An overview of what to see, do and eat when in Umbria.
You might not have heard of Umbria, smack in the heart of Italy. So how would you know what there is to see in Umbria, Italy?
Most first time tourists focus on seeing Rome, Florence and Venice. All fantastic destinations.
But what if you paused half way between Rome and Florence and explored the beautiful region of Umbria?
Because I first fell in love with Umbria, then Italy.
Why Umbria is Relaxing and Intriguing
Sitting at a small restaurant filled with locals watching the sunset over Lake Trasimeno.
Indulging in a glass of wine grown just down the road after sampling all the options at the vineyard.
Or visiting an empty church, built in 1150 with what remained of a Roman temple.
Starting with that first holiday in Italy, I realized Umbria is overshadowed by its neighbours Tuscany and Lazio. While the Colosseum in Rome or the Uffizi in Florence are musts, it’s worth getting off the well-worn tourist path and seeing Italy without the crowds.
When friends and family visit from England, Canada, or the US they focus on the major tourist destinations.
I want to show them Italy without the crowds.
What to know before visiting Umbria
Tuscany is famous for its idyllic hilltop towns. But the provinces nearby, Umbria, Le Marche and Abruzzo are similar. Full of small towns dotting the tops of rolling hills and mountains.
Cardinals built these eye-catching small towns during the medieval era to show off their wealth and power.
Stunning from a distance and charming up close, enjoy a day strolling the narrow lanes and eating in a bustling piazzas.
In Umbria there are many to choose from, start with a place whose highlights are an interest of yours.
What to see in Umbria: the Towns and Cities
The 3 Main Cities to Visit in Umbria
Assisi: the Spiritual Heart of Italy
Assisi is always top of the list for what to see in Umbria.
As long as it isn’t a Sunday, the busiest day to visit Assisi, I always take friends and family to Assisi. Yes, it is full of tourists and pilgrims. Assisi is a spiritual pilgrimage for many catholics, especially now that the current Pope has taken Saint Francis’ name.
The Basilica of Saint Francis magical starry blue ceilings is worth the trip alone. Damaged in the 1997 earthquake, the night sky ceilings in the Basilica have been restored. Don’t just focus on Saint Francis story, Assisi is full of Roman ruins.
For dinner drive 5 minutes out of town to La
For more information check out my post all about Assisi.
Perugia: for Art, Culture and Chocolate
Perugia, the capital of Umbria, is one of Italy’s best preserved medieval towns.
The largest town in Umbria, it has a population of around 135,000.
Explore the historic city center including the regional art gallery, the archeology museum, and find the underground fortress Rocca Paolina full of alleyways and small shops.
I never tire of the pink stone found around Perugia and Assisi. It comes from the mountain that Assisi is built into, Subasio. Used on buildings as a decorative feature, it gives a warmth to the city, even in the rain in winter.
Perugia is famous throughout Italy for their chocolate festival. Held for ten days around the third week of October it is the busiest time to visit. Even if you aren’t visiting in October, the Perugino chocolate factory is a fun place to visit any time of year for chocolate lovers.
In July Perugia hosts Umbria Jazz, a ten-day celebration of music. There are lots of big headliners, but we walk around the town enjoying evenings full of free music in the street and a gelato.
Spending a few nights in Perugia? It’s a good city to use as a
Orvieto: a perfect day trip from Rome
It’s hard to know if Orvieto is more famous for their white wine or their Cathedral.
The cathedral is an impressive sight, similar to those in Siena or Florence with its white and green marble exterior.
Poised on top of a plateau I like to sit in the piazza with a glass of white wine and admire the view; how it contrasts to the countryside below. Then head inside to admire the art inside.
If you are interested in wine, Orvieto’s DOC White is a must.
I strongly recommend taking the tour of the Orvieto Underground. Orvieto was built on soft rock, called Tufo, and below there are a series of cisterns, caves, and secret passageways; endless storage for wine and olive oil.
Wondering about visiting Orvieto for a day from Rome?
What to see in Umbria: 5 Small Medieval Town
Find adventure in Gubbio
If you enjoy walking Gubbio is a great place to visit.
A friend and I went on the new walk along a medieval aqueduct above the town last summer. It gives you a bird’s-eye view of the surrounding area and we spotted
I have a post about our trip to Gubbio here.
Gubbio has a long history, beginning well before the Romans. Well known by geologists and paleontologists for the ‘Gubbio layer’. The beginning of the theory on how the dinosaurs became extinct from a meteorite hitting the earth.
May 15th in Gubbio is the most important day of the year. Called Corsa dei Ceri, it is a race that celebrates the patron saint of Gubbio, Saint Ubaldo.
Attracting thousands of tourists and shown on live television, 3 teams of ten men, at a time, run up the hill carrying the 3 ‘ceri’ or candles that weigh around 400 kilos each. It’s rather dangerous and spectators do get hurt but the winner is never a surprise, it is always Sain Ubaldo.
Visit Montefalco for the Best Wines
A small town from the 12th century now famous for its red wine, the Sagrantino.
The whindy drive up to this small town is a concentration of vineyards and olive groves.
We’ve even done it by bicycle-electric ones- which was a great; stopping at every cantina along the way for a wine tasting.
Once you get to the top, there are fantastic restaurants either in the main piazza or just outside of the walls.
Be ready to take lots of photos of the view overlooking the valley. In the distance you can see Assisi and Perugia, the valley in between is filled with grapes and olive trees.
For Beautiful Churches visit Bevagna
It could be my favourite small Umbrian town. At the bottom of the hill from Montefalco, Bevagna is a sleepy valley town.
The main piazza has two ancient churches (Romanesque) right across from each other a fountain in the middle and several bars to enjoy a cafe or spritz.
A river runs around the town so the grass is always green and the gardens are lush.
To enter the town you cross over the river. When you’re on the bridge look to your left for the covered area with what looks almost a swimming pool. It is where women did all the laundry until the second world war.
For the best flowers in Spring visit Spello
On the list of the prettiest small towns in Italy, Spello delivers for food lovers, views and Roman mosaics.
Just a ten minute drive from Assisi, escape the crowds and enjoy lunch in a small town made up of Roman and Medieval architecture.
If you’re visiting around the 9th Sunday after Easter Spello celebrates Corpus Domini with flowers. The festival is called Infiorata, or in bloom, and is all about flowers being used to recreate paintings on the streets.
Narni has a bit of everything
The name inspired C. S. Lewis for his Narnia series. The town and its surrounding caves have housed people since the Paleolithic and Neolithic ages.
On the Roman road via Flaminia, there are remains of one of the largest Roman bridges. Take the underground tour which includes part of a Roman home and a medieval prison cell.
An extra town is Spoleto
Most of the buildings you see today are from the middle ages, but look for the many Roman ruins. It was a popular destination for wealthy Romans in the summer to escape the heat of Rome. The 12th century cathedral has a bronze bust from Bernini and frescos by Lippi.
There is a bridge crossing a gully. Built in 1350 is an impressive 82 meters high (264 feet) and 230 meters long (760 feet). A favorite spot for couples to have their wedding photos taken.
Starting on the last weekend of June, Spoleto hosts the Festival of 2 Worlds. It was created in 1958 by Gian Carlo Menotti. The festival is an important cultural event worldwide celebrating two different cultures, American and European, or classical and innovative. For 17 days there are performances from ballet, opera, theater, concerts, painting, readings, and lectures.
Find out all about Spoleto here.
Are you wanting to visit a smaller town but aren’t renting a car? I have a post about the 7 easiest towns to visit by train.
What to eat in Umbria: Delicious Food
Umbrian food is easy to fall in love with, like all Italian cuisine.
Overall, traditional Umbrian cooking is simple. They call it ‘cucina povera’ or poor cooking. This isn’t an insult, it conveys a style of cooking which is clever, simple, and thrifty.
Eating in Umbria is a treat.
From prosciutto crudo from Norcia, vegetables from Lake Trasimeno and the high quality olive oils and wines from all over the province.
Umbria is most famous for black truffles, producing more than any other region in Italy.
You can also get out and see Umbria by truffle hunting.
Our dog loves truffles so in the past few years we’ve trained him to not eat them all for himself. During the summer season and the winter season he’ll find a few kilos which we give to friends and family. We’d like to try hunting white truffles but competition is fierce for those funguses, they sell for hundreds of euros.
One Umbrian pasta dish is called Alla Norcina, made with sausage and cream. My mother-in-law maintains that the traditional dish was with sheep ricotta, not cream, since the area it comes from is full of shepherds. They didn’t have many cows, but a great deal of sheep.
And I have to agree, a nice ricotta lightens the dish: I prefer her version. I’ve written my mother in law’s recipe here.
For the quick and easy street food, find porchetta. There are vans selling porchetta sandwiches on the side of the road, at markets or in the center of town. Originally from Umbria and now found all over Italy, Umbria remains the best place to try it.
A lighter sandwich is the local ‘torta al testo’. A flat bread filled with your choice of ham, cheese, eggplant (aubergine) or cooked greens and sausage.
And Don’t forget the Sweets!
Ciaramicola: A Perugino cake shaped in a ring with a meringue frosting on top, this red cake (coloured with the liqueur Alchermes, popular for baking) has colourful sprinkles on top and baked to celebrate Easter.
Torcolo: Made to celebrate the patron saint of Perugia, St Costanzo on January 29th. The cake, shaped in a ring and filled with pine nuts, raisins and citrus peel.
Italy’s Green Heart Is A Must For Nature Lovers
Umbria isn’t just history and food, there is also tons to see in nature.
Full of hills, valleys, woods, and mountains Italians refer to Umbria as the ‘green heart of Italy’.
Though much is farmland with grapevines, olive trees and sunflowers, forested mountains are in every corner. This wilderness is ideal for hunting wild boar, truffles and mushrooms, all common flavours in Umbrian cooking.
My inlaws are big hikers and have taken me on many hikes of Umbria’s mountains and forests.
We usually stick to ones close by, like the park below Assisi called the Bosco San Francesco, a peaceful river walk well marked. In the middle is an olive grove filled with a modern sculptures.
Time the walk with a meal. Dinner after at the restaurant Osteria San Vittorino, near the parking lot, is a treat.
We also try to escape to the Sibillini mountain range in the late spring. There is a great variety of hiking but the fields below Castelluccio become a carpet of flowers in every colour. There is a festival that celebrates this called La Fiorita.
Further south and close to the town of Terni are the Roman man-made waterfalls called the Cascate delle Marmore. It costs about 10 euros to enter and in the summer the mist off the waterfalls is a breath of fresh air.
One of the best and easiest things to see in Umbria is Lago di Trasimeno.
The three islands on the lake are accessible by ferry and a nice day trip, the largest has restaurants for lunch. Rent bicycles to ride the designated bike path all around the lake, about 58km.
If you are visiting at the end of July, the Lake hosts the Trasimeno Blues Festival with free concerts all around the lake. If you have a day for Trasimeno Lake try this itinerary.
Now you know what awaits in Umbria, come and see for yourself.
Umbria is great for escaping the crowds of tourists, which can be overwhelming. Visit for an endless history, great food and to enjoy a good glass of wine with a beautiful view.