venetian walls encircling Città Alta, offering scenic views and glimpses into Bergamo’s past. The walls are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and provide a great opportunity for a stroll.

Gastronomy & Ice Cream

Indulge in Bergamo’s culinary delights, including local specialities like casoncelli pasta, polenta taragna, and taleggio cheese. Explore the city’s trattorias, osterias, and bakeries to savour authentic Bergamo cuisine.

Bergamo is home to the famous Stracciatella ice cream. If you visit La Marianna, just outside the city walls at the top end of the Via Corsarola near the Funicular, this is where in 1961, this ice cream was invented. I ordered a small tub and sat outside only to be told I had to take my rubbish (the tub) away with me – charming!

Another sweet treat you will see in the shops is Polenta e Osei – it is the shape of a Christmas pudding and comes in various sizes. It is a sponge inside with a yellow coating flavoured with marzipan and decorated with chocolate birds on top. I had one for breakfast in a local bakery – it’s more a dessert but I needed to try it at some stage and 08:30 am seemed like a good idea! I loved it!

Street Markets

Wander through Bergamo’s bustling markets, such as the Mercato delle Scarpe Vecchie or the weekly street market in Piazza Pontida, where you can find everything from fresh produce to artisanal crafts.

Now given these sugar-laden treats, it is no wonder the children in Bergamo are out of control! It’s the only issue I have with the city, in that each day I was there, they had several school parties (maybe 20-30 in a group and about 5 groups all over the city). Not sure what the answer is (apart from going in the evening) but it affects the enjoyment of many people’s visit. Or maybe I am just a grumpy old man!

Today’s dog of the day was a German Cockerpoo – her name is Kaya and I had to take this photo as behind her was an ornate statue of a lion – I preferred Kaya!

Pre-bookable Excursions

Where To Stay in Bergamo

These are just a few options to consider for your stay in Bergamo. Depending on your preferences and budget, there are plenty of other hotels to explore in the area.

  1. Relais San Lorenzo: A luxury hotel located in the heart of Bergamo’s historic centre, offering elegant rooms, a spa, and a rooftop terrace with panoramic views.
  2. GombitHotel: A boutique hotel housed in a medieval building, featuring stylish rooms with contemporary design elements and modern amenities.
  3. Arli Hotel Business and Wellness: A mid-range hotel situated near Bergamo’s main train station, offering comfortable rooms, a wellness centre, and conference facilities.
  4. Hotel Excelsior San Marco: A centrally located hotel with classic rooms, a restaurant serving traditional Italian cuisine, and a rooftop terrace overlooking the city.
  5. Best Western Hotel Piemontese: A budget-friendly option close to Bergamo’s shopping streets and attractions, featuring simple yet comfortable rooms and complimentary breakfast.

Contact

So that’s Bergamo and a fabulous end to my Italian Adventure. It’s been a long but very enjoyable trip from Venice to Bergamo. I have always loved Italy, but it’s been so many years since I truly had the chance to enjoy it, as much as I have these past couple of weeks. I hope to return one day, but who knows – there is a big old world to discover.

For more information on visiting Bergamo in Italy, contact the Bergamo Tourist Office or contact your local travel agent or tour operator.

All photos were taken by myself and should be credited if used to @justonefortheroad

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