I arrived in Bergamo, an old city in Northern Italy, on a rainy afternoon in early June. I was officially back in Europe, and after 3 months of travelling through (mostly sunny) Asia, it was a welcome change of weather, architecture and easiness of travel. A month earlier, I had decided to book a short stopover in Italy on my way back to Denmark from Kyrgyzstan, since the extra flight was just 200 DKK more. My original plan was to explore Milan for the afternoon, but when I arrived at Bergamo Airport and saw a stunning picture of the cityscape of Bergamo, I changed my mind. Milan is an hour away by bus from the airport and Bergamo is just 15 minutes away, plus Milan is easy to get to some other time, whereas this might’ve been my only chance to explore Bergamo.
So for the sake of easiness and because Bergamo looked so awesome, I bought a 5 euro all-day transport ticket for the city of Bergamo. My flight to Denmark wasn’t until the next morning, so I had all evening to explore the city, although the constant rain and thunder didn’t exactly give me any chance to just sit about and people-watch, which is something that I enjoy doing in cities. Instead, I walked to all of the main sights and despite the weather and the fact that I had to use an umbrella since I left my jacket at the airport (I hate umbrellas), I really enjoyed exploring Bergamo and would recommend going there, if you have a few hours to kill at the airport!
Bergamo is easy to find your way about in and even with just a paper map in my hand, I managed to only get lost twice – and managed to find my way back both times. All the main sights are located near each other and the city is very travelable with funiculars and buses running all the time.
The topography of Bergamo is unusual, since the modern part of the city is completely flat, but in the middle of it and above it lies the 16th century bastions of the old town on the crest of a hill. The upper city, or Citta Alta as it’s called in Italian – is where most of the tourist attractions are found along the narrow cobbled streets, so this is where I spent the most of my time. I got off the bus near the first of two funicular railways in the city, and caught the City Funicular, which connects the lower city with the upper city. The ride offered spectacular views of the entire city, which is full of atmosphere even in the rain.
From the end of the railway, I walked through the cobbled streets of the upper city to the other funicular, but on the way, I found a newly-discovered archaeological site and a peaceful cathedral with a stunning interior. These two sights aren’t on the tourist itinerary for the city, but that’s the charm of the places, if you ask me. I was completely alone in the cathedral and I cherished that moment of complete solitude in beautiful surroundings.
The other funicular, which is called the San Vigilio Funicular, connects the upper city with the Colle di San Vigilio (the hill of San Vigilio). On the hill that overlooks the upper city, lies the ruins of a majestic castle from the 6th century that was built with its defensive towers, underground passages, casemates and embrasures to defend Bergamo and its territory. The San Vigilio Castle used to be the residence of Bergamo’s rulers, but today stands as a memory of the past.
It started thundering while I was on the hill, so I decided to catch the funicular back down to the upper city, where I wouldn’t be so exposed. I still had plenty of daylight hours left, so I decided to walk back to the bus stop at the other end of the city, while exploring all of the major sights on my way.
I saw the beautiful Piazza Vecchia, which is the main square in Bergamo and the heart of the old town. It was built in the 12th century and has been the place of political power for centuries. Today, the square is one of the most popular hang-out places in the city and a popular destination for tourists, who also come to the square to see the Civic Tower, from where the view is said to be amazing. The Civic Tower was built between the 11th and 12 century, where aristocratic families would compete in building the highest tower in the city, which later gave the city the nickname “The City of One Hundred Towers”. Unfortunately, the tower was closed when I was there, so I didn’t get to see the view.
Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square) is just a stone’s throw away from Piazza Vecchia, and contains some of Bergamo’s most architecturally beautiful buildings. The Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore from 1137 and the adjoining Cappella Colleoni from 1470 are the most impressive ones with their unusual exterior, which is decorated in multicoloured inlaid marble. When I went inside the basilica and the chapel at around 6 PM, they were both about to close for the day, but I was lucky enough to be allowed a quick look around, which was definitely worthwhile.
Another beautiful building on the square is the Cathedral of Sant’Alessandro, which was built in 1459 with a neo-classical facade. Unfortunately, this cathedral was closed when I was there.
My last stop of the day was at the edge of the upper city; at the megalithic walls that were built around the city by the Venetians in the 16th century. More than four kilometres of walls were built around the old city, but I only got to see a few parts of it. I went to one of the most famous gates, the Gate of San Giacomo, which was built in 1593, and walked from there and down to the bus stop, following the wall while looking down at the lower city.
Bergamo is just a short bus ride from the airport and since all the sights are located close to each other, it’s worth going to check out the city, if you have a few hours to spare while waiting for your next flight. I would also recommend it as a day trip from Milan or as a destination in itself. It’s a beautiful city with great history that has a lot to offer – also much more than what I managed to squeeze in in an afternoon. To top it all off, flying back to Denmark from Bergamo was one of the most beautiful flights I’ve ever been on!
The stopover in Bergamo concluded my travels this time around – the morning after, I was heading back to my home country of Denmark. I had been travelling for 101 days and I knew that it was the right time to come home. I had enjoyed every moment of my travels, but by then, I was drained from energy and I just wanted my own bed, my own cat, my family and friends, proper working wifi and western showers and toilets. But just a week later, I was itching to get on the road again… Stay tuned to find out what my next chosen destination is!
Here are some tips for visiting Bergamo:
- Buy a 24-hour ticket for busses, trains and trams (funiculars) for just 5 euro. Stamp it on your first journey (the 24 hours count from then on) and then just show it to the ticket guys for the rest of the day.
- Sleeping at the airport in Bergamo is NOT ideal at all, but it can be necessary if you have a morning flight, as the busses don’t run very early. I usually enjoy spending the night at an airport, but Bergamo Airport has no available power sockets (only ones that you pay for) in the public area, crappy wifi connection, no comfortable seating areas, a lot of noise and only expensive foods and drinks. Word of advice: If you need power sockets and peace, take the elevator to the 1st floor, where the offices are located, and stay there for a while. I’m not sure if it’s actually allowed or not, but several people saw me there early in the night and didn’t say anything, so I stayed and had a few peaceful hours before finally getting kicked out to join the other passengers in the arrivals area.