A day in Assisi is the one thing I try to do with everyone who comes to visit us.
It’s an afternoon of browsing little shops selling linen scarfs, watercolors, and wooden crosses. A few hours wandering the narrow streets is fun until, without fail, a car full of nuns tries to run us down.
Make sure you visit the Cathedral for its
And then it’s time for an aperitivo while enjoying the sunset before dinner.
The small town of Assisi is full of
But there’s also much to attract nature lovers, history lovers and everyone in between.
After a day in Assisi, you just might fall in love with Umbria; that’s what happened to me. The sun hitting the pink stone from Mount Subasio is a warm embrace, a sip of peace.
Where is Assisi?
Assisi is in Umbria, in central Italy.
It’s a two hour drive or train ride from Rome, and from Florence it takes another 15 minutes.
Which places it in the centre of Italy.
When driving up to Perugia from Rome one of the most impressive sights is Assisi.
Built half-way up Mount Subasio, which reaches 1290 meters, from a distance the town’s presence is powerful. But inside the town is so pretty, I just want to eat it up.
How Can Do Get To Assisi?
Just a 30-minute bus or train ride from Perugia, it’s easy to find. There are direct trains from Rome or Florence, and it’s even easier with a rental car.
If you’ve rented a car there’s lots of parking to choose from that is clearly signed. If you are arriving by train, be aware that the station is at the bottom of the hill, in the newer part of Assisi.
Don’t walk, it’s at least 5 km all uphill. Just take a city bus, parked right outside the train station, or taxis to take you up to the historic centre.
How to Spend One Day In Assisi
It’s nice to arrive in Assisi before lunch. This gives you time to explore the town, before a leisurely lunch. Walk through the town, down towards the magnificent Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi.
After eating lunch and exploring the basilica head back up through town. Maybe some window shopping, head into some other churches or other ancient sites listed below.
A Short History of Assisi
Assisi is not just about medieval saints and beautiful churches. Beginning with the
Roman ruins are scattered throughout Assisi. These include the city walls, the Piazza del Commune, once a forum, and the church Santa Maria
The town was
There are two castles in Assisi. The smaller began as a Roman castle and the larger, which sits above the town, is called Rocca Maggiore. A medieval castle built by a Cardinal and then later by two Popes beginning in 1366 and finally finished in 1538.
In September 1997 there was an earthquake in Umbria. Assisi, including the Basilica, where damaged. The magnificent ceiling of the basilica partially collapsed in the aftershocks. The town is now fully restored and you would not know it had suffered.
The Papal Basilica of St. Francis
There isn’t anything I don’t love about this Basilica. It is simply magnificent.
The views looking out over the valley is stunning, in fact it isn’t unusual to see couples having their wedding photos here.
The feelings of peace and forgiveness wash over me on the simple act of walking in. In the lower Basilica around
Both top and bottom Basilicas are free to enter.
The Lower Basilica:
The lower Basilica is a Romanesque church. Begun in 1228, only 2 years after the death of Saint Francis and the day after the Pope canonized him. It was finished only two years later in 1230. On this level, there are smaller places of worship, a covenant, and the resting place of Saint Francis.
The frescoes of the lower basilica are focused on Francis’ spiritual journey following Christ. Look for the main themes of poverty, chastity and obedience.
Here you will find works by Giotto (on the right of the main alter episodes from infancy of Christ), Pietro Lorenzetti (depicts the crucifiction and the life of St. Francis) and Simone Martini (Life of St Martin in the first chapel when you face the altar).
The remains of Saint Francis were finally discovered in 1818 in the Basilica. They then excavated the area he was buried and created what is today the Crypt Church, open to the public since 1824. In 1932, 4 of his companions; Friar Leo, Friar Masseo, Friar Rufino and Friar Angelo where placed encircling him.
The Upper Basilica:
Begun in 1239, the upper Basilica was completed in 1253. This Basilica is an important example of early Gothic construction and Italian art.
Both levels of the Basilica are worth visiting. The upper church contains frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis and an amazing starry night sky ceiling.
On either side of the nave are 28 frescos depicting the life of Saint Francis. Until 1997 they were thought to have all been done by Giotto, but now it’s more likely to have been by Pietro Cavallini and an unidentified colleague. A young Giotto may have completed the final 6. The 32 frescos above depicting scenes from the old testament are all by Cavallini.
I also think it’s worth visiting the Basilica of Santa Chiara, or Clare.
A colleague of Saint Francis, her body is resting here. There’s also the Byzantine crucifix which told St. Francis to re-establish the moral foundations of the catholic church. A lovely simple gothic church, with buttresses and a rose window in the pink stone from the mountain it’s built on.
Overview of the life of Saint Francis of Assisi:
- Born around 1181 in Assisi to a wealthy family he received a good education and his childhood was comfortable.
- Around 1202 he joined the army against Perugia. They captured and held him captive for a year
- In 1205 he rejoined the army
again,but returned to Assisi after a vision. Rejecting his previous life, he embarks on his first pilgrimage.
- Back in Assisi he steals from his father to give to a church, his father finds out and it ends in Francis renouncing his father and his inheritance.
- He wandered the woods and hills, ending up in Gubbio.
- In Assisi he restores chapels and takes care of lepers, living in a hut and wearing the poorest clothes.
- 1208 he began the Friars Minor wandering Umbria with eleven others.
- On April 16th, 1210 the Franciscan order became officially recognized by the Pope.
- In 1211 a young noblewoman heard him preach and left her family palace to follow her calling to God. Her name is Clare, and Francis created the Order of the Poor Ladies, later becoming the Poor Clares.
- The Order grew quickly, so Francis wrote a clearer ‘first rule’ about devoting to poverty and
an apostoliclife. In 1223 it covered the rules on the discipline, preaching and how to enter the order.
- He passed away in 1226 after receiving the stigma in 1224.
Is Assisi A Great Choice for the Weekend?
The day not to visit Assisi is Sunday. 12 months of the year, Sundays are packed because of the religious importance Assisi holds. So if you have the option try and visit during the week, or even Friday and Saturday.
Only a few hours from Rome, it’s a popular day trip. Monday through Thursday are much better, you’ll be able to enjoy the pretty homes and streets without the crowds.
Where to Eat in Assisi:
I’m still looking for amazing gelato in Assisi, so I can’t (yet) recommend one. The bars are all perfectly fine to sit and have a
We take friends and family to La Stalla whenever possible. The name means the Stables and you’ll need a car or a taxi to get there. The food is great; simple Umbrian dishes. They cook the meat on a big open fireplace, with potatoes and onions cooked in the coals. Like many restaurants, it’s closed once a week and La Stalla closes on Wednesdays.
In the centre of Assisi L’Osteria Piazzetta dell
On my list of restaurants to try is Osteria San Vittorino. Close to the parking lot of the park Bosco San Francesco, or the ‘woods of Saint Francis’ which is a wonderful spot for an easy hike. It’s a pretty little restaurant with a garden found below the Basilica of Saint Francis.
Want a bit more info? Here is a post I’ve written on my 5 favourite restaurants around Assisi.
Other Spots Worth Seeing During Your One Day in Assisi:
Cathedral of San Rufino
An Umbrian Romanesque church, dating from 1140. It’s the third church built on this site and contains the remains of the bishop Rufinus of Assisi, the patron saint of Assisi. It’s where Saint Francis of Assisi was
Dating back at least 800 years it’s first documented in 1172. It has had additions throughout the centuries, 1300s, 1400s and 1500s.
Santa Maria Sopra Minerva
An ancient Roman building from the 1st century BC., attributed to the goddess Minerva because of a female statue found there. Later a dedication stone to Hercules was
It might have been a jail from around 1100s until 1539. That’s from studying Giotto’s frescoes in the Basilica which depicts a jail in that location. In 1539 it became a church, and what you see inside the church today is the 1600s baroque reconstruction.
I’ve looked inside but I don’t usually like Baroque churches. The best can be admired from afar, the remains of the ancient temple: 6
Eremo della Carceri
4km away from Assisi, Carceri comes from the Latin word for prisons or faraway place. It’s a natural grotto where hermits came to pray in the 12th century. These small cells are how it got its name. Saint Francis prayed here in solitude and his fellow friars soon found spots nearby. By a stone bridge and an oak tree Saint Francis preached to the birds.
In the 1400s Saint Bernardino of Siena built a small friary to accommodate the friars who came for solitude. It includes a small choir and simple refectory, that still have the original wooden stalls for the choir and the tables of the refectory. He enlarged the chapel into a small church calling it Santa Maria delle Carceri. Today the Franciscan friars live here and people are welcome to visit.
Just outside of Assisi, in 1205 Saint Francis entered this church to pray, and the cross spoke to him to ‘repair the church’. He took this literally and restored the church, which became the convent for the Clares until her death in 1253. He later understood God meant the church as a being not a thing. If you visit entrance is free and there is a cross marking the spot Saint Clare died. The cross which spoke to Saint Francis now lives in the Basilica of Saint Clare (Santa Chiara) in the center of Assisi.
Dressing For One Day in Assisi
Visiting Assisi means going into at least one church, so you need to keep this in mind. Like the Vatican, they’re strict about appropriate attire. The dress code for entering a church for women is to have your shoulders and knees covered. Men should remove their hats and wear trousers/pants.
Is One Day In Assisi Enough?
Assisi is a great town, and even in an afternoon, you can see the main attractions. But that doesn’t mean a night or two is a bad idea. Some people use it as their base for visiting Umbria. Or come to Umbria to see Assisi. A visit in one day, or for a week, Assisi is a great spot to find peace within the chaos.
And after Assisi? Why not head north and enjoy the town of Gubbio that Saint Francis walked to twice.