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A Brief Itinerary to Discover the Beautiful Lombard City

Are you considering a visit to Bergamo but unsure if it’s worth it? Let us guide you through what to see in Bergamo, and all your doubts will vanish!

Bergamo captured our attention in 2017 when we watched a captivating documentary about its Venetian Walls, recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. The prestigious accolade, shared with Palmanova and Peschiera del Garda in Italy, Zadar and Sibenik in Croatia, and Kotor in Montenegro, marked Bergamo as a city of historical significance. In 2023, along with nearby Brescia, it becomes the Italian Capital of Culture, promising a vibrant cultural scene with numerous exciting events!

Planning our visit, we were pleased to discover convenient public transportation options, including High-Speed Rail, buses, and a nearby airport. Bergamo is easily navigable on foot, by bus, or using its characteristic funiculars.

Bergamo Alta and Bergamo Bassa

As many know, Bergamo is divided into two distinct parts: “Città Alta” (Upper Town) and “Città Bassa” (Lower Town). The former, perched on a hill, preserves its medieval appearance with narrow streets and ancient buildings, reflecting various historical phases from communal rule to the dominance of the Visconti family and the Serenissima Republic. The latter, despite its ancient origins, has undergone architectural changes, presenting a more modern look, hosting offices, shops, and lively restaurants, especially from aperitif to late evening.

After this brief introduction, let’s begin our itinerary to discover what to see in Bergamo!

What to See in Bergamo: The Venetian Walls

Our exploration of what to see in Bergamo starts with the Venetian Walls. These walls, the first monument that inspired our visit, surround the entire perimeter of Città Alta and have maintained their appearance from the 16th century. They played a crucial role in preserving the distinctive district of Bergamo Alta, resisting the urban expansion seen in subsequent centuries. Today, tourists explore them on foot, seeking picturesque views. One of the most enchanting spots is near Porta San Giacomo, where the stones take on a subtle pink hue at sunset, creating a romantic atmosphere.

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A section of the Venetian Walls (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

A suggestion for a different perspective is to descend from Porta San Giacomo and stroll along Via Tre Armi. This peaceful street runs alongside the walls to Porta Sant’Alessandro, offering a view of their imposing structure.

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Porta San Giacomo (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

What to See in Bergamo: Piazza Vecchia

Another must-visit location in Bergamo is Piazza Vecchia. This square, so beautiful and harmonious that even the renowned architect Le Corbusier was captivated, deserves a few minutes of admiration from every perspective.

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Glimpse of Piazza Vecchia (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Exploring this corner of the city is like stepping back into the Renaissance when it was redesigned in the 16th century. It became the center of the city’s legal and political life with structures like Palazzo della Ragione, initially the seat of government and later the courthouse, and Palazzo del Podestà, once the residence of the foreign governor during the communal period. The square also features the Campanone, a city symbol, the beautiful Contarini Fountain, and Palazzo Nuovo, which served as the town hall for three centuries.

Palazzo della Ragione

Approaching from Via Colleoni, you’ll immediately notice Palazzo della Ragione, resembling other medieval town halls in Lombardy and Veneto. The ground floor features a loggia leading to adjacent Piazza Duomo, adorned with decorated capitals and a curious sundial indicating the exact date at noon. Climbing an external staircase, adorned with medieval and Renaissance inscriptions and sculptures, leads to the first floor, housing the Capriate Hall. Illuminated by large trifoil windows, this hall exhibits paintings and frescoes, including works by Bramante.

Palazzo del Podestà e il Campanone

Adjacent to Palazzo della Ragione, separated by a small passage, stands Palazzo del Podestà. Initially a medieval residence of the Suardi family, it later became the seat of the foreign Podestà during the communal era and the judicial administration under Venice. Today, it houses the Museo del Cinquecento, featuring an interactive multimedia journey into Bergamo’s 16th century. The museum showcases the city’s history, including Roman ruins on the ground floor, a splendid colonnaded room called Cavedio on the first floor, and the historical context of the 19th-century transformation.

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Cavedio of the Palazzo del Podestà (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Don’t miss the opportunity to ascend the iconic Campanone, the civic tower, for an exceptional view of the ancient city at sunset.

Palazzo Nuovo and the Contarini Fountain

Completing Piazza Vecchia, opposite Palazzo della Ragione or Palazzo Vecchio, is Palazzo Nuovo. Its pristine marble color and distinctly Renaissance forms distinguish it from other buildings in the square. Constructed in the 17th century to house the Gran Consiglio di Bergamo, it later became the Civic Library after the town hall moved to Città Bassa in the 19th century. The library, one of Italy’s most important, contains invaluable manuscripts, codes, incunabula, and musical scores.

Exploring the palace during the library’s opening hours reveals architectural elegance and remarkable works. Notable among them is the Colonna Camozzi, a lectern sculpted like a tree, adorned with the coats of arms of Bergamo and Brescia. 

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Palazzo Nuovo and the Contarini Fountain (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The square also features the Fontana Contarini, a late 18th-century octagonal marble basin surrounded by statues representing sphinxes, serpents, and lions. Originally functional, it provided water to nearby houses, emphasizing both aesthetics and utility.

What to See in Bergamo: Piazza Duomo

Crossing Palazzo della Ragione’s loggia leads to Piazza Duomo, a small square surrounded by key religious buildings. Home to Bergamo’s most significant church, the Duomo di Sant’Alessandro, Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, Cappella Colleoni, and the Baptistry, this square emanates historical and spiritual significance.

The Duomo

Despite not dominating the square, the Duomo, dedicated to St. Alexander, features a notable white marble facade. Its complex history involves dedication to St. Vincent in the 5th century, later transformed into a Romanesque-style cathedral to compete with the existing St. Alexander’s Cathedral. Ultimately, the latter was demolished by the Venetians to make way for the Venetian Walls, and St. Alexander became the patron saint of Bergamo.

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Interior of the Cathedral (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

The Duomo’s interior reflects the protracted reconstruction, combining a Latin cross plan, neoclassical facade, and baroque interior. Noteworthy art includes a golden statue of St. Alexander atop the dome, paintings by Moroni, Previtali, and Tiepolo, along with intricate wooden inlays and Pope John XXIII’s tiara. The Museo del Tesoro della Cattedrale, located in the Duomo’s crypt, displays remains of the original and medieval churches.

Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore

Nearby, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore holds a special place in Bergamo’s heart. Constructed in gratitude for the Madonna’s aid during a plague in the 12th century, the basilica features Baroque decorations, vibrant frescoes, and intricate wooden inlays by local craftsmen, inspired by Lorenzo Lotto’s designs. Notable is the funerary monument for Gaetano Donizetti, the renowned composer born in Bergamo, adorned with sculptures depicting characters from his operas.

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Interior of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

La Cappella Colleoni

Flanking the Basilica is the Cappella Colleoni, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture dedicated to Bartolomeo Colleoni, a prominent military commander. Its facade, adorned with colored marble and bronze statues, showcases the skilled work of Giovanni Antonio Amadeo and his collaborators, including Giambono and Antonio del Ponte. The interior reveals a wealth of art, with frescoes by Bramante and Moretto, a polyptych by Bergamo’s most celebrated painter, Lorenzo Lotto, and the tomb of Bartolomeo Colleoni himself.

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Facade of the Cappella Colleoni  (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Il Battistero

Completing Piazza Duomo is the Battistero, adjacent to the Basilica. Designed in the Renaissance style by the talented architect Giovanni da Campione, it features a polygonal shape and a dome with an elegant lantern. Its baptismal font, a hexagonal basin adorned with scenes from the life of St. John the Baptist, remains a masterpiece by the sculptor Agostino de Fondulis. Above, an angelic choir carved by Andrea Fantoni surrounds the dome.

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The Battistero of Bergamo Cathedral (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

What to See in Bergamo: Exploring the City from Above

Bergamo’s abundance of panoramic viewpoints, especially in the Upper City, offers captivating perspectives that make it a must-visit destination. Let’s delve into the prime locations providing the best views:

  • Campanone: As mentioned earlier, the Campanone stands out as the optimal vantage point for observing Piazza Vecchia and Piazza Duomo, showcasing their splendid architecture. Its panoramic view has rightfully earned the spot as our article’s main photo.
  • Colle di San Vigilio: Situated on Bergamo’s highest hill, this less-visited yet charming area offers an enchanting view of the Upper City. Accessible via the scenic funicular at Porta S. Alessandro, a 630-meter climb along the ridge rewards visitors with a breathtaking panorama of the Upper City’s beauty.
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    Panorama of the Upper Town from Colle di San Vigilio (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)
  • Torre della Rocca on Colle di Sant’Eufemia: Beyond the wonders of the Upper City, this tower provides an exceptional view of the Bergamo Alps and the entire Bergamo plain, extending to Milan. Part of a fortress with historical significance, it houses the Museum of the 19th Century, narrating Bergamo’s role in the Italian Risorgimento.
    Torre della Rocca - Colle di Sant'Eufemia - Museum of the 19th century
    Torre della Rocca (credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Panoramic Spots in the Lower City

While the majority marvel at the panoramas of the Upper City, the Lower City, with its modern boulevards and buildings, holds its own allure. Two standout locations offer distinct perspectives:

  • Porta San Giacomo: Along the Venetian walls, this site is a favorite for tourists seeking selfies with the city as a backdrop. On clear days, it provides views extending across the Po Valley. Even without perfect weather, you can enjoy a clear sight of Viale Vittorio Emanuele, cutting through the entire Lower City, and spot planes taking off and landing at the airport in the distance.
  • Torre dei Caduti: Located in the heart of the Lower City, this tower symbolizes modern Bergamo. Dedicated to World War I casualties, its top terrace offers a privileged view of the boulevards and surrounding buildings, accentuating the Museum’s narrative on urban transformation.
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    Torre dei Caduti (Credit to Giorces CC-BY-SA)

What to See in Bergamo: Accademia Carrara

A must-visit in Bergamo is the Accademia Carrara, situated in Borgo Santa Caterina. With roots tracing back to the late 18th century, it originated from Count Giacomo Carrara’s rich art collection. A recent restoration, completed between 2008 and 2015, has modernized the museum, allowing visitors to fully appreciate one of Italy’s most beautiful art collections.

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Accademia Carrara (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Displaying over 600 works by renowned Italian painters, especially from the Veneto and Lombardy regions, the Accademia Carrara boasts masterpieces by Pisanello, Mantegna, Giovanni Bellini, Tiziano, and more. The museum’s Renaissance section includes works by Beato Angelico, Sandro Botticelli, Raffaello Sanzio, and Perugino, while international artists like Rubens, Dürer, and Van Dyck are also represented.

What to See in Bergamo: Final Tips (Including Culinary Delights)

For an optimal appreciation of Bergamo’s beauty without stress, consider using public transportation. Tourist tickets, available for 24 or 72 hours, provide access to buses and funiculars, promoting both ecological awareness and a more relaxed city exploration.

Explore the city extensively on foot, especially along the central Via Colleoni. The Upper City hides many corners worth discovering, such as the Torre del Gombito and the Cittadella Viscontea with its arcades, gates, and the Civic Archaeological Museum.

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Gate of the Cittadella Viscontea (Credit to Matteo Marongiu)

Indulge in Bergamo’s culinary delights, including the renowned polenta served with various sauces. For a unique pasta experience, try casoncelli, filled with beef, grana, amaretti, and sultanas—a true delicacy. Concluding the gastronomic journey is the sweet version of polenta, the polenta e osei cake, featuring layers of sponge cake alternated with a filling of chocolate, hazelnuts, and liqueurs, topped with almond paste birds flavored with chocolate.

Now equipped with insights into Bergamo’s key attractions and practical tips, pack your bags and embark on a personal exploration. If you plan to stay for a few days, discover the best accommodations here at the most competitive prices!

 

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What to see in Bergamo
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"Discover the charm of Bergamo with our guide—uncover what to see in Bergamo, ensuring your visit is filled with captivating experiences!"
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La Scimmia Viaggiatrice