Bergamo is a city you may not have heard of before, or if you have, it’s probably because you’ve been looking for flights to Milan and have seen “Milan” Bergamo airport on the Ryanair website.
That was the only reason I’d heard of it before anyway, and when making my itinerary for my Northern Italy road trip, I hadn’t really considered visiting. That was until my dad suggested I should… and I’m so glad I did!
Where is Bergamo?
Less than hour from its more famous neighbour Milan, the city is split into 2… città bassa, the new part of town, and città alta, the old town. The old town is on top of a hill overlooking the new town, with a funicular joining the two. The funicular only costs a couple of euros for a return ticket, and is well worth it for the experience (and to save walking up the steep hill!)
I park at Parcheggio – Piazza Libertà which is only a short walk to the funicular station, where I make my ascent to città alta along with many other travellers (so much for Italy’s best kept secret!)
Is Bergamo Worth Visiting?
Yes, yes and yes again. I actually preferred Bergamo over Milan!
At the centre of the old town is Piazza Vecchia, the main town square. Surrounded by beautiful buildings, cafés and sculptures, it’s a great place to start your visit.
After exploring every corner of the square, I walk through the arches of the Palazzo della Ragione and I’m met by the beautiful sight of the Cappella Colleoni and Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, with the Duomo di Bergamo hiding just around the corner. It’s a spectacular walk and is well worth the visit alone!
All are free to enter… the Basilica is absolutely stunning… huge arched ceilings gilded in gold with beautiful renaissance paintings, and resplendent rich woodwork used for the altar and confessionals. The Duomo cathedral in contrast is a simpler design… that’s not to say it’s not beautiful, but less opulence and more elegance is the style here.
And the Cappella Colleoni, a 15th century chapel and mausoleum, is much smaller in comparison to the two and no photography is allowed in here… but the detailing on the stonework inside is incredible and must be seen!
Also not to be missed on the gates outside the Capella Colleoni are the testicles… yes you read that right… the Colleoni family coat of arms are adorned by 3 testicles! The chapel was built as a shrine to Bartolomeo Colleoni, a 15th century Italian captain-general who had 3 testicles, and he was so proud he added them to the family coat of arms! It’s now considered good luck to give them a rub when you visit, so much so that they gleam in contrast to the rest of the gate!!
Leaving the centre of the old town I roam around the narrow-cobbled streets and escape the crowds, and stumble across somewhere I hadn’t read about before visiting.
Up an inconspicuous alley is a rather unassuming looking building with huge wooden doors. One of the doors is ajar so I decide to investigate… and I’m met by an incredible view!
Entering a small courtyard which feels very Romanesque, the view opens to look over the city and to the Po Valley beyond! The Palazzo Terzi is an old aristocratic mansion which can only be visited by prior group reservations, but definitely add it to your list and try the door if it’s closed!
I wander the streets for a while longer and make my way to the opposite side of the città alta to the Porta San Lorenzo, an ancient city gate in the Venetian City Walls. The view from here is incredible again, looking out across the valley and towards the surrounding mountains.
My time in Bergamo is almost at an end, but as I’m now on the edge of town, I decide to skip the funicular and follow the road back down into the città bassa and explore some of the streets here.
Before heading back to the car I grab some lunch from T-Bakery which I enjoy in the piazza san marco garden, with the view of the città alta high above me.
And with that my visit to Bergamo is over… I’m back on the road heading to my next stop…
Continue the journey of my Northern Italy road trip… Exploring Lombardy in Northern Italy
Top 3 Things to do in Bergamo
1. Visit the Basilica, Duomo and Cappella Colleoni… ok that’s 3 things in 1, but they’re all next door to each other and free so you can’t just see one of them!
2. Walk through the door of Palazzo Terzi to experience the view of the valley beyond
3. Ride the 120 year old funicular