This Is The Top Cultural Destination In Italy This Year

This Is The Top Cultural Destination In Italy This Year

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Italy is America’s favorite European getaway when the hot winds of summer begin blowing.

A historical nation home to some of the world’s most iconic sights, including the Colosseum, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and Milan Cathedral, it has enough attractions and sights to keep you coming back for more year after year.

View Of The Santa Maria di Maggiore Basilica In Bergamo Alta, The Upper Part Of The City, Seen From Atop The Campanone, Lombardy, Northern Italy

However, now that overtourism is back to haunt Italy, and the country’s adopting increasingly restrictive measures to combat the concerning trend, you may be wondering where in Italy you should go next – preferably, somewhere you won’t need advance booking to enter, nor risk being fined when attempting a selfie.

Believe us; it can happen.

This year, the lesser-known cultural hotspot of Bergamo – and its surrounding provinces – await you:

The Italian Capital Of Culture This Year

Located only 40 km Northeast of Milan, Bergamo is a small city with a population of just over 120,000, boasting incredible views of the Orobic Alps, and a rich heritage, so much so that it’s been named Italy’s Capital of Culture in 2023.

Bergamo Alta Cityscape, A Small City In The Alpine Region Of Orobie In Lombardy, Northern Italy

The coveted title, bestowed upon select cities that have historically contributed to the formation of an Italic identity and Italian culture in general, had previously been awarded to other up-and-coming tourist destinations such as Procida, a small island off the Bay of Naples and the stunning Parma.

This year, it’s the Bergamo province that takes the crown, alongside its sister city of Brescia, though it’s Bergamo that stands out among the two as the more picturesque settlement perched on a hilltop and surrounded by medieval walls.

An Overlooked Cultural Hotspot

Bergamo has been a cultural destination in the making for a while now.

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Bergamo Alta Seen From The Arched Windows Of The Campanone Medieval Tower, Bergamo, Lombardy, Northern Italy

Often overlooked by visitors who travel to the North of Italy to marvel at the architectural grandeur of Milan or spend idyllic weekends at Lake Garda or Como, it receives on average 2 million visitors per year only.

This may sound like a lot, but it represents merely a fraction of Italy’s staggering levels of tourism, which reached an all-time high of 64.8 million in 2022.

Fortunately for crowd-wary travelers still keen on living out their Italian summer fantasy, Bergamo’s overtourism rates are way lower than the Italian average.

Why Is Bergamo Worth Visiting?

Divided into two parts – Lower and Upper Bergamo – the city is best known for its ‘upper’ part, or Città Alta, a walled historic core that’s been attracting a growing number of History buffs and culture enthusiasts in recent years.

This is largely due to UNESCO’s classification of the Venetian defensive systems of Bergamo as a Heritage Site in July 2017, reaffirming the underrated city’s relevance as a center of culture and the arts, a role it’s undertaken since the Middle Ages.

Upper Bergamo is a fortified citadel where the perfectly-preserved cobbled alleys are lined by Italy’s famous pastel-colored facades and an imposing cathedral with an ornate duomo that towers high above a central piazza, flanked by alfresco dining spots and other impressive medieval monuments.

Bergamo Alta Seen From Bergamo Bassa, A Medieval City In Lombardy, Northern Italy

Most visitors to Bergamo quickly tick off the city as a day trip from Milan, but we would strongly recommend spending at least three days here savoring your way through and taking in the sights of Bergamo, and the Bergamo Province, which are plentiful.

The Top 7 Things To See In Bergamo

Some of the top attractions include:

  • The Piazza Vecchia, the Upper Town’s main meeting point and Bergamo’s beating heart
  • Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore, a 12th-century Romanesque wonder featuring elaborate stucco and vibrant frescoes
  • The Colleoni Chapel, a beautifully-decorated mausoleum adjacent to the Basilica
  • The Campanone, an 11th-century tower rising 43 meters high offering a breathtaking panorama of the Bergamasque skyline and the Alps beyond
  • The Porta San Giacomo, one of the Upper Town’s medieval gates, linked to Lower Bergamo via a stone footbridge
  • Castello di San Vigilio, a fortified complex situated at Bergamo’s highest point, with restaurants and romantic trails distributed along the route leading up to its outer walls
  • The Venetian Walls of Bergamo, a UNESCO-protected monument encircling the Upper Town that used to serve as a protection mechanism against invaders in the Middle Ages

A World-Class Foodie Destination

Italy is a renowned foodie hotspot, what with its award-winning pasta, freshly-made pizze, soft gelato, and abundance of fresh fruit, owing it to a Mediterranean climate, and Bergamo is no different when it comes to wholesome culinary experiences.

Casoncelli alla bergamasca is Bergamo’s signature dish, and a stuffed pasta hand-sealed and boiled before it is is served in butter, with grated parmigiano on top.

Other regional delicacies include the creamy-textured Taleggio cheese, originating from the namesake valley close to Bergamo. According to locals, it has been produced since the Roman era – and of course, there is stracciatella.

Close Up Shot Of Stracciatella Ice Cream, Italy

The creation Bergamo locals seem to be proud of the most. The creamy gelato flavor consisting of milk and chocolate bits was first concocted within the city’s ancient fortifications, and it’s attributed to restaurant owner Enrico Panattoni.

It got so popular the concept spread all over the world, but some of the best stracciatella can still be found in Bergamo’s Upper Town.

Straight Out Of A Movie Scene

Lastly, Bergamo has recently served as a filming location for Timothee Chalamet-starred coming-of-age drama Call Me By Your Name.

many people sit outdoors under shade along the street to eat in Florence Italy

To the cinephiles out there, it is where the leading characters Elio and Oliver escape to on their romantic getaway ahead of Oliver’s imminent departure.

There are numerous other movie-like settings in, and around Bergamo worth exploring, including:

  • Brescia, a medium-size city dotted with UNESCO-listed monuments, such as the historical Tower of Pegol
  • Crema, a traditional Northern Italian town that also featured on Call Me By Your Name
  • Treviglio, a lesser-known small town only 12 miles South of Bergamo, best known for its landmark medieval basilica and 14th-century Town Hall
  • Lago d’Iseo, a picturesque lake lined with sleepy fishing villages and fairy-tale villas, that often gets skipped by tourists on their way to Lakes Como or Garda*
woman traveling in Italy with map
*Iseo and Sarnico are two of the most beautiful towns straddling Lago d’Iseo

Bergamo Is Easy And Cheap To Get To

As Bergamo is only 40 miles North of the mega-hub that is Milan, getting there couldn’t be easier. In fact, the regional airport markets itself as Milan-Bergamo (BGY), hosting hundreds of low-cost flights from numerous Italian and European destinations.

Intra-Europe flights to Bergamo Airport can be as cheap as US$10 booked in advance with budget airlines like Ryanair, which use it as a hub.

ryanair plane

Arriving in BGY, tourists can either hop on a Milan or Bergamo-bound shuttle, as the airport serves both cities.

Guests arriving in Milan Linate, or Milan Malpesa, the Lombardian capital’s two primary international airports, can travel by bus or train to Bergamo from central Milan for between US$6 and US$11.00 one-way.

How Long To Stay In Bergamo

Bergamo Italy

As Bergamo is a compact city, and most of the attractions are all crammed within the defensive walls of the Upper City, you can easily see it in a single day, though we would suggest at least 3 days in the wider Bergamo province to truly take in the atmosphere of the Northern Italian countryside, and visit a neighboring village or two.

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