Bergamo is a kid's dream of a medieval walled city. Strategically located between the Alps to the north and plains to the south, it was first settled by the Celts in the 6th - 4th century BC, followed by a Roman city. From the 15th - 18th century, Bergamo was ruled by Venice. Over a period of 350 years, the Venetians surrounded the city with thick stone walls and constructed castles for defense. The old city, situated on hilltop, is the Upper City (Citta Alta); down below is the modern Lower City (Citta Bassa).

The Upper City is where kids will want to explore, and there are two easy ways to go up from the Lower City - the funicular or city bus #1. The funicular (funicolare de citta alta) goes straight up the hillside, and you'll want to ride it more than once. Purchase a one day or three day ticket for unlimited rides on the funiculars and buses in the urban area. (Day tickets are available at newsstands or at the funicular on Viale Vittorio Emanuele II.)

Piazza Vecchia - Start your explorations in the heart of the Upper City at the Piazza Vecchia. The piazza is surrounded by medieval and Renaissance civic buildings, two churches, as well as cafes, and is a lovely spot to sit down for a snack or cold drink.
Torre Civica (Civic Tower) - First stop, ride the elevator to the top of the Torre Civica (Campanone), the medieval bell tower that's tolled celebrations and disasters for a thousand years. From the top of the tower are 360 views of Bergamo, the piazza below, rooftops, spires and churches of the old city, mountains to the north. Instead of riding the elevator back down, take the stairs, so kids can see the inside of the tower walls.
Palazzo della Ragione - Next door to the tower, the Palazzo has changing exhibitions of Bergamese art collections. When we visited, there were fascinating 16th century portraits of children, teens, men and women of Bergamo. Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Young Man, with long brown and hair and sulky expression, seemed totally contemporary. The details of Moroni's portrait of girl wearing a pearl necklace, pearls in her hair, and a jeweled ruff, will appear to anyone interested in fashion. And don't miss the lovely Mother and Child by Bellini.
Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore - Before you go inside the church, check out the two red marble lions of St. Mark by the doorway. The interior is classic gold and white Baroque, every inch of the church is covered with decoration. On the walls are red and blue Renaissance tapestries with scenes from the life of Mary.
Colleoni Chapel (Capella Colleoni) - The chapel next door, even more sumptuous than the cathedral, is the tomb of a famous Renaissance solider of fortune, Bartolomeo Colleoni. The outside is covered with red, white and black marble in geometric designs; inside, you can't miss the shining golden statue of Colleoni on horseback. The dome of chapel is decorated with frescoes by the Venetian artist Tiepolo.
Duomo (Cattedrale di Bergamo) - The Duomo sits on the site two older churches, going back to the early Christian era. One altar has a lovely statue of Mary, adorned with a silver halo and golden cape, cherubs and angels holding a crown above. Listen for the bells from the Duomo ringing on the hour.
Public Gardens (Giardino Pubblico) - From the Piazza Vecchia, walk down Via Colleoni, through Piazza Mascheroni and Piazza Cittadella. Bear left through the Passaggio Torre di Adalbero (there's a statue of Hercules on left), until you see ivy covered walls (sort of like the secret garden) and a gateway. This is the public gardens, and inside the walls is a playground, shade, benches, niches in the stone walls, and lots of kids eating their picnic lunches.
Civic Museum of Natural Sciences (Piazza Cittadella) - On a bad weather day, head indoors to this natural history museum. Exhibits have rocks, minerals, and fossils of ancient man (Neanderthals) found around Bergamo, reconstruction of a woolly mammoth, as well as cases of birds, mammals, butterflies, insects and touch tables. Displays are in Italian, but there's an overview is in English. Closed Mondays, the museum is free.
Castles -
Rocca (Fortress) - The site of a fortress since medieval times, the Viscontis and Venetians built a huge stone rectangular fortress with round towers at each corner for defense, and a keep in the center. Later it became an arsenal and gunpowder factory, then a barracks and prison.
To get the full effect of just how imposing the fortress is, walk up the stairs to the Rocca, then walk all the way around it. There are picnic tables, grass, shade, modern weaponry (yellow Italian self-propelled gun, cannons) around the Rocca, as well as some of the best views of the old city.
Inside the Rocca is a museum pertaining to the 19th century reunification of Italy, with displays of uniforms, swords, rifles. Teens with a keen interest in Italian military history will find the museum interesting; otherwise, kids will be happy to just run around the outside of the fortress.
Castello San Vigilio - High on the hill above the old city is an even older fortress than the Rocca, and it's well worth the effort to get there. At Largo Colle Aperto, walk through the Porta Sant'Alessandro city gate, and you'll see the funicular that goes up the hill. (Tip: There's no ticket booth, so buy funicular tickets the newsstand in Colle Aperto, or use your day ticket.)
The funicular ride up the hill is fun, with views of the Upper City below, church spires and medieval towers. When you get off the funicular, turn right and walk up the street. A posted sign says "Parco San Vigilio," and you'll see one of the castle round towers there in front of you. The castle was built with four round towers and a moat, and a secret underground passage to another fort inside the city walls.
Climb up inside the round tower, you'll come out on a grassy area atop the castle. From here are stellar views of the mountains to the north, and the whole Upper City to the south. Kids can pretend they are the Venetians defending against the attacking Milanese, French or Spanish. Down below is a modern green park area, with benches, shade, restrooms so bring a picnic.
Walk the city walls - In the 16th century, the Venetians enclosed the entire Citta Alta with massive stone walls. The ramparts included artillery platforms, watchtowers, four city gates, plus underground passages and rooms.
Here's a two fun walks for kids to experience the city walls:
From Piazza Mercato (the funicular stop), walk east along Via Porta Dipinta to the wide Piazzale San Agostino, and the city gate, Porta Sant'Agostino. Walk west along the ramparts on Viale delle Mura (where you'll see the ivy swan), looking over the Lower City, to the Porta Giacomo city gate. From Porta Giacomo, walk back up Via San Giacomo to Piazza Mercato, where you started.
Taking this walk, kids can see what it was like to go from the upper town to the lower town. (Until cars and the funicular, people had to walk up and down on foot.) From Piazza Mercato, walk down Via San Giacomo to Porta Giacomo. Go through the city gate, and walk over the bridge. At the sign for Via Tre Ami (don't continue down the street), turn left down the cobblestone stairs. When the path forks, take a left at Salita della Scarlatta, and walk down the stairs. The stairs come out at Via Vittorio Emanuele II and the funicular stop.
Explore the Citta Alta - The main streets through the old city are Via Gombito to the Piazza Vecchia, continuing on Via Colleoni. But allow time to go off Gombito and Colleoni and just explore the labyrinth of streets - it's like going back to the Middle Ages or Renaissance. Kids will feel cobblestones under their feet, see centuries-old shuttered houses with studded wooden doors, ancient stone walls with slits and flowers growing in the crevices. It's unforgettable. Tip: The streets are cobblestone, so wear comfortable walking shoes.
Tip: If you've been to Venice, don't be surprised to see the lion of St. Mark throughout the old city. Look for statues of the winged lion, and bas reliefs on buildings and above city gates.
Playground - Giardino Palazzo Frizzoni (Lower City) - If you're staying in the Lower City, toddlers will have fun at this really great playground, filled with local families. The playground is located on Via Franceso Crispi, but to go inside the playground, go around the corner to Palazzo Frizzoni and enter there.
Fun food
A local dessert in Bergamo is polenta cakes with chocolate or marzipan bits on top (Polenta e Osei). On the Piazza Vecchia, Di Tasso Gelateria and Pasticceria has small size polenta cakes (as well as ice cream). The small size cakes are perfect for kids to take a taste.
In addition, there's plenty of other sweets in the Bergamo bakeries - chocolate tarts, cannoli, marmalade buns, calde al cioccolato (shortbread with chocolate), pear and chocolate puff pastry, etc.
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