In this travel guide we visit Bergamo, a beautiful and historic hilltop town in Italy’s northern region of Lombardy.
Flying to Bergamo
Just like most other people who visit Bergamo, I also arrived on a low-cost flight.
I found a cheap flight from Bucharest to Bergamo with Wizz Air for just €22 to start my trip through Italy and Switzerland.
Bergamo Orio al Serio Airport is a major hub for Ryanair and many other low-cost airlines such as Wizz Air fly there as well.
Most of these low-cost airlines call the airport Milan Bergamo – even though Milan is 45 kilometres away while the city of Bergamo is only 4 kilometres away from the airport.
Indeed, many passengers use the airport as a low-cost alternative to the main Milan airports of Malpensa and Linate and immediately jump on a bus or train down to Lombardy’s biggest city after they arrive.
In my opinion that’s a real pity as Bergamo is a destination that is certainly as beautiful and interesting as Milan.
Into the city
It’s remarkably easy to get from Bergamo Airport into the city as there are is a frequent bus service with tickets costing just €2.60.
The airport bus heads to Bergamo’s train station in the Lower Town – with most buses continuing uphill to the Upper Town (Città Alta) where most of the sights are.
I however exited the bus in the Lower Town, which is the main commercial area of the city.
The main sight here is the Porta Nuova, two symmetrical collanaded buildings in neoclassical style at either side of the road.
If you want to reach Bergamo’s Upper Town you can take a bus or simply walk uphill.
However, the most fun way to reach the Upper Town is by funicular.
The Funicolare Città Alta (Upper Town Funicular) links the Lower Town of Bergamo with the Upper Town.
The Upper Town Funicular was built in 1887 and has since become a beloved transport link among the citizens of Bergamo.
Once you reach the Upper Town funicular station, make sure you turn back to enter the bakery café inside the station as from here you have some lovely views over the Lower Town.
Into the Upper Town
Once you exit the Upper Town funicular station you will find yourself on the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe (shoes market square) as this area was used to sell shoes since the early 15th century.
From here, a street called Via Gombito will take you right into the heart of the Upper Town.
The Upper Town is Bergamo’s historic old town centre and it’s a beautiful area to take a casual stroll.
The winding streets and small piazzas (public squares) in the Upper Town are highly picturesque.
Of course, you can’t travel to Italy without stopping for coffee and a pastry at one of the many local cafés, of which you will find plenty in the Upper Town of Bergamo.
I visited Pasticceria Cavour, where I enjoyed my espresso and pastry the Italian way: Standing at the bar.
Piazza Vecchia (Old Square) is the heart of the Upper Town of Bergamo.
This wonderful square is flanked by some of the most important buildings of the city such as the 12th century Palazzo della Ragione, a magnificent palace which served as town hall and courthouse throughout history.
Another landmark on this square is the Campanone, a 12th century tower.
For a small fee you can climb to the top of the Campanone from where you have some fine views over the Upper Town.
Directly behind the Palazzo della Ragione stands Bergamo’s Cathedral, which is dedicated to Saint Alexander (Sant’Alessandro).
Make sure you also take a look at the octagonal baptistery, which can be found across the square.
Right behind the cathedral you can find a church that is perhaps even more magnificent.
The Basilica of Saint Mary Major (Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore) was built in Lombard Romanesque style, although the interior of this church is baroque.
However, it’s the richly decorated Colleoni Chapel attached to the façade of this church that steals the show.
At the far end of the Upper Town of Bergamo you can find the citadel, which is also well-worth a visit.
You enter the citadel through the Campanella Tower, after which you will find yourself on the Piazza della Cittadella (Citadel Square).
This courtyard with its Romanesque vaults dates back to 1379 and the surrounding buildings used to house the local military garrison.
The citadel nowadays houses two museums, the Archaeology Museum as well as the Science Museum.
If you exit the citadel at the other side, you will find yourself at the edge of the Upper Town.
From the roundabout, you have a beautiful view over some of the verdant hills surrounding Bergamo.
However, even better views await you when you walk through the Porta Sant’Alessandro (Saint Alexander Gate) and head towards San Vigilio Hill.
San Vigilio Funicular
Although you can walk to the top of San Vigilio Hill, it’s much more fun to take the funicular.
You can find the lower funicular station just behind the Porta Sant’Alessandro.
Make sure you sit or stand at the left side of the funicular when going up for the best views over the surrounding area.
Of course, if you stand all the way towards the back you can enjoy some equally great views back over the track and the Upper Town.
Exploring San Vigilio
San Vigilio is a beautiful part of Bergamo to stroll around, especially so on a sunny day.
From San Vigilio Hill, you have some sprawling views over the entire city of Bergamo and the surrounding countryside.
The most interesting sights on San Vigilio Hill are the local church and the ruins of an old castle.
Parts of the fortifications of San Vigilio Castle such as some of its bastions and walls are still relatively intact and have been turned into a pleasant park.
You’ll also find a few appealing bars and restaurants on San Vigilio, making this area of Bergamo a great place for lunch or an Aperol Spritz or two.
After a nice time exploring San Vigilio I headed back towards the funicular station for the ride downhill.
This time I stood right behind the funicular driver, watching the beautiful views in front of us as we approached the Upper Town.
Back in Bergamo’s Upper Town there was still one major sight I had to visit.
The entire Upper Town of Bergamo is surrounded by 16th century Venetian walls, casemates and bastions.
They are rather more peaceful these days as the fortifications have been turned into a public park.
From the old bastions you have some formidable views over the Lower Town of Bergamo.
Porta San Giacomo
The most impressive part of the city walls of Bergamo is arguably the beautiful white marble gate called Porta San Giacomo.
San Giacomo Gate is adorned with the winged lion of Venice, which symbolises Saint Mark the Evangelist.
From this gate, its walkway and the surrounding bastions you have a stunning view over the Lower Town.
Right opposite San Giacomo Gate you can find the 18th century Medolago Albani Palace.
Although there are plenty of good quality restaurants to choose from in both the Upper and the Lower Town of Bergamo, my favourite restaurant to visit is Mimi La Casa dei Sapori.
Mimi’s buttered ravioli is absolutely divine and their desserts are equally amazing.
As the place is popular, you are well-advised to make a reservation when you visit Mimi at peak lunch or dinner time.
A Bergamo speciality that you have try when you visit Bergamo on your travels through Italy is Polenta e Osèi.
Although it may look like a scoop of polenta, it’s actually a sweet sponge cake.
You can find the treat in cafés and pasticcerie all over the city.
Back to the station
After a great visit to Bergamo it was time to head back to the train station to continue my travels.
From Bergamo’s railway station you have great train connections to Brescia, Milan as well as Lake Como, where I would be heading next.
Although it’s often overshadowed by its bigger and more famous neighbour of Milan, Bergamo is a beautiful place to visit and a fantastic travel destination in its own right.
Especially Bergamo’s historic Upper Town with its winding streets, small piazzas and beautiful churches is a great place to discover.
The formidable fortifications surrounding the Upper Town make for another highly interesting sight.
Make sure you also ride Bergamo’s famous funiculars when you visit the city.
These funiculars can bring you all the way up to San Vigilio Hill from where you have some fantastic views over Bergamo.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Bergamo: A Visit to Lombardy’s Beautiful Hilltop Town (current chapter)
2. Travelling From Bergamo to Milan by Train
3. From Milan to Varenna and Tirano By Trenord Regional Train
4. A Varenna Visit: A Day Trip to Lake Como’s Most Beautiful Town
5. Tirano: The Italian Gateway to the Bernina Railway
6. Bernina Express Train: Guide to Switzerland’s Most Scenic Railway
7. Review: Swiss InterCity (IC) Train Chur to Zurich and Basel
8. From Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss ICN Tilting Train
9. Cheap Geneva Hotel: Stay Across the Border in Annemasse!
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **