Perugia, a town almost equidistant between Florence & Rome, has surprisingly been mostly overlooked by foreign tourists who instead choose to zoom through Central Italy on the Intercity trains. Perugia is the capital of the Italian region of Umbria, a small area of Italy with arguably the same beauty of northern Tuscany and filled with a number of interesting small towns to visit. Perugia lends itself as being a fantastic base to explore the region as not only are there a number of things to do in Perugia but the large number of students in this city ensure that there is nearly always something going on!
Nine Things To Do In Perugia, Italy
1. Explore and hang out at Piazza IV Novembre
The main foreigners that you will see in Perugia will undoubtedly be the large number of students who call Perugia home during the university year. And like most students around the world who have little money or just a large amount of time on their hands, you will undoubtedly see a large portion of them congregating in the city’s main hangout – Piazza IV Novembre.
The piazza has a number of famous monuments including Fontana Maggiore – a large medieval fountain in the centre of the square, the Cathedral of San Lorenzo – the city’s main church and Palazzo dei Priori – the Town Hall of Perugia. However, these monuments, while impressive to explore, tend to act as a backdrop for a large number of students sipping wine out of plastic cups, playing a musical instrument or tucking into gelato. Joining them on the steps and people watching is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Perugia!
2. Watch the sunset at Giardini Carducci
One of the best things to do in Perugia if you’re on a date is to end up around at Giardini Carducci around sunset. The tiny park at the southern end of the city provides spectacular views of surrounding Umbria including the nearby Basilica di San Domenico. There are maps to help you locate nearby towns however one can simply spend an hour or two here enjoying the view as the sun goes down.
3. Walk through underground Perugia
Just below Giardini Carducci, you’ll find underground Perugia or Rocca Paolina which is an entire network of streets that are the remains of a sixteenth-century medieval fortress built by Pope Paul III. Seen as a symbol of papal power, most of the fortress was destroyed in the nineteenth century following the unification of Italy.
These days, what remains has been integrated with modern day Perugia through a number of escalators. There are exhibits, museums and shops that you can explore underground as well as simply walking through the maze of streets and reading about the history of the place. For Game of Thrones fans, they even had their own version of the Red Wedding!
4. Stroll down Corso Vannucci
If you wondering what Perugia’s answer is to Oxford Street in London or Champs-Elysees in Paris then you have to look no further then Corso Vannucci. The wide, vehicle-free street runs from Giardini Carducci to Piazza IV Novembre and is bustling with cafes, street musicians, bars and much more! You will undoubtedly end up walking up and down this street a number of times during your stay. This is clearly one of the most popular things to do in Perugia for visitors and locals alike!
5. Enjoy traditional Umbrian cuisine
The New York Times recently suggested that Umbrian cuisine was Italy’s best-kept secret and this might very well be the case. Local specialities in Umbria haven’t yet got the international acclaim that dishes from Bologna or other parts of Emilia-Romagna might have but that will surely change over the coming years. Typical food to look out for include anything with truffles (Umbria is Italy’s largest producer of the glorious fungus!), strangozzi (a type of square spaghetti), spelt/faro and sheep’s cheese. Umbria is also a big producer of chocolates including the world famous Baci!
One of the best places to try local cuisine is Civico 25 which also has an extensive wine list. The strangozzi with lamb and artichoke is a definite winner! Make sure to book ahead as this restaurant is extremely popular with locals. They do not have an English menu however the waiters are happy to help you make a decision. Another great place we ate at was Trattoria Borgo San Francesco, which also has a large menu of local specialties and innovative dishes.
6. Enjoy a cheap slice of pizza or panini
Having previously spent a few nights in Modena before arriving in Perugia, where cheap takeaway options were more limited, it was nice to be able to enjoy one of the huge benefits of being in a student city – the cheap eats! There were a number of great hole in the wall style places that we discovered during our three days in Perugia. One such place is Pizzidea Piazza Grimana, located quite close to the Etruscan Arch and serving a range of delicious pizzas by the slice for €2. Another favourite was La Bottega, a hole in the wall panini shop, located a few minutes walk from Piazza IV Novembre. A regular panini will set you back about €3 and the crowds around the shop undoubtedly suggest this place is a winner amongst hungry students!
7. Take a day trip to Assisi
If there is one town in Umbria that has established itself firmly on the tourist trail then it is undoubtedly Assisi. Located only a twenty-minute train ride from Perugia, Assisi is most notably known as the birthplace of Saint Francis of Assisi. His eponymous cathedral attracts thousands of pilgrims each year and is definitely a spectacular site worth seeing during your visit to this Umbrian hilltown. You can also spend an hour or two walking around the medieval town. Due to a large number of pilgrims and visitors, we found that the town felt a lot more catered towards tourists compared to Perugia and therefore wouldn’t recommend basing yourself in Assisi unless you are particularly interested in this part of Catholic history.
Trains from Perugia cost €2.65 each way. However, you will also need to buy a bus ticket from Assisi train station to the centre of town. Buy bus tickets at the bar or tobacco shop in the train station for €1.30 each as they are not sold on board the bus.
8. Spend an afternoon at Tili Vini
One of the best things to do in Perugia if you want to combine your day trip to Assisi with another activity is to arrange a visit to nearby Tili Vini Winery. Located about 7km from the centre of Assisi, there are irregular public buses that drop you off about a ten-minute walk from the winery or alternatively you can arrange a taxi for around €15-20.
Maria and her German shepherd will give you a fantastic tour of their organic winery, explaining the history of the vineyard and production process. Afterwards, you’ll indulge in a tasting of five local wines accompanied by a selection of delicious food including bruschetta with their own olive oil, a spelt and mozzarella salad and an antipasti plate of meats and cheeses. There’ll also be some dessert wine with homemade biscotti!
The wine from Tili Vini is sold all over the world and they spend a portion of the year travelling and doing private tastings. Luckily for visitors, a tour of the winery and tasting only costs €15 which is an absolute bargain when you can consider how much a similar tasting would cost in nearby Tuscany.
9. Admire the Etruscan Arch
The Etruscan Arch is one of the most impressive sites in Perugia. Originally built in the third century BC, it served as one of the official entrances to the city of Perugia in that time period. Walking through the gate is the quickest way to the some of the main sites of Perugia such as Piazza IV Novembre, however, it is also worth walking to the right and around the Etruscan Arch for fantastic views of both the gate and the rest of Perugia.
A great way to admire the Etruscan Arch is by having a drink at Caffè ForteBraccio, located across the road from the arch. This student bar is open 24 hours so is a great option for a morning coffee or evening spritz. It has plenty of outdoor seating with a direct view of the impressive arch!
Where to stay in Perugia
There are plenty of accommodation options in Perugia for different levels of budget. If you’re on a tight budget then Little Italy Hostel which is inside a converted church and only a few minutes walk from the centre of Perugia is a fantastic option. They offer both dorms and private rooms and also have a spacious common room. You can check out the latest reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com.
Airbnb is another great budget option, particularly if you’re travelling as a couple. There are a number of private rooms available in Perugia, especially in the student areas. Click here to get up to $40 off your first stay with Airbnb.
Finally, if you’re after something more luxurious for your stay in Perugia then it’s worth booking Residenza il Punto. This boutique hotel is about ten minutes walk from the city centre, has spacious rooms (including some with balconies and mountain views) and also has a breakfast option when booking. Click here to read the latest reviews on Booking.com
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse the best deals on accommodation in Perugia!
How to get around Perugia
Perugia is very walkable and if you’re staying in the city centre then the only time you’ll need to use public transport is to get there from the train station. Perugia train station is located a few kilometres from the city centre. You can either buy bus tickets from convenience shops for €1.50 or €2 on board the bus.
If you’re going to or from Perugia Airport then a taxi will cost €30 and take approximately twenty minutes. There is also an airport bus but connections can be limited if travelling on the weekend.
Umbria might not be on the mainstream tourist trail yet but with so many fantastic things to do in Perugia, it is surely only a matter of time before more visitors starting exploring this amazing region of Italy.
Before visiting Perugia make sure you have a valid travel insurance policy. We personally used World Nomads for our trip, however, it’s important to read the policy details to ensure it’s right for you. Click here to get a quote from World Nomads!
Have you been to Perugia or are you planning a trip? What are some of your favourite things to do in Perugia? Let us know in the comments below!