Brescia is a rich industrial city in Lombardy between Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and the Valtrompia in the foothills of the Alps, about 100 km east of Milan, and the capital of the province of Brescia. While the province is rich in scenic and popular tourist destinations, including the shore of the Lake Garda, Brescia itself can be found quite bland and not as interesting compared to other major cities of Lombardy due to its heavily industrialized cityscape and the fact that even historic buildings were mostly kept in the shades of grey.
Brescia, however, also has another face, having been founded over three millenniums ago in the times of the Roman Empire, of which several remains can be found, and it remained an important city throughout the early Middle Ages, with the local monastic complex earning a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Vintage car aficionados will flock to Brescia to witness the start and final of the Mille Miglia race, and wine lovers appreciate the local fine Franciacorta wines.
Brescia is famous for its Lombard history (UNESCO site with Cividale del Friuli(Udine), Castelseprio (Varese), Spoleto and Campello on Clitunno (Perugia),Benevento and Monte Sant'Angelo (Foggia)) and for its role as a primary manufacturing center. The large factories produce weapons (including the famous Beretta pistols) and cutlery/kitchen accessories. This industry has brought the city tremendous wealth and prestige in the past 50 years, to the point that an entire second city—the imaginatively named Brescia 2--has sprung up on the south side of the city's original boundaries.
Brescia is also the capital of the Lombardian province of the same name, which incorporates numerous beautiful and historic towns, the Valtrompia, and parts of the lakes.
- IAT (Tourist Information Office), Piazza del Foro, 6 (Palazzo Martinengo), e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Su: 10.00 - 18.00.
Brescia has a very small airport 20 km from the city centre in Montichiari with only charter flights. However you can reach Brescia from Milan Orio al Serio Airport which is in the province of Bergamo, 50 km away, and is served by low-fare flights from all over Europe. Brescia is also reachable from Verona VillaFranca Airport (50 km away), Milan Linate (100 km away) and Milano Malpensa Airport (150 km away).
You can reach Brescia by any train from the expensive Eurostars to the cheap and slow Regionale commuter trains. It is about an hour from Milan (costing €6 on the Regionale), and other cities including Bergamo, Verona and Venice are within an hour or two.
Brescia is reachable using the following motorway:
- Brescia Ovest;
- Brescia Centro;
- Brescia Est;
- Brescia Centro;
- Brescia Sud;
The compact historical center of the city has a bus system that works well for inhabitants and other commuters.
To get to the outer districts, you can take advantage of Brescia's spanking brand new metro, finished in 2014, making it the smallest city in the world with an underground train system. It features the same driverless automated system as in Copenhagen but with even more spectacular station designs.
Brescia is home to several great museums. However, since it is not a primary tourist city, very few English translations are provided, and even if they are, translations are often so poor that you may prefer to try the Italian explanations.
- Tempio Capitolino, Via dei Musei, 57. mid Jun - Sep Tu-Su 10.30-19.00; rest of the year: Tu-F 9.30-17.00, Sa-Su 9.30-19.00 (last admission 30 min. before closure). A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the best-preserved Roman public complex in Italy, complete with a forum, amphitheatre and capitolium (Roman temple). Old Roman ruins, the last remains of what once was the city's forum during the Roman Empire, built by the emperor Vespasian. €4.
- Piazza del Foro. Located at the place of the Roman Forum.
- Monasterio di Santa Giulia, Via dei Musei, 81/b. mid Jun - Sep Tu-Su 10.30-19.00; rest of the year: Tu-Su 9.30-17.30 (last admission 30 min. before closure). UNESCO site: Now museum with a massive collection of art and archeology dating back more than 10,000 years and exploring the region's history from pre-history to Roman occupation to the Lombard settlement, etc. The museums also contain foundational remnants of Brescian houses from various periods. The permanent collection of religious art is one of the best in northern Italy, and the city prides itself in attracting traveling exhibits of excellent and prestigious collections. €10.
- Castello di Brescia, Via Castello, 9, ☎ +39 030 2977833-834. Museum: mid Jun - Sep F-Su 11.00-19.00; rest of the year: Th-F 9.00-16.00, Sa-Su 10.00-17.00 (last admission 30 min. before closure). Dating to pre-Roman times and last fortified by the Venetian overlords of the 16th century, the city's stronghold houses museums of armory and of the Risorgimento (Italy's first struggles for independence and unification), and provides eccelent views of the Valtrompia, the alps, and the city itself. €5.
- Chiesa di San Giuseppe, Vicolo San Giuseppe, 5. 16th-century church, inside, there is one of the oldest organs in the world.
- Broletto, Piazza Paolo VI. 12th-century Town Hall
- Duomo Vecchio (La Rotonda). The unique pre-renaissance church has a massive stone dome and 12th century crucifixes.
- Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral). The city cathedral, built 150 years ago, with the third largest dome in Italy. The local hero is Pope Paul VI (1963–1978), a native Brescian.
- Palazzo della Loggia. The city hall and center of regional government, this large and oddly shaped building presides over the city's central square, where you'll often see political demonstrations, concerts, and markets. You can enter the building and look around in the main halls, enjoying the architecture and decor, but it remains primarily functional. The Loggia (lodge) also marks the northern end of the city's retail shopping district.
- Case del Gambero (Houses of Shrimp), Corso Palestro. a number of buildings constructed in the mid 16th century probably by Lodovico Beretta between 1550 and 1555. The façades are decorated by a vast cycle of frescoes painted by Lattanzio Gambara, partly lost, partly moved to the Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo, but still partly on site, albeit mostly severely degraded. The name "Gambero" is after the hotel Gambero, which was located in the vicinity, south of Corso Zanardelli.
- Corsia del Gambero (Gambero lane). A nice portico passage built at the 15th century near one of the oldest hotels in Brescia — Locanda del Gambero (currently private apartments).
- Chiesa di San Giovanni Evangelista. It is one of the oldest churches in Brescia: it was consecrated in the early 5th century.
- Torre della Pallata. 32-metre-high 13th-century tower.
- Palazzo Martinengo Cesaresco, Via dei Musei, 30, ☎ +39 339 838 4933. M-F 9.00-13.00. mid-17th-century palace, currently houses the offices of the province and occasional exhibitions .
- Santa Maria dei Miracoli. A Renaissance church with bas-reliefs façade and peristilium. It is considered as one of the finest examples of architecture of this style in Lombardy.
- Santi Nazaro e Celso. The church contains the Averoldi Polyptych(1522), a masterwork of Titian.
- Piazza della Vittoria. It is a characteristic example of architecture 1930s, designed by Marcello Piacentini, one of the architects of the EUR district in Rome.
- Casa Ottelli, Corso Palestro (at the crossing with corso Martiri della Libertà). Built in 1932, at the facade there are two bas-reliefs by Angelo Righetti, the sculptor who was quite famous at the time after he created the sculptures for the Piazza della Vittoria.
- Piazza Tebaldo Brusato. named after a Guelph hero of the defense of Brescia. It was established in 1173 as the first municipal square in the town.
The city's medieval historical center, with shopping districts, open markets (try Via San Faustino and Piazza della Loggia on Saturdays), gelaterias, etc., is a good example of city life untrammeled by tourism.
- Teatro Grande (Opera House). Since 1912, the theatre is a national monument of Italy.
- Pinacoteca Tosio Martinengo (Palazzo Martinengo da Barco), Piazza Moretto. the building currently closed for renovations.
Travelers might find interesting that, due to the city's industry, Brescia is however a major immigrant center. The Via San Faustino neighborhood, with its cheap housing for both immigrants and university students, is an example of cultural integration that you won't find anywhere else in Italy.
- Museo Mille Miglia. Until the auto industry made its dirty, cliff-side roads, hairpin turns, and spectator presence far too dangerous, the Mille Miglia, which starts in Brescia, was one of the world's top automobile races. Since it was discontinued as a real race 40 years ago (following numerous driver and spectator deaths), it has continued as a museum of automobile history. The actual race, now a parade of refurbished and custom designed cars that slowly winds its way through 1000 miles of northern Italy, starts in May of each year.
If you are truly fascinated by the nearly endless parade of invaders that oppressed the city for the past 2000 years—the Romans, the Lombards, the Venetians, and the French, to name the longer-lasting ones—you'll find many historical sites and museums. The city's collection of religious art is housed by several museums. You can buy a yearlong, unlimited pass to the museums for 20 Euro, 15 for students. Brescia has a very old and well regarded university. The medical school, due to its proximity to the large regional hospital, is particularly well regarded. Brescia is not a common or canny destination for study abroad students.
The historic center of the city has an active shopping district, with numerous clothing and jewelry stores. City residents enjoy strolling through the stretches from the Portici (shopping porticos built literally on top of their similarly styled and utilized Roman antecedents in the heart of the downtown) to Piazza della Loggia.
Try the true "bresciano" food, including casoncelli (called in Brescian dialect "casonsei"), homemade tortellini with beef, served with "Burro versato" (spilled Butter) and sage with sprinkling of Parmigiano. Try the polenta (in winter only) a mush made with durum wheat, Polenta taragna is mixed with homemade cheeses and butter. Try the amazing spiedo (in winter only) roasted larks and pork meat cooked for 6–7 hours in oven with butter and flavours or on grill. It's very typically Bresciano!!!
As with most of Lombard cuisine, Brescian cooking features more beef and butter and more hearty, German-style dishes than the rest of Italy. Excellent pizzerias abound, including Al Teatro (by the theater and portici on the corner of Via Giuseppe Mazzini and Via Giuseppe Zanardelli) and the South-American styled Tempio Inca Pizzeria (Piazzale Arnaldo). Authentic Brescian osterias and trattorias are common on the north side of the city center, but you will find that the best are out of the way and, purposefully, rather hard to find. Try to find the Contrada Santa Chiara, a dark side street parallel to Via San Faustino, where just off Via Dei Musei (close to the Roman Ruins and Santa Giulia), you'll find several highly authentic and inexpensive osterias including Osteria al Bianchi. Cafe culture is just as prominent here as elsewhere, and there are several great coffee and aperitivo spots. Try the Due Stelle on Via San Faustino (also a great restaurant), or any of several cafe/restaurants just north of the Duomos between the Piazza Paulo VI and Via Dei Musei, which feature drinks and unlimited gourmet aperitivo buffets for under 6 Euro.
Franciacorta wines are easily found. They're excellent, world famous, and very expensive. Try some of the non-DOC labels, which avoid EU regulations in order to preserve centuries-old vineyard traditions.
Brescia is also one of the most night-active city in the whole Italy, because of the industrial wealth. Brescian youths (and Lombardians in general) are famous for partying the night way — every single night. Many hotspots for locals can be found outside the city; in the center try Piazzale Arnaldo on the eastern edge and Borgo Pietro Wuhrer about 5 km east of the center on Via Venezia.
- Viselli's (Near P.le Arnaldo. Look for the crowds and ask somebody). A small bar with an old proprietor who owns the copyright to his cocktails. It's a must in Brescia to try the Viselli's Champagnone (very good but very strong)
- Borgo Wührer: lots of beautiful bars such as Nacio, Hico de puta, BW Cafè, Pappavero, and more.
Because it's not a primary tourist destination, Brescia is a bit short on hospitality, especially in the budget range. You'll find a few budget hotels in shadier parts of the city, and some nicer ones close to the train station. For hostels, you're out of luck, and bed and breakfasts are recommended but only if you have a car, as they're usually found in the surrounding towns.
- B&B Cà Del Gando, Via dei Musei, 75, 25121 Brescia, ☎ +39 340 675 3630. Quaint, local B&B. Very attentive owner and situated in the heart of the Brescia historical center. Close to cultural attractions such as museum, roman ruins and nightlife Piazza Arnaldo.
- Ai Ronchi Motor Hotel, Viale della Bornata 22 Brescia,, ☎ +39 030 362061, fax: +39 030 3366315. 4-star hotel located only few steps from city centre of Brescia, on the main road that leads to beautiful Lake Garda. Friendly English-speaking staff.
- Continental Hotel, ☎ +39 030 2582721, fax: +39 030 2583108. Via Martiri della Libertà 267 Roncadelle Brescia. A renovated, modern and functional ambience here along with top quality services and excellent comfort.
- NH Brescia, Viale Stazione, 15, ☎ +39 030 44221. This fairly standard NH is not as fresh as it used to be, but makes up for it with its location next to the train station and the usual NH breakfast buffet.
- AC Hotel Brescia by Marriott, Via Giulio Quinto Stefana 3. In an uindustrial estate right out of the city. A fairly standard, new and solid AC hotel, with typical upscalish simplicity aimed at business travellers.
- Novotel Brescia Due, Via Pietro Nenni 22. A slightly aged Novotel, complete with an outdoor pool, garden and family-oriented amenities, situated in a business park within 15 minutes of the train station.
- Best Western Hotel Master. A solid if slightly uninspired choice in the north of Brescia.
- Park Hotel Ca Noa Brescia, ☎ +39 030 398762, fax: +39 030 398764. – Via Triumplina, 66. The Park Hotel Cá Noa is four star hotel with 79 guestrooms, private bath, shower, internet connection, satellite TV and air conditioning. Also available: three meeting rooms and private parking.
- Hotel Vittoria. The closest hotel to the Duomo
- Hotel Ambasciatori. Upscale hotel with lush historizing decoration, reasonably close to the metro.
You can take trains and buses to the lakes, but Brescia is so close to other cities more proximate to natural beauty (e.g. Iseo, Milan, Como, Verona, Mantua, and many more), that you may want to just use one of them as a base.
Brescia is close to Lakes Iseo and Garda. Travelers in possession of a car will find scenic drives there and elsewhere around the city.
Hiking and biking in the alpine foothills around the city are open to more physically fit and adventurous travellers.