Bergamo: A Visit to Lombardy’s Beautiful Hilltop Town

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.

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Boarding my Wizz Air flight to Bergamo at Bucharest Otopeni Airport. ©Paliparan
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View over Lake Iseo from the plane. ©Paliparan
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Landing at Bergamo Airport. ©Paliparan
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Arrival at Bergamo Airport, which is a major hub for low-cost airlines such as Ryanair. ©Paliparan

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.

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The Porta Nuova in the Lower Town of Bergamo, with the Upper Town being visible in the background on the hilltop. ©Paliparan
local market
Local market. ©Paliparan
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Lower Town. ©Paliparan
upper town view
Walking towards the Upper Town. ©Paliparan


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.

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The Lower Town station where you can take the funicular to the Upper Town of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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Departing the Lower Town funicular station. ©Paliparan
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Passing by the funicular heading down. ©Paliparan
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View from the funicular over the Lower Town. ©Paliparan
The Upper Town station of the funicular. ©Paliparan
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Upper Town funicular station. ©Paliparan
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The Upper Town station has a bakery with a nice view over the Lower Town. ©Paliparan
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View from the café inside the Upper Station of the funicular. ©Paliparan
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View over the Lower Town. ©Paliparan

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.

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From the funicular station, I headed straight into the Upper Town of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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Upper Town. ©Paliparan
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The Upper Town is known for its winding cobblestoned streets and small piazzas. ©Paliparan
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Upper Town street. ©Paliparan
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Beautiful street in the Upper Town. ©Paliparan
Café pasticceria cavour bergamo
I stopped at a local café to get some coffee. ©Paliparan
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I certainly enjoyed my coffee and pastry. ©Paliparan

Piazza Vecchia

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.

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Bergamo’s beautiful Piazza Vecchia. ©Paliparan
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Palazzo della Ragione and the Campanone. ©Paliparan
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Bars and restaurants on Piazza Vecchia. ©Paliparan
The Campanone. ©Paliparan
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View over the Upper Town of Bergamo from the top of the Campanone. ©Paliparan
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Some more beautiful views from the top of the tower. ©Paliparan

Bergamo churches

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.

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Bergamo Cathedral. ©Paliparan
The baptistery of the cathedral. ©Paliparan
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Colleoni Chapel and the Basilica of Saint Mary Major as seen from the Campanone. ©Paliparan
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Colleoni Chapel. ©Paliparan


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.

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Bergamo Upper Town street. ©Paliparan
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Walking through the lovely cobblestoned streets of the Upper Town. ©Paliparan
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Nun walking in the streets of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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Upper Town piazza. ©Paliparan
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Campanella Tower. ©Paliparan
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Piazza della Cittadella. ©Paliparan

Verdant hills

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.

The Porta Sant’Alessandro at the far end of the Upper Town. ©Paliparan
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Colourful newspaper kiosk. ©Paliparan
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View over the surrounding hills. ©Paliparan

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.

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The lower station of the San Vigilio Funicular. ©Paliparan
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Climbing up on San Vigilio Hill. ©Paliparan
Approaching the upper funicular station. ©Paliparan
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Arrival at the upper station. ©Paliparan
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The upper funicular station on San Vigilio Hill. ©Paliparan
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The San Vigilio Funicular with Bergamo’s Upper Town being visible in the background. ©Paliparan

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.

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San Vigilio is an attractive area of Bergamo to explore. ©Paliparan
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View from San Vigilio over the Upper Town of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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San Vigilio street. ©Paliparan
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Castello San Vigilio. ©Paliparan
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San Vigilio Church. ©Paliparan
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View from San Vigilio Hill over the surrounding countrysied. ©Paliparan
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San Vigilio view. ©Paliparan
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Enjoying an Aperol Spritz in one of the bars on San Vigilio Hill. ©Paliparan

Back downhill

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.

Taking the funicular back downhill. ©Paliparan
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Watching over the funicular driver. ©Paliparan
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Heading back down from San Vigilio to the Upper Town. ©Paliparan

Bergamo walls

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.

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When you visit Bergamo you should definitely take a walk along the old city walls and fortifications. ©Paliparan
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The walls protecting the Upper Town of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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The fortifications are basically a double set of walls and bastions that made for a formidable defensive structure. ©Paliparan
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One of the old bastions. ©Paliparan
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Bergamo’s fortifications have been turned into a pleasant park with some great views over the city. ©Paliparan
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View from the defensive walls. ©Paliparan
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On top of the old town wall of Bergamo. ©Paliparan

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.

Porta San Giacomo Bergamo
Porta San Giacomo. ©Paliparan
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San Giacomo Gate is made out of fine white marble. ©Paliparan
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View from the gate over the Lower Town. ©Paliparan
The walkway that connects San Giacomo Gate and the Upper Town with the Lower Town of Bergamo. ©Paliparan
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View from the fortifications towards the walkway. ©Paliparan
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San Giacomo Gate. ©Paliparan
Medolago Albani Palace
Medolago Albani Palace. ©Paliparan


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.

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Mimi La Casa dei Sapori. ©Paliparan
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Buttered ravioli at Mimi. ©Paliparan
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Delicious cake as dessert. ©Paliparan

Bergamo speciality

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.

polenta e osei
Polenta e Osèi. ©Paliparan

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.

bergamo train station
Bergamo train station. ©Paliparan


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 **

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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