11 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Brescia & Easy Day Trips
A quirk of geography has kept Brescia one of northern Italy's hidden secrets. Brescia's problem is that it's close to so many "must-see" places to visit. With Lake Garda less than 30 kilometers away, and Lake Como, Milan, Verona, and Venice all within easy reach, tourists tend to overlook Brescia's many attractions. Take advantage of this chance to mingle with locals as you walk through the forum down a street that was once part of the major Roman route from Bologna through the Alps. And don't miss one of Italy's finest historical museums, encompassing an original Roman villa. A castle and building on the Piazza della Loggia hint of its time under Venice's empire, and some beautiful Renaissance architecture is the frosting on Brescia's delicious cake. Discover more things to see and do in and around the city with our list of the top tourist attractions in Brescia.
See also: Where to Stay in Brescia
1. Civici Musei d'Arte e Storia Santa Giulia (Museum of Art and History)
If you have time to see nothing else in Brescia, walk from the center down Via dei Musei through the old Roman Forum and its ancient sights to this astonishing museum complex housed in a former Benedictine monastery. Beneath the convent and fitted with walkways for viewing, are Roman homes with mosaic floors. Among the ancient artifacts, which include altars and architectural fragments from the first century BC to the 5th century AD, is an outstanding two-meter bronze Winged Victory. The jeweled 8th-century gold Cross of Desiderio highlights the jewelry and gold work in the Treasury. Art and architecture from Brescia's medieval and Venetian eras complete the picture into the late Gothic and Renaissance periods. Don't miss the Lombard and Romanesque churches and the sumptuously frescoed Nuns' Choir. Few museums have this range, so well displayed, and rarely can a museum give such a complete and compelling picture of two millennia of a city's story.
Address: Via Musei 81, Brescia
2. Tempio Capitolino
Rising on a hillside, and originally reached by a pair of stairways, the temple must have made a dramatic background to the hub of Roman activity. Today, only six of the Corinthian columns stand, their original white marble parts contrasting clearly with the 19th-century brick restoration that holds them in place. Built in AD 73, in the reign of Vespasian, and dedicated to Jupiter, Juno, and Minerva, the imposing temple has its three cellae (chambers) intact, where you can see the original altars and floors of colored marble. Hourly tours take 50 minutes and have a multimedia introduction (available in English).
Address: Via Musei 57, Brescia
3. Piazza del Foro and Roman Theater
Stand in this small square and you can almost picture yourself here in the first centuries AD, when the Romans were building grand classic buildings in their northern city of Brixia. This was the busy forum, and enough impressive remains survive to give an idea of its grandeur. You are standing on part of the Roman main road, the Decumanus Maximus, which is now Via dei Musei; look for the original pavement with shop fronts excavated at one side of the square. Next to the restored Capitolium rising above, you can see the 3rd-century Teatro Romano and remnants of the Roman East Gate. Remains of the first-century basilica are integrated into a wall on adjacent Piazza Labus.
4. Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral) and Rotonda
Side by side, in dramatic contrast, stand the old and new cathedrals, the latter built in the 17th-century, with a central dome added in 1825. Far more interesting is its predecessor, nicknamed the Rotonda for its drum-like shape. Inside this massive 11th- to 12th-century cathedral, look for a carved red marble sarcophagus; carved wooden choir stalls; and stairways leading down into the crypt, built in the 9th to 11th centuries as part of the first basilica. Look for bits of Roman stonework that were recycled to build it.
Address: Piazza Paolo VI, Brescia
A paved walkway leads up through gardens to Brescia's castle, rising above the historic center. The stronghold of the powerful Visconti family, the castle has been fortified since the 13th century, but the grand entrance and drawbridge were added, along with its massive outer ramparts, during the four centuries when the Venetian Republic's rule extended to Brescia and beyond. Today, it houses the Museo delle Armi L. Marzoli (Armament Museum) and Museo del Risorgimento, with exhibits on Italy's independence movement of the mid-1800s.
Address: Via Castello 9, Brescia
6. Piazza della Loggia
Among the most picturesque squares in northern Italy, Piazza della Loggia hints of Brescia's Venetian history, with 15th-century colonnades by Sansovino and Palladio. The graceful Loggia (Town Hall) at its west end was begun in Early Renaissance style in 1492 and not fully completed until 1674, with windows by Palladio. Opposite, above a long colonnade, is a giant 1581 clock, topped by two 'Macc de le ure' (crazy time keepers) made of wood and covered in metal. The long palazzo on the south side, Monte di Pietà, has a lovely Venetian-style loggia above its entrance. The square and nearby Via X Giornate are a popular places for shopping in Brescia.
7. Santa Maria della Carità
In a place so characterized by Roman and Renaissance eras, it is a surprise to step into Santa Maria della Carità, which locals call simply La Carità. It is unabashedly Baroque, with gold-surrounded altarpieces and its walls alive with frescoes. These rise to a crescendo in the dome, where they create the illusion of lavish architectural features. But it's all trompe-l'oeil, designed to fool the eye. The columns on the portal, like those on the gate to the Broletto, were salvaged from the demolished ancient Basilica of San Pietro de Dom, for which they had in turn been salvaged from an even earlier Roman building.
Address: Via dei Musei, Brescia
8. Broletto and Piazza Paolo VI
Facing onto Piazza Paolo VI beside the Duomo Nuovo, and contrasting almost as sharply with its 17th-century polish as the Rotonda on the other side, is the 12th-century Broletto. This was the old Town Hall, with the square Tower of the Poncarali added about 100 years later. The pillars at Porta Orientale, the entrance to the Broletto, are made from Egyptian granite. They date from the Roman era, and were formerly the entrance to yet another cathedral, the demolished San Pietro de Dom. A clock inside in the courtyard was also salvaged from the former church. Piazza Paolo VI is a popular gathering place, with sidewalk cafes lining one side with good views of the Broletto and the old and new cathedrals.
Address: Piazza Paolo VI, Brescia
9. Brescia Underground
On your Brescia tourist map, you'll see the river Mella flowing along the western side of city. What you won't see are the multitude of underground streams and channels flowing underneath its streets. Three centuries ago, these were open watercourses that were crucial to the city's industry and economy. Gradually they were bridged, built over and hidden. Their existence was largely forgotten until Brescia Underground, a scientific and educational organization dedicated to researching these, began stirring up public interest in Brescia's hidden history. You can see the results of their work in the 13 signposts around the city detailing (in Italian and English) the location and history of some of these. In Via San Faustino, you can look down into one through a reinforced glass manhole. Brescia Underground also offers two tours, one mostly above ground describing the history of the watercourses, and a longer tour in which you can don a helmet and boots to explore the actual tunnels and underground streams.
Official site: www.bresciaunderground.com/english
10. Santa Maria dei Miracoli
The little church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli was damaged in World War II bombing and significantly restored inside, but its remarkable façade was covered in scaffolding at the time of the bombing and remained intact. The elegant Early Renaissance portico and façade are covered in intricately carved marble reliefs dating to the 15th century. The church gets its name and dedication from a fresco of the Madonna and Child in front of a house that stood on the site. At the time of the plague in the late 1400s the fresco was rumored to have miraculous powers and created such a stir that the Catholic hierarchy bought the property and constructed the church.
Address: Corso Martiri de la Libertá, Brescia
11. Teatro Grande
South of the Duomo, on busy Corso Zanardelli, the 18th-century theater of Teatro Grande has a full schedule of concerts, ballet, opera, drama, and music festivals. It's worth attending a performance just to see the magnificent auditorium with its deep-coffered ceiling, gold embellishments, and tiers of red plush boxes. In July and August Teatro Grande presents free opera concerts throughout the province of Brescia featuring famous arias, as well as some lesser known ones, performed in villas, castles, and churches.
Address: Corso Zanardelli 9a, Brescia
Official site: http://www.teatrogrande.it/en/
Where to Stay in Brescia for Sightseeing
We recommend these highly rated hotels and guesthouses in Brescia with easy access to the top sights in town:
- B&B Corso Matteotti 62: charming B&B, central location, wonderful hosts, tasty breakfast, comfortable rooms.
- Hotel Ambasciatori: mid-range pricing, friendly staff, walk to the old town, complimentary breakfast, fitness room.
- Hotel Master: affordable rates, convenient location, clean rooms, free parking.
- Le Muse Bed and Breakfast: budget B&B, old town location, welcoming owner, contemporary decor.
Day Trips from Brescia
Lago d'Iseo (Lake Iseo)
This beautiful Alpine lake has several interesting towns around its shore, including the little port of Iseo, where a 12th-century Romanesque church and a small castle are worth a stop. But the lake's most striking feature is the thickly-forested Monte Isola, an island that rises steeply to nearly 609 meters, crowned by the pilgrimage church of the Madonna della Ceriola. Views from the church reach to the Alps. Take the little ferry from Sulzano, on the eastern shore, to the tiny fishing village of Peschiera Maraglio, which clings to the island's steep shore.
Incisioni Rupestri di Naquane (National Park of Rock Art)
North of Lake Iseo, the Val Camonica (Camonica Valley) is littered with prehistoric rock engravings depicting the daily life of the people who lived here in the Paleolithic era (8,000-5,000 BC). Naquane National Park at Capo di Ponte is one of several sites where you can see these carvings, which are grouped as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the best one for interpretive information and easily accessible viewing. The carvings are on exposed rocks and ledges scattered throughout the site.
Address: Capo di Ponte
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Places to Visit near Brescia: In the heart of Italy's northern lakes region, Brescia is a good starting point for a driving tour around Lake Garda, less than 40 kilometers away. The hidden gem of Lake Iseo is just to the north, and farther west are the villas, gardens, and other attractions of Lake Como. On the way to Lake Como, you can stop to see the historic sites in Bergamo, only 50 kilometers from Brescia.
Exploring Northern Italy: Once you've seen these lakes, you may want to visit the lakeside villages and gardens of Lake Maggiore. But if you long more for urban pleasures, take a look at our suggestions in our article on the Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Milan.