Bergamo has a special charm: its Venetian walls, a Unesco World Heritage Site, surround the Upper town, the oldest and most historic part of the city. Just 40-minute-far by car from Milan, it is great for a short break and even for a longer vacation. A good starting point is the stunning view you can get from the Upper Town. On clear days you can glimpse the spire of the Cathedral in Milan! I live in London, but I was born and grew up in Bergamo and in this post I recommend what to do in Bergamo with kids.
BERGAMO, MY OWN TOWN
Are you from the Upper or Lower Town? How many times I have been asked this question. Actually Bergamo has two distinct parts, the Upper Town which is the most important tourist attraction, and the Lower Town.
It’s not easy to talk about your own town. However, having been born and grew up here, before moving to Milan to study and work, I can give you some tips as local for those who visit this city for the first time. So, in this post post you can find what should be seen even though in just one day.
HOW TO GET TO BERGAMO
Bergamo is easily reachable being one of the exits of the A4 motorway and having one of the most important airports of northern Italy, Bergamo Orio al Serio, which is only ten minutes drive from the city centre.
You can go from Milan to Bergamo also by train: in this case I suggest to buy a family card that kids don’t pay.
TIP: the Bergamo Card gives 48 hours access to public transportation and museums, as well as discounts on shopping. It can be bought online for just € 15,00.
WHAT TO SEE IN LOWER BERGAMO
You can start from the former main access to the city, Porta Nuova. It is located along Viale Vittorio Emanuele and takes you direct to the Upper Town. You can recognise it because it is characterized by the Propyl, two neoclassical colonnades that once housed the guards who demanded the duty of access to the city.
Once you are out of the train station, take Viale Papa Giovanni XXIII that is the main street to Porta Nuova. If you are traveling by car, you can park in Piazza della Libertà or, if you want to stay more central, in the parking Pass Mario Zeduri.
Leave the Propyl behind you and you can head towards XX Settembre street which, together with Sant’Alessandro and Sant’Orsola roads, is the shopping triangle of Bergamo. If you are visiting Bergamo during December, you will notice a crowd of children outside Santa Lucia church, in XX Settembre street. This Santa is very popular in this part of Italy, more than Santa, and they are in queue to bring their letter inside the church. The center of Bergamo is pedestrian and very easy to visit with buggies and children.
Before you start towards Bergamo Upper Town, you can stop in Sentierone street and have a coffee from one of the Bergamo historic cafe, Balzer. It is in front of Teatro Donizetti, the theater named after the famous composer who was born in Bergamo.
You can also continue along Sentierone towards San Tomaso road, where there is the Modern and Contemporary Art Gallery (GAMEC). Check their website as several workshops and events take place for children, from 5 years onwards. Go on along San Tomaso, and then into Pignolo road, another characteristic street of the old town. Just at the end of the street you will find Parco Suardi, a big park with a nice playground and rides.
HOW TO GET TO BERGAMO UPPER TOWN
You can go to Bergamo Upper Town by car, by bus and on foot, but if you want to let children try something different, it is worth take the funicular. Please bear in mind that the city is often closed to traffic. There are several paid parking lots close to the funicular or, if you want to walk a bit, you can leave the car in the stadium area where parking is free.
WALK UP TO BERGAMO UPPER TOWN
If you want to walk up to Bergamo Upper Town, you can do it through one of its ancient alleys: you have two alternatives. Take the Santa Lucia Alley, accessible from the homonymous street, near Italcementi Sport Centre. Park here is easy, there are both paid and free parking lots.
Watch the following video to better understand how the alleys are (sorry only in Italian). In this video I walk up to Bergamo Upper Town and I arrive at Porta San Giacomo. It takes only ten minutes to get there. There are stairs, so I don’t suggest it if you have a buggy.
Another possibility, is to walk up from Accademia Carrara, along the alley with stairs that starts just behind it and that will take you to Porta Sant’Agostino.
Once you get to Porta San Giacomo, you can then continue towards the center of Upper Town by taking San Giacomo street and arrive in Mercato delle scarpe square, where the funicular arrives. Or decide whether to go along the walls on the left, admire the view of the lower town and get to Colle Aperto, where you can see one of the ancient gates of the city with the Venetian coat of arms of the lion of San Marco. Here is also one of the historic cafe of Bergamo and the best gelateria in town: Marianna.
TIP: I would avoid walk up to the Upper town through Porta Sant’Agostino. There are stairs and there is also the transit of all the cars.
HOW TO CLIMB TO THE UPPER BERGAMO WITH THE FUNICULAR
Bergamo is a city that is well suited to be visited with children. The funicular is just one of the reasons. In Bergamo Upper Town there are two funiculars: with the first one you will get Mercato delle Scarpe square. With the second one you can get to San Vigilio. Pass Porta Sant’Alessandro once you arrive at the Colle Aperto, and the funicular is just there. It will take you at the top of the hill, where there are the ruins of the Castle of San Vigilio.
TIP: Take the one-way ticket for the funicular and get off via Porta Dipinta, get to the Fara and then get off the alley that leaves from Porta Sant’Agostino.
IN BERGAMO WITH KIDS: VISIT TO THE CASTLE OF SAN VIGILIO
The hill of San Vigilio, where the castle is located at 496 meters high, is in my opinion one of the most suggestive areas of the city. The castle was built in the Middle Ages on earlier fortifications, and perfected several times to adapt to the evolution of siege weapons. The fundamental structure dates back to 1335, at the time of the Visconti, the Duchy of Milan.
Thanks to the possibility to admire such a vast panorama, the Castle of San Vigilio was a strategic military garrison and the fortress was further expanded during the Republic of Venice in the Fifteenth century.
Currently you can still visit the secret passage linking the Fort of San Marco with the castle itself, thanks to the activity of the Speleological group Le Nottole, which also organize interesting visits in the underground Bergamo.
BERGAMO UPPER TOWN WITH KIDS: WHAT TO SEE
You can either get to Colle Aperto or from Porta San Giacomo to Mercato delle Scarpe square: in both case you will reach Piazza Vecchia, once the political centre of the town. Here you can admire the Contarini fountain and other palaces that overlook the piazza: Palazzo Nuovo (the former town Hall, now Angelo Maj Library), the Palace of the Region and the Campanone, whom bell in the past recalled the closure of the city gates and even today, every night at 22.00 plays with 100 chimes.
Last building noteworthy to admire from Piazza Vecchia is the Palazzo del Podestà, which from the beginning of the XII until the first half of the fifteenth century hosted the Podestà of Bergamo and various communal functions and today is home to the historical Museum of the Venetian age. The ticket to the Museum also allows to access the Campanone, from which you can admire a wonderful view of the city.
Under the porch of the Palace of the Region, admire the sundial that dates back to the eighteenth century. This sundial is peculiar and precious because unlike the traditional ones that project the shadow on a numerical scale to define the hour, it is a luminous ray that illuminates the floor to indicate when it is noon.
If you continue under the porch, access to a small square, Piazza Duomo, where the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, the Colleoni Chapel and the baptistery are.
In Duomo admire the works of Giovan Battista Moroni, Andrea Previtali and the tiara of Papa Giovanni Paolo II, originally from Bergamo and now Holy.
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was completed in 1137 at the behest of the inhabitants of Bergamo as a tribute to Madonna who had protected them during the plague of the early 1100. The interior of the church is rich in frescoes, tapestries, stuccoes and wooden tarsias designed by the famous artist Lorenzo Lotto (the latter can be admired only on Sundays). Inside the Basilica you can also see the funerary monument to Gaetano Donizetti, the famous composer from Bergamo.
The third unmissable building of this small square is the Colleoni Chapel, a masterpiece of the Italian Renaissance. Look at the beautiful decorations of red and white marbles that cover the facade. Inside, there are precious frescoes by Tiepolo and the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the soldier and leader from Bergamo. The heraldic symbol placed in the outer gate, must be touched because it is said to bring good luck.
The fourth and last building is the Baptistery, that is generally not open if not on certain occasions.
Then turn back to and get into the main street, via Colleoni and you will see the 52-meter-high Torre del Gombito, built in the XII century. The Tower is located at the intersection of the Cardo and the Decumanos of the Roman city (streets of S. Lorenzo/via Mario Lupo and via Gombito respectively).
Just behind Torre del Gombito, don’t miss an ancient washhouse in via M. Lupo, built at the end of the nineteenth century and remained in use until the 1950s. With its elegant cast iron cover it seems to recall some French buildings.
If you are in Milan, might be interested in this Bergamo Upper Town Day Trip from Milan
WHAT TO DO IN BERGAMO WITH KIDS: THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM
Once you arrive in Cittadella, visit the Archaeological Museum and the Natural History Museum.
The Natural History Museum contains exceptional naturalistic, paleontological, zoological and ethnographic exhibits. We visited it with the kids and we were pleasantly impressed. I remembered it since the last visit when I was a little girl, thanks to the huge Mammoth that welcomes you at the entrance of the Museum.
You can visit it in a couple of hours, and with the same ticket you can also get into the Archaeological Museum, which is right next door.
Here is the video of our visit to the Museum (sorry just in Italian):
WHAT TO DO IN BERGAMO WITH KIDS: THE BOTANICAL GARDEN
The Botanical Garden “Lorenzo Rota” is located in Bergamo Upper Town. Get in only on foot from a ladder of 141 steps from Colle Aperto, near the seventeenth-century powder keg, at the north-west end of the seventeenth-century Venetian walls (bulwark of Castagneta). Once you arrive, the tranquility and the view are priceless.
If you want to see another beautiful bucolic corner of Bergamo, then I recommend the Monastery of Astino, which after years of degradation was recovered and opened in 2015. The Monastery, which has been fully recovered, hosts several events including those organized with the Botanical Garden: in April every year, you can find guided tours, workshops and walks. Find here all the information.
WHERE TO EAT IN BERGAMO
These are all places frequented personally and where I go every time I come back to Bergamo:
- Tassino Cafè, for the aperitif is located in Piazza Pontida
- Pizzeria Da Nasti, the best pizza in Bergamo, is located in via Zambonate 2 – check the reviews and book here
- Al Vecchio Tagliere board, for a dinner of good wine and typical dishes, in Via Sant’Alessandro, 13/A – check the reviews and book here
- Cece and Simo, Via IV Novembre, 65, for superb meat dishes. They manage also a B&B – check the reviews and book here
- Mr. Michetta, sandwiches of all kinds/Via Pignolo, 58 – check the reviews and book here
And in Bergamo Upper town:
- Da Mimmo, the establishment of Bergamo Alta, not only for pizza, in Via Colleoni 17 – check the reviews and book here
- Trattoria La Colombina, for typical dishes of the Bergamasca tradition, in Via Borgo Canale 12 – check the reviews and book here
- At Donizetti, if there is good weather you can dine in the historic portico and appreciate super wines and chopping boards, in Via Gombito 17th – check the reviews and book here
WHERE TO STAY IN BERGAMO
Bergamo has plenty of good accommodation options to check here. Here’s a selection of places to stay:
- Relais San Lorenzo in Bergamo upper town has fantastic, comfortable room in a stylish setting. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Casa Vacanze Cà Donizetti in Bergamo upper town is perfect for families as there is a room with a double and a single bed, plus a double sofa bed in the living room. Click here for the latest rates
- Casa Bergamo Mazzi in Bergamo, close to the centre, with a good price and with free car parking available. There is a double-bed room and a double sofa bed in the living room. Click here for the latest rates
- Residenza del Borgo is located in one of the most beautiful street in Bergamo. It’s Borgo San Caterina and this is a real old part of the city. It’s like an hotel but you feel like to be at home. No kitchen but free parking available. Click here for the latest rates and here for the reviews
- La Casa di Mimì located in the borough Malpensata, has excellent reviews and a very good value for a family with less than 80£ per day. Click here for the latest rates
WHAT TO SEE AROUND BERGAMO
The territory of Bergamo offers many possibilities: the lake Sarnico and Iseo, Montisola, Val Brembana and Val Seriana (here you can read about our day out in Castione della Presolana), but also Lake Garda, which is only 40 minutes, and lake Como.
If you have time, I recommend to visit Crespi d’Adda, a tiny village, 20-minute-drive far from Bergamo, in the municipality of Capriate San Gervasio. Crespi d’Adda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that now counts no more than 600 inhabitants. Built around a cotton factory, this is a great example of the 19th and 20th century “company towns”: following the English architecture, everything was built with the purpose to meet the workers’ needs. There was a school, a theatre, a church, a cemetery and a wash-house. It is a great place to visit, especially for those who enjoy getting off the beaten path, and worth going to for those visiting Bergamo.
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