A insider’s guide about the 20 best things to do in Umbria, one of Italy most fascinating regions of Italy, still off the mainstream touristic itineraries
It’s hard to select just 20 best things to do in Umbria, Italy. In my view, Umbria is one of Italy best kept secrets. It displays fascinating towns and villages, tons of culture, beautiful sceneries, fantastic food, cultural events and much more. And, despite that, it’s still ignored by mainstream tourism. Therefore, you won’t find the tourists crowds that will give you a hard time in Florence or San Gimignano. On the contrary, you will enjoy an atmosphere of bygone times, among the medieval paths, the palaces, the castles and the fortresses of charming villages.
This post is aimed at disclosing the best things to see and do in Umbria. I’m sure that after reading it you will want to squeeze Umbria into your Italy trip plan!
So here we go with the top 20 things to see and do in Umbria, Italy.
Umbria best things to do # 1 – Visit Perugia and its medieval art collections
Perugia is Umbria, Italy regional capital. It’s a fairly big city, with modern outskirts, but his medieval historical center, built up on a cliff as usual in Umbria, is fairly intact and keeps all its medieval charm.
If you are passionate about art, you shouldn’t miss Palazzo dei Priori, one of the most beautiful and imposing buildings in Perugia. It is home of Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria , a superb gallery of Umbrian medieval and renaissance art.
Other top sights not to be missed are:
- Piazza IV Novembre, Perugia monumental city center, and its beautiful Maggiore Fountain, carved by Giovanni and Nicola Pisano
- San Lorenzo cathedral, and its San Bernardino’s Pulpit, from where the saint used to preach
- The Basilica of San Domenico, where many statues and valuable works by local artists are housed.
Umbria best things to do # 2 – Enjoy the Umbria Jazz festival
Umbria Jazz is one of the main Italian music events, and takes place in Perugia in the middle of July. It features artists like Quincy Jones, Gilberto Gil and David Byrne. Click here for more info and to purchase tickets.
Umbria best things to do # 3 – Discover Assisi, the town of San Francesco
Assisi is one of the most famous Italian towns, since it is home of San Francesco, who was born here in 1181 and it is one of Italy’s World Heritage Unesco sites.
But Assisi is much more than that. Regardless if you believe or not, you could hardly avoid feeling the mysticism of this town and being overwhelmed by the beauty of its ancient white stone streets and palaces. Build over the centuries on the slope of mount Subasio, Assisi overlooks the valley and offer astonishing views, especially at sunset.
The most famous sight in Assisi is the Basilica di San Francesco , where he was buried. Actually you will find two overlying churches, the lower and the upper, both filled with astonishing frescoes by Giotto, Cimabue and others.
On the opposite side of the town you will find Assisi Duomo and its splendid Romanesque facade, dedicated to the other saint of Assisi, San Ruffino.
Try to sleep in Assisi, so that you can visit it when all the day pilgrims are gone.
Umbria best things to do # 4 – Enjoy Assisi Ester Stations of the Cross
The tradition of moving around the Stations to commemorate the Passion of Christ (“Via Crucis” in Latin) began with St. Francis of Assisi, and has continued century after century since the middle age.
Today, Assisi still hosts one of the most poignant Stations of the Cross of Italy.
Umbria best things to do # 5- Spend a couple of hours in lovely Spello
Spello is a delightful tiny medieval town, ranged on terraces above the Spoleto Valley. There aren’t many major monuments to visit apart from Santa Maria Maggiore church, and its gorgeous frescoes from Pinturicchio.
What makes Spello special is the town itself, with its narrow alleys, the white stone century old buildings and, of course, the laid back atmosphere and the small town charm. The best think to do here is to sit on a café terrace under the tress, order a glass of local wine and enjoy life.
Umbria best things to do # 6 – Assist to Spello “infiorata”
What makes Spello really famous is the tradition of the “Infiorate”, the christian tradition of covering the streets with flowers on the day of Corpus Christi.
Ephemeral works of art, the Infiorate are completed the early morning of Sunday and only last until the religious procession.
Umbria best things to do # 7 – Leave your heart in Spoleto
English poet Shelley used to say that Spoleto was “the most romantic city I ever saw”.
Spoleto is worldwide known for its festival, but it doesn’t really need it to attract visitors. It displays tons of beautiful medieval buildings, Umbria’s prettiest cathedral displaying a major Renaissance fresco cycle (1467) by the Florentine Filippino Lippi. an impressive a Roman and medieval aqueduct and bridge that spans a picturesque gorge and a massive fortress. Isn’t that enough?
Umbria best things to do # 8 – Assist to Spoleto Festival dei due Mondi
The Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of the Two Worlds) is an unmissable annual summer music and opera festival held each June to early July in Spoleto. It has been going on for 60 years, and it’s now a worldwide known event. It features a vast array of concerts, opera, dance, drama, visual arts and roundtable discussions on science.
Umbria best things to do # 9 – Unveil Todi, one of Umbria prettiest cities
Some years ago, the Italian press reported on Todi as the world’s most livable city. Not hard to guess why!
Todi stands on the top of the hill overlooking the beautiful Tevere Valley. It is limited by three rings of walls (Etruscan, Roman and medieval) that contain the ancient city center. The main square is so perfect that it is often used as a movie set. It hosts most of Todi medieval monuments: the co-cathedral church (Duomo), the Palazzo del Capitano, the Palazzo del Priore and the Palazzo del Popolo.
The whole square is built over some huge ancient Roman cisterns, with more than 500 pits, which remained in use until 1925.
Umbria best things to do # 10 – Get amazed in Orvieto
Inhabited since Etruscan times, Orvieto’s monuments and museums cover millenniums of history. Its stunning cathedral is one of the best medieval monuments in Italy and the astonishing St Patrick’s well will leave you appalled.
It’s a delightful town, which deserves at least half day in your Umbria trip.
Umbria best things to do # 11 – Walk up Gubbio ancient streets to Piazza Grande
Gubbio is the oldest town in Umbria, and one of its most beautiful destinations. It’s relatively small, and its main attractions, such as the magnificent Palazzo dei Consoli (Consular Palace), the renaissance The Palazzo Ducale (Ducal Palace) and the cathedral can be easily visited in half a day and are a perfect day trip from Perugia or Assisi.
Piazza Grande, overlooked by Palazzo dei consoli, offers astonishing views on the countryside.
Read my full post about Gubbio.
Umbria best things to do # 12 – Assist to Gubbio traditions
One of the most crazy and exciting traditions in Umbria (and I would say in Italy) is Gubbio corsa dei ceri (race of the candles). It takes place every year around the 15th of May, day of St Ubaldo. The traditionhas been going on uninterruptedly from 1160.
The candles are three tall heavy wooden artifacts, surmounted respectively by statues of Saint Ubaldo, Saint George and Saint Antonio Abate. With a height of nearly 5 meters, the “Ceri” are impressive to look. In addition to the parade through the streets of the city, during the competition the candles are carried on shoulders and the “ceraioli” go through Gubbio to reach the Basilica of St. Ubaldo, located on the top of Mount Igino that overlooks the city.
Umbria best things to do # 13 – Enjoy Norcia and its mountain scenery
Not only Norcia is a lovely mountain town, it is also one of Italy’s leading gastronomic centers, offering an amazing selection of truffles, ham, salamis, lentils and cheeses.
The 2016 earthquakes heavily hit Norcia, causing great damages especially to the San Benedetto church. Nonetheless, the town is recovering and is still a great destination. Norcia is also a great hub to viist Piano Grande and the Parco dei Monti Sibillini.
Umbria best things to do – Browse Norcia “Norcinerie”
Norcia is so famous for pork meat delicacies like sausages, tasty hams and salami, that in central Italy the characteristic shops that produce and sell them are commonly called “Norcinerie” (litterally “coming from Norcia”).
For sure, in Norcia you can find some of the best Italian pork meat products, as well as famous lentils and delitious cheeses.
In the picture you can see the Norcineria fratelli Ansuini, one of the most reputed in Norcia.
Umbria best things to do # 15 – Get amazed at Marmore waterfalls
The Cascate delle Marmore (Marmore waterfall) is the tallest waterfall in Italy, with a total 165 meters height. It is located in the beautiful Nera river park, rich of green meadows, thick forests, teeming streams and hidden gorges. It’s arguably one of the most beautiful areas in Umbria.
Many trails are available in the park, where you can also enjoy rafting, canoeing and canyoning.
Umbria best things to do # 16 – Discover Umbria wine routes
There are 4 wine routes in Umbria. They are the ‘Strada del Vino dei Colli del Trasimeno’, the ‘Strada dei Vini del Cantico’, the ‘Strada dei Vini Etrusco Romana’ and the ‘Strada del Sagrantino’. They will allow you to discover Umbria excellent wine production, and to spend an enjoyable day around wineyards and cellars. Click here to find your wine routes map.
Whichever route you decide to explore, don’t miss the tenute Lunelli estate, and it’s amazing cellar “il carapace” designed by world famous artist Pomodoro (it’s the one in the picture)
Umbria best things to do # 17 – Discover Bevagna
Bevagna has been (rightly!) included among the most beautiful hamlets in Italy. It has been built in the middle age over an ancient Roman road, which is now Bevagna main street. Bevagna has a lovely central square, piazza san Silvestri, and two beautiful Romanesque churches: San Silvestro, from 1195, squat and dark with age and San Michele on the other side of the square, known for the wonderfully macabre gargoyles over the main doorway.
Umbria best things to do – Admire the flowering of poppies in the Sibilini national park
Tired of churches, ancient towns and art? Need for some physical activity in a beautiful scenery? Well, the Monti Sibillini is what you are looking for in Umbria.
Monti Sibillini provide great opportunities of trekking along the many marked trails, with some themed tours like the Zafferano (Saffron) trail. Rock climbing fans will find many opportunities on the slopes of Monte Bove and mountain bikers several marked bike path. Rafting and canyoneering are also practiced in the Forca Canapine area.
That said, what makes Monti Sibillini unique is the wonderful poppies flowering, which takes place between May and July in the Piana di castelluccio di Norcia.
Umbria best things to do # 19 – Walk the mystical Franciscan path of Peace
This is a path that links Assisi to Gubbio, and it follows the route covered many times by Saint Francis after 1206 when he renounced his father’s properties. It’s a religious path and an important pilgrimage destination, so expect loads of mysticism (on top of the exquisite views).
Click here for more info and for the map (unfortunately only in Italian), local tourist office in Assisi can provide further guidance.
Umbria best things to do # 20 – Raft on the Nera River
Just downstream Marmore waterfalls, the Nera river offers some of the best rafting spots in Italy. Operators offer experiences with different level of thrill, so this could be a funny completion of a day visit to the waterfalls.
Rafting Marmore is a well known operator who also offers hydro speed and canyoning experiences.
Enjoy beautiful Umbria!
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