Looking for an Italian hill top town full of elegant medieval buildings, a calendar full of festivals, and no end to great restaurants?
Perugia is a medieval city famous for chocolate, truffles, and jazz. The capital of Umbria, Perugia is a small city with a population of 166,000. Like all of Italy the food is local, the views stunning, and all around you is thousands of years of visible history.
Perfectly situated halfway between Rome and Florence, stop and stay a night or two when traveling by car or train.
There’s always a new corner to photograph, a church to visit, or restaurant to try.
Perugia is underrated by tourists, always in the shadow of nearby Tuscan towns like Siena and Arezzo.
With less tourists it’s easier to avoid tourist traps and see how Italians spend their days.
The city has two universities which gives it a young, vibrant feel. One is the Universita degli Studi, established in 1308. The second is the Universita per Stranieri (meaning for foreigners) and is world renowned for studying the Italian language.
Where is Perugia located?
Perugia is a hilltop town halfway between Florence and Rome. It takes about 2 hours from either city by train or car.
You can find direct trains from Rome and Florence. For tickets I like to use this website, the trainline. You can also use trenitalia, but you can’t use English spelling for Italian cities. So not Rome but Roma, not Florence but Firenze and not Venice but Venezia.
A Short History About Perugia
The Umbri had settled in Perugia by the Trojan war, which began in 1260 BC. It later became an important Etruscan city. The Romans then conquered Perugia in 310 BC and named the area Umbria after the original people, the Umbri. You can still see walls, gates and a well left behind by the Etruscans.
Perugia one of the best preserved medieval hilltop towns. From the 10th century to the 15th century self-sufficient city states made up Italy.
In 1202 Perugia won the war against Assisi and the city grew. The founding of the university attracted intellectuals. Nobel men grew in power during the 1400s, particularly the Baglioni family.
It was a turbulent time, there were many shifts in power and Perugia fell under the Papal State. In 1797 the French took control and in 1849 the Austrians. In 1860 it became part of Umbria in the unification of Italy.
Top Attractions in Perugia
There are many galleries and museums in Perugia. The easiest way to see to them is to get a ‘Perugia Citta Museo’ card. For 15 euros you can see 5 of the 10 attractions included on the card within a 48 hour time period. Interested in the museums of Perugia? I have a post about my favorite here.
Things to see from Before Christ
To enjoy some Etruscan history just walk around the city. The 2500-year-old walls protect the city of Perugia and the arches are within the city center. The Arco Etrusco/Porta Augusto has been restored and is so big it is hard to miss next to the university for foreigners.
For 5 euros (or with the card) visit the Etruscan well, or Pozzo Etrusco in Italian. It’s easy to find with signs on the roads.
For free at the University you can see a large mosaic, called Mosaic of Santa Elisabetta, from what was probably a Roman bath.
Visit the National Museum of Umbrian Archeology, in the convent of San Domenico, if you’re interested in seeing a large collection of Etruscan and Roman artifacts found around Umbria.
Perugia: A Town Full of Medieval Architecture
The main piazza of Perugia is the Piazza IV Novembre. It’s a stunning spot full of medieval architecture. The main fountain, the Palazzo dei Priori (a huge building which includes the bankers’ guild hall, city hall, and the national gallery of Umbria) and the cathedral of San Lorenzo.
The Fontana Maggiore is at the center of the main square. Designed by the Pisano, famous from Pisa, this beautiful centerpiece was built between 1277-1278. The rumour is it cost so much the city could never finish the cathedral.
Next to the fountain is the Cathedral San Lorenzo. While I love the outside with its pink stone, and the fact it’s free to enter, it isn’t my favorite church or cathedral in Perugia.
Standing on the steps of the Cathedral look behind the fountain for the Palazzo dei Priori. This building contains three of the city’s museums. Dating from the 13th to the 15th century, the main entrance facing the fountain is from the 13th century and houses the Sala dei Notari, or Notaries’ Hall.
On the facade there is the Griffin, the symbol of the city, and the Lion which symbolizes the city’s allegiance to the Papal states (or the Guelph).
Walk along Corso Vannucci
Off of Corso Vannucci, is the entrance for the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria. Here you can find Perugia’s most famous artist is Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino. He worked in Rome for Popes and is best known for training the High Renaissance painter Raphael.
The main road runs from this piazza, called Corso Vannucci, and ends with amazing views of the surrounding area, including Assisi. Giardini Carducci has a stage for Umbria Jazz and is a great spot for a picnic.
Below the gardens is Rocca Paolina. To access what remains of this fortress take the escalators down from the building behind the gardens. Built by Pope Paul III in the 16th century it is now a maze of shops, markets and art exhibitions. These narrow streets are a great place to explore if you need to escape the rain, wind or heat.
A mix of Churches in Perugia
I also like the Basilica of Saint Peter, built using Roman marble columns and granite capitals in 969.
Have you ever seen a Knights of Templar church? Perugia has one of the best, San Bevignate. Built around the 1250s it’s easily reached by car.
Interested in other churches?
20th Century Landmarks in Perugia
Perugia is full of art both inside and out. For something different try these two spots, making small production handcrafted items in Perugia.
The Moretti family have been making stained glass windows and painting glass since 1859 in the same workspace.
Then head across town for handwoven textiles by the Brozzetti family. For around 7 euros you can tour both the museums and their workshops.
What and Where to eat in Perugia:
Food is a big deal in Italy. I love that here, food is eaten in the season it grows. That buying local is common, and each region celebrates what they do best.
For Perugia that would include: truffles (Tartufi in Italian), olive oil, wild boar (
Indulge in the best gelato as you stroll through the historic center of town at Mastro Cianuri. Head to Pasticceria Sandri, a classic bar and pastry shop on the main corso. Autumn through to spring try a thick Italian hot chocolate or simply a cafe.
Sometimes I grab a quick lunch and sit in the park, Giardini Carducci, if the weather is decent. The view over to Assisi is spectacular.
Choose between two types of Umbrian sandwiches:
“Porchetta” is pork cooked slowly on a spit over a wood fire and stuffed with herbs and the liver. They served it with a fair amount of salt in a crusty bun.
“Torta al testo” is a flat bread filled with things like cheese, spinach, sausage, eggplant, and ham. Classic combinations include salsicce e spinaci (sausage and spinach), prosciutto crudo e formaggio (cured ham and cheese) or melanzane e formaggio (eggplant and cheese).
A quick meal in Perugia
Pizza is a quick and cheap meal. My favourite places for a pizza are La Romantica or Mediterranea. But if you’re in a rush there many shops that sell a slice to take away.
Relax and enjoy a glass of wine, or a
Looking for a Restaurant in Perugia?
- Dalla Bianca, a rustic restaurant with
home cookedUmbrian food.
- Altro Mondo is a classy spot with beautiful vaulted ceilings. Ask for their suppli-it isn’t on the menu.
- Civico 25 is a wine bar with a fun atmosphere and some classic Perugino dishes.
Looking for more ideas or information? I’ve written about my 8 favorite restaurants in Perugia here.
Odd Things About Perugia’s Food
You may notice that the bread doesn’t have salt added to the dough.
This is partly because prosciutto
But it all began with the heavy taxes that the Catholic Church, or Papal State, put on salt. The people got used to this and now it’s the traditional way to make bread.
For a glimpse into this recent history
Explore the Outdoors Surrounding Perugia
In the city center one of my favorite walks is on top of an aqueduct. It meanders through part of the city as a pedestrian only road between people’s homes and gardens. A medieval aqueduct, it feeds the Fontana Maggiore.
I go on daily hikes with our dog in the woods behind our home. Around Perugia there are mountains, forests and a lake all great for outdoor adventures. Look for mountain biking and hiking the trails marked with red and white paint.
A great way to try truffles is to sign up for a day excursion truffle hunting. At certain times of the year, there are also porcini mushrooms and wild asparagus in the forests and olive groves all around Perugia. Or visit a cantina for a tour of their vineyard and a indulge in a wine tasting after.
Events and festivals around Perugia
- For ten days in July, Perugia comes alive for Umbria Jazz. Not just jazz, there are lots of free outdoor concerts, parades, big names and
late nightjam sessions. Something for every music lover.
- Eurochocolate is the last week of October and celebrates all things chocolate. All year round chocolate lovers should take a tour of the Perugina chocolate factory. Their most famous chocolate is the Bacio which Luisa Spagnoli came up within 1922. It’s
a dark chocolatefilled with a hazelnut chocolate paste and a whole hazelnut.
- In April there is the International Journalism Festival. It’s a must for any one interested in current events. Most of the talks are in English.
Staying in Perugia
All these cities can be accessed with the bus or train system. If you plan on visiting during one of the festivals, like EuroChocolate or Umbria Jazz, book well in advance.
Come visit Perugia for the thousands of years of architecture on display. For memorable meals that are like being invited to an Italian home. And for an escape of the majority of tourists, and all the tourist traps that go with them.