Umbria Holiday Planning Guide
Characterized by a landscape of green hills, attractive towns, and World Heritage-listed monuments, Umbria is the only region in the country with neither a coastline nor an international border. Umbria is home to the town of Assisi, a World Heritage Site and a major religious center that houses a number of attractions. Its Franciscan church has one of the world's finest medieval collections of frescos, a must-see on any itinerary here. Umbria is one of Italy's smaller regions, yet what it lacks in size it more than makes up for the natural beauty of its agricultural lands and quaint villages.
Places to Visit in UmbriaPerugia
: The region’s capital, and its largest city, Perugia is a lively center of culture and a true living gallery of perfectly preserved medieval and Renaissance architecture.Assisi
: The birthplace of St. Francis, this scenic town is home to stunning works of art and historic structures. The town rivals Rome as one of Italy’s most popular pilgrimage destinations and offers some of the best opportunities for sightseeing in Umbria.Orvieto
: Perched atop a volcanic plateau, this ancient town is famous for its narrow winding streets, a network of underground passages, and buildings that date back hundreds of years. The town’s renowned white wines make it a must-stop on any wine tour of Umbria.Montefalco
: Surrounded by rolling hills covered by vineyards, the picturesque community of Montefalco is the place to experience authentic Umbrian spirit and taste some of the region’s best red wines.Terni
: More than just the main industrial center of the region, Terni is home to amazing examples of historical architecture and it’s a great starting point for exploring Umbrian nature.Spoleto
: Small but lively, the town of Spoleto offers everything from ancient Roman monuments and medieval palazzos and fortifications to a vibrant cultural scene.Gubbio
: Passionately preserving its authentic medieval appearance, the town of Gubbio is the perfect destination for any history enthusiast.Norcia
: Famous for being the birthplace of St. Benedict, this charming town provides its visitors with a tranquil atmosphere and a chance to enjoy the pristine nature of the surrounding countryside, as well as numerous local specialties.Foligno
: One of Umbria’s larger cities and one of the region’s commercial hubs, Foligno offers a good combination of sightseeing, shopping, and dining options, as well as easy access to the rest of Umbria and beyond.Spello
: With its winding streets, ancient Roman walls, medieval houses, and easy-going lifestyle that has changed little over the centuries, the town of Spello is one of Umbria’s hidden gems that you shouldn’t miss.
Things to Do in Umbria
Popular Umbria Tourist AttractionsBasilica Papale San Francesco D'Assisi
: Pay homage to St. Francis, admire the stunning architecture, and immerse yourself in the world of ecclesiastical art at one of the most important religious sites in the whole of Italy.Duomo di Orvieto
: A true jewel of Italian Gothic architecture, this cathedral will enchant you with its golden mosaics, elaborate rose window, and masterfully painted frescoes.Cascata delle Marmore
: Made by the ancient Romans, this stunning feat of engineering is still one of the tallest manmade waterfalls in the world.Fontana Maggiore
: Admire the combination of cascading water and a series of sculptures at one of Perugia’s main landmarks--a large and fully functional 13th-century fountain.Santa Maria degli Angeli
: Definitely one of the places to visit in Umbria, this towering basilica is one of the largest in Christianity and a very popular pilgrimage destination.Eremo delle Carceri
: Just outside of Assisi, experience the tranquil and meditative atmosphere of this secluded hermitage, frequently visited by St. Francis himself.Pozzo di San Patrizio
: While visiting Orvieto, make sure to stop by this 16th-century well and admire this marvel of engineering and architecture that descends 62 m (203 ft) below the surface.Narni Sotterranea
: Take a historical tour of Umbria from the Roman times to the Catholic Inquisition by wandering the mystical chambers and hallways of this underground complex.Basilica di Santa Chiara
: Another spot well-worth visiting while in Assisi, this 13th-century basilica is the center of the order of Poor Clares and houses the remains of St. Clare of Assisi.Rocca Paolina
: Take a stroll through the remains of a mighty fortress that once symbolized papal dominion over the city and experience the true urban buzz of Perugia.
Planning an Umbria Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Umbria with Kids
Taking a family vacation in Umbria is a great choice for all those who want to escape the hustle and bustle of mass tourism. The region is not densely populated, leaving you with plenty of options for excursions into unspoiled nature and outdoor activities. Even though Umbria is landlocked, a visit to Castiglione del Lago
is certain to give your kids that special seaside feeling. Both larger urban centers like Perugia
and smaller towns provide a great number of sites for the whole family. The kids will especially enjoy sightseeing if you combine it with a visit to one of the numerous gelato shops.
Things to Do in Umbria with Kids
Because of the region’s natural and historical attractions, you’ll easily find an abundance of things to do in Umbria with kids. Families that enjoy spending time outdoors will have a great time at Lake Trasimeno
or kayaking and rafting on one of the region’s rivers. A great way to for a family to explore the Umbrian countryside is by bike or by taking a tour on horseback with a local tour group, such as Centro di Equitazione Marana
For young visitors interested in history and fantasy, Umbria may appear as a dream land. Fortresses like Rocca Maggiore
and walled towns such as Spello
will quickly transport them to the times of knights, kings, and princesses. Located just outside of Perugia Perugina Chocolate Factory
is the perfect treat for visitors of all ages and one of the sweetest attractions in Umbria.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Umbria
While you can easily spend an enjoyable time visiting just one location, the best vacation ideas in Umbria include moving around and exploring the region. Luckily, with the area’s good public transportation network, this is quite easy even without a car. All the cities and towns in Umbria are small enough that you can explore them on foot. However, some of them are perched on hilltops, and getting to the center requires walking up narrow cobbled streets, which can be tricky to do with a stroller.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Umbria
Cuisine of Umbria
Exploring the region’s culinary traditions is one of the best ways to spend your vacation in Umbria. The cuisine of Umbria largely reflects the region’s geography, as well as the slow-paced lifestyle that has helped to preserve many of the old cooking traditions. Umbrian food is prepared slowly, with a lot of attention to details; running to a supermarket and grabbing the first thing off the shelf is simply not how things are done here.
Umbria is a landlocked region with a long tradition in agriculture and farming. Meat, dairy products, and seasonal fruit and vegetables are staples of the local diet and Umbrian olive oil has been known for its high quality since ancient times. Probably the most famous local specialty is truffles, and with almost half of all Italian truffle production coming from Umbria, they’re widely available and present in many local dishes, such as crostini al tartufo. The town of Norcia
is regarded by many as the culinary capital of the region. In addition to the truffles and cheeses produced here, the countryside surrounding the town is a famous hunting ground and the local cuisine includes a lot of game, especially wild boar. Wild boar liver sausages are one of the specialties and they can even be made sweet, with sugar and oranges. The capital city of Perugia is the place to go if you’re looking for some of the best chocolate in Italy.
For wine enthusiasts, no Umbrian holiday is complete without tasting some of the celebrated local brands. While the region’s best white wines are produced around the town of Orvieto
, the area of Montefalco
is home to some of Italy’s finest reds, such as Sagrantino di Montefalco.
Shopping in Umbria
Umbria is a great shopping destination for all those looking for authentic products made in a way that hasn’t changed for centuries. Gourmand travelers are certain to find the selection of wines, cheeses, truffles, dried meat, and sweets absolutely mouth-watering. Furthermore, in almost every town in Umbria you’ll find a selection of small, family-owned shops where you buy handmade jewelry, textiles, and ceramics. Places like Assisi Jewels
and Antica Fornace Deruta
are just some examples of the stores that keep centuries-old manufacturing methods alive. For another authentic shopping experience, make sure to add a visit to one of the local open-air markets to your Umbria itinerary. These are often held on the towns’ main piazzas and are a treat for bargain hunters.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Umbria
History of Umbria
The name Umbria derives from the Umbrians, the region’s earliest inhabitants and one of the oldest peoples on the Italian Peninsula. For centuries, the Umbrians had a fierce rivalry with the Etruscans, but neither nation was able to resist the growing power and ambition of nearby Rome. By the 3rd century BCE, Rome had established its control over Umbria and the local population started to assimilate with the Romans. During Hannibal’s invasion of Italy, Umbria was the stage of one of the most famous clashes in the history of warfare--the Battle of Lake Trasimeno
With its fertile land and location close to the Empire’s capital, Umbria greatly benefited from the rise of Roman power. Many monuments from this period, such as Carsulae - Parco Archeologico
, are now some of the most popular tourist attractions in Umbria.
After the fall of Rome, control of Umbria switched respectively between the Goths, the Byzantines, and the Lombards before the region was conquered by the Franks and partially put under the authority of the Pope. Some of Umbia’s cities, such as Perugia
, retained the status of a free city. However, constant struggles among these communities weakened them to outside threats and, in time, the whole region once again fell under the control of Rome, or more precisely, the Vatican.
Papal dominion over Umbria was briefly interrupted by Napoleon’s conquest, and then it finally ended in 1860 when the region joined the newly formed Kingdom of Italy. As an important strategic crossroad, Umbria was heavily bombarded during World War II, but many of its historical sites have survived, and today they stand as some of the most popular Umbrian attractions.
Landscape of Umbria
As the only Italian region that’s fully landlocked and doesn’t share a border with any neighboring countries, Umbria is often portrayed as ‘the green heart of Italy.’ The Umbrian landscape is dominated by rolling hills, lush valleys, and fertile plains, with occasional sheer cliffs often topped by ancient towns. The River Tiber, along with its tributaries, is the region’s main watercourse and Umbria’s Lake Trasimeno is the largest lake in central Italy. A highlight of every nature lover’s trip to Umbria is a visit to some of the region’s national parks and protected nature areas, such as Piana di Castelluccio di Norcia
or Monti Sibillini
, the home of the region's highest mountain--the 2,476 m (8,123 ft) Monte Vettore. Umbria’s location in the very center of Italy makes the region perfect for day trips and short excursions to other parts of the country, such as Rome or Florence.
Holidays & Festivals in Umbria
In addition to sharing religious and secular holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, Republic Day, or Liberation Day with the rest of Italy, Umbrian towns stage a number of local celebrations that are also lively and colorful. One of the most famous local festivals is held May 15 in Gubbio
. Known as Corsa dei Ceri, the festival dates back to the Middle Ages and includes an uphill dash during which teams representing the town’s guilds carry on their shoulders massive wooden pillars topped by the statues of their protector saints. During the festival the whole historic town comes alive and the teams are cheered on by thousands of supporters.
The Festival of the Two Worlds, one of the most important cultural events in Italy, is held at the end of June every year in Spoleto
. This celebration of arts lasts over two weeks and includes musical and opera performances, theater, dance, and visual art displays--it draws some of the world’s biggest artistic names. Attending some of Perugia’s festivals is another great addition to your Umbria itinerary. The most-visited annual events in the city are the Jazz Festival and the EuroChocolate festival, which is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Umbria, especially among visitors with a sweet tooth.
Umbria Travel Tips
Climate of Umbria
Away from both the Alps and the sea, Umbria enjoys a mild continental climate. July and August are the warmest months with temperatures often around 30 C (86 F). For those who don’t like the heat, better months for planning a vacation in Umbria are June and September. October and May are also great for touring and sightseeing, but having an umbrella at hand is not a bad idea during these months. Most rain in Umbria falls in November, leaving the winters relatively dry. As long as you bring warmer clothes, Umbria is also a great winter destination, with very little snow and temperatures that rarely drop near the freezing point.
Transportation in Umbria
The region’s broad transportation network lets you plan your trip to Umbria without too many worries about getting around. Apart from a handful of the smallest and most remote villages, all the communities are linked either by bus or train lines, or by both. There are, however, a few tips and tricks that are good to know before you embark on your Umbrian tour. The region’s historical towns are often located on hilltops, and the local train station might be at the foot of the hill, some distance away from the center. Before you start to walk from the station to the town, always check whether there’s a bus line connecting the two (in most cases there is, and it often corresponds to the train timetable so you don’t have to wait for long). If you want more freedom and decide to rent a car or bring your own to Umbria, bear in mind that a lot of town centers feature narrow streets with lots of steps. Even if they’re not marked as pedestrian zones, they can be impassable for cars; you might have to park outside the center and take a short stroll to your destination. The road network in Umbria is well branched out, but some care is needed when driving on narrow county roads if you’re not accustomed to those conditions. Several highways and national train lines, as well as the airport in Perugia, give you easy access to and from other parts of Italy.