Bergamo, located less than 40 miles east of Milan, has attracted attention since pre-Roman times. This prized city has been invaded by Celtics, Etruscans, barbarians, French, and Austrians, as well as Milanesi Lombards who occupied it for 100 years, and Venetians who remained for three centuries and had significant impact on its art and architecture. 

One of the city’s major piazzas (Piazza Vecchia) was deemed “perfect” by Corbusier. Stendhal waxed rhapsodically that the city was “the most beautiful place on earth and the most fascinating I have ever seen.” Frank Lloyd Wright pronounced Bergamo, “A marvelous city, stunningly surprising.” 

Bergamo has world-class museums, theaters, architecture, gastronomy, history, and nearby mountains, lakes, and vineyards. Its airport is the third busiest in Italy. Yet locals wonder, “Why don’t more tourists visit our beautiful city?” 

They have a point. However, this obscurity ensures that people who do make their way here will find friendly smiles, few crowds, and genuine hospitality.

Best Time to Go

Bergamo is a city of four seasons. B2CHEESE is an international trade gathering held in September (there are many cheesemakers in this area). The Donizetti Opera Festival takes place in November (the composer was born in Bergamo). December sees holiday markets. The Bergamo Jazz Festival, one of the world’s biggest, is held in March. The Festa della Musica takes place in June, and the International Folklore Festival in August. 

What the Locals Know

buildings on a hill in bergamo italy
Courtesy, Mattia Bericchia via Unsplash

Although Bergamo is known as la città dei Mille (the city of a thousand) because of the large percentage of Bergamaschi who took part in Garibaldi’s army to unite Italy (called la spedizione dei Mille) in 1860, the number three is significant here. 

Located in the region of Lombardy, about one-third of the way between Milan and Venice, Bergamo is divided into three parts: Bergamo Alta (the upper city), Bergamo Bassa (lower city), and the Parco dei Colli (the park of hills), a 4,700-hectare park extending north from the Città Alta. Bergamo’s airport, Orio al Serio, is the third busiest in the country, with a record 15 million passengers arriving in 2023. 

Three rivers have played a role in the city’s history – the Adda, Brembo, and Serio. The Venetians, who arrived here in 1428 and left an indelible mark on the city, stayed 300 years; the funicular ride between Alta and Bassa takes three minutes. 

Most curious of all is the distinctive appearance of one of Bergamo’s theatrical characters from commedia dell’arte in the 15th century. Gioppino has three goiters on his neck, representing a common condition in the city at that time. Residents had goiters because they didn’t consume enough iodine; their diet often consisted of polenta (you guessed it) eaten three times a day. 

One of the carvings in the lavish Bartolomeo Colleoni Chapel represents the coat of arms of the eponymous soldier, and appears to be three testicles. That is exactly what it is, since the man himself, a brilliant soldier, had balls — three of them actually, according to legend. 

Where to Stay: Hotels, Villas, and Home Rentals

bergamo italy countryside bridge
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Hotel La Dimora Brusaporto (Da Vittorio)

The Relais & Chateaux designation says it all: sensuous suites, ten hectares of greenery, lakes, and vineyards, and a three-star Michelin restaurant. Accessible by helicopter if you don’t want to drive. 

Address: Via Cantalupo 17, 24060 Brusaporto BG, Italy

Phone:  +39 035 681024

Foresteria di Palazzo Radici

Only four suites in this foresteria (guesthouse), ranging from 484 to 646 square feet, each large, luminous, and lavishly furnished. The setting is an 18th-century palazzo in Bergamo Alta, elegantly restructured in 2022.

Address:  Via Porta Dipinta, 25, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy

Phone :  +39 393 932 4807

Palazzo Santo Spirito

This former 14th-century convent is now an 80-room four-star + hotel close to the sights of Bergamo Alto.  The setting is centuries old but the rooms and suites are crisp and modern, with parquet floors, pale walls, a wellness center, restaurant, and inviting bar.  

Address:  Via Torquato Tasso, 82, 24121 Bergamo BG, Italy

Phone:  +39 035 0315137

Where to Eat: Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries

traditional italian cuisine and wine
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Trattoria Sant’Ambroeus

A suggestive location in Bergamo Alto boasts classic offerings— casoncelli (meat-filled pasta), riso mantecato (rice with a creamy finish), and roast rabbit alla bergamasca (with polenta). Menu degustazione recommended. Reservations suggested.  (Piazza Vecchia 2, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 237 494)

Mille Storie e Sapori 

A selected menu of revisited classics (veal cheeks with polenta) and innovations (turbot with hummus and lemongrass) in a luminous setting. Tasting menu available. Reservations suggested. (Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII, 30/32 Bergamo 24125 BG, Italy, +39 335 206 780)

Osteria Valenti di Marco Maffeis

steak on a cutting board in an italian restaurant
Courtesy, Yosuke Ota via Unsplash

A butcher shop turned proper eatery, with artisanal pasta and desserts in a rustic setting in Bergamo Basso. Meat remains the star; the wine list is also outstanding. Some outdoor seating available. Well-priced. (Via Guglielmo D’Alzano, 4, 24122 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 243 017)


A historic cafè in Bergamo Basso with many temptations including polenta e osei (corn meal with birds). This is sweetened polenta, pan d’espagne, creme, hazelnuts, and marzipan, with chocolate birds on top. (Portici Sentierone 41, 24121 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 086 8549)

Pasticceria Cavour 1880

As the name suggests, this historic cafè in Bergamo Also opened in 1880. Its managers also run Da Vittorio, with three Michelin stars, so expect top quality whether you come for breakfast, lunch, snacks, sweets, or drinks. (Via Gombito, 7, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy)

La Marianna 

A cafè-bakery-gelateria near the funicular station in Bergamo Basso. Its main attraction is its gelato, especially stracciatella, which was invented here in 1961, but many other sweet temptations beckon. A very convenient location. (Largo Colle Aperto, 4, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy)

Baretto San Vigilio

Not only a bar, this is a proper restaurant for lunch and dinner in Bergamo Alta. A refined setting and menu of modernized classics (cod with fennel cream, risotto with mushrooms and fermented blueberries). Romantic outdoor setting in season.  Reservations suggested. (Via al Castello, 1, 24100 Bergamo BG, Italy)

Things to Do 

the ceiling of a church in bergamo italy
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Carrara Academia

An outstanding art collection including masterpieces from Mantegna, Bellini, Raffaello, and Canaletto. Advance book a multi-lingual guide who will explain the artwork and more: why black was fashionable, not funeral, and why Venetian blondes wore lots of perfume (you may gag). (Piazza Giacomo Carrera 82, 24124 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 234 396)

Museo del Cinquecento

This museum located in the 16th-century Palazzo della Podestà features multimedia displays, Roman ruins, and a history of the city in the 16th century, including its Venetian-built walls, a UNESCO World Heritage site. (Piazza Mercato del Fieno 6/a, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 247 116)

Cappella di Bartolemeo Colleoni 

This vanity project by 15th-century military leader Bartolomeo Colleoni is a jewel of a chapel with a black, red, and white diamond facade, enriched by bas-reliefs, plaques, columns, sculptures, paintings, rose-glass windows, and Colleoni’s marble tomb. (Piazza Duomo, 5, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy)

GAMeC (Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea)

Modern art in a renovated 15th-century convent. The permanent collection vaunts works by Warhol, de Chirico, Kandinsky, and Morandi, but the temporary exhibits are no less compelling; the 2024-25 program theme is Pensare come una montagna (“Think Like a Mountain”).

Where to Shop: Best Shopping

a local shop in bergamo italy
Courtesy, Agata Ciosek via Unsplash

Evelyne Aymon

Hanging here are 1,500 different kinds of handmade headbands with a backdrop of Roman mosaic tiles and a 12th-century fountain. The ambience is as amazing as the artisanal objects on display. (Via Colleoni 13, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 347 550 4805)

Earth Market of Bergamo (Mercato della Terra di Bergamo)

Open on Saturdays only — from 8:30 am to 1 pm — this market features fruits, veggies, breads, honey, cheese, chocolates, teas, herbs, spices, and wine that respect Slow Food principles. (Piazza Matteotti in front of Caffè Colleoni,  +39 344 143 2205 or +39 347 5580454)

Arte in Maglia

Sweaters, jackets, capes, shawls, and hoodies made to order in butter-soft cashmere, wool, and silk. A myriad of models, color, and sizes ensure that your creation is uniquely yours. (Via Longo 8, 24124 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 347 0314814)

L’Atalier di Rita Patelli

Wooden eggs with designs of your choosing; garlands for doors, windows, and walls; hand-painted panels to decorate any room. Rita does them all tastefully, using natural materials. (Via Borgo Canale, 9/b, 24129 Bergamo BG, Italy, +39 035 252162)

Featured image courtesy of Canva

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