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A day trip to Brescia

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Escape to charming Brescia, one of the loveliest towns in Northern Italy that can be visited as a delightful day trip from Milan.

The Roman Capitolium in Brescia
Brescia is one of the loveliest towns in Northern Italy and can be visited as a delightful day trip from Milan.

A day trip to Brescia

Among the best-underrated towns in Northern Italy, Brescia is perhaps the one that impressed me the most so far. Often overshadowed by rockstar neighbors like Milan and Verona, Brescia features several great sights, including one of the largest archeological sites in northern Italy and the stunning Santa Giulia museum complex. Not to mention that it’s just a stone’s throw from the prestigious Franciacorta wine district and Lake Iseo.

Also, do you know that you can visit it with an easy day trip from Venice by train?

A fascinating history

Brescia’s roots are Celtic, with the first settlement dating back to 1200 BC, but its fame began in 89 BC when the town became a Roman colony and quickly grew into an important trading and manufacturing center. At that time the heart of Brescia was the Capitolium, a huge temple built by Emperor Vespasiano, whose remains still stand proudly in the heart of town. Honestly, I was so in awe at the sight of it that for a moment I thought I was in Rome! Then Brescia passed from the hands of several rulers, including Lombards, and Venetians, until the city’s uprising against the decision to hand it over to Austria in 1848, which earned it the nickname of Italy’s Lioness.

The Roman Capitolium in BresciaOne of the top sites to visit in Brescia is the Brixia Archeological Park (Brixia was the ancient name of Brescia), which contains the remains of a number of spectacular Roman constructions like the Forum, the Republican Temple and the Theater. Just a few steps from the archeological park stands the Santa Giulia Museum, a spectacular 14,000-sqm exhibition space that retraces the history of Brescia from the prehistoric age to modern times.

The remains of a Roman domus at Santa Giulia complex in BresciaThe museum is set in an impressive monastic complex founded by the Lombard king Desiderius on the site of a Roman domus. I spent a good couple of hours browsing the incredible pieces on display here, from bronze masks and iron swords to the beautiful mosaics of the ancient Roman house and the splendid frescoes in the Nun’s Choir.

The nun's choir at Santa Giulia Complex in BresciaNot to miss is also the cross of King Desiderius, a stunning 9th-century gold crossed covered in precious gems 

The cross of King Desiderius at Santa Giulia Complex in BresciaArcheological remains can also be seen under Palazzo Martinengo, an aristocratic mansion whose rather austere façade hides layers of construction from different ages that are a testament to the incredible archeological stratifications of Brescia.

A town with two cathedrals

When exploring an Italian city, a visit to the local Duomo is undoubtedly top of the list, but Brescia takes this ritual to another level, with Piazza Paolo VI hosting not one but two cathedrals! They sit right next to each other and are equally stunning despite being completely different.

The two cathedrals of BresciaThe Old Cathedral was built in the XI century erected in place of the paleochristian basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore which was destroyed by a fire in 1097. It boasts a unique round shape with an overlapping cylinders construction. The construction of the New Cathedral began in 1604 and took over 200 years to be completed. It features a splendid marble facade and the third-highest dome in Italy (80 meters) after San Pietro in Rome and Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

Splendid squares and charming back streets

Brescia boasts a number of really beautiful squares that were once the center of both the religious and political life and today are the preferred meeting place for the locals. The main square is Piazza Paolo VI, which is home to some of the most important historical buildings in Brescia. One of these is Broletto, the old public palace, and the seat of the city magistrates. The courtyard is really lovely, but what caught my attention was the grotesque faces decorating the keystones of one of the palaces…so weird!

A short walk through Via Bevilacqua leads to Piazza Vittoria, inaugurated by Mussolini in 1932 and dominated by the huge white and ochre striped Palazzo delle Poste and the 60-meter-high Torrione, one of Italy’s first skyscrapers designed in the early 1930s to host the National Insurance Institute. This piazza is the departing point of the annual Mille Miglia, a historic competition of vintage cars.

Piazza della Loggia in BresciaPiazza della Loggia was built under the Venetians, who ruled over Brescia for a very long time between 1426 to 1796 and wanted to build a new square to express the power of the local government. It was designed following the Renaissance canons of perfect symmetry. It is lined with stunning buildings, including an astronomical clock similar to the one in St Mark’s square in Venice and the magnificent Palazzo della Loggia, which is still the seat of the local government.

The square I liked the most, though, is Piazza del Mercato, which has been the site of the local market since 1428 and now is lined with lovely cafés and restaurants – the perfect spot to enjoy an al-fresco lunch in warm months (try Osteria Da Ceco)!

In Brescia, even the back streets are lovely, with charming cobbled paths and glimpses of flowery balconies and pastel-colored facades. I mean, look at this:

Charming back streets in BresciaOther unique places to visit in Brescia

The list of things to see in Brescia is pretty long and includes the spectacular Teatro Grande, an architectural gem that dates back to the XVI century. This is the place where Puccini’s Madame Butterfly obtained its first success after an unsuccessful debut in Milan and that event is still remembered with a special room displaying some memorabilia of that performance. I was only able to see the foyer, but guys, I was completely in awe, look:

The Grande Teatro in BresciaI also managed to squeeze a quick visit to the Church of Santa Maria della Carità, with its sumptuous Baroque interiors, beautiful tiled flooring and a scale model of the Holy House of the Madonna of Loreto in Le Marche behind the major altar.

The Church of Santa Maria della Carità in BresciaOne of the things I really wanted to see was the Mille Miglia Museum but I was completely short of time and had to skip it. If you don’t know it, Brescia is the birthplace of the historic Mille Miglia car race, which takes place every year in spring. It’s housed in the former Monastery of Sant’Eufemia (about 4km from the city center) and boasts a fantastic collection of legendary cars that took part in the race between 1927 and 1957.

The castle of Brescia

The walk back to the castle, where I left my car, was uphill and took me through the lovely Piazzetta Tito Speri and Contrada Sant’Urbano, with delightful views of the city spreading down below me. The castle is perched at the top of the Cidneo hill and is considered to be one of the largest and best-preserved fortresses of Northern Italy. It was erected in the Middle Ages and played a central role in the city’s history until the early years of the 20th century when it was purchased by the local municipality and opened to the public.

The castle of BresciaThe visit involves a few climbs and flights of steps, but overall it’s well worth it. Entrance is free and you only pay to visit the Ancient Arms Museum (with over 500 weapons on display, making it one of the most important collections in Europe) and the Risorgimento Museum (retracing the history of the Italian Risorgimento, with a particular focus on the rise against the Austrians). Inside the castle, there is also a large municipal park with great views over the cities and lots of lovely spots to relax under the shade of trees.

Useful tips

  • You can reach Brescia comfortably by train from Milan (about 45 minutes) and Pavia (1.5 hours)
  • If you prefer to drive to Brescia, I suggest to leave the car in the free parking lot by the castle, as I did, it’s a quick stroll downhill to the center    
  • Do not leave Brescia without trying a “Pirlo” the local version of “Spritz” at Bar Desiderio in Piazza Loggia or Storico Café in Piazza Paolo VI
  • Forget high hills or wedges and wear comfortable shoes with thick flat sole to face Brescia’s cobbled streets – your feet will thank you!
  • You can find information about Brescia and the events taking place in town on the Brescia Tourism website.

A super hug from Italy,

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26 thoughts on “A day trip to Brescia”

  1. This looks so gorgeous! I love visiting these smaller, less touristic places, especially in Italy. Everyone flocks to Florence and Venice, but there are so many hidden gems. Brescia is definitely on my to visit list now.

  2. I have never been to Brescia but it looks like another Italian city I would like to visit. THe castle of Brescia is magnificent and as I love castles that would be my nr one.

  3. This is the first time I am reading about Brescia and I must say that the place is gorgeous. the cross of King Desiderius is absolutely photogenic and worth visiting. I love the frescoes that make the whole interiors so pretty.

  4. I wasn’t aware of Brescia before, but I am surely going to visit this place once I visit Milan. I am so intrigued by the Baroque interior of the church of Santa Maria della Carità. And I am going to try Pirlo!

  5. Venice, Rome, and Milan are the cities in Italy that I know about. And I always come across something new about these cities. Now, that I’ve read about Brescia, I learned and come to know another great city in Italy. And it looks equally wonderful and amazing just like those popular cities.

  6. I never knew about this quaint little town of Brescia when I visited Milan but it is really interesting. I love such historic towns and I would love to visit this place. The castles and Baroque style of churches are wonderful here. Even the colorful frescoes inside the church is worth admiring. Good to know that it only 45 minutes away from Milan by train.

  7. I have never been to Brescia, indeed I’m not sure I’ve even heard of it before, so I can see why you propose it as an amazing and underrated town to visit in Northern Italy. The history and historic sites look amazing, the archeology really appeals to me. The mosaics and frescoes are stunning. I also love the new and old cathedrals, the general streets and squares of the town, that grand old theatre and of course the castle.

  8. I can’t believe I missed this place during my stay in Milan few years back. Brescia looks simply amazing for people like me who love historic places. I would love to explore the castle and the beautiful alleys and squares.

  9. Totally agree with you. Brescia is overshadowed and underrated. In fact, it should be included in everyone’s travel list. I truly enjoyed the beautiful mosaics. Very detailed. 🙂

  10. Being a history buff, you got me hooked at ‘one of the largest archaeological site’. I’ve been to Milan, but it was a short trip and I didn’t have time to explore places around, but this gives me the reason to book another ticket to Milan. The ancient columns, frescoes and tiles are fascinating. The baroque art and architecture of Church of Santa Maria della Carità is just unbelievably gorgeous! Stunning indeed.

  11. What a beautiful Italian town that I’d never heard off. It seems like a lot of day trips can be accomplished through train trips rather than driving to crowded areas. The castle is amazing. The inside of the cathedrals are so beautiful. The cobblestone streets are gorgeous but I imagine it’s hard on your feet!

  12. Oh wow I really have to travel to Brescia! I especially love the cobbled paths and the Teatro Grande looks spectacular. It’s about time for a big Europe Road Trip anyway so I will add it to my list of Must-Visit places 🙂

  13. If you come to visit my city by car please, don’t come with you car in the centre like written here. Leave you car at one of the parking near a metro station! If you leave your car in one of those the metro ticket is free. Despite being a small city we have an efficient underground system, use it!

    • Hi Rossana, I came by car and had absolutely no problem parking at the castle, but thanks for your suggestion, I will surely add this to the tips 🙂


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