Bergamo is a city located in Lombardy, 40 kilometers or 25 miles northeast of Milan, nestled in the part of Italy where the landmass begins to rise to the Alps. It’s one of the cities in northern Italy where scenic views start to appear.
Its landscape defines the city’s geography in two parts. First is the modern lower town (Citta Bassa), located in the flatlands, and the medieval citadel (Citta Alta), situated on a hilltop. Having slightly scenic views and being home to several museums and historical structures, people often describe Bergamo as a city of rare beauty, an undiscovered gem of Italy.
According to the numbers, Bergamo is the second most visited city in Lombardy, next to Milan. The statistics are compelling, but is it really worth it? What are the reasons why visit Bergamo?
In this blog post, I share my discoveries about Bergamo which will help you decide if to visit Bergamo or not. These ten things, the reasons why you will visit Bergamo, are the top attractions and unique experiences that await you in the city. I also share some tips when visiting the attractions, so you get the best experience during your visit.
At the end of this post, you will find a summary of the 10 reasons, telling whether Bergamo is worth visiting or not (in my opinion). Without further ado, here are my 10 best reasons why visit Bergamo:
10 Reasons to Visit Bergamo
- Bergamo’s Basilica of St. Mary Major
- Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo
- The scenic views of Bergamo from Citta Alta (Campanone)
- The Venetian walls, a UNESCO site in Bergamo
- The Impressive gates of Bergamo (Porta San Giacomo)
- Museum in Bergamo’s bastion (Rocca Museum)
- Natural History Museum in Bergamo
- Bergamo is just an absolutely picturesque city
- The delicious local cuisine of Bergamo
- Bergamo’s Proximity to Milan & Airport
Reason #1: Bergamo’s Basilica of St. Mary Major
Let’s kick off this list of reasons why to visit Bergamo with Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore (the Basilica of Saint Mary Major), the most admirable place that you can ever find in Bergamo. It is a reason to visit Bergamo because of the overwhelming beauty that awaits you inside the church.
In fact, numerous visitors have already said that the Basilica of Saint Mary Major is one of the best churches they’ve seen in their entire lives!
The history of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major dates back to more than 900 years ago, when the residents of Bergamo made a vow to the Virgin Mary.
The citizens created this church in exchange for their protection from the plague ravaging northern Italy. They built the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Piazza Vecchia (old town square), replacing an old church on the same site.
It has a small entrance from the old town square, but again the real spectacle lies inside the church. The interiors, both walls, and ceiling of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major are full of gorgeous tapestry, frescoes, and paintings. There are overwhelming details to behold, and it seems nothing is left blank you can notice.
The artworks inside the Basilica of Saint Mary Major retell different biblical stories, from the Passage of the Red Sea to the Life of Mary and the Crucifixion of Jesus. You can also find artwork about the Last Supper and the Tree of Life. The frescoes are outlined with gold paint, giving a cherubic impression to anyone who visits.
Entry to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major is free. It is usually open from 8:30 am until 6:00 pm Monday to Saturday (2 hours lunch break starting 12:30 pm). On Sundays, it is available from 9:00 am until 6:00 pm (2 hours lunch break from 1:00 pm until 3:00 pm).
Reason #2: Colleoni Chapel in Bergamo
The next attraction, another reason to visit Bergamo, lies just beside the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Piazza Vecchia: the Colleoni Chapel. It is a Chapel and a mausoleum known for having an exquisite facade, a mesmerizing structure you can’t resist taking pictures of.
Colleoni Chapel was built for Bartolomeo Colleoni, one of the notable persons in Bergamo during the mid-15th century, and for his daughter as their personal shrine dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Mark.
Centuries passed, and it turned out to be more than it was intended. Today it is considered the Bergamo’s most spectacular building and the city’s main tourist attraction, manifesting the bests of Italian Renaissance architecture.
The facade of Colleoni Chapel was made even more spectacular by using polychrome marbles forming tarsia and eye-catching three-dimensional patterns. Not to mention the rose window and the stone medallion of Julius Cesar and Trajan beside the window – they’re noteworthy features of the facade of Colleoni Chapel so unmissable!
Enter the Colleoni Chapel, and you’ll see the tomb of Bartolomeo Colleoni, a high altar, different artworks showing parts of Jesus Christ’s life, and more.
Like the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, the entrance to the Colleoni Chapel is free. It is open from Tuesday to Sunday. The opening hours vary from March to October; Colleoni Chapel is open from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm. From November to February, 9:30 am to 4:30 pm. Lunch break, from 12:30 pm until 2:00 pm.
Reason #3: The scenic views of Bergamo from Citta Alta (Campanone)
The third compelling thing about Bergamo, why it is so good to visit, are the views awaiting you from Campanone. Campanone is the town’s civic tower which you can climb to get to the vantage point that overlooks the entire city. The views extend from Italy’s northern central plains to the rising hills and mountains of the Alps.
What’s great is that you do not have to walk very far to get to Campanone if you’re already in Piazza Vecchia because the tower is also in the same place! It is the tower in front of the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, only a few steps away.
The civic tower or Campanone is approximately 53 meters high (173 feet), and you can reach the top of the tower either by climbing the 230-step staircase or using the lift. You must climb the civic tower as the panoramic views of the city isn’t the only ones you’ll see up there but also Lombardy’s largest bell.
What’s more remarkable about the bell on top of the Campanone is that it continues to function, keeping a tradition in Bergamo alive. Every night (10 pm) in Bergamo, the bell of Campanone still successively chimes one hundred times to remember the closing of the city walls’ gate when Bergamo was still under Venetian rule.
The view on top of Campanone can be very dramatic, especially during hazy weather. See more towers, domes of the surrounding churches, and the tile-roof houses on top of Campanone. They shall look like a scene straight out of a movie or video game!
The entry fee to Campanone is 5 EUR which includes entry to Palazzo del Podestà as well. You can check for the opening hours and some announcements regarding Campanone on their website. You can enter Campanone from Tuesday to Saturday, from 10 am until 6 pm.
Reason #4: The Venetian walls, a UNESCO site in Bergamo
For me, UNESCO heritage sites are one of the biggest reasons why visit a city or country. Because they are either a masterpiece to admire or exceptional traditional or cultural creations that can awe inspire you very much. UNESCO sites always have this universal value which should always be worth the time and money!
In Bergamo, a UNESCO recognized heritage site awaits you – it’s the Venetian walls surrounding the old town Bergamo. It’s 6 kilometers or 3.7 miles long, consisting of different features transporting visitors back to medieval times.
The Venetian walls of Bergamo have two armories, four gates, fourteen bastions, one hundred embrasures for canons, underground passages, and tunnels. If you want to realize your fantasies from movies and TV series set in the middle ages, Bergamo is just the place to be. Don’t you miss seeing the casemates of San Giovanni and San Michele during your visit!
The walls of Bergamo were built in the late 16th century to protect the city from invasion. However, fate has been favorable to Bergamo that a single battle never happened on its doorsteps and the walls remained intact throughout the centuries. The walls you’ll see are mostly the original version, that’s why it’s a bit more special.
From the walls, you can see the scenic views of the lower town. It’s the best place to watch the sunset and take time-lapse shots of the city from Golden hour to dusk to evening. There are benches randomly placed along the walls where you can hang out and chill to witness that spectacular hour in Bergamo.
I just would like to share that northern Italy is a place like no other. It has a diverse range of exciting experiences and beautiful destinations worthy of your time and money. Read my article about northern Italy to know why. Here’s the summary (click to open in a new tab and read now/later):
- Cinque Terre – The Charming coastline towns of Northern Italy
- Milan – Home to the Genius’ (Leonardo da Vinci) artworks and science
- Lake Como – One of the world’s most beautiful lakes
- Verona – The romantic town, home of Romeo and Juliet
- Venice – Another romantic city where three architectural styles meet and mix
- Trento – The city to introduce you to the Dolomites (visit mountains, lakes, and castles)
- Bolzano – Home of Otzi, the gateway to the Dolomites
- Cortina d’Ampezzo – The town in the heart of the Dolomites
- Florence – It’s where you can find the best Renaissance artworks
- Rome – The beautiful eternal city where you can start or end your trip to Northern Italy
These links to guides, a list of reasons to visit, things to do, and articles to help you discover different places in northern Italy. Read the full article about the reasons to visit Northern Italy.
Reason #5: The Impressive gates of Bergamo (Porta San Giacomo)
The most beautiful gate of the Venetian Wall, Porta San Giacomo, is impressive enough to be a reason why you should visit Bergamo. It is the main entrance to Citta Alta, where people from Milan used to pass going back centuries ago.
Porta San Giacomo stands out from the rest of Bergamo’s Venetian Wall because of the particular material used in its construction. Unlike the wall built from ordinary stone, Porta San Giacomo is made with white marble from Zandobbio’s quarries located 15 kilometers east of Bergamo.
The architecture of the Porta San Giacomo is quite simple. But because of its white material, it spectacularly gathers attention from the scene, especially on a bright sunny day. Catch it turn golden during sunset or sunrise!
At night, Porte San Giacomo is flashed with lights of different colors, virtually painting the gate with different hues. If you are lucky, you can witness the projections of different images to the gate, which could be so amazing to watch. It usually happens when there is an event in Bergamo.
Whether it is day or night, you can find Porte San Giacomo, one of the most picturesque places in Bergamo. Because of its elevated position overlooking the lower town, you can find it very romantic as well. The gate has a masonry bridge over a moat which adds to the overall medieval experience of exploring the area.
Reason #6: Museum in Bergamo’s bastion (Rocca Museum)
Bastions, aside from walls, are another part of any medieval city’s defenses. Bergamo has a few of them too. However, in Bergamo, there’s one called Rocca, which is more unique than the others. Thus, a reason why visit Bergamo.
Rocca is a 14th-century bastion or fortress located east of Citta Alta, where traces of Bermago’s military might remain. Here you can see cannons and tanks, explore a bombardier’s house and patrol walkways, and pretend that it is not the 21st-century.
What makes Rocca unique is the museum you will find inside the bastion. Rocca Museum houses not only things that give insight into Bergamo. But also into one of the most important parts of Italian history: the unification of Italy. It is why Rocca Museum is also called the museum of the 19th-century.
Do you want to learn how Bergamo shifted into a nation-integrated city from an old rule? Go inside the halls of the museum of the 19th-century, and you’ll find all the details.
See exhibits of various interesting things, from simple items used by the locals in their everyday life to artworks and muzzle-loading rifles. Dive deep into the history and learn how patriotic the Italian people are.
Overall it’s a remarkable fortress where you can learn so much about the city and Italian history. During your visit, you can also stroll in the complex’s gardens and walls, climb the tower, and see epic views.
Rocca isn’t that busy and crowded compared to the town’s square. The bastion’s surroundings are an excellent place for a peaceful walk and a little time for introspection or self-reflection after visiting the museum.
You can visit Rocca every day, but not on Mondays. Opening hours vary per season, but it should already be open by 10:00 am; 6:00 pm closing time. The site has a lunch break from 1:00 until 2:30 pm. Check Bergamo’s website for the exact opening hours and announcements.
Reason #7: Natural History Museum in Bergamo
What’s cool about Bergamo? Within the medieval town, a museum about prehistoric animals exists. It’s a twist in the journey in a historical city, giving fun experiences to curious minds. It is called the Museum of Natural History and is currently located at Piazza Cittadella.
The museum’s full name is Civic Museum of Natural Science Enrico Caffi (Museo Civico Scienze Naturali Enrico Caffi in Italian). It is home to 55000 different artifacts, ranging from fossils to preserved in wax animals and plants.
The most amusing things exhibited in the Civic Museum of Natural Science are the reconstructed skeletal system of a dinosaur and a massive mammoth figure. Not to mention the room full of heads of different deers and alpine animals! They’re so cool.
Though the Civic Museum of Natural Science isn’t perfectly fit with the medieval flair of Bergamo, it’s still a reason to visit Bergamo. That is, especially if you’re traveling with your kids. They will surely enjoy the exhibition.
The information boards in the museum are written in Italian. It’s better to download Google Translate to your phones to understand the description indicated for each exhibited artifact and animal as you explore.
The Civic Museum of Natural Science in Bergamo has irregular opening hours changing with the season. However, it should already be open from 10:00 am. I suggest that you come before 5:00 pm. It is open every day, except Mondays. Check for announcements and exact opening hours from the museum’s website.
Reason #8: Bergamo is an absolutely picturesque City
Being a medieval city, the sceneries that we will see in Bergamo will always look like something straight out of a movie or a fairytale. The beautiful architecture of the buildings in the town’s square, the view from the tower and bastion, and the cobblestone lanes, arches, and old houses within the city walls will make your finger press that shutter!
Bergamo is, yes, picturesque, but it surely will satisfy the wanderlust within us as well. Below are the inspiring photos of Bergamo you’ll consider a reason why you’ll visit Bergamo:
Reason #9: Delicious local cuisine of Bergamo
Another reason why visit Bergamo? Northern Italian Cuisine. Unlike the rest of the country in southern and central Italy, the cuisine offered in Bergamo has main ingredients that grow in a colder climate. You can expect meat instead of fish and dairy instead of olive oil on your meals in Bergamo.
Some of the dishes you might want to try are Polenta Taragna, Casoncelli, and Scarpinocc. But among these three, Polenta Taragna is the most famous and what we can consider Bergamo’s food specialty.
Polenta Taragna is a variation in the recipe of the Polenta, a common accompaniment to some dishes in some parts of Italy. Other restaurants pair Polenta with fried fish and braised dishes as an alternative to bread.
However, in Bergamo, instead of serving Polenta with its base ingredients, it is made into Polenta Taragna with the addition of cheeses, milk, and butter. And unlike the rest of Italy, Polenta Taragna is served as a main course instead of just a complimentary meal.
Here’s a picture of Polenta Taragna:
Reason #10: Bergamo’s Proximity to Milan & Airport
The last reason to visit Bergamo is simply because of its location, which is scenic and easy to access. It even has its own airport (Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport), less than 10 kilometers away from the city center.
To get to Bergamo Citta Alta from Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport, hop on bus #1. You should arrive at Bergamo upper town 33 minutes after departing from the airport.
Milan is very close to Bergamo (some people from TripAdvisor and other travel forums even recommend Bergamo over Milan). If you plan to visit Bergamo from Milan, you need to do two steps: (1) Ride on a train to Caravaggio Orio al Serio International Airport. (2) Hop on bus #1 to reach Citta Alta. Overall, it will be an hour and 30-minute commute.
Is Bergamo Italy Worth Visiting?
Bergamo is a picturesque medieval city home to captivating ancient architecture and fascinating museums. Panoramic views await you from the city’s walls and towers as well! Because of these, we can conclude that Bergamo is worth visiting.
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