Sometimes seen simply as a pleasant day trip destination from Milan or Lake Como, the mesmerising and incredibly picturesque city of Bergamo in Italy's Lombardy region is worthy of a visit in its own right. This beautiful ancient town, originally founded thousands of years ago, is divided into two parts: the old upper city (Città Alta), which is surrounded by Venetian walls, and the modern centre known as lower city, or Città Bassa. Both areas are home to a plethora of fascinating sights, from grand piazzas teeming with life to Renaissance churches and a delightful botanical garden. The snow-capped Alps are an ever-present fixture on the horizon, providing a stunning backdrop. Whether you're embarking on a road trip around North Italy or looking for a tourist-free city break, Bergamo is a fantastic place to visit.
The old upper district of Bergamo is all cobbled streets, narrow passageways, historic buildings and quaint cafes. If you're pressed for time on your visit, this neighbourhood should most definitely be your first - if not your only - port of call. Simply hop on the funicular that takes you up to the old city, and spend a few hours meandering around its tangle of ancient roads. When you're feeling peckish, pop into a cafe and order a coffee and a real Italian tiramisu. That should perk you right up!
Some important points of interest in Citta Alta to check out:
Duomo - Situated in the central Piazza Vecchia square, the magnificent Bergamo Cathedral is truly a sight to behold. OK, we'll admit - it's relatively small and humble in comparison to Milan's Duomo or the one in Florence, but it's still worth stepping inside for a moment of peace - and to check out the breathtaking ceiling paintings
Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore - Right next door to the cathedral, this spectacular church encapsulates Renaissance Italy. Think impossibly intricate frescoes, wonderfully ornate decor, Corinthian columns and a rainbow of colour. If you only have time to visit one landmark in Bergamo, make it the Basilica!
Venetian Walls - In the 16th century, before Citta Bassa was even built, Bergamo was protected by powerful stone walls encircling the perimeter. Today, the Mura Venete is a popular place to go for romantic strolls and watch the sunset.
Cappella Colleoni - Every detail of this imposing 15th-century masterpiece is unbelievably ornate, from the colourful marble decorations and rose window to the elaborate paintings within. Don't forget to touch the crest of arms on the gate for good luck!
This is Italy, after all, so of course Bergamo has plenty of delicious fare on offer. Wine, cheese and salami are very high-quality here, as is homegrown olive oil. But you should also keep an eye out for dishes featuring polenta, which has been a local delicacy in Bergamo for centuries. You'll find this mealy ingredient in everything from cakes to pastas.
Bergamo is also known for its association with sparkling water, as San Pellegrino Terme - the town that produces one of the most famous brands of seltzer - is just an hour away. Fun fact: San Pellegrino has been producing mineral water for more than 600 years, and the town was once a popular wellness destination for the rich and famous.