Things to do in Perugia
Perugia is the capital of the Umbria region in Italy; a small area that isn’t dissimilar from beautiful Tuscany and dotted with interesting little towns. With its lovely medieval center and international student population, the cosmopolitan Perugia makes a great destination for a (half) day trip or as a base when exploring the country.
Due to its central location, Perugia was one of the main cities and prospered greatly during the Etruscan era (900 – 27 BC) in Italy. Its historic center has also changed very little in the last 400 years, filled with cute cobbled alleys, beautiful piazzas, grand churches, and stunning palazzi (mansions).
While history stands at the center of Perugia, the city also knows how to party. Watch as the cafe terraces fill up with university students in the late summer afternoons. Or, if you’re visiting in July, join the many music-lovers gathering for Umbria Jazz, one of the top jazz festivals in Europe.
1. Palazzo dei Priori
For centuries, a grand palace has stood right in the center of the city’s Piazza IV Novembre. This ornate Gothic-style building called Palazzo dei Priori was built in the 1300s and was previously the seat of the Municipality of Perugia. Now, it houses the region’s main art gallery and has a couple of historic suites with beautiful frescoed ceilings.
Its unique windows, ornamental portal, and fortress-like structure make the Palazzo an impressive building to visit. Marvel at the detailed architecture as you join in with the students outside, listening to street music on the stairs in front of the entrance and enjoying a delicious gelato.
Opening times & Entrance Fee
Inside the Palazzo dei Priori, you’ll find the imposing National Gallery of Umbria. This museum is open all week from 8.30 AM – 7.30 PM (Mondays from 12 PM). Between January and March, it’s closed on Mondays. Entrance to the museum costs 2 – 10 EUR (2,14 – 10,70 USD) depending on where you’re from and is free for minors.
2. Perugia Cathedral
On the same main square as the palace, with the large medieval Fontana Maggiore in the middle, you’ll also find the Cathedral of San Lorenzo. This somewhat strange-looking cathedral has the unusual attribute that its front facade doesn’t face the main square. It was originally built in the 15th century, but parts of the cathedral exterior remain unfinished, adding to the building’s uniqueness.
Spend some time wandering around the Roman cathedral, admiring all of its quirks. If you have time, take a look inside at its lavishly decorated interior full of colored paintings and gold details.
3. Etruscan Well
With a rich Etruscan past, all visitors need to do is walk along the ancient walls to gain an insight into the oldest stories of Perugia. From one of seven surviving gates and a stout arch to possibly the most impressive remain: the Etruscan well.
By using a system of stairs, you can descend deep into this old water reservoir. Walk down 37 meters to the bottom of the well and cross the bridge that spans through the middle to fully take in the grandness of this construction carved out of rock. Visiting the well is one of the more unique things to do in Perugia, Italy.
4. Walk along Via dell’Acquedotto di Perugia
As you roam through the city, you’ll undoubtedly come past the via dell’Acquedotto. This ancient path previously served as an aqueduct during the Roman era, providing Perugia’s citizens with fresh water. What’s even more interesting is that it was ingeniously designed to allow water to flow uphill towards the fountain on the main square!
Nowadays, the aqueduct makes the perfect walkway, stretching about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) through the city. Stroll along the path, taking in the different views of the historic buildings as well as the stunning arches of the aqueduct itself.
Nothing tops looking out over the colored buildings of an ancient city with mountains as the backdrop. Perugia, Italy, is built on top of a hill, offering these stunning views from numerous places. The best, however, can be found at one of the highest points of the city: Porta Sole.
The Arco dei Gigli, known as Porta Sole among Perugians, is one of the ancient gates of the Etruscan walls of the city. Getting there can be a little challenging as you need to scale quite a few stairs from the piazza below. However, the workout is definitely worth it! Up top, you’re rewarded with a stunning panoramic view of most of Perugia and beyond. Enjoy the valley views from this ancient gateway before continuing on your journey through Perugia.
6. Visit Assisi
If there’s one town in Umbria that is an absolute gem and a must-visit in Italy, it’s Assisi. Located only a twenty-minute train ride from Perugia, this charming ancient town is an important pilgrimage site and is home to some incredible religious buildings and festivals. It’s most notably known as the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi, one of Italy’s patron saints. His grand cathedral (St Francis Basilica) is the biggest eye-catcher of the town, unusually constructed of two cathedrals built on top of each other.
The approach to Assisi is incredible as you watch the sun hitting the warm stone of the houses. Transport back in time, getting lost in the little alleyways of the medieval town or relaxing in one of the pretty squares with a drink or gelato in hand.
If you’re visiting Assisi in May, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the Calendimaggio festival. During this event, the locals dress up in costumes from medieval times and take to the winding streets of the town to celebrate the coming of spring.
Just like Tuscany, Umbria’s rolling hills are covered in vineyards. The countryside around Perugia has some fantastic wines that you can try at one of the beautiful wineries offering excellent tours. Journey out of the city to walk among the cypress trees under the warm Umbrian sun – a dream come true.
We visited Lungarotti in Torgiano (they also have another winery in Montefalco), which is one of the most impressive wineries we’ve ever seen! You’ll learn all about the process from grape to glass, with amazing explanations from very knowledgeable guides and winemakers. They’re known as the producers of the best red wine in Italy (2016), making the experience and tasting at the end even more memorable.
8. Perugia Underground
Wandering through Perugia’s streets is as if you’ve just stepped into a different time period. From the defensive walls around the city to the aqueduct, all of it is part of Perugia’s well-preserved ancient acropolis. Yet, there’s an area at the very core of the city that takes you on an even more unique journey through the centuries. Underground Perugia lies an entire network of streets that answer archaeologists’ questions about how the city got its current shape.
From the Etruscan era to the Romans, visiting Perugia Underground shares many of the city’s stories and is one of the best things to do in Perugia. Escape the summer heat for an hour and dig deep into the city’s history. You can access the buried city via Rocca Paolina or use the underground escalator.
9. Relax at Lake Trasimeno
Lake Trasimeno, the biggest lake in central Italy, is Umbria’s version of Lake Como. It lies only a stone’s throw away from the border of Tuscany and makes the perfect location for outdoor lovers. Hike or bike around the lake or relax on one of the beaches amidst the forest in Castiglione del Lago or Tuoro al Trasimeno. You can also choose to do one of the many different watersports on the lake, such as kayaking.
The lake is just a half-hour drive from the center of Perugia, making it perfect for a day trip. As you approach the water, admire the beautiful backdrop of rolling green hills, sunflower fields, and woodland.
Lake Trasimeno also has three islands that have small medieval towns perched on the edges. One of the best things to do in this region is to visit Maggiore Island. Home to only 12 people, one ancient street, a small beach, and a few restaurants make the island one of the most serene places to visit.
If you walk through the olive groves to the other side, you’ll find an abandoned castle that looks out over the lake. Explore the small and lush green paths that cross the island – a truly idyllic experience!
10. Saint Angelo Gate
Porta Sant’Angelo is an impressive medieval gate that’s located at the end of the main street of Perugia’s historic center. Built centuries ago, this stout gate is part of the defensive walls that surround the city and entrance to the medieval time capsule that is Perugia. The impressive structure reveals that it was built in three different construction phases, each marked by the use of differently-colored materials.
Inside the gate, you’ll find the Museum of the City Walls and Doors. Here, you can dive into the city’s rich history and urban development, including the outer ramparts. From up top, you’ll have an incredible view of the city and the beautiful surrounding hills of Umbria.
11. Chiesa di San Michele Arcangelo
If you pass through the ancient northern gate Sant’Angelo, you’ll be greeted by a circular-shaped Catholic church. This small round structure stands perched on a hill, slightly hidden by the city’s imposing walls. It’s known as the first religious building in Perugia and, in theme with the rest of the city, dates back many centuries ago.
With its circular shape, lantern dome, and beautiful lawn in front, it’s a must-see in Perugia. Soak up the afternoon sun as you make a visit to the church, admiring its exterior. You can also take a look inside, which is characterized by charming brick walls, a circular nave, and sixteen ornate columns.
The Best Cafes and Restaurants in Perugia
Perugia is full of delicious restaurants and pasticcerias, making sure you will never go hungry. Delve into the region’s flavors by trying local specialties such as strangozzi, a rustic square-shaped pasta traditionally made with just flour and water. Or, try the Perugian favorite Pecorino di Norcia or Italy’s beloved Baci chocolate “kisses”.
Umbria is also Italy’s largest producer of the famed black truffles, meaning that if you haven’t tried this before (or even if you have), this is the place to do it. Some of our favorite restaurants and cafes in Perugia are:
- Café Timbuktu
- POSTO GIUSTO
- Caffe Dal Perugino
- Luce Ristorante
- Piada e Delizie
- Wang (Chinese)
- Tea and Coffee house
Tip: Perugia’s cafe terraces are also a great place to enjoy an aperitif. For one with a great view, head to Punto di Vista.
Where to Stay in Perugia
Though Perugia is an excellent destination to travel to for (half) a day from bigger locations such as Florence or Rome, it’s also an incredible place to stay. As the capital of Umbria, it also makes a great location to base yourself to explore the surrounding region.
There are lots of lovely hotels at various prices that are never too far away from the highlights of Perugia. If you’re looking to explore more of the landscapes of Umbria, you can also stay in an Agriturismo (farm accommodation). See all your hotel options in Perugia.
If Umbria is your main destination, then it’s possible to fly directly to the region’s capital from a few cities in Europe. Note, though, that it has very specific times per day.
From the airport, you can get a taxi to take you to Perugia. The journey takes about 20 minutes and costs around 30 EUR (32,20 USD).
The easiest way to get to Perugia is by train, as it connects to major cities Florence and Rome. From both cities, it takes about 2.5 hours to get to Perugia, which lies almost exactly halfway in between. It’s recommended to book your train tickets in advance as prices tend to be lower.
Once in Perugia, it’s a 30-minute walk or short bus ride uphill to get to the city center. You can buy bus tickets for about 2 EUR (2,14 USD) from the shops or when boarding the bus.
Alternatively, you can visit Perugia by car as part of a longer Italy itinerary. Renting a car and driving through Italy is an incredible experience, as you’ll get to see more of the stunning countryside of Umbria and go off the beaten path.
Once you’re in the walled city, you can explore all the different sites on foot. Walking through the labyrinth of the city’s narrow streets is the best way to discover Perugia and its amazing atmosphere. If you’re traveling by car, you can park in one of the car parks outside the historical center and walk from there.
The Best Time to Visit Perugia
The whole region of Umbria is relatively quiet all year round. However, it does get a bit busier during the summer months when Italians have their holidays.
Perugia remains to be a lesser-known gem, meaning that you can undoubtedly explore the quaint medieval streets with few other tourists. However, we recommend visiting in the shoulder seasons (April/May or September/October) to be able to enjoy more of beautiful Italy. Both these times, it will still be warm, and you’ll have plenty of sunshine to enjoy the stunning landscapes of the region!