Last Updated on 3rd May 2023 by Sophie Nadeau
Lesser-known and underrated, the Italian region of Umbria, in the center of the peninsula, is a fantastic destination to add to any road trip in Italy with a gorgeous capital city, Perugia, which is considered one of the most important cultural centers in the country.
The peaceful region is blessed with incredible landscapes and natural wonders and offers the priceless possibility to get away from other overcrowded (and overpriced) regions in the country, such as Lazio or the nearby Tuscany.
In this article, we offer you a thorough account of the best places to see and the most stunning things to do in Umbria during your Italian adventure, take a look!
Where is Umbria and How to Get There
Located in the center of the country, next to the region of Tuscany, Umbria is a very small landlocked region with no big cities or shorelines to attract massive hordes of tourists, all ingredients that make it an attractive place that is, unexpectedly filled with beautiful hill towns and fascinating beauty.
Often described as “Tuscany without tourists”, this phrase can easily give you an idea of what kind of landscapes you’ll find and what a pleasant and relaxing destination it can be.
The main city and capital of the region are Perugia, the place you will want to reach if coming from any other city in Italy and the ideal spot to start exploring the area.
It can be easily reached from Rome and Florence by train while, once you’ve arrived at Perugia Train Station, it’s easy to jump on a bus to explore some of the villages on the hills.
Perugia is located about 25 km from the beautiful Assisi and 74 km from Orvieto. Rome is about 170 km from Perugia and Florence is about 150 km away.
Renting a car and traveling around Umbria has to be one of the most rewarding experiences of any road trip adventure in Italy. Car rental will offer you the possibility to visit small settlements without depending on somewhat limited bus schedules. Check car rental prices here.
There is a good public bus service connecting Perugia to some other Umbrian towns, however, not all villages are served and the service is reduced during the weekends.
Since the region is not as busy as other Italian destinations, driving won’t be as stressful as sitting behind the wheel in Rome or Milan.
Although independent travel remains one of the best ways to get to Umbria and to move around, the area is served by trains and long-distance buses that connect the main centers.
In general, train travel is the most flexible and affordable way to move around in the country, for that reason, it’s a good idea to take a look at the official Trenitalia website to keep track of eventual strikes that might affect travel.
In that case, it’s always possible to rely on long-distance buses. They tend to be cheaper (and a good option for budget travelers), but travel times can be much longer and the journeys are not as comfortable as you might expect.
If you’re arriving in Italy by plane, Umbria’s closest airports are located in Rome, Pisa, and Florence. And even when there is a small international airport in Perugia, most flights will land in the most important cities mentioned above.
When to Visit Umbria
This Italian region can be an enchanting destination all year round. Like the rest of the peninsula, the Mediterranean weather implies long, fairly hot summers, with few rains and high temperatures, especially in July and August.
Winters can be cold, mostly in the mountain areas, while spring and fall offer pleasant weather with occasional showers. During these shoulder seasons, you will find mild temperatures, perfect to enjoy the rural landscape or to embark on a walking tour of towns and villages.
Where to Stay in Umbria
Although different villages in the region offer good accommodation, for instance, Asisi, it’s always better to stay in Perugia if this is the first time you visit or if you prefer to rely on public transport to move around.
These are three of the best places that I recommend for your stay in Perugia, Umbria:
Budget accommodation in Perugia: Arco dei Gigli is a small rental home in the center of Perugia. The little apartment features a comfy bedroom and a kitchen and is close to the city’s main attractions. Check prices and availability here.
Mid-range accommodation in Perugia: Deco Hotel is a great mid-range place to stay located just 500 meters from the city’s main train station. It is surrounded by a centuries-old garden and features air-conditioned rooms with a balcony and a garden veranda. Check prices and availability here.
Luxury accommodation in Perugia: Best Western Hotel Quattrotorri is a four-star sustainable property within a short walk from the city center, featuring classic accommodation free parking, and a quiet atmosphere a few minutes from the center of town. Check prices and availability here.
Unmissable Things to Do in the Umbria Region
Let’s now see some of the best places to visit in the region and the top things to do in each of them.
Although the capital of the region might not be as enchanting as the cities of Orvieto or Assisi, the town features incredible architectonic gems and one of the most prestigious universities in the country, Università degli Studi di Perugia as well as the Università per Stranieri di Perugia where most foreigners wanting to learn Italian take their exams.
The capital of Umbria is located in central Umbria and is a city with ancient Etruscan origins. The most impressive construction in town, Rocca Paolina, is the largest fortress ever built in the whole country.
There are Etruscan ruins in every corner of the city, the most famous of them is Pozzo Sorbello, a well dating back all the way back to the third century… as a matter of fact, many historians claim that Perugia is even older than Rome!
Close to the city’s main square, P Piazza IV Novembre you will find the famous Maggiore Fountain, a favorite meeting spot for locals. In the city, it is also possible to visit Galleria Nazionale dellà Umbria housing an important art collection featuring Italian painters.
An interesting fact that you might not know is that Perugia is also known as the Chocolate Capital of Italy since the famous Baci Perugina chocolates have been created in this city. If you visit in October, do not miss the chocolate festival!
Another favorite must-see city in Umbria is the remarkable Spoleto, and we have decided to include it on this list due to its non-touristy character and its charming peaceful environment.
Spoleto is an authentic medieval village with a historic center, originally built back in 240 BC, that today can be accessed only through a moving walkway due to its very steep location.
The area features surrounding protective walls from the 5th century, although the settlement did not become part of the Roman Empire until the year 774.
Still protected from mass tourism, in Spoleto you will find affordable accommodation and lovely trattorias serving authentic cuisine and homemade wines.
Spoleto is also known for the Cathedral devoted to Holy Mary, built in perfect Romanesque architecture and built back in the twelfth century. There is also a mesmerizing Roman theater from the first century AD which you don’t want to miss.
Another settlement with clear Etruscan origins, Orvieto is a destination in Umbria that you cannot skip during your visit.
The city can be a perfect destination on its own or an excellent weekend getaway from Rome or Florence. Orvieto is divided into two different settlements, an old historic district that stands on top of huge cliffs offering a picturesque panorama of green rolling hills and terracotta buildings. And a modern town located at the foot of the hill.
Both areas are connected by employing a cable car (as well as elevators and escalators). Choose the cable car for incredible vistas and unforgettable photos!
Due to its Etruscan origins, all over the area, you will find ancient tombs and necropoleis as well as a complex network of underground passages that were built in more recent centuries (around the Middle Ages) and which were in use up to the WWII to offer protection to the citizens.
Among the places to visit, two highlights are the Orvieto Cathedral, an imposing Gothic church that features a fantastic mosaic facade with glittering colors and ancient frescoes in its interiors.
The Fortress of Albornoz is the other must-see ancient structure from where you can have beautiful views of the surrounding hills and valleys.
The area is also famous for wineries and wine production (remember that we are still very close to Tuscany), wines over here are of excellent quality while price tags tend to be much smaller than the ones you could find in Chianti or Montepulciano.
Keep this in mind if you’re a wine lover or even a foodie. Hearty cuisine, rich stews, and good quality meats are other staples in Orvieto and the surrounding villages.
With medieval alleys, a massive collection of holy art, and one of the most important churches in Europe, Assisi is a sacred town that you will want to explore in Umbria.
This pilgrimage municipality is also home to Italy’s patron saint, Saint Francis, who lived and prayed in the region and made it a place of extreme importance for the global Catholic community.
When spending time in Assisi, do not miss a visit to some of the most important churches, including Saint Rufin’s Cathedral, Saint Claire’s Basilica, and Saint Demian’s Church.
In Assisi, it is also possible to visit the Rocca Maggiore fortifications, the ruins of the Roman Forum, and the ancient Roman Temple of Minerva, devoted to the Roman goddess of love, poetry, medicine, and commerce.
However, the most remarkable gem in town, sheltering impressive works of art and stunning frescoes, is the Romanesque-Gothic Basilica of Saint Francis built back in the thirteenth century.
The building features a lower and an upper church where you can also ding the final resting place of Italy’s most beloved saint.
Another Umbrian landmark not to avoid is Lake Trasimeno, a beautiful natural place surrounded by olive groves, hills populated with vineyards, and medieval villages with old houses and tall towers completely made of stone that shape the skyline of the region.
The lake, which also confines with the region of Tuscany has a more relaxing vibe on the Umbrian side while the Tiuscan area is filled with lakeside resorts and all kinds of activities, sports, and entertainment.
However, the charm of the place lies right by the Umbrian side, and the dozens of small settlements scattered in the area, where you can still find a very relaxed pace of life, and the most ancient traditions of the country which, over here, are still pretty much alive.
The cuisine is just one of them: gastronomy can be considered the highlight of Lake Trasimeno featuring dishes made with native products and decadent recipes that include tons of pulses, thick local olive oil, great wines, fish, and meat.
An enchanting medieval city in the northeast of the region and not far from Assisi, this lesser-known Umbrian town is a fantastic place that not many tourists explore. And it’s a pity because it’s one of the most charming villages you will encounter.
Gubbio is a hillside village connected to the nearby Mount Ingino with a cable car. The magical settlement dates back to before the Roman era and is one of the oldest settlements in the region.
With a historic center that features typical Gothic and Medieval architecture in north-eastern Gubbio has managed to keep some odd traditions alive, such as the Egubina, one-of-a-kind citizenship that certifies that you are completely mad, only by circling a small fountain three times in a row. This has earned the city the nickname of City of Fools and Gubbio is really proud of that label!
In Gubbio, don’t miss a stop at the Consoli Palace, a Gothic building from the fourteenth century home to the so-called big bell, one of the most relevant landmarks in town.
Gubbio Cathedral, on the other, hand, is an ideal spot if you enjoy art and paintings, as it features curious Baroque architecture and religious paintings dating back to the sixteenth century.
Just outside the protective city walls, you will also find ancient Roman ruins as well as one of the most inspiring views of the city and the surrounding hills.
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Gabi Ancarola is a journalist and travel writer who has lived over 20 years in Italy, and has been living in Crete for the last five years. She hosts culinary tours, translates and writes for her Crete travel blog The Tiny Book. She’s written for Greek Reporter and published several travel guides about Greece.