Have you spent time in Milan elbowing your way through the crowds and now you want to visit a quieter Italian city?
Are you curious to see the somewhat unknown Bergamo, named Italy’s 2023 Capital of Culture?
Maybe you want to see what all the fuss is about, but you’ve only got the morning and afternoon before your flight out of Bergamo’s Orio al Serio airport.
No matter your reason – I’ve got you covered! I’ll walk you through how to spend a day in Bergamo, one of Italy’s somewhat hidden gems (yes – I used it and I mean it). This northern Italian city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and you’ll enjoy exploring its cobblestone streets and piazzas, and tiny paths through the city. Bergamo is photogenic and it sees visitors, but it’s not overrun like many other Italian cities. A day in Bergamo is a perfect antidote to time spent in busy Milan or Venice.
Before you head to Bergamo, know that the city is split between the upper part of the city (the historic, ‘old town’) and the lower part of the city (the newer part of town). While the lower part of town has its merits, if you only have one day, I recommend spending it in the old town, the Città Alta (upper town).
Good To Know: Bergamo is sharing the title of ‘Capital of Culture’ with neighboring Brescia. You can read more about the initiative and program on the official website.
Where is Bergamo?
Bergamo is the capital city of the province of Bergamo, in the Lombardy region in Northern Italy. It sits about 50 kilometers northeast of Milan, and it’s about halfway between the southern edges of Lake Como and Lake Iseo.
Bergamo is split into two main areas – the Città Bassa, which sits at about 250 meters above sea level, and the Città Alta, which is at about 465 meters above sea level. They’re adjacent to each other and you can travel between them by funicular, car, bus, or taxi.
Map of Bergamo, Italy
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How to Spend One Day in Bergamo
Park at the Parcheggio Piazza Libertà
Parcheggio Piazza Libertà is a multi-level parking garage in the Città Bassa. It’s easy to get to and it’s just a quick 10-minute walk to the funicular that takes you up to Città Alta.
Not Driving?: If you’re arriving by train, you can either walk 20 minutes to the funicular or take a 10-minute bus. Skip ahead to ‘Take the Funicular up to the Città Alta.’
Walk to the Funicular Stop
The exit of the parking garage pops you into Piazza Libertà. Quickly check out the artwork and/or the fountain. Then keep your legs moving toward the upper city by walking to Viale Vittorio Emanuele II and following it to the funicular that takes you up to Città Alta.
Take the Funicular up to the Città Alta (Upper City)
The funicular runs every ten minutes and takes just three minutes to get up to the Città Alta.
Tickets are 1.50€ and you can buy them in the little machine at the funicular entrance.
Alternatively, you can take the bus (same ticket, bus stop is across the street) or walk up (steps to the left of the entrance, pathway around the corner to the right of the entrance). The walk up takes about 15 minutes and it’s a nice workout up the cobblestone steps. Most of it is shaded.
Helpful Tip: Don’t worry if you don’t have a nice view from inside the funicular – you’ll have other opportunities to see gorgeous views today.
Stop for Coffee or Polenta
The funicular stops in Città Alta at the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe. If you’re hungry or need a caffeine fix, stop and have a coffee in the small bar with outdoor seating in the piazza or get a small dish of polenta at Polentone.
Then, walk down Via Gaetano Donizetti (named after the famous opera composer from Bergamo) to Piazza Doumo.
Check out the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and the Colleoni Chapel
There’s a lot to see in this piazza, but with limited time, check out the Basilica and the Chapel.
The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore was built by the town as part of a deal they made with Mary to help protect them from the plague. There’s a lot going on inside, and you can peek your head inside to decide if you want to fork over the small fee to enter and walk around. Otherwise, I think the most interesting part of the Basilica is on the outside wall, to the left of the Red Lions. You’ll see iron bars set into the stone wall. In the past, the Basilica wasn’t just a place for worship – it was also used as a bank, warehouse, and more, and the piazza in front hosted markets. The iron bars were used to standardize measurements – for example, the ‘brachium’ was an arm of fabric.
The Colleoni Chapel has a striking façade of multi-colored marble. Head inside for a quick look and take note of the coat of arms with three worn ‘upside down commas.’ These are testicles (Colleoni was rumored to have three of them), and if you rub them at midnight, good luck will come to you.
Climb the Campanone
Now it’s time to climb! Walk to the corner of the piazza and pay for your ticket to climb up the bell tower. You can walk up the steps or take the elevator (or even mix it up and walk up and take the elevator down).
The views are amazing – you can see all around Bergamo Alta and far off into the distance.
Good To Know: There’s a public toilet (small fee) next to the bell tower.
Have Lunch on Via Colleoni
Choose from multiple eateries on Via Colleoni. Walk from Piazza Duomo through Piazza Vecchia and turn left onto Via Colleoni. Stroll down the narrow cobblestone street and choose a place for lunch. A few options:
- Il Fornaio – choose your pizza piled with toppings (or just drool from the window)
- Il Circolino – sit outdoors on the big patio of this former prison
- Da Mimmo – creative local cooking; sit indoors or outdoors
Explore Some More
Continue walking up Via Colleoni, and make your way to Colle Aperto. Along the way, check out the shops, walk along the city walls, sit on a bench and watch Bergamo life go by, and if you want more stunning views, take the second funicular (Funicolare S. Vigilio) up to the San Vigilio Castle ruins.
Helpful Tip: If you take the funicular up in the summer, bring bug spray for the mosquitoes.
Have Aperitivo or Gelato (or Both!)
After all of that walking, it’s time for another snack or drink.
Did you know that Italy’s stracciatella gelato flavor was invented right here in Bergamo? The owner of Upper Bergamo’s Pasticceria La Marianna (right in Colle Aperto) created the recipe in 1961 by mimicking his recipe for stracciatella soup(broth with beaten egg) – mixing cream gelato with broken ribbons of dark chocolate (a bit like chocolate chip ice cream). You can wait in line (there’s always a line!) for the original stracciatella gelato at La Marianna (or order it in the outdoor seating area).
At this point, if you have time, you can continue to explore Bergamo (see our ideas below). Otherwise, it’s time to say arrivederci and make your way back to the funicular.
Head Back to Your Car
Once you get to the funicular stop, take it down and walk back to the Parcheggio Piazza Libertà parking garage. Remember to pay for your parking before you get back to your car.
Good To Know: If you have time constraints, allow extra time in case the funicular is crowded on the way back and you need to wait for one or two trips. Or, just walk down the cobblestone steps (about 10 minutes).
More Things to Do in Bergamo
If you have more time, you could also:
- Check out Bergamo’s Duomo – the Cathedral of Saint Alexander the Martyr (Cattedrale di Sant’Alessandro Martire) and the Baptistery (Battistero) while you’re in the Piazza Duomo.
- The public washhouse (lavatoio) on Via Lupo
- Hang out in Piazza Vecchia. I love the little outdoor tables in the back on Via dei Rivola.
- Art-lovers shouldn’t miss Accademia Carrara, which contains priceless works from Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, and more.
- Visit the Rocca di Bergamo and explore the grounds of the fortress and climb the tower.
- Wander in the Botanical Garden (Orto Botanico di Bergamo – Lorrenzo Rota).
- If you time it right, you can see an event or show, like the Bergamo Jazz Fest, an opera, or see the Presepe in the Duomo Museum.
- Sample local specialties like polenta e osei (pastries of polenta, chocolate, and marzipan)or casoncelli bergameschi a type of pasta filled with meat and with a butter, sage, and pancetta sauce.
- Gaetano Donizetti opera fans shouldn’t miss a stop in the Museo Donizettiano.
- Visit one of the old gates of the city.
What to Do Near Bergamo
After you’ve spent a day in Bergamo, head to a nearby town or attraction:
- Brescia (partnered with Bergamo as Italy’s 2023 Capital of Culture)
- Lake Como
- Lake Iseo
- Milan (but park outside the city center and take public transport in)
How to Get to Bergamo, Italy
The easiest ways to get to Bergamo are by car, train, and plane.
Driving to Bergamo
If you have a rental car, it’s easy to get to Bergamo. The city is just off the A4 Autostrada, and there are plenty of smaller roads that lead into Bergamo (so if there’s traffic or an accident, you can find another way in).
This was how I recently got to Bergamo, and I found the driving in the city to be pretty relaxed compared to the driving in nearby Milan.
Distance to Bergamo from:
Como – 90 km (1 hr)
Milan – 55 km (50 min)
Brescia –55 km (40 min)
Taking the Train to Bergamo
Bergamo isn’t on a main (high-speed) train line, but you can easily travel from Bergamo to Milan by train (48 minutes, no changes) and then take a high-speed train to your next destination.
From the train station, it’s a 20-minute (flat) walk to the funicular that takes you up to the Città Alta, or you can take a 10-minute bus ride from the bus station across from the train station.
Read more about Train Travel in Italy
Flying to Bergamo
Bergamo has its own international airport, Bergamo Orio al Serio International Airport (BGY). The center of Bergamo is just a 10-15 minute ride (by car, taxi, or bus) from the Bergamo airport. Orio al Serio Airport mostly serves low-cost carriers like EasyJet and Ryanair, but ITA Airways (formerly Alitalia) also uses it as a hub.
Other Ways to Get to Bergamo
- Take the bus
- Hire a private driver
- Take a private or group day tour
Where to Park in Bergamo
I recommend parking in the lower part of Bergamo and taking the funicular (or walking) up to the Città Alta. The Piazza Libertà parking garage has multiple levels and is a 10-minute stroll from the funicular that goes up to Città Alta.
Good To Know: You can park in the upper part of the city. There are quite a few spots along Via delle Mura in lots or on the street (all pay and display parking).
Read more about Parking in Italy
Getting Around Bergamo, Italy
The best way to get around Bergamo is by walking, which allows you to see the small cobblestone lanes, buildings layered with history, incredible views, and memorable monuments. If your legs get tired, you can use public transport, which includes buses, taxis, and funiculars.
If you need to move between the Città Alta and Città Bassa (upper town and lower town), know that the walk from Bassa to Alta is a steep 15-minute walk up cobblestone steps. As an alternative to walking, take the funicular up, or take the bus up from across the street from the funicular (1.50€ ticket for either one, purchase from machine at funicular).
Good To Know: There is also a tram in Bergamo, but the service inside the city is limited, so you probably won’t use it during your day in the city.
You can get around Bergamo by foot or using public transport. To reach Bergamo, rent a car, take the train, or hire a private driver.
Most of the scenes were filmed in Crema (south of Bergamo), and places nearby.
One day is enough time to experience some of the highlights of Bergamo’s Città Alta (like its Piazza Duomo, viewpoints scattered throughout the city, excellent cuisine, and aperitivo in picturesque piazzas). However, if you have the time, you’ll enjoy having 2-3 days to slow down and take in all that Bergamo has to offer.
Bergamo Alta is the name for the upper part of Bergamo. You’ll hear it called many names, including: Città Alta, Bergamo Old Town, and Upper Bergamo.
Bergamo is a city that can be visited any time of year. There are events throughout the year, both indoors and outdoors. If you want to enjoy the piazzas (aperitivo, outdoor meals), it’s best to visit from April through October, because many restaurants and cafes only have indoor seating in the cooler months. If you visit during the winter, you can still explore the monuments and tuck into cozy cafes and restaurants for a warm meal and hot drink.
Head to Da Mimmo on Via Colleoni.