Discover what to do in Bergamo like a local and experience the magic of a surprising double city. 

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A city you wouldn't expect. Bergamo is a constant surprise, a sequence of small and big revelations that speak of art, music and good food.

Hermann Hesse considered the place one of the reasons why it is worth travelling. A destination for true connoisseurs of beauty and savoir vivre, visiting the town is an experience for refined palates. Doing so with the spirit of the locals is what it takes to make your trip perfect.

Seen from afar, it appears reserved and sometimes brusque, just like the Bergamaschi. But going deeper, you'll discover a kind, cultured, easy-to-get-around city built on a human scale.

Here is what to do in Bergamo to go beyond cliches. 

What to do in Bergamo like a local

What to do in Bergamo like a local

Elected together with Brescia as the Italian Capital of Culture 2023, Bergamo is an ideal destination for a trip out of the ordinary. Although it has all the credentials to be included in the 2.0 grand tour of Italy, it's a far cry from the siren song of its neighbours (read Milan and Venice).

Bergamo has the character and the fabric of an art city, both expressed in a beautiful historic centre that embraces elegant and lively districts, rich museum collections, a monumental UNESCO World Heritage Site, many points of interest, and a vibrant social life.

Discover what to do in Bergamo and the local moves to visit it at its best. 

10. What to do in Bergamo like a local: take the 1887 funicular railway...

What to do in Bergamo like a local: take the 1887 funicular railway

...And reach the upper part of the city. Bergamo has a dual soul: Lombard and Venetian, old and yet new, low and high.

While the modern and bustling areas spread out along Bergamo Bassa, the medieval historic centre and many of the main attractions are condensed in the upper offshoot, beyond a spectacle of civil engineering: Le Mura Veneziane, a Unesco heritage site that we have already opened up for you.

The funicular is very popular with the people of Bergamo. More than a century after its inauguration, the Bergamaschi continue to use it for moving comfortably and quickly between the various areas of the city and simultaneously enjoying a pleasant view. 

It's an actual piece of the local history and, in addition, a green alternative for getting around without taking the bus or car. You can reach it from the station by walking along Viale Vittorio Emanuele.

9. Eating like the Bergamaschi

 What to do in Bergamo like a local: eating like the Bergamaschi

Tasting polenta and stracciatella gelato right where it was invented. If you're wondering what to do in Bergamo like a local, well, then start by entering a trattoria. These simple, no-frills taverns are true traditional cuisine strongholds. 

Don't even think about keeping track of your calorie intake, but just have have fun and enjoy your meal. What can't be missing from Bergamo's tables? Polenta, of course.

A symbol of Lombard tradition, it's also known as 'la taragna' in the Bergamo area, a dish prepared with maise and buckwheat flour, butter and cheese, preferably the local Branzi and Formai de Mut. 

A symphony of flavours that continues with tasty filled pasta, such as the classic casoncelli and scarpinocc; capù, a poor recipe made with Savoy cabbage; and with desserts: polenta e osei and torta Donizetti, a tribute to a certain illustrious fellow citizen.

If you like ice cream, you cannot avoid visiting a specific address to eat the real stracciatella in the pastry shop that invented it in 1961. Where? At La Marianna in Largo Colle Aperto.  

8. Discovering Borgo Pignolo

 What to do in Bergamo like a local: discovering Borgo Pignolo

In the 16th century, when Bergamo was an outpost of La Serenissima, Via Pignolo became a spectacular entrance for those approaching the city from Venice.

Clad as it is with Renaissance palaces equipped with elegant façades and beautiful doors opening onto elaborate courtyards and unexpectedly sumptuous gardens, it's one of the most exciting corners to discover. Strolling through this district is among the things to do in Bergamo like a local: look around and be amazed. Here are some highlights. 

First of all, the church of Santo Spirito. It's a small delight adorned with pieces by illustrious artists of the time, such as Andrea Previtali and Lorenzo Lotto. The latter is also the author of a large altarpiece in the nearby church of San Bernardino

Caprotti Park is a hidden romantic gem. A secret place? Certainly not: you'll find it by crossing the entrance at number 109 Via Tasso. Inside, lots of greenery, centuries-old trees, artificial caves, a beautiful pond and a charming neo-Renaissance temple. 

Carry on until the Piazzetta del Delfino, with its iconic fountain and the half-timbered house at the junction with Via San Tommaso, an ancient dwelling with unique architectural features. The square bewitched Russian stage designer Léon Bakst, who used it as the backdrop for one of legendary Sergej Diaghilev's ballets. 

7. Walking along the Unesco World Heritage Walls

In the 16th century, the Republic of Venice built a mighty city wall to protect the hilly side of Bergamo. 

Dungeons, cannonry, gun ports and military passages extend over 6 kilometres and are now a part of the Unesco serial site including the Venetian works of defence scattered across Italy, Croatia and Montenegro. 

This mammoth structure required the demolition of about 250 buildings among dwellings, shops and places of worship to see the light. 

Walking along the ancient Mura Veneziane is a sweet habit that locals indulge in at any time of day. Nevertheless, it is at sunset that this route becomes particularly scenic. The view is gorgeous and offers surprises if you try to look through one of the telescopes along the way: on a clear day, you can even see Milan's skyline. 

6. Listening to an opera by Donizetti

What to do in Bergamo like a local: listening to an opera by Donizetti

In the house where the great composer was born, the spirit of an era comes alive, and the love of art and music is rediscovered. The building in Via Borgo Canale, where Gaetano Donizetti was born in 1797, has been a national monument since 1926. The museum housed in the five-storey building dating back to the 14th century is just one of the many places in the city where the name of the illustrious Bergamasco resonates.

Strolling along Sentierone, for example, an original homage will have you looking down: the new paving of the long avenue that crosses the Città Bassa features phrases and quotations from its most famous arias. 

If you want to get into the right mood and experience something for real melanomas, then we recommend attending one of the performances staged at the Donizetti Theatre and the Teatro Sociale, where the international Donizetti Opera festival is held every year in November.

The Donizetti Night in June is also exciting: many performances in the city streets reaffirm how and to what extent opera is an asset of the entire community and a significant part of Bergamo's identity. 

5. What to do in Bergamo like a local: up and down the stairs

As we have mentioned, Bergamo is made up of a lower and an upper part. Given this peculiar morphology, it's natural to expect a flood of stairs and steps crisscrossing the city and its hills. 

Walking along Bergamo's paths and sloping passages is one of the best ways to get to know this place. Some are genuinely characteristic, and tackling them on foot or by bicycle will allow you to discover the city from an unusual perspective in complete tranquillity. You'll pass through suggestive green areas in the middle of woods and terraces. 

There is also an event, Millegradini (literally meaning a thousand steps), which takes you up all of Bergamo's stairs in one day. A golden opportunity to stretch your legs and at the same time admire Bergamo's monuments and natural and architectural beauties. 

4. Doing a good luck ritual  

If this stuff works, good luck will be by your side for days to come. To meet the blindfold goddess, you must go to Piazza Vecchia, the core of Bergamo Alta.

It's a square full of fascinating historical edifices, where every building conceals an anecdote, a story, a curiosity. Standing out among them all is a detail - small, shiny and 'irreverent' - on the gate of the Colleoni chapel

Right behind Palazzo della Ragione, one of the oldest municipal buildings in Italy, is the Renaissance mausoleum commissioned by Bartolomeo, a proud commander whose family crest bears not one, not two, but three pairs of testicles!

Bergamo's nonne have no doubt: rubbing them is a good-luck gesture. As for the bull of Milan's Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, stroking the Colleoni coat of arms also ensures a good dose of luck. Have a try!

3. Visiting a noble palace

Looking for a taste of history during your time in Bergamo? Consider visiting one of its prestigious historic residences. The area is home to several magnificent palaces and castles that have played host to local nobles throughout the centuries. 

Some of these private estates are open to the public during a periodic initiative called Domeniche per Ville, Palazzi e Castelli, but others can be visited throughout the whole year.

Palazzo Moroni is one of the most beautiful places we recommend visiting during your stay in Bergamo. Located in Via Porta Dipinta, in the heart of the upper city, the palace still retains its original frescoes and decorations. The building is home to a large number of works by the most brilliant Lombard artists from the 15th to the 19th century, such as Giovan Batista Moroni and Cesare Tallone. 

2. Taking a trip to Lake Iseo

What to do in Bergamo like a local: taking a trip to Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is the perfect quick getaway from Bergamo. Within just half an hour, you can reach this popular tourist spot that offers magnificent views, a range of outdoor activities, and some of the most picturesque villages in Lombardy. Sarnico, Lovere, and Pisogne are just a few charming villages to visit during your trip. 

One of the highlights of Lake Iseo is Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Italy. You can board a ferry from one of the nearby towns; for example, in Sulzano, departures are every 20 minutes. Once there, you explore the island's beauty on foot, by moped, or by bicycle since no cars are allowed. 

For sports enthusiasts, the Vello Toline cycle path is a must. This trail runs along the lake shore, passing through rock tunnels, rest areas, and picnic spots. Just be sure to check if the route is passable and not interrupted by safety works before embarking on your cycling adventure.

If you're looking for the most stunning view, take a walk through the woods to Riva di Solto, where you'll find a giant green and blue bench created by Chris Bangle as part of the Big Bench Community Art Project. From here, you can enjoy the breathtaking vista of the lake and the Corna Trentapassi.

1. Photographing a special tiny house

At first glance, Casa Minima might almost go unnoticed. Still, this building in Piazzale Goisis, small and somewhat oddly shaped, is an innovative project by Pino Pizzigoni, a renowned architect who dedicated most of his 40-year career to the city of Bergamo.

The small house, which won a competition in 1946, was designed to be an affordable single-family dwelling and served as a prototype for post-war reconstruction. 

Although the materials used were inexpensive, inspired by country farm buildings, the project's complexity lies in its interiors, perfectly proportioned to the human figure and designed for easy domestic functions. 

As you walk through the streets of Bergamo, you'll come across other noteworthy works by Pizzigoni, including the Longuello church, Casa del Padre in Viale Vittorio Emanuele, Casa Traversi in Via Borgo Palazzo, and Casa Cubo in Monte Ortigara.

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