Guidebook Bergamo: Italy's Most Underrated City
Resting in the foothills of the Alps is an ancient Italian city, rich in Venetian history, yet unknown to most travelers.
We’d like to introduce you to Bergamo, the perfect Northern Italy town for the slow traveler or nomadic weekend warriors. At less than an hour on the train from Milan, Lake Como, and Lake Garda, #Bergamo is a fabulous home base for someone who wants to experience the lake district of Northern Italy, but without the typical hefty price tag. Bergamo is beautiful and, even better, it's affordable. The vast amount of amenities include libraries, pools, and parks, make it a perfect stop for adventurous exploring families. Oh, and there's also a swanky, but small, international airport there, with RyanAir flights!
This charming Dolomite hill town is more like a small city, boasting a population of around 200,000 people. A savvy traveler looking for a less expensive Italian home base can find everything they need here for an extended stay. The city has two major sections, the Upper City, Citta Alta (chit-al-tuh), and the Lower City, Citta Bassa (chit-uh-bah-suh). The Upper City is the old-world historic district where there is evidence of Roman civilization dating back to Julius Caesar's time. Citta Bassa, the more modern lower part of Bergamo, is home to a major Italian financial district and hosts modern Italian charm.
Newly dedicated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, Bergamo's old and new towns are separated by its Venetian defensive walls. It's also connected by its Funicular, an inexpensive cable car that bridges the core of the modern lower to the older upper city.
Arriving in Bergamo
To find your way to Bergamo, you have quite a few options. You can fly directly into Bergamo-Milan (Orio Al Serio Airport or BGY/LIME), Milan (Milan–Malpensa Airport MXP/LIMC), or Venice (VCE/LIPZ). Since the city is located in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, it's only a 30-minute train ride to and from Milan. From Venice, you can reach Bergamo within three hours.
Where to stay
Bergamo is wonderful because it’s almost like two towns in one, and you can choose a place to stay based on your needs. Staying in Citta Bassa is affordable and convenient. Here, you will find aperitivo bars, easy access to cabs, parks, restaurants, grocery stores, and of course, public transportation. The train station is also located in Citta Bassa and is only a 20 minute walk from anywhere in the lower city. Feeling fancy? You can easily opt for a B&B in Citta Alta, but at a premium price.
What to eat
Ristoranti Da Mimmo in Citta Alta is a local favorite and it has an out-of-this-world, sweet and savory, Bergamasca-style ravioli, Casoncelli alla Bergamasca. Da Mimmo also has some of Italy's best pizza, as the locals claim. We recommend a reservation, even for lunch.
Beer Osteria Gastropub hosts delicious craft draught beers, which is a rarity in most of Italy. The food here is also quite tasty. If you're looking for aperitivo, grab a drink and try the free appetizer spread at Tassino or at Osteria Risico. If you've never heard of aperitivo, stop what you're doing right now and read this. A few other local fares not to miss in Bergamo include Polenta Targana as a hot side dish, specialty risotto, or Polenta e Osei for dessert.
Bergamo as a homebase
The Lake District of Italy contains some of the world's finest views. From Bergamo, not only can you easily access Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Iseo, and Lake Maggiore, but Switzerland's beautiful Lake Lugano is only a 2-hour drive. Every lake has its own charms, wineries, and tiny villages to explore. If you love blue water, towering mountains, and unique vistas, consider easy access to these lakes one of Bergamo's greatest assets in any season.
Our favorite place in the Lake District is Garda located in the provinces of Trento and Brescia. With it's dramatic, steep mountainsides that dive into the crystal clear Alpine water, the lake is flanked by wineries to the south and olive oil shops to the east, and dotted with about 20 small villages that lead to the magnificent Riva del Garda in the north. One can spend a week in Garda alone, but accommodations can start to get pricey during peak tourist season.
Garda is accessible by train but you won't get to see much unless you have a car. Riva on the north side of the lake is a 2-hour from Bergamo and Sirmione on the southern tip is a one hour drive. We highly recommend seeing the Sirmione castle on the water, visiting Limone sul Garda beach, seeing Riva village at sunset, visiting an olive oil mill, and eating at San Giovani Pasini winery near Cunettone. Whether you're a family, retired or a solo traveler, you can't go wrong planning a visit to the magnificent corner of the world.
Perfectly nestled at the foothills of the Alps in the province of Lecco is dreamy Lake Como. Even for travelers like us, who yearn for authenticity and tend to shy away from over-touristy destinations, Lake Como is worth the visit. You have to go. We tried not to gush over Bellagio, the town that George Clooney famously called home for years. But it's quaint, luxurious, and altogether perfect. It truly is a gem.
To get to Como, hop on a 40-minute train ride from Bergamo to Lecco. In Lecco, you will transfer trains and head to Varenna. After arriving in Varenna, head straight to the ferry dock to purchase your ticket to Bellagio. Here, you have the option to buy a ferry ticket to access the other lesser-known villages as well. The 20-minute ferry from Varenna to Como gives you a unique view of the Swiss Alps from the water. Once you jump off the ferry, there is a tiny train, named the Trombetta Express, that will conveniently take you (plus your luggage) to your hotel for just a few Euros per person.
An up and coming Italian destination
With easy access to the best lakes in Italy and home to some of the country's finest ravioli, consider Bergamo the perfect home base for the ambitious and savvy traveler. Its world-class airport, public amenities and train accessibility to Milan make it as convenient as any city in Italy. Affordable and clean, beautiful and authentic, Bergamo is a perfect place for families, slow travelers, retirees, history buffs, and someone looking for a slice of genuine life in modern Italy.