Città dei Mille: City of the Thousand
Returning to Italy is always great; literally everywhere you go in this country is like visiting a museum. So much history at every turn that overwhelms anyone, and always a new place to see never been before. In this case, we booked flights once more to Milan, but skipping it on this occasion as we’ve been few times, even though we are looking forward to return anyway; and head to Bergamo 40 km east from Milan, the second most visited city in the Lombardy region and the perfect base to also visit the nearby UNESCO listed former industrial planned city of Crespi d’Adda, and the historic city of Brescia farther east.
A weekend as usual is too short, otherwise at the same distance from Milan that is to Brescia, you could go to Cremona, birthplace town of the most famous luthier in history, Antonio Stradivari; and the city of Piacenza. That’s anyway good news for us, meaning finding another flight to any of the three airports of Milan in the near future, perhaps next year, will be well worth it and continue to discover more of this beautiful region in Italy.
Bergamo, although small, is good in size with plenty of sights for a full day visit. Any longer than this will not make sense, hence why most tourist have the same in mind, and continue to visit other cities in the region, or even head to the Alps to spend a day in the nature. No need really to mention anything about the Alps since you will see them right in front of you especially from the upper city of Bergamo, you are literally at the foothills and the views of the mountain range are magnificent.
Linking both the new and old town (lower and upper city) there is a funicular railway; with another one between the upper city and San Vigilio Hill farther up. It is from here where you will get great views over the city below, but once you are outside of the old town itself, visiting the lower city is faster and easier since the sights are located along a pretty much orthogonal grid of streets and avenues created in the 19th century with grand buildings both public and residential.
As for the “company town” of Crespi d’Adda, just few km to the west of Bergamo, it makes the perfect compliment one to another and a great day out. This place was the first industrial village created from scratch in Italy in 1878, where the main factory sits in the middle and a planned city for the workers surrounding it, complete with schools, markets, church, theatre, hospital, monuments and even a cemetery. In this case, a cotton mill for textile manufacturer Cristoforo Benigno Crespi.
Something great about any city in the Lombardy region comes in the afternoon. Dinner time. So while of course you have countless restaurants of any kind anywhere, you also have the “happy hour” places where you buy a drink, and get a food buffet included! It’s called apericena. Ok, do not expect having a huge choice of food, but it is great enough. You end up paying around 5 Euros for a cocktail as an example and then you can eat until you wish, although the usual is around 8 Euros. A fantastic alternative to an otherwise expensive business that can be finding a nice restaurant, and a much better way to chill out with friends or rest after a long sightseeing day, why not.
That’s all for this brief introduction to the city, however for more information about Bergamo check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites, and here Crespi d’Adda Wikipedia’s article. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Bergamo
- Città Bassa The 19th century extension of Bergamo, following an orthogonal urban plan of elegant streets and avenues.
-Guglielmo Marconi Square Located at the southeastern edge of Bassa, where the railway station is. From here the main avenue cutting through this district leads towards the base of the old town.
-Main Avenue This main artery of the city receives 3 names along its length, being the first section from the train station towards Piazza Giacomo, Viale Papa Giovanni, thereafter Viale Roma and as last Vittorio Emanuele II.
-Piazza Giacomo The main square in Bassa, also the largest, where the grand 19th/20th century buildings were constructed.
-Porta Nuova The access gates to the Giacomo Square are purely monuments, in the form of symmetrical small Roman temples.
-Comune di Bergamo The City Hall is located at the left after the Porta Nuova, and has at its front the statue of Vittorio Emanuele II.
-Donizetti Theatre At the opposite side from the Porta Nuova, named after the composer in 1897 for the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his birth.
-Torre dei Caduti Easy to spot, by the Bank of Bergamo headquarters.
-Via XX Settembre Instead of continuing straight along the avenue, take this street from the western edge of Piazza Giacomo and follow it all the way to its end where it becomes Via Sant’Alessandro, and then take Via Borfuro from the corner of Basilica Sant’Alessandro. It is completely filled by beautiful colourful old buildings everywhere, and you end up back again in Giacomo.
-Piazza della Repubblica Continuing along the main avenue, already on the section Vittorio Emanuele II, is the next large square and garden from where you can get a nice view of the Città Alta in the near distance.
-Via Don Carlo Botta-Vicolo S. Carlo If you wish to reach the Città Alta on foot, this is the way. From Piazza della Repubblica take the street at its western end, Via Don Carlo Botta until you reach the intersection with San Carlo, take this north and you will start getting great views as you head upwards.
-Funicular The easiest way to reach the Città Alta. The lower station is on Vittorio Emanuelle II, not much farther north from Piazza della Repubblica.
- Città Alta The Upper City as it translates is the small old medieval town where majority of the sights are enclosed by the 16th century Venetian walls.
-Porta San Giacomo The main entrance gate to the old town, directly connected to the small bridge to the road leading from the lower city, offering great views to the Venetian walls.
-Palazzo Melogado Immediately after crossing the gate you find it ahead of you. Built in neoclassical style in 1791.
-Piazza Mercato Delle Scarpe Following along Via S. Giacomo you reach this little square where the funicular upper station is, and from where the main street through the old town starts, Via Gombito, towards the Piazza Vecchia.
-Piazza Vecchia The Old Square as it translates is the heart of the city with the most important and finest buildings
-Contarini Fountain Located in the centre of the square, pay attention to the lions holding the chains.
-Palazzo Nuovo Designed in the 17th century by Vincenzo Scamozzi with an impressive marble façade, (but only completed in 1928). It is home to the Civic Library Angelo Mai.
-Palazzo della Ragione Also known as Palazzo del Podestà, with facades at both Piazza Vecchia and Piazza Duomo on the other side, was built in the 12th century as the administrative seat of the city in the age of the communes, then the residence of Venetian rulers who added the lion of St Mark in the façade in the 16th century. Nowadays is the Accademia Carrara picture gallery.
-Civic Tower Known as the Campanone or the Big Bell, is located at the same square’s end as the Palazzo della Ragione, easy to recognise for its tower which you can go up for nice views of this part of the city.
-Piazza Duomo At the other side from Piazza Vecchia passing through the arches of the Palazzo della Ragione.
-Duomo The Cathedral was built in the 17th century sandwiched in between the small space left with the buildings surrounding it.
-Baptistery Located in the middle of the square, was erected in 1340 and built in the traditional octagonal shape.
-Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore Built from the 12th to the 14th century, has a magnificent Romanesque interior with Baroque decorations, and a dome full of frescoes by Giovanbattista Tiepolo.
-Colleoni Chapel Attached to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, was built between 1471 and 1475, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. It contains the tomb of the condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni.
-Tempietto di Santa Croce Very well hidden easy to miss, however one of the oldest constructions still standing in Bergamo. It is behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Via Arena.
-Via Arena-Via Bartolomeo Colleoni From behind the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore walk along this street, then head back to the main central street. Many nice buildings are around this area.
-Cittadella Very few remains of the original glorious fortification built by the Visconti family, only the Torre di Adalberto. The rest of the building is newer and home to the Archaeological Museum of Bergamo. Located at the end of Via Bartolomeo Colleoni
-Porta Sant’Alessandro The westernmost entrance gate to the city is richly decorated and integrated with the church.
-San Vigilio Hill Funicular Its base station is right by the Porta Sant’Alessandro, and takes you directly to the Castelo di San Vigilio higher up a hill. The views of the upper city in the distance are unparalleled from here.
- Crespi d’Adda At 20 km southwest from Bergamo’s downtown and as mentioned before in this guide’s introduction, it is the perfect place to include and compliment the day with Bergamo. While the easiest way is to reach by car, there are also public buses connecting both cities hence easy to reach. For anyone collecting UNESCO World Heritage Sites this is a must, say myself.
Orio al Serio Airport is just 5 km southeast of the city, and is one of the 3 international airports that Serves Milan. The ATB bus route 1 costs 3 Euros per trip, 5 for 24h ticket and 7 for a 3 days ticket to the heart of Bergamo. It is the farthest airport from Milan at 45 km east and is mostly used by low cost airlines. The Autostradale buses run a direct from the Airport to Milano Centrale station at around every 30 minutes taking 1 hour journey for 5 Euros per way.
Alternative airports are nearer to the city of Milan. Malpensa is the largest of them all with most of the international and intercontinental routes. Between T1 and T2 there are free buses though not very reliable, therefore count with enough time should you need to switch between terminal. Trains to Milano Cadorna Station or Milano Centrale all depart from Terminal 1, so if you happen to land or depart from T2, the best would be a bus and not the train. You can take any train and continue your journey by metro or tram from the train stations. A single ticket costs 12 Euros and must be bough and validated at the station before boarding. The last trains run few mins after 23.00pm, thereafter buses operate the same route. Buses are a great option too, especially if you arrive at Terminal 2 as you will save the time in not needing to get to T1 by the free shuttle bus to the train station. With frequencies every 20 to 30 minutes it takes around 1 hour to reach Milano Central Station with single tickets costing 10 Euros and 16 for a return.
Linate Airport is only 7 km from Milan. Reaching the centre of the city is easy with bus number 73 direction San Babila, where you can connect with the metro line 1. A single ticket is 1.5 Euros with unlimited interchange during 75 minutes after validating the ticket, therefore you can easily connect to trams, metro or other buses to your final destination. Should you arrive on a weekday, you can benefit by saving time if taking the express bus X73 which does the same route but with only one intermediate stop. The cost is the same.
From both Malpensa and Linate airports you can go directly to Bergamo without needing to get first to Milan and change there. There are shuttle buses from the arrivals terminal connecting all the airports, and the airports with Bergamo downtown.
If coming by train there are great connections across the whole of Italy and other European countries, including cities as far as Nice or Barcelona. Bergamo lies in an strategical location on the pan-European rail and road networks, and the main west-east line that links the major cities of Turin, Milan, Bergamo, Brescia, Verona, Padua and Venice, and the north to south with direct trains to Florence, Rome or Naples and all the cities in between.
Within the city there is no need for taking any public transportation at all, unless the San Vigilio Hill funicular. Walking both the lower and upper cities is very easy while distances are not too big. Then bearing in mind most of the upper city is completely pedestrian, then there is no other way than on foot, the best choice anyway.
From Bergamo to Crespi d’Adda there are public buses quite frequent. You could also take a train but this will involve a change in between, and an almost 1 hour journey for just 20 km distance. If you have a rental car though, it is matter of few minutes’ drive.
With an endless choice around this region, counting nearby Milan, it will be hard not to secure a good deal. The prices are very similar between staying in Milan or Bergamo, however, staying anywhere within the city centre can be a very expensive business, especially when visiting the city on key dates as summer months. Consider a hotel outside the city centre since the public transportation is really covering every corner, meaning you can easily lower the cost by staying just a little bit outside of the historical centre.
A good tip to consider is doing a search for a flight+hotel in combination on the British Airways website. This might surprise you and can lead you to a great deal altogether. We are doing this as much often as we can (or work for us) on our weekend trips, and this weekend was another good example of this, where we booked flights to Milan and our hotel in Bergamo to make there the perfect base to reach the cities we intended to visit. This is now the second time we do it with the Milan route. Not only that we managed to get the perfect flight times, but also earn Avios and Tier points for flying with our preferred OneWorld Alliance member, and also managed to get a nice hotel all less than half price than if booking separately and flying with a low-cost carrier.
Now when searching for hotels, the best point to start is by checking some of our preferred hotel search engine sites such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers. Some of these offer a search combination of flight+hotel.
We stayed at the Executive Hotel Bergamo, east of Bergamo in Via Nazionale 67. As explained before, we selected this city on purpose for being the perfect place to set our base to visit the cities we planned ahead. It worked great; the hotel was very nice, with very friendly staff and most important, comfortable and quiet overnight. Breakfast was included in the rate and was unexpectedly bigger than we though as it’s a full hot buffet and not just continental style.
Should you wish to read more information and feedback on the hotels we did stay when visiting Milan, check the guide here.
Album for the city of Bergamo
Album for the Crespi d’Adda