Discover what to do in Bergamo like a local and experience the magic of a surprising double city.
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
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's art cities, 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 7 local moves to visit it at its best.
7. 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. And while the more modern and bustling areas spread out along Bergamo Bassa, the medieval historic centre, as well as many of the main attractions, are condensed in the upper offshoot, beyond that spectacle of civil engineering that are the 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.
6. 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 where the only protagonist is the palate.
Forget diets and don't even think about keeping track of your calorie intake. You just have to 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.
5. 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 Djagilev's ballets.
4. 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.
Over 6 kilometres (including dungeons, cannonry, gun ports and military passages) that are part of the Unesco serial site that brings together the Venetian works of defence scattered across Italy, Croatia and Montenegro.
The mammoth structure required the demolition of about 250 buildings among dwellings, shops and places of worship.
Walking along the ancient Mura Veneziane is a sweet pampering that locals and tourists alike 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.
3. 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.
2. 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.
1. Doing a good luck ritual
Watch out because if this works, you could be ingratiating yourself with good luck 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.
Here, 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 the 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!