In the foothills of the Italian Alps, about 40km northeast of Milan, is a city you’ve probably not heard of before. Even those who have heard of it (like the hundreds of thousands of people who arrive at the city’s airport every year) normally bypass it entirely on their way to more recognisable places like Milan, Venice or Lake Como. We were going to do the same, but then we decided to give Bergamo a chance. And, my goodness, we are so incredibly pleased we did.
Quite why the Italians have been keeping Bergamo all to itself when they’re so keen to share all of their other treasures is beyond us. We can only suspect that Italians wants to keep Bergamo all to themselves.
We wouldn’t blame our Italian friends at all for wanting to keep Bergamo a secret. As you will discover in this post, it is a wonderful little city that deserves a great deal more attention than it’s currently receiving.
Here are our top reasons why you should consider stopping-off in Bergamo. Keep reading until the end for tips on how you too can add Bergamo to your travel itinerary.
1. They’ve made making a quick visit very, very easy
With luggage in tow and only 3-4 hours before our flight, we weren’t holding out too much hope in seeing very much of Bergamo. We were, however, very pleasantly surprised at how smoothly everything went, thanks largely to the foresight of the local authorities. It appeared they’d thought of everything!
Upon alighting at Bergamo railway station, we crossed the street to find some storage lockers for our bags. They were exactly where we’d read they were, beside the Urban Center building. Large lockers are €4, while smaller lockers are €3. Don’t worry if you don’t have change, as there’s a change machine provided in the adjacent bus station.
Did I not mention the bus station is right next to the railway station? It is! What splendid planning! Inside were food outlets and, crucially, a ticket office where we bought our tickets for the bus to the airport for later on. We also thought it wise to take the time at this point to find the bus stop for the airport bus. We found it on the street we’d just crossed between the railway station and the bus station. Brilliant! At the bus stop was an electronic sign indicating when the next bus was due, plus live departure information from the airport itself. Handy!
Next, we thought it prudent to do a little research in order to make the most of our quick visit. We needed a tourist office. Thankfully, there’s one right next to the bus station, around the corner from the railway station and the storage lockers. We wandered in and they were able to tell us how best to spend our short time in the city.
Their advice was to head to the Upper City (Città Alta) by bus (Bus 1 or 1A) and see the major attractions. They told us we could buy tickets from the bus station and that the bus stop we needed was literally right outside the tourist office. Unbelievably easy!
Having bought our tickets, we waited no more than 10 minutes for the next bus which took us directly to the old town in a matter of minutes. We choose to alight at the funicular station to take us up the hill to the old town itself (because we love funiculars and also because our tickets were good for 90 minutes and therefore included the ride up). We could have just as easily stayed on the bus which also terminates at the top of the hill.
2. The medieval streets are very pretty
Bergamo’s hilltop Upper City is steeped in medieval history, so much so that some parts seem untouched since they were first built. Bergamo’s 16th century Venetian defensive walls and gates were so impenetrable that the town was never conquered. As a result, the stunning architectural treats inside the perimeter are in immaculate condition and must be seen in person to truly appreciate them.
To get a sense of just how impossible the task of the invading forces was, visit one of the impressive stone gates to the old town. We visited Porta S. Giacomo near to the top funicular station which comes with the added attraction of spectacular views over the much newer Lower City below.
3. The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore is breathtaking
If you only have time to visit one of Bergamo’s many attractions, make sure it’s the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
Without exaggeration, this 12th century church is one of the most incredible buildings Jade and I have ever visited. We were staggered by the decadence, the detail and the devotion to the decorative arts. Colourful frescoes, intricate tapestries, finely-manicured busts and statues and artistic flourishes adorned every surface, from floor to ceiling.
We were dumbstruck! All we could do was find somewhere to sit and simply stare in wonder. And then of course take a lot of photographs!
4. The Duomo di Bergamo is sheer perfection
Following the theme of keeping everything conveniently close-by, Bergamo’s cathedral, Duomo di Bergamo, is right next door to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore.
In normal circumstances, the heartbreakingly pretty and yet simplistic interior of the Duomo would be the jewel in any town’s tourism crown. It’s only as a result of the neighbouring Basilica that, in our opinion, it plays second fiddle. Despite this, the cathedral has a sumptuousness of its own that we just loved.
While the Basilica offers unabashed colour and detail, the Cathedral boasts sophisticated elegance. Embellishments in shiny gold adorn the walls and ceilings, both a wash of plain, contrasting white. There are still frescoes, but they are more reserved and used more sparingly. A hauntingly beautiful soundtrack was playing on our visit whilst tourists and worshipers bustled about.
5. They have lucky golden testicles
Photography inside Cappella Colleoni (Colleoni Chapel), a 15th century church and mausoleum that unbelievably is also next-door to the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, is forbidden. You’ll just have to go and take a look for yourself. Believe us, it’s worth the visit!
If you’re short on time, at the very least you should try to find the three testicles of Bartolomeo Colleoni. Confused? Don’t be, it’s a simple story.
Bartolomeo Colleoni was a military leader in the 15th century to whom the chapel is dedicated and whose remains lie inside. Colleoni suffered from orchitis, which meant he had three testicles. Colleoni was so unusually proud of his affliction, he insisted his family’s coat of arms displayed three testicles as its centrepiece.
The coat of arms can be seen on the gate and fences around the chapel and, it is said, good luck falls upon anyone who… rubs the testicles. You couldn’t make it up!
The practice of rubbing the testicles is a popular pursuit amongst locals and tourists, so much so that the testicles have adopted a golden hue thanks to all the… rubbing. At least it makes them easy to spot.
6. Bergamo’s fabulous airport is a 20 minute bus ride away
Sadly, our time in Bergamo had to come to an end as our flight departure time drew near. Heading back, we caught the funicular back down, caught the bus back to the bus station, collected our luggage then caught the next bus (bus 1) to the airport.
After a 10-15 minute journey, we arrived at Orio al Serio International Airport (sometimes known as Il Caravaggio International Airport and also just Bergamo Airport), Italy’s third busiest. The airport building is bright, modern, spacious and airy with plenty of food and shopping options. Check-in, security & passport checks and boarding were all low-key and went very smoothly. As airports go, we thought it was one of the better ones.
Thinking about visiting Bergamo, but have a question or two? Hopefully we’ve already answered your question below.
Q1. How long do I need to visit Bergamo?
We managed to see everything mentioned in this post in around 2-3 hours. With our flight taking off at 18.30, we made sure we were at the top funicular station at 16.00 to arrive at the airport around 90 minutes before departure.
That said, we’d certainly recommend spending more time in Bergamo. With the airport so close by and everything being so incredibly easy, we think it’s a perfect weekend city break destination. A two day (1 night) stay would be ideal.
Q2. How do I get from the airport to Bergamo and how long does it take?
Bus 1 serves the route between the airport and Bergamo city centre. Buses are every 20 minutes and the journey takes around 10-15 minutes. You can buy tickets from the ticket offices in the airport or from machines. The bus stop is right outside the terminal.
From the airport, the bus ferries passengers to the train/bus station, through the lower city, to the lower funicular station and finally to the upper city (Città Alta).
On the return journey, the bus normally displays an aeroplane motif on its destination board, so it’s easy to spot.
Tip: Always ensure you buy a ticket before boarding. Once on-board, validate your ticket by inserting it into the validation machine. If you don’t do this, your ticket isn’t valid.
Q3. How do I get to Bergamo?
Orio al Serio International Airport (BGY) serves Bergamo and the surrounding region. Most of the passenger airlines operating to/from the airport are smaller/low-cost airlines servicing domestic and European/North African routes.
The biggest airline operating out of Orio al Serio International Airport is Ryanair.
Bergamo Railway Station can be found in the southern part of the Lower City. Express and regional services travel to/from Milan, while regional services travel to/from Lecco, Brescia and Treviglio. One regional service per day operates to/from Pisa.
Trains are operated by Trenord and Trenitalia.
Q4. Where should I stay in Bergamo?
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Q5. Can I get to Milan from Bergamo?
Yes, absolutely! The airport bus stops at the railway station, from which you can catch a direct train to Milan Central station. Journey times vary depending on the service you get, but can be as short as 48 minutes. Alternatively you can get a bus to the airport from Bergamo and then catch a coach to Milan.
Tickets can be purchased just before travel from machines or from the ticket office.
Q6. Can I get to Milan from Bergamo Airport?
Yes, you can!
Three bus companies run direct non-stop services to Milan Central railway station. They are Terravision, Orioshuttle & Autostradale. Each company is highly rated, run modern air-conditioned coaches and cost just €5 per person each way. You can buy tickets from the ticket office windows in the arrivals area of the airport. We can’t see any benefit to booking online in advance.
If you can’t decide which company to travel with, we have a great tip for you. Above the ticket windows is a screen displaying all of the forthcoming departures for each of the three bus companies. If you’re ready to leave, simply travel with the company running the next departure. We were going to travel with Terravision since we’re more familiar with their brand, but ended up travelling with Autostradale since they were departing from the airport first.
Q7. Can I get to Lake Como from Bergamo?
Of course! With a change in Monza, you can be in Como, Lecco or Varenna in just over an hour. Tickets can be purchased at the station just before travel and are superb value for money.
Any Questions or Suggestions?
We hope you’ve found our suggestions and recommendations for a short visit to Bergamo useful and that we’ve encouraged you to start planning your own visit.
If you have any questions or suggestions of your own please make sure you drop them into the comment box below. We try to reply to every comment we receive.