14 Top Tourist Attractions in Bergamo
The first thing a traveler arriving in Bergamo notices is its topography, a perfectly flat lower town that rises steeply and suddenly to the 16th-century bastions of the old town on the crest of its hill. The contrast is even sharper because the straight lower streets are lined with Neoclassical and modern buildings, while the old town's narrow lanes wind haphazardly among Romanesque and Renaissance structures. The old upper city - Citta Alta - is where most of the tourist attractions are found.
The two parts of Bergamo are connected by a funicular, a much easier approach to the old citadel than the steep, winding roads at either end. But the monumental gates through which these roads enter the old city are worth a look. Two of them show the Lion of St. Mark, a reminder that Bergamo, like much of northern Italy, was once part of the Venetian Republic.
To be sure of finding the best places to visit, use this handy list of the top attractions in Bergamo.
See also: Where to Stay in Bergamo
1. Citta Alta
Most of the top things to do in Bergamo are in the Citta Alta, the old town, with its medieval and Renaissance buildings tightly clustered at the top of a rock outcrop. The best way to get there is on the funicular, which brings you to Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe. This small square leads into the narrow stone-paved Via Gombito, in which lies a patrician tower-house, the Torre di Gombito, built around 1100.
Below, on Via di Porta Dipinta, stand the beautiful churches of San Michele al Pozzo Bianco and Sant'Andrea (inside the latter is a Madonna Enthroned with Saints by Moretto). Lined by patrician buildings with small shops on their street level, Via Gombito leads on to the beautiful Piazza Vecchia.
2. Piazza Vecchia
A remarkable and beautiful assembly of patrician houses and the Palazzo della Ragione (city hall) frame this square at the heart of the old town. The 12th-century Palazzo della Ragione's stone staircase and loggia of three Gothic arches (largely rebuilt in the mid-1500s) forms the piazza's upper side, adjoining the tall tower, Torre del Comune.
The lower side is bounded by the late-Renaissance Palazzo Nuovo, housing the municipal library. In the center stands the Contarini Fountain, decorated by lions, and another Lion of St. Mark looks down from above. A café in the upper corner makes a good spot for appreciating the scene.
3. Santa Maria Maggiore (Basilica of St. Mary Major)
Through the archway at the top of Piazza Vecchia is Piazza del Duomo (cathedral square), and together they contain some of Bergamo's most impressive architectural treasures. The church of Santa Maria Maggiore, begun in 1137 as a Romanesque basilica, has a stepped-back tower over the crossing and an ornate choir.
Doorways at either side of the church are guarded by lions under beautiful Gothic canopies (1353 and 1360). Inside are fine Renaissance choir stalls, Baroque stucco work, and 16th-century tapestries on the walls of the side-aisles and choir. Local admirers still leave fresh flowers on the tomb of the composer Donizetti, a Bergamo native buried here.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Bergamo
4. Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel)
As you step into Piazza Duomo, you can't miss Bergamo's most striking façade adjoining Santa Maria Maggiore. The Cappella Colleoni is a masterpiece of early Lombard Renaissance style, with a lavishly decorated façade of multicolored inlaid marble.
Built 1470-76 as a family shrine to house the tomb of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni and his daughter Medea, the chapel was designed by Giovanni Amadeo, who also designed the tombs inside. The ceiling paintings by Giambattista Tiepolo were added in 1732.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Bergamo
5. Art Gallery of the Accademia Carrara
Reached by a stepped lane leading down from Porta Sant'Agostino is a palace housing the Accademia Carrara, one of Italy's premier art museums. At any time you visit, about 500 paintings and about 60 sculptures are on display, selected from the museum's more than 1,500 paintings and 130 sculptures.
The collections include works by Italian artists Lorenzo Lotto, Palma il Vecchio, Giovanni Battista Moroni, Vittore Carpaccio, Jacopo and Giovanni Bellini, Andrea Mantegna, Girolamo Romani Romanino, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Titian, Paolo Veronese, Raffael Santi, Sandro Botticelli, Luca Signorelli, and Carlo Crivelli, as well as works by Albrecht Dürer and Anton van Dyck.
Address: Piazza dell'Accademia (Via San Tommaso), Bergamo
6. Cinta Muraria and the City Gates
More than four kilometers of walls built by the Venetians surround the old city, known as the Cinta Muraria. Viale delle Mura follows them from Porta Sant'Alessandro, near the Donizetti Museum, past Porta San Giacomo, the most handsome of the town gates, and on past the church of Sant'Agostino to Porta Sant'Agostino. From this gate, Viale Vittorio Emanuele II descends past the lower station of the funicular and into the center of the lower town.
The impressive wall system, which includes 14 bastions, 100 cannon embrasures, four gates, two armories, and underground passages and tunnels, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
7. Cathedral of Sant'Alessandro
At one end of Piazza del Duomo, at right angles to Santa Maria Maggiore, is the cathedral of Sant'Alessandro, built in 1459, and with a Neoclassical façade and dome added in 1889. Inside are paintings by Tiepolo, Previtali, and Moroni and beautiful Baroque choir stalls.
Along with several silver reliquaries, the church treasury displays the Tiara of the beatified Pope John XXIII, adorned with pearls, diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. The tiara, a chalice, and several other objects belonging to him are displayed in the Chapel of St. Vincent and St. John XXIII.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Bergamo
To the right of the Cappella Colleoni is the Baptistery, an unusual octagonal building dating from 1340. It was originally inside Santa Maria Maggiore, then taken down in 1661 and stored, reassembled in 1856, and again torn down and re-erected here in 1898.
The statues surrounding it, representing the Virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Fortitude, Justice, Prudence, Temperance, and Patience, date to the 14th century. In its center is a Gothic baptismal font, and an altar behind the Baptistery has a marble statue of St. John the Baptist.
Address: Piazza Duomo, Bergamo
9. Museo Civico di Scienze Naturali (Natural Science Museum)
From the Piazza Vecchia, the narrow Via Colleoni runs northwest to the Citadel, which houses an excellent museum with exhibits on natural science, ethnography, paleontology, and archeology.
As you enter, you'll see a large reconstructed mammoth, introducing exhibits relating to the early 20th-century discovery of a large cache of mammoth and other remains in the nearby Petosino plain.
The museum's Hall of Mammals displays finds from this region, which is very rich in fossils. In addition to the natural sciences and archaeology, the museum has more than 1,000 ethnographic artifacts, most from collections of early travelers to Africa and the Americas, interpreted for artistic and cultural qualities, not just as curiosities.
Sensory features throughout the museum make it especially well adapted for visitors with impaired sight. Audio guides are available in English.
Address: Piazza Cittadella 10, Bergamo
Official site: http://www.museoscienzebergamo.it
10. Piazza Matteotti
The center of Bergamo's Lower Town (Città Bassa) is the Piazza Matteotti, with beautiful gardens, parks, and monuments, adjoining which is the imposing Piazza Vittorio Veneto, with the Torre dei Caduti, a war memorial. Opposite are the twin neoclassical gatehouses of the Porta Nuova, from which the wide Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII runs south to the train station.
This street and the Viale Vittoria Emanuele II, which leads from the Piazza Vittorio Veneto to the upper town, form Bergamo's principal traffic artery. East of Piazza Matteotti, in the busy avenue called the Sentierone, stands the Teatro Donizetti, and in the east side of the Piazza Cavour is a monument to Gaetano Donizetti.
11. Rocca Museum
From the Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe, Via alla Rocca, to the right, ascends to the Rocca, a 14th-century bastion that contains the Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza. This museum contains documents and exhibits about the struggle for independence in Italy, when the city of Bergamo was freed from Austrian rule by the army of Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The castle keep and the adjoining Parco della Rimembranza (Remembrance Park) are the best places to go for 360-degree views of the city and surrounding plains and the mountains to the north.
Address: Via alla Rocca, Bergamo
Official site: www.bergamoestoria.it
12. Museo Donizettiano (Donizetti Museum)
Music lovers may want to see memorabilia from the life of Bergamo-born Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), one of the world's five most performed composers. Along with Donizetti, the museum pays homage to other Italian composers and musicians, including Rossini, Bellini, and Verdi.
The palace that holds the museum is itself worth seeing, ornately decorated with frescoes by Borromini. Concerts are held in its Liberty-style (art nouveau) Sala Piatti. It is occasionally possible to visit the house on Via Borgo Canale where the Donizetti family lived and raised their five children in two tiny basement rooms.
Address: Via Arena 9, Bergamo
13. Day Trip to San Pellegrino Terme
In the foothills of the Bergamo Alps, the spa town of San Pellegrino Terme is a half-hour drive from Bergamo, and widely known for the sparkling natural spring water that is bottled here. The old spa town attracts visitors because of its beautiful surroundings in the wooded Brembo valley and its turn-of-the-20th-century architecture.
Its alkaline mineral water comes from three springs on the right bank of the Brembo, which flows through the middle of the town. From the spa, a funicular climbs to San Pellegrino Vetta, a once-fashionable cluster of Liberty-style (Art Nouveau) villas.
14. Faunistic Park Le Cornelle
Covering an area of 100,000 square meters just outside central Bergamo, Faunistic Park Le Cornelle is a zoo with some amusement park features. Its primary focus is on the animals, which are kept in naturalistic habitats.
The Cheetah Oasis is a large area with grass, trees, streams, and waterfalls where these big cats can run and move freely, and in the park's Savannah, visitors can safely watch zebra, rhino, giraffe, and other African wildlife in a natural setting.
Animals in the park also include elephants, rare leopards, giant turtles, and tropical birds. There is an aquarium and a large dolphin exhibit.
Address: Via Cornelle 16, Valbrembo
Official site: http://www.lecornelle.it/?lang=en
Where to Stay in Bergamo for Sightseeing
Bergamo's medieval and Renaissance upper town (Citta Alta) and 19th-century lower town (Citta Bassa) are at separate levels but close and connected by a funicular. Either makes a convenient base for sightseeing, as there are multiple tourist attractions and things to do in each. Here are some highly rated hotels in Bergamo:
- Luxury Hotels: Relais San Vigilio al Castello sits surrounded by gardens at the highest point in the city, reached from the old town by a funicular or by car (the hotel has an electric vehicle charging station). Modern rooms have fireplaces and views of either the city or the mountains; breakfast is included in the rate.
With free Wi-Fi and breakfast, the boutique Petronilla Hotel is in the lower city between the rail station and Citta Alta, a 20-minute walk from the funicular and a two-minute walk to restaurants. Some rooms have small balconies overlooking the hotel's beautiful courtyard.
Facing the beautiful park of Piazzale della Repubblica, near the funicular to the old town, the Excelsior San Marco Hotel is in a perfect location for attractions and restaurants. Breakfast is included, and there's a rooftop garden, as well as a fitness center with a workout room.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On the main street, a five-minute walk from the train station and 10 minutes from the funicular to the old town, BEST WESTERN PREMIER Cappello d'Oro has smart modern rooms, a fitness center, and green credentials. It's less than a five-minute walk to a choice of restaurants.
Wi-Fi and breakfast are both included at the green-certified NH Bergamo, five minutes from the train station and just off the main street between the station and old town. Rooms are soundproofed, and allergy-free rooms are available.
On Piazza Vecchia, in the heart of the atmospheric old city, the Albergo Il Sole has comfortable, old-fashioned rooms with free internet and a free breakfast buffet. The hotel has its own popular restaurant, and several others are nearby.
- Budget Hotels: On the main street of the lower town near the rail station, Mercure Bergamo Palazzo Dolci is an older hotel with modernized rooms equipped with free Wi-Fi, electric kettles, hair dryers, and safes.
Tastefully decorated rooms at La Castellana, a boutique hotel in the lower town between the rail station and funicular, also have electric tea kettles and safes. Family rooms and apartments with kitchenettes are available, but may be some distance from the hotel itself.
Near the train station, on the street from the autostrada and with free parking, Hotel Citta dei Mille is in a convenient location for arriving by car. The décor is dated, but the rooms are well kept, and breakfast is included.
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Things to Do near Bergamo: Bergamo lies in the heart of one of the most popular areas of Northern Italy, between Lake Como and Lake Garda, both surrounded by villas to tour and easily explored by regular boat services. Lake Garda is known for its variety of water sports, especially sailing and windsurfing.
Places to Visit from Bergamo: On the way to Lake Garda, stop to visit the exceptional Roman attractions of Brescia, and only a short distance from the lake is romantic Verona, fictional home of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. In Verona, you'll find another of northern Italy's top ancient sites, the well-preserved Roman Arena.