Italian cities like Rome and Venice have endless ways to fill your travel itineraries. But if you’re wanting to get off the beaten path in Italy, how can you be sure that you’ll still fill your schedule? Luckily, the beautiful city of Bergamo offers tons of things to do, in both the upper (Citta Alta) and lower (Citta Bassa) city. If you are looking to find an Italian destination that is devoid of tourists, but still has a lot to offer, check out these things to do in Citta Alta Bergamo.
Things to do in Citta Alta Bergamo
Visit Historic Piazzas
Meaning “The Old Square,” this piazza was built in the 1400’s and is essentially the center of Citta Alta. It’s surrounded by many of the main tourist sites in this part of the city, such as the Civic Tower, the Duomo, and the Contarini Fountain. There are also many restaurants in the piazza, though due to their location they’re a bit more pricey.
Piazza Vecchia from above
Built almost a century after Piazza Vecchia is “The New Square,” located at the northwest end of Citta Alta. This was where my favorite Bergamo gelateria is located. It’s also the location of a really cool restaurant (though hella expensive) where you can dine among archaeological ruins dating back to 300 BC.
A nice, shady Piazza Nuova
Piazza della Cittadella & Piazza Mercato della Scarpe
These two piazzas lay at each end of Citta Alta. Piazza della Cittadella sits at the very northwest end, just past Piazza Nuova. This is where you can find many museums and a Sunday market set up. Piazza Mercato della Scarpe is at the southeast end of the city. This is where you will begin your time in Citta Alta, if you take the funicular up to the city (Funi-whaaat? We’ll talk about that later….)
The Duomo of Bergamo
Located near Piazza Vecchia, The Duomo of Bergamo is dedicated to the patron saint of the city: Saint Alexander. While rather unassuming from the outside, inside the giant doors is a lovely cathedral of white and gold.
The facade of the Duomo
The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Right next door from the Duomo is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. The entrance to the Basilica looks small and nondescript next to its towering neighbors, but the inside reveals a huge, colorful, and detailed church. Here you can also find a monument dedicated to the life of Gaetano Donizetti, a famous composer who was born in Bergamo.
An interior view of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Built right next to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is the Colleoni Chapel. The colorful and artistic outer facade makes it one of the most lovely buildings in Bergamo. The chapel houses the tombs of Bartolomeo Colleoni, a very famous Italian mercenary captain, and his daughter.
The entrance to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore on the left, and the entrance to the Colleoni Chapel on the right
Take In Incredible Views
The Campanone Torre Civica (Civic Tower)
When visiting Piazza Vecchia, it’s hard to miss the Civic Tower, rising up into the air. This tower was built somewhere between the 11th and 12th centuries. Similar to a belfry, the tower and the bell at the top served many purposes over the years. At precisely 10:00PM every night, the bell chimes 100 times. 360 years ago, the chimes were to let everyone know that the city gates would be closing for the night. But now, they chime to continue the tradition that has lasted through the centuries.
At 52 meters tall, the Civic Tower is the tallest tower in the city of Bergamo, and one of the best places for views over the city. This makes it one of the best things to do in Citta Alta Bergamo. For just €5 (or for free, for anyone under 18) you can visit the top of the tower by climbing a narrow staircase or taking an elevator. I highly recommend visiting as close to sunset as possible. The golden sun setting over the terracotta roofs of Bergamo is an amazing sight to behold.
Note: The box office for tickets closes 30 minutes prior to the end of visiting hours. Check the hours here.
Looking out over the southeast side of Citta Alta, and Citta Bassa in the distance
The sun setting over the northwest end of Citta Alta
Porta San Giacomo
There are a total of four gates that allow entrance to Citta Alta. Porta San Giacomo stands at the south end of the city and has been standing there since 1593. This area is one of the most photographed in Bergamo, due to the incredible views it offers over Citta Bassa below.
Porta San Giacomo
The view of Citta Bassa from Porta San Giacomo
Porta San Agostino
This is another city gate that offers great views is Porta San Agostino. This gate sits on the eastern side of the city and was named after the nearby monastery. It serves as the main entrance to Citta Alta and has been since it was built in 1575.
Ride the Funicular
The easiest and best way to get from Citta Bassa (Lower City) to Citta Alta (Upper City) is to take the funicular. This unique mode of transportation is much like a train or cable car, but rather than having the cars follow the same angle of the track, they stay flat and level. Bergamo’s funicular has been in use for over 120 years and saves people from having to make the long and steep trek up to Citta Alta.
Note: When boarding the funicular try to get a spot in the front car, by the window for the best views.
The Funicular coming down the tracks from Citta Alta
Walk along the Venitian Walls
Citta Alta is surrounded by a 6-kilometer circuit of Venitian Walls. They were originally built in the 1500s by the Republic of Venice to help defend the city from attacks. Fortunately, the city never saw any of these attacks, which has led to the walls remaining in great condition today. In July of 2017, these walls were officially designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can walk along these walls for some great views of the city that lies below.
Views from Viale delle Mura at sunset
Enjoy the Outdoors
Parco della Fara
There are many public green spaces in Citta Alta, Bergamo. Parco della Fara can be found near Porta San Agostino. This grassy plot of land sits on a small hill, overlooking parts of Citta Bassa. During the day, you can find locals picnicking here, or playing games of soccer and frisbee.
Parco della Fara in the evening
The Botanical Gardens
Just a short walk past the northwest end of town will bring you to the Botanical Gardens of Citta Alta. These small gardens are free to enter and have over 1200 different types of flora. The gardens are a great place to spend a quiet afternoon looking over Bergamo.
A peaceful garden pathway
Explore the Castles
San Vigilio Castle
Outside of Citta Alta, you can take another funicular up to the outer part of Bergamo. San Vigilio Castle is free to enter and leads you to a small park, looking over Citta Alta. This castle served as a home to Bergamo’s many rulers over many centuries. The surrounding area also has many cute restaurants and a panoramic lookout over Bergamo.
La Rocca Castle and Park
Dating all the way back to 1331, this fortress sits in one of Bergamo’s most beautiful parks. For €3 you can go inside the castle and learn more about Bergamo’s history. It’s said that looking out of the tallest tower on a clear day, you can see all the way to Milan! The land surrounding the castle is La Rocca Park and it offers some stunning views over Bergamo and the mountains in the distance.
La Rocca Castle flying the Italian Flag
Looking out over La Rocca Park
Note: I’m not a big fan of museums, so I didn’t personally visit these. However, these three are the top museums to check out in Citta Alta. If you’re interested in visiting museums in Citta Alta Bergamo, click here to learn more.
Natural Science Museum
Located in the Piazza della Cittadella, the Natural Science Museum hosts over one million natural artifacts. From animals to insects, minerals and dinosaur bones, this museum is a great stop for nature lovers. Admission costs only €3 and includes entry to the Archaeological Museum.
Next to the Natural Science Museum sits in the Archaeological Museum. Here, you can learn all about the history of Bergamo and the surrounding region, from prehistoric times to the Middle Ages. Admission costs only €3 and includes entry to the Natural Science Museum.
The Birthplace of Gaetano Donizetti & Museo Donizettiano
Gaetano Donizetti was a world-famous musical composer, who was born in 1797, right in Citta Alta, Bergamo. In the basement of a very old building was where his family lived, and visitors can see it today, free of charge. Visitors can also visit the Museo Donizettiano (The Donizetti Museum), to learn more about the composer, see some of his instruments, and view a collection of his musical works.
Explore Underground Citta Alta
If you’re really lucky, or if you speak some Italian, you may be able to join a tour group exploring the underground of Citta Alta. Remember those historic Venitian walls we talked about? Well, you can go inside them and see the old casemates and cannon rooms. You can also climb into the old cisterns and see where the city’s water used to be held.
There is a Speleological Group in Bergamo that hosts tours underneath the city. I’m not sure how often they do their tours. I was invited by my AirBnb host, who is a member of the group. You can try to contact them through their Facebook page, but note the tours are NOT in English. Still, this is one of the funnest things to do in Citta Alta Bergamo.
Climbing into a hole in the ground…
Cannoniera di San Giovanni
If climbing underground into tight spaces isn’t your jam you are in luck! You can still visit one of the old cannon rooms. The Cannoniera di San Giovanni is open to the public and has no entry fee. You can climb down a flight of stairs into the old room and look out over Citta Bassa below.
Stay in a Charming B&B from the Middle Ages
Citta Alta, Bergamo is filled with that historic, Middle Age charm. So why not choose to stay in a B&B with that same charm? My host, Paola, had a dream to open a B&B in Bergamo, and took a leap of faith by buying and starting La Casa dei Mercanti. Her guest room is absolutely adorable and has authentic frescos from the Middle Ages. Her warm hospitality is also hard to match. Here is a coupon for $40 off your booking!
A gorgeous historic courtyard outside the Bnb
Listen to Street Performers
The streets of Citta Alta are filled with musical street performers! Pianos along the sides of the streets let local artists share their tunes. You can feel free to play them as well! There are also singers and violinists and more that will play throughout the day!
Stroll Via Gombito
This is the main street that goes through Citta Alta. You can find all kinds of stores, restaurants, and cafes on this street. It’s a great place to just window shop and enjoy the Italian feel of the city.
The narrow, yet lovely Via Gombito
The Lavatoio (The Old Washhouse)
The Lavatoio is just a fun little historical site right around the corner from Piazza Vecchia. This old washhouse was built in 1881, as a place for people to go wash their clothes. It’s quite a beautiful structure and not something you stumble upon often. It sits in a quiet, shady park that’s also great to relax in.
Pig Out on Italian Food
Let’s be real here: You’re not going to visit Italy and not indulge in the amazing food. One of my favorite things to do in Citta Alta Bergamo was to pig out on all the great food! Citta Alta will not disappoint your taste buds! You can find all the Italian food staples here, along with local dishes originating in Bergamo. Some of my favorite spots to eats include Da Mimmo for pasta, Il Fornaio for pizza, and Gelateria Cherubino for gelato!
Casoncelli alla Bergamasca: A local pasta dish from Bergamo