Help for planning your Italian holiday. What to see and do in Umbria.
Are you planning a trip to Italy and thinking about spending a few days in Umbria? Wondering what the highlights of Umbria are so you can decide if it’s right for you?
Are you starting to research options, maybe you’re typing some questions into google?
Questions like: What is Umbria famous for? What is Umbria known for? Where should I go in Umbria? What is there to do in Umbria and what is there to see in Umbria?
If you’d like the answer is to these questions, or one or two of these questions, then I have 4 three part answers for you.
1. What to do in Umbria? Answer: Visit the small hilltop towns.
Like all of Italy, Umbria is full of small towns with streets paved in marble and brick, ancient architecture and magnificent views. Umbria really only has one city, Perugia. So discover these small Umbrian hilltop towns. My first choices would be:
a. Gubbio, Umbria
Found in the north east corner of Umbria, close to Le Marche, Gubbio has much to offer.
Get outside and go for a hike. Trails begin where roads end, heading up visit with mountain goats. Enjoy the local truffles and flat bread sandwiches. And enjoy a sunset over the valley below from the main piazza.
It’s placed halfway up a hill. You can have a thrilling ride up the rest of the hill for 5 euros in an open air basket. Better value than disneyland-for the views anyway.
Gubbio is full of beautiful architecture. I love the cathedral, the town hall (Comune) with its main piazza and the Roman amphitheatre.
On May 15th Gubbio shuts down for it’s thrilling tradition. It’s televised all over Umbria. Find out all about it here.
Gubbio can be a bit tricky to get to without a car. But there are options. Stay overnight and take a bus from Perugia.
Want to learn more about Gubbio. Here is my post all about Gubbio.
b. Assisi, Umbria
This is probably the most famous town in the Umbria region. And I’m sure it’s the number one answer for what to see in Umbria.
It’s home to one of the patron saints of Italy; San Francesco or Saint Francis.
It’s cute, pretty and full of spiritual wonder. Built with the pink stone from the mountain it sits on top of, Assisi sparkles. Especially at sunset when the warm Italian sun hits the Basilica of Santa Chiara straight on.
The Basilica for San Francesco has to be my favourite. Make sure to go below and see the lower basilica where Saint Francis is buried.
It’s also full of Roman ruins, medieval fortresses and some of my favourite restaurants.
Easy to access by train or car, find out how I like to spend a day in Assisi here.
c. Spoleto, Umbria
This town is home to a world renowned arts festival, one of the oldest churches in Italy, a UNESCO heritage site, and it’s cathedral floor is worth a look down at.
But those won’t hit you first. At first glance Spoleto grabs you with it’s impressive bridge and fortress.
And don’t worry, Spoleto is full of great restaurants. Plus, while a hilltop town, it has the advantage of underground escalators which mean that if you’re tired or have mobility issues Spoleto is far more accessible than other towns.
An easy town to get to by train from Rome or Peruiga. Find out more on my post all about Spoleto.
2. What is Umbria famous for? The landscape and green spaces.
In Italy, Umbria is referred to as the Green Heart of Italy.
Among Italians, Umbria is known for oak forests, flowering fields and lakes.
You can enjoy nature all over Umbria. The gardens of Perugia and San Francesco’s woods below Assisi are easy to find and close. Or venture out to the east and find the Sibillini mountain range for a landscape that is much less gentle.
a. Lakes of Umbria
Trasimeno lake, or Lago Trasimeno in Italian, is the 4th biggest lake in Italy. It has 3 islands, 2 of which are accessible by ferry. It’s the perfect way to escape the crowds and get out on a body of water.
Or burn off some of the many calories you’ve been consuming by biking around the lake or walking some of it.
Are you staying at the southern end of Umbria? Add some of the “grand tour” from the 17th and 18th centuries to your itinerary. Lago di Piediluco south of Terni is a beautiful spot. There’s a reason why the nobility came here on their tour of Europe.
Bonus: When you visit Lake Piediluco there are waterfalls ten minutes away. The Marmore waterfalls is one of the famous points of interest in Umbria. Made by the Romans thousands of years ago, it’s the perfect spot to escape the heat in the summer. Cool mists of fresh air will make you never want to leave.
b. Woods of Umbria
After walking around cities and sitting in piazzas, I like to get out into nature.
Assisi has the perfect option, head down to the bottom of the hill and find il Bosco di San Francesco. It’s an easy hike, with well marked paths, a river, small waterfalls and an olive grove as an art piece.
If you have more time and a car, head east to the Parco Nazionale dei Monti Sibillini, specifically Castelluccio.
You’ll still need a car, but if you’re around Perugia head to Monte Tezio. It takes around an hour to climb, you don’t need anything other than good walking shoes and windproof jacket, and you’ll pass the heard of cattle that live up there.
c) Underneath Umbria
Part of Umbria is made up of soft stone called Tuffa.
This stone is why Orvieto, Narni and Todi are famous for their underground tours.
You can see the caves and learn about what they were used for for the last 3000 years.
3. What is Umbria known for? The culinary flavours.
When you hear the word Italy what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Food? Probably.
Umbria is no different. There are pasta dishes from the region, great wines and award winning olive oil.
a. Wines of Umbria
Enjoy wine? Big reds or crisp whites?
This is what Umbria is known for.
You can’t get a bigger red wine then the Sagrantino. The only place this grape is grown is around the fantastic hilltop town of Montefalco.
For white wine you’d be best off in Orvieto or Spoleto. Orvieto has their Orvieto white. And my favourite is the Trebbiano Spoletino.
Interested in Umbrian wines? Read my post on the basics here.
b. Olive oil of Umbria
Olive oil is produced all over Umbria.
You can buy oil at the olive presses, called Frantoia.
Looking for something to do in Umbria? If you’re here in the autumn try an olive oil tasting tour. My favourite oils are on Trasimeno lake or between Spoleto and Trevi.
Want to learn more about the fantastic olive oils of Umbria? Read about it here.
For other ideas on what to do in Italy in the Autumn click here.
c. Umbrian Pork
While Umbrians eat a great deal of vegetables, pulses and legumes, pork is a main ingredient.
Unless pork isn’t your thing, make sure to try porchetta in a bun, pasta alla Norcina and cured prosciutto (prosciutto crudo) in a torta al testo.
4. What to see in Umbria? the art and architecture.
What’s an Italian Region without art?
There are Etruscan and Roman ruins, gates, theatres and walls, all over Umbria.
I love the pink churches in Umbria, the ones from the 12th to 13th century. With rose windows, massive wooden doors and painted ceilings.
The famous Renaissance painters like Raphael, Vannucci or Giotto have all left their mark in Umbria.
And from the 20th century Umbrian artists include Dottori and Burri.
a. Ancient Ruins in Umbria
Highlights for me include the Etruscan arch in Perugia, the deserted Roman town of just north of Terni Carsulae and the caves below Orvieto.
If you’re interested in the ancient Etruscans and Romans make sure to spend an afternoon in M.A.N.U. or Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’ Umbria.
Bonus? Head to the of Perugia and find Hypogeum of the Volumnus family Ipogeo Dei Volumni.
b. Medieval Cathedrals of Umbria
It’s tough to choose one or even three. Everyone should see the Basilica of San Francesco in Assisi. For the art, the spiritual presence and the architecture.
Next I would head to Bevagna for the main piazza with 2 churches; San Michele Arcangelo and San Silvestro.
And finally for me it’s a toss up between Spoleto and Perugia.
The cathedral of Spoleto has the fantastic piazza and the patchwork flooring. Plus Spoleto has the UNESCO heritage site, one of the oldest churches in Italy, the Basilica of San Salvatore.
But I love the round church in Perugia, San Michele Arcangelo. It’s the perfect spot for a picnic. I’ve written about my 5 favourite churches in Perugia here.
c. Modern Art of Umbria
When planning what to see and do in Umbria, classics can end up overwhelming your itinerary. What some more recent art?
I love Gerrardo Dottori who taught at the art college in Perugia and has many paintings of Lake Trasimeno. You can find a collection of his work in the Palazzo della Penna in Perugia. This is the website.
Or what about Alberto Burri from Citta di Castello in the north of Umbria? He was active from the 1950s till the 90s.
Head to the north of Umbria to Citta di Castello. In the town centre there’s the Palazzo Albizzini. Built at the end of the 15th century and restored under Burri’s direction, it has a large collection from 1948 to 1989.
Or just outside of Citta di Castello is the former tobacco drying buildings. Here there are 128 pieces which he produced from 1974 to 1993. All as a single body of work.
Find out more about the man and the galleries here.
Planning on being at Trasimeno Lake? take the ferry from Tuoro and enjoy the sculptures on the grass before the dock.
What would you like to see and do in Umbria?
What are you looking forward to seeing in Umbria on your holiday? Or what did you enjoy the most?