We didn’t know much about this city before visiting Bergamo in Italy. Yet after seeing photos of San Giacamo Gate, the rolling green mountains, and amazing Italian architecture, we were sold! Most of the action takes place in the upper town of Bergamo Alta. It’s small enough that it can be explored by foot in a few hours but has enough side streets and hidden gems to keep you entertained for days. So join us for a ride up the funicular, eating at the delicious restaurants, and much more of the best things to do in Bergamo!
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Quick History of Bergamo Alta in Italy
A mere 2,000 years ago, Bergamo was a Celtic settlement before the Romans took over this area. At the start of the Middle Ages, it became the center of the Lombard Kingdom and home to many dukes and kings of its time.
Bergamo’s location at the foothills of the alps between Milan and Venice would make it a strategic city for many years to come. During medieval times is when the city created some of its most notable architecture, including the walls that protect Bergamo Alta.
These impressive walls took 30 years to build, extend over 5 km in length, and reach up to 50 meters high at some points! They were initially constructed by the Venetians as a way to protect against attackers from Milan. That attack never came, but the walls still tower over the ancient city today.
In the following years, the city trended towards industrialism. Still, Bergamo Alta remains a jewel of Northern Italy for its historic churches and wonderful mountain views.
3 Sections of Bergamo in Italy
The city of Bergamo Italy is broken into three different parts. The lower town is where you will arrive, and is much like any booming city in Italy.
If you head up the hill that overlooks town that is the Bergamo Alta also known as Citta Alta, upper town, or old town. This is where many of the best things to do in Bergamo are and where most travelers spend their time.
However, there is one more section that’s not to be missed! From Bergamo Alta, you can travel higher to San Vigilio Castle for an even better view of the city. Let’s jump in and break down what you’ll find both on and off the Bergamo Italy map!
Bergamo Lower Town
Most people go by bus or train to get to Bergamo from Milan or other cities in Italy. Upon arriving, you’ll look up at the impressive Bergamo Alta and want to climb straight up! Nonetheless, some of the best local (and affordable) Bergamo restaurants are in this lower part of town.
One section is purely a banking and shopping district, but the rest of the lower area is full of art, music clubs, and great food options. If you don’t mind walking up into old town you can actually save a lot of money staying in this section of Bergamo in Italy!
How to Get to Bergamo Alta
While the lower town has its perks, you’ll be itching to get up into the mix above to Bergamo’s upper town! Before you start your journey to the historic old town you should know there are two ways to get there.
Short Hike to Citta Alta
Since Bergamo Alta is fortified by 160 foot high walls you’ll only have a few ways in. You can start your climb at several different points, but the most scenic is by taking the old stone staircase just to the left of the Bergamo Funicular.
The stairs will lead to a ramp that takes you through the famous San Giacamo Gate. The walk up will only take about 10 minutes, but it’s certainly steep… So make sure to wear sturdy shoes!
Bergamo Alta Funicular
Just to the right of the medieval stone staircase, you’ll find the Bergamo Alta Funicular. This is a fantastic and surprisingly cheap way (under €2 euros per ticket!) to get up into Bergamo Alta.
On the weekends you may find lines here, so that’s a good time to walk instead of wait. Riding it up and walking down is also a good, and less exhausting way to experience both!
Best Things to do in Bergamo Alta
Walk Through San Giacamo Gate
One of the defining features of Bergamo in Italy is the massive San Giacamo Gate. It is one of four Venetian gates that lead into Bergamo Alta and faces the south of the city. It was built in 1593 and is made out of solid white marble.
Due to its size, it can be seen from long distances making it a great place for photographs! If you walk up instead of taking the funicular this will be your grand entrance into Bergamo Alta.
Hang Out in Piazza Vecchia
This large square opens up beautifully into the center of Bergamo Old Town. Here you’ll see people walking, sitting, and drinking while taking in the view of the Campanone clocktower above. The 12th-century Campanone tower is also one of the many places with panoramic, breathtaking views of Bergamo Italy.
You can take the lift to the top or climb the 230 steps if you so choose! There are often musical stages set up in Piazza Vecchia, and plenty of local acts singing and filling the square with people into the night.
Visit the Historic Churches
Bergamo Alta is home to many stunning churches that date all the way back to the 1100’s. It’s quite spectacular to see these religious structures built with such detail high up in old city. Below are the most famous ones to see on your visit to Bergamo in Italy!
- Santa Maria Maggiore (12th century)
- San Pancrazio (14th Century)
- San Bartolomeo and Santo Stefano Church (15th Century)
- Bergamo Cathedral (17th Century)
- Sant’Alessandro della Croce (18th Century)
Art Gallery of the Accademia Carrara
After you’ve seen some history and architecture in Bergamo, be sure to stop by this beautiful art museum. Accademia Carrara first started as an academy and gallery back in 1780. It is dedicated to paintings of the Renaissance and houses work from many world-famous Italian artists. This includes paintings by Bellini, Lotto, Botticelli, Raphael, and other legends.
Stroll Along the Bergamo Alta Walls
After you’ve experienced all the best things to do in Bergamo Alta, don’t forget to stroll the actual walls! The views are simply amazing and you can get all kinds of different angles as you walk around the upper town. On a nice day, you can even bring a picnic and sit on the grass overlooking the city and Bergamo mountains.
Bergamo Alta Eats & Treats
Bergamo Alta is filled with endless world-class restaurants and cute cafes to enjoy. While the fancy places may catch your eye, don’t skip out on the local pizza shops and bakeries. Below we’ve listed some must-try foods and a few restaurants we went into when visiting Bergamo in Italy. The only problem you’ll have is picking just one!
Polenta: Most Bergamo restaurants will have this gooey specialty, which is polenta topped with cheese and other sauces. The traditional dish is definitely worth a try if you’ve never had it.
Casoncelli: A stuffed pasta to die for and traditional to the Lombardy region. Think of a more creative and tastier version of ravioli.
Polenta e Osei: Don’t be fooled by its name. This cake isn’t actually a mound of polenta, it just looks like one!
Pizza at II Fornaio: This is the best spot in Bergamo Alta for a slice of Sicilian-style pizza. They actually cut the thick pieces with scissors and charge by weight before they heat it up. Be careful loading up the toppings because your slice can be very cheap, or you could end up with an expensive one!
Pastries at Nessi: Nessi is right near the entrance to Bergamo Alta making it the go-to pastry spot in the upper town. Just walking by the window had us salivating and we thought Brigitte was going to faint after her first bite of a Cannoli!
Gelato at La Marianna: Still starving for dessert? Well like most Italian cities you won’t have a problem finding sweet treats in Bergamo! It seemed like every other storefront had gelato and we couldn’t get enough of it. For a special experience head to La Marianna, as they claim to have invented Stracciatella ice cream.
Climbing Higher to San Vigilio Castle
After having a blast exploring Old Town all day we’d almost forgotten there’s an entire other level to see above! Just like with Bergamo Alta, you have the option to walk or take a funicular to the Bergamo Castle.
Once you get to the top level you’ll find the San Vigilio Castle. We almost missed the initial entryway, as it’s nothing more than a hole in the wall! Nevertheless, once you go inside it becomes a winding staircase to the top. As you climb out of the dark stairs you’ll see a magnificent view of Bergamo Italy and the surrounding countryside.
Seeing the 14th-century castle was cool but we were particularly blown away by the gorgeous Italian mansions and colorful houses that dot the hills. This added something special to the already mesmerizing views, and was a great photo opportunity as well!
Have any questions about visiting Citta Alta or want to share your own favorite things to do in Bergamo Italy? Let us know in the comments below!
Brigitte & Jake
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Where To Stay In Bergamo Alta
Luxury – GombitHotel– In the heart of Bergamo Alta, this super upscale hotel combines modern luxury with old Italian architecture. Enjoy your stay in the heart of Old Town with beautiful views to match.
Fun Vacation – Hotel Piazza Vecchia – What’s better than staying right near the main square? This authentic 14th-century townhouse will put you right in the middle of all the action in Bergamo Alta.
Bed & Breakfast –B&B Entro Le Mura – Nice accommodation close to the main square and many great Bergamo restaurants. Enjoy the welcoming rooms with views of the mountains and city.
Apartment – MammaMia – If you are looking for a little more space then these apartments in Bergamo Italy may be just your style.
For more hotels to stay at when visiting Bergamo Italy you can find the latest prices here!
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Italy Travel Planning
Rental Car: We use Discover Cars to explore when traveling. Consider renting a car in one city and dropping it off in another for an epic Italian road trip!
Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without protection! We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.
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