Bergamo Alta can be considered a village inside a city.
Situated higher up compared to Bergamo (therefore know as Bassa/low), it offers a superb view of the surroundings and embraces in his Medieval heart, all the most important attractions of this lovely Lombard city.
After having consulted friends and acquaintances about what to visit in Bergamo, I have quickly planned a walking itinerary which has allowed me to discover its most interesting sights.
Bergamo Alta, what to see in one day
Bergamo Alta is the ancient heart of the city and resembles a medium size village. I have found it enchanting and it is very pleasant to walk around its central streets both during the day and at night. On Sunday afternoon, Via Colleoni is particularly crowded, but it is still worth it to have a peak at the historical workshops.
In some ways turism has slightly twisted the atmosphere of this part of the city, which is noisy and crowded during the day but quiets down in the evening, allowing to capture its real soul.
Piazza Vecchia is the fulcrum/heart of Bergamo Alta center. Stunning in its entireness, it hosts the famous ‘Palazzo della Ragione’, the ‘Torre Civica’ (dating approx. 1100) and the beautiful ‘Fontana del Contarini’ ( water is drinkable).
Here you can find some elegant cafes and even a restaurant of charme.
Passing the arcades beside the ‘Torre Civica’, you will find yourself in front of the ‘Cappella Colleoni’, with the beautiful ‘Basilica of S.Maria Maggiore’ on the side.
A legend says that the “palle del Colleoni” (literally Colleoni’s balls) situated on the coat of arms around the railing before the entrance of the chapel, should be touched. It should bring luck and fertility.
The inside of the Basilica is truly luxurious, with paintings and tapestries. Besides you can admire the grave of Donizetti, one of the most celebrated composer of the ‘800.
Walking the little cobblestone street behind the Duomo, you arrive in Viale delle Mura where, especially at sunset, you will have a beautiful view on Bergamo Bassa. When the days are particularly clear you can even see Milan!
The walls of Bergamo Alta are practically intact and have 4 entrance doors and 14 bulwarks, that stretch on 6km of length. This is the reason why this city has never been conquered.
We have peacefully walked between the first blooms and street lamps that bit by bit substitute the sunlight. Really very striking.
Going back towards the center, we passed through Via S. Giacomo and Piazza Mercato delle Scarpe, where the funicular connects Bergamo Bassa to the higher part of the city. I have enjoyed this part of the town too.
‘L’antico Lavatoio’ is another point of turist interest in Bergamo Alta.
You will find it in Piazzetta L.Angelini, along via Mario Lupo. It’s a particular place, standing there as if time had never gone by. Dates back to 1891, when it started to be necessary to improve hygienic conditions in the upper part of the town, flogged by epidemics such as typhus and cholera. Beside this one, preserved with great care, there are two others which, unfortunately, there are no sign of in the city.
Today the washhouse in not in use but it was until the 50’s. I recommend to search for it and spend some time to admire it, at least here you will not find too many turists.
Another curiosity of Bergamo Alta is the “100 colpi di Campanone” (100 shots of the Great Bell). At 10 o’clock, every evening you will hear the ancient bell call its inhabitants inside the walls, before the 4 doors are closed. Of course this does not happen anymore, but it did centuries ago, when the walls were still constructed and used to defend the city.
Fortunately, even the next day the sun continued to accompany us and ,even though the air was fresh, we went along the same main streets of the little center , until we arrived at the Rocca. It dates back to the XIVth century and, being built on top of a hill, it offers a 360° view of the surroundings, until the Alps and Prealpi Orobie.
Inside you will find the Historical Museum of Bergamo, while the outside, beside hosting celebrative demonstrations, displays some findings, such as a tank and cannons, dating back to the world wars.
The sun got warmer and the choice to have lunch in San Vigilio was absolutely perfect. Take the funicular at Porta Alessandro and in a couple of minutes you will reach your destination. Here you will find a Castello (Castle), besides numerous beautiful villas with a stunning view over Bergamo. There are various restaurants with a view and, according to your budget, I will recommend some of them at the end of this article.
The beauty of climbing to San Vigilio was…..to go downhill!! Sun, blooming magnolias and mimosas, wonderful views…..and the warm sun on the skin….fantastic!!
Another must that cannot be missed in Bergamo Alta is to taste the “Stracciatella della Marianna”. It is precisely in this ice cream/pastry shop that is was created, for the joy of kids and adults alike. Well, I could not resist and I can assure you that it is fabulous!!
Let’s now start with all the useful information for your stay in Bergamo. We only had 24 hours so, we have reduced our sightseeing to the minimum, giving importance to the essentials of the city but there are many other paths, villages, lakes and much more to see.
Bergamo Alta, how to get there and get around in the city
By car, take the motorway A4 Milan-Venice
The airport Orio al Serio is only 10 minutes away from the city. Very comfortable for those of you who would like to get there by plane, keeping in mind that it is the main airport offering Ryanair flights. Infact , the Irish company connects this city with Abruzzo, Campania, Calabria, Puglia, Sicily and Sardinia.
The city has two funiculars: one that connects Bergamo Bassa to the higher part and another that connects Bergamo Alta to San Vigilio.
By clicking on the following link, you will find timetable and prices of the funiculars: >www.atb.bergamo.it/funicolari
Once arrived in the historical center, simply move on foot.
Bergamo, where to park
Being a “closed to the traffic historical center city” (in Italian known as ZTL) we have parked in Piazza della Cittadella, about 100 Mt from Via Colleoni. If you wish not to pay for parking I was advised to park in the Parcheggio della Malpensate (very close to the motorway). It is free of charge and in front you can catch the bus which takes you to the old city.
Bergamo Alta, where to sleep
Because of our limited time, we were focused on visiting only Bergamo Alta and our choice fell on a B&B in Via Colleoni, “il Botton d’Oro (link –> http://www.bottondoro.com/1/).
A very spacious triple room, with a small kitchen, wi-fi, breakfast (excellent) and ZTL at 105 Euro altogether.
It is possible to find cheaper accommodations but, since the feedbacks were positive, we “closed an eye” and it was worth it.
Bergamo Alta, where to eat
Bergamo has become a very turisty city and it is not easy, at least in the higher part of the city, to find a good and earthy/genuine trattoria . These are the restaurants that the proprietor of the B&B has recommended and where she usually sends her clients, beside going herself:
-La Tana, at the end of Via San Lorenza – Medium prices
-Lalimentari in Via Tassis – Medium prices
Trattoria Sant’Ambroeus, Piazza Vecchia – Medium to high prices
We have chosen to go to Trattoria Sant’Ambroeus because my son wanted to taste the “cotoletta a orecchio d’elefante” (elephant ear shaped cutlet). It is not cheap but you can definitely share it and the wine was offered. Price for three people is € 87,00.
San Vigilio has 2 restaurants. Our B&B host recommended the Bar Ristorante Pizzera San Vigilio, nice place with a marvelous view on the valley. Medium prices.
Personally we really liked this place and we have spent a little less than the previous evening.
We were also recommended to eat at “Baretto” where the food is supposed to be excellent but expect to spend a little more. They already had tables outside that offered a stunning view, with the possibility to have blankets for your legs, but of course you can also eat indoors.
For all the restaurants mentioned above, should you go on the weekend, we highly recommend to reserve.
Bergamo, visiting the surroundings
- Visit the “Biblioteca Mai” in the old part of the city
- Visit the Natural Science Civic Museum ‘Enrico Caffi’
- Visit the Donizzetti Museum, dedicated to the famous composer who was originally from Bergamo
- Walk along Via della Fara
- Lake Iseo and Montisola
- Visit the Village of Cornello
….and try to walk as much as possible between Bergamo Alta and Bergamo Bassa because the view is really stunning!!
I thank, for all the given information, Adeliana, Antonella and Antonia from the Facebook page ‘Borghi e Villaggi d’Europa’ and Serena Borghesi of ‘Viaggi nel Tempo’.