Looking for a great reason to start planning your next adventure? In this series, we share the most compelling events, attractions and experiences that will have you booking a trip to the world’s most exciting destinations.
An endless array of food, wine, art and architecture awaits around every corner in Italy, so it only makes sense that each year the country elects a new Italian Capital of Culture to highlight the unique offerings of that area.
Last year’s honoree was the colorful island of Procida, located off the shores of Naples, but it’s about to make way for a new capital — or, more accurately, capitals. The title for the upcoming 2023 Italian Capital of Culture has gone to Bergamo and Brescia, two cities less than one hour’s drive apart — and around forty minutes by train away from Milan — in the northeastern part of Lombardy.
With its “high city,” Bergamo offers amazing views © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images
Having been hit early and hit hard at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, both cities have been chosen as a symbol of renaissance, hope and rebirth through culture. Their designation brings the focus back to their rich history and well-established entrepreneurial spirit.
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Brescia is the second most populous city in the region after Milan. Its Roman ruins and Lombard monuments — which include a Roman forum as well as the medieval monastery and church of Saint Salvatore and Saint Giulia — were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2011. The city has also always had a very long industrial tradition and it’s one of the main centers of production of the famous Franciacorta sparkling wine.
Bergamo is known throughout Italy for the two different neighborhoods into which it’s separated — the Città Alta, or “high city” and the Città Bassa, or “low city.” The two are connected via a cable railway and both hold their fair share of unique sights — from the medieval streets and squares of the high city to the avenues and museums of the low city. And let’s not forget the famous mura venete or Venetian walls that have surrounded the historic city center since the 16th century.
Enjoy an outdoor meal in Bergamo © Marco Bottigelli / Getty Images
At any given time, a visit to either Bergamo or Brescia or both would surely give you plenty of activities to choose from, but in 2023, the social calendar for both cities has grown exponentially. No matter when you decide to plan your trip, you’ll find some activity or exhibition or festival to keep you busy and entertained. February will see a jazz festival, while the “Donizetti Night” in June will celebrate Bergamo-born composer Gatenao Donizetti and some of his most famous operas. All events fall under one of four main themes: a city of hidden treasures; nature in the city; a city that invents; and the city as a cure.
Italian pasta casoncelli can be sampled in Bergamo © Valerio Pardi / Shutterstock
Every trip to Bergamo or Brescia, or both, has to include a stop to try their local variations of traditional dishes like the Northern Italian staple polenta or the fresh pasta casoncelli. Try the Baretto di San Vigilio and the Osteria Anetì in Bergamo or the Trattoria Porteri and the Osteria al Bianchi in Brescia. Need a quick bite? Head to PolentOne in Bergamo, where you can take your polenta to go. And don’t forget the Pasticceria La Marianna in Bergamo for a taste of an iconic gelato — the stracciatella flavor was born right in this restaurant and pastry shop in 1961.
If you are looking for a nice mid-afternoon stop in Bergamo, try Sweet Irene, which has plenty of tea options and cakes for vegetarians and vegans. While in the city, head for a classical aperitivo at Artisan Café or at PIVO, both in the center of the Città Bassa. While in Brescia, you definitely have to try the city’s signature cocktail, the pirlo, traditionally made with still white wine and Campari liqueur. Try it at Laboratorio Lanzani or at Belle Epoque, the latter located just a few steps away from one of the city’s main squares, Piazzale Arnaldo.
Find the perfect place to stay in Bergamo © Sergio Locatelli / 500px
Both Bergamo and Brescia are easily reached by train from Milan and make a good day trip. But if you choose to stay in the cities, you’ll find plenty of options for all tastes and budgets. Your best option for sleeping in Brescia is remaining within the city center or one of the neighborhoods immediately outside it, like Porta Cremona or Borgo Trento. As for Bergamo, keep in mind that the Città Alta is more picturesque and therefore a bit more pricey than the Città Bassa, which has more shopping hotspots and nightlife.