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City Break in Bergamo, Italy

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Beautiful Bergamo is just over an hour by train from Milan, Verona and Como. Many visitors overlook this romantic city in favour of better-known Italian tourist destinations, but they’re missing out. Not only is Bergamo a fine blend of historic and modern with its Città Alta and Citta Bassa (upper and lower cities) it’s also home to pretty piazzas, hidden trattorias and one of the oldest art academies in Italy! So, if you’re looking for a weekend destination with a difference, it’s time to enjoy a city break in Bergamo!

Walk the City’s Ancient Walls

There’s no denying it, Bergamo in the Lombardy region is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. With superb architecture, fine gastronomy and a rich history, this atmospheric city of two halves offers an unapologetic masterclass in everything Italian. On arrival into Bergamo, take the funicular to Città Alta. This historic walled city atop a verdant hill dotted with cedar and cypress trees offers a glimpse into medieval Bergamo. Narrow cobbled streets are punctuated with pizzerias, trattorias and pasticcerias while bustling piazzas showcase cathedrals, museums and regale you with stories of old. Following a leisurely gourmet lunch and afternoon stroll around Orto Botanico di Bergamo make your descent along the city walls on foot for breath-taking vistas of Citta Bassa below.

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Dine on Delicious Cuisine in Città Alta

When it comes to Italian cuisine, Bergamo sits in the top 5 gastronomic cities. Forget the tourist traps of Venice and Rome, this city offers authentic Italian pasta, pizza and cuisine just like mamma used to make. There are a few typical dishes you should try whilst in Bergamo, the first is Casoncelli Bergamasca. This centuries-old pasta dish was once stuffed with beef and pork meat, now, it has evolved into an elegant creation flavoured with amaretto biscuits, spadona pear and sultanas. Another city staple is Polenta Taragna. This mountain dish is a mix of cornmeal and buckwheat served with lashings of creamy butter and casera cheese. If you’re seeking a light bite, try Al Donizetti in Città Alta for atmosphere. They serve vast plates of charcuterie, cheese and homemade chutney’s alfresco beneath cloisters in the city’s old marketplace. If you prefer fine dining, Baretto di San Vigilio by the castle or Michelin-starred Da Vittoria just outside Bergamo tick all the boxes with their extensive wine lists and tasting menus.

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Shop Like a Local on Via XX Settembre

In the modern lower city of Citta Bassa, you’ll discover one of the best shopping streets in Bergamo. Fashion boutiques, flower shops and interior design stores pepper the streets and you’ll find brands like Zara, Tod’s and Furla here. Venture away from the main shopping paradise and you’ll also discover a plethora of specialty stores selling skincare products, giftware and quaint antique bookstores where you can pick up rare literary works. If you prefer shopping for designer goods, there’s a frequent train service to Milan an hour away. When it comes to cuisine in Bergamo’s Citta Bassa, there are many establishments to choose from. Restaurant Capri Di Nasti located in the street behind Via XX Settembre serves some of the most delicious (and largest) sharing pizzas around.

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Explore Piazza Vecchia

In the heart of Città Alta, flanked by labyrinth narrow streets, Piazza Vecchia is spellbinding with ancient buildings, towers and fountains. Set in the square, which was once the old Roman forum, Palazzo della Ragione is one of the most eye-catching structures - resplendent in Venetian design, it wouldn’t look out of place next to the Grand Canal. This building was once the heart of political power and holds the oldest municipal seat in the region. Across the square, Palazzo Nuovo – the old town hall, is home to a library collection of books from the Middle Ages as well as manuscripts and artefacts relating to the city’s heritage. For the best views of Bergamo climb the stairs of Torre Civica and gain birds-eye views of Citta Bassa and the Lombardy countryside, or if you simply wish to soak up the atmosphere, find yourself a ring-side seat overlooking Contarini Fountain and enjoy a glass of wine or flavoured gelato.

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Visit Beautiful Basilicas of Bergamo

Don’t depart Bergamo without visiting Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica. Even if you are not of religious persuasion, this stunning church in Città Alta will impress and delight. Built by citizens of Bergamo in 1137 to protect them from a plague, the church houses frescoes, stuccos and intricate wooden marquetry. Another highlight is nearby Bergamo Cathedral, home to a museum and treasure collection showcasing archaeological remains dating back to 10th century B.C. When you’ve exhausted sightseeing in the city, settle down for the evening in 5-star Relais San Lorenzo. This luxurious spa hotel has deluxe rooms overlooking tranquil cloisters or the neighbouring church. You can dine on innovative dishes, created by chef Antonio Cuomo using local ingredients or relax in the Finnish-style sauna and rest room which is retro-illuminated with a wall of salt.

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Take a Day Trip to Lake Iseo

If you have spare time on your city break and wish to surround yourself in northern Italy’s natural beauty head for Lake Iseo. Around an hour’s drive from Bergamo, this tranquil region offers a range of outdoor activities including mountain biking, trekking, climbing and paragliding. One of the best ways to enjoy the idyllic landscape is from the water. You can charter a boat from the lakeside medieval towns of Iseo, Pisogne or Sarnico and enjoy gliding across the lake, glass of Franciacorta wine in hand as the sun sets over forested alpine mountains. 

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