Bergamo is an eastern Lombard town located about an hour’s drive (1 1/2 hours by train) from Milan. Situated at the foot of the Orobie Alps, it is a baroque and Renaissance lover’s paradise. Divided into Upper and Lower Town, there’s something to do for everyone. One step on the ancient hilltop of Città Alta (Upper Town), and you are transported back to Medieval times with cobblestoned streets, cathedrals, and a castle! Being so close to Milan, it makes for a perfect day trip, and the old town can easily be toured in 1 day.
We recently went to Bergamo as one of 3 day trips from Milan (Read How to Spend 2 Days in Milan, Italy). The slow-paced town was a nice contrast to the crowds and busyness of the big city. To see how we spent all 5 days of our trip to Northwestern Italy see 5 Days in Northern Italy.
How to Spend 1 Day in Bergamo, Italy
Transportation in Bergamo
From the train station, the Nº1 bus will take you all the way to the funicular to Città Alta (Upper Town). A funicular is a railway-type of transportation that uses cables to travel steep inclines. You can buy tickets for 75 minutes of travel on buses for €1.30 at the train station, funicular stations, or at newspaper stands. Buy a day ticket for €3.50 (city only) or €5 (whole network, including airport). The day ticket includes unlimited bus and funicular transportation for 24 hours. Make sure to validate your ticket when you get on the bus. There is also a taxi stand right outside the train station, but we found the public transportation very tourist friendly!
What to Eat in Bergamo
Of course you have to sample all of the Italian staples like gelato, pasta, and pizza. That’s a given! You’ll also see lots of different risottos. In Northern Italy, risotto is more of a local favorite than pastas.
Particularly in Upper Town Bergamo, polenta (made with corn flour) is found on almost every street corner. When I read that the “must try” dessert in Bergamo was made with polenta, I have to admit that I was a bit skeptical. I’m so glad I mustered up my tasting courage and bought a pair of polenta cakes (polenta e osei). It’s hard to describe because it is unlike any dessert I’ve had before. Think sponge cake with a creamy surprise inside like – Twinkies, but 100 times better! The sponge cake is covered with yellow marzipan, then dusted with crystals of yellow sugar. The little birds placed on polenta are made from marzipan covered with a layer of chocolate. Stuffed inside the sponge cake is a chocolate/rum/buttercream burst of goodness!
Città Alta (Bergamo Upper Town)
When you first get off of the funicular, you’ll instantly see why we spent our entire day exploring this ancient part of Bergamo. Città Bassa (Lower Town) is more modern and residential. If you only have a day, use all of your time for Città Alta (Upper Town).
Like most Italian cities, the best way to explore Città Alta is just to wander around.
- Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe- The funicular empties out into this piazza. It’s not big, but will give you a little taste of what to expect as you explore the Upper Town. Since we had taken an early train from Milan, we stopped at a little cafe in this piazza to eat some delicious pastries and get an energy boast from espressos.
- Via Gombito- From the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe, wander down the Via Gombito. Historians thought to have existed during the Roman era, this street is filled with cute little shops and bars located in former medieval houses.
- Piazza Vecchia- This square is bigger and and busier than Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe. It is a great place to sit and people-watch. On the northwest side of the piazza is the Palazzo del Podestà. This museum is small, but full of interactive displays highlighting Bergamo’s Venetian period. Admission also includes a lift up to the Torre del Campanone, which is a huge bell tower with Insta-worthy views of the city. Admission to the museum and tower- €5 at time of this writing.
Palazzo della Ragione- At the southern end of the Piazza Vecchia is the Palazzo della Ragione with its majestic arches and columns covered with Gothic and Romanesque animals. Continuing through the arches and you’ll encounter Bergamo’s most awe-inspiring church, the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Construction of the church began in 1137 and due to financial issues, it wasn’t finished until 1436 (when the bell tower was completed). As a result, it is a mixture of architectural styles.
To the left of the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is the Cattedrale di Bergamo. This church contains paintings by Moroni and Tiepolo. Remember when visiting a church or cathedral, men should remove their hats and women should have their shoulders and upper legs covered. If a service is occurring (we were visiting Bergamo on a Sunday), observe quietly in the back and refrain from taking pictures. Just do like we did and come back later for pics!
- Via Colleoni- Continue uphill on one of the busiest street in Città Alta, Via Colleoni. Similar to the Via Gombito, it is lined with shops, cafes, and bars. The street ends at the majestic Piazza Citadella. The piazza was constructed in 1379 as part of the citadel that house soldiers. The soldiers would use the square to practice marching. On the northern end of the piazza is the Adalberto Tower. You can’t go up the tower. The only access is from a staircase you can spot halfway up the tower. The tower was originally built to house prisoners guilty of serious crimes.
Continue walking across the Piazza Citadella through the old city gates to the Funicular San Vigilo. If you bought the 24-hour bus pass, the funicular won’t cost you anything extra. The funiculars run every 15 minutes. We were happy that we had arrived at Bergamo early, because the funicular line started getting long towards the end of the day.
There’s not a lot to see in San Vigilio, but it was a perfect place to enjoy a late lunch with amazing views. There are several cafes right when you get off of the funicular. Walk up the hill (on the righthand side) to the Castello di San Vigilio (San Vigilio Castle). There isn’t a cost to go inside the castle towers to see the expansive view from on top of the castle walls.
Have you been to Bergamo, Italy before? We’d love for you to add your thoughts and recommendations. Have any questions? Please ask by commenting below! Keep up with all of our travel, camping, and cycling tips by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Leave us your email (blue box at the bottom of the post) to subscribe to our weekly newsletter and never miss a post!