20 Wonderful Things to Do in Perugia, Umbria

Teetering on a commanding hill above the rolling Umbrian landscape, Perugia is a gem of a city that attracts a fraction of visitors descending on the tourist hotspots of Florence and Rome. It is all the better for this.

If you want a relaxing break in a picturesque, laid-back city brimming with history and art, you’ve come to the right place. And Perugia is the perfect base for day trips by train to places like Assisi, Spello and beautiful Lake Trasimeno.

I spent a fabulous week there on my last visit, exploring the city’s must-see sights and taking day trips to some of Umbria’s most celebrated destinations. Read on for my recommendations for what to do in Perugia, a 1-day itinerary and tips for how to get there and where to stay.

old houses of perugia spilling down a hillside

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How Many Days Do You Need in Perugia?

You can do a whistle-stop tour of the city’s main attractions in a day or even half a day. My first visit was part of a day trip from Rome, and I have suggested the best things to do in Perugia if time is at a premium later in this article.

I recommend spending two or three days in Perugia to visit more of the Umbrian capital’s excellent museums and wallow in its relaxed vibe. On my most recent visit, I dedicated three days to exploring the city, which felt like the right amount of time.

My Favourite Things to Do in Perugia

1. Start in Piazza IV Novembre

square in perugia in italy with medieval grey stone buildings and a circular fountain

Built over a Roman reservoir, the lovely Piazza IV Novembre is Perugia’s beating heart and home to some of its most important buildings and monuments. The Gothic Cathedral of San Lorenzo and 13th-century Palazzo dei Priori face one another across this gently sloping square.

But the star of the show is the circular Fontana Maggiore, considered one of Italy’s most beautiful fountains. Designed by Fra Bevignate in 1280, its exquisite bas-relief panels celebrating the glory of Perugia are the work of the famous sculptor Nicola Pisano and his son Giovanni.

ornate circular fountain with carved panels and small statuettes

2. Visit the home of the Virgin Mary’s wedding ring

Well. Maybe.

The 15th-century San Lorenzo Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Lorenzo) is famous for the “wedding ring” of the Virgin Mary, a stone ring which the Perugini pinched from Chiusi. It is kept in a reliquary with 15 locks – you can never be too careful – in the Chapel of the Holy Ring (Capella del Santo Anello).

altar of the small chapel of the holy ring in perugia cathedral with a painting depicting the marriage of mary and joseph
Chapel of the Holy Ring

Even the cathedral admits that the story of the Holy Ring owes more to tradition than fact, and should be viewed as a symbol, not a historical artefact. But that doesn’t deter the pilgrims that flock to the cathedral when the ring is displayed with great pomp and ceremony twice a year, on 29-30 July and 12 September.

3. Check out the frescoes in Sala del Notari

frescos of heraldic symbols on a wall

One of Italy’s most magnificent town halls, Palazzo dei Priori has been the civic centre of Perugia since 1297. Its main façade overlooks Piazza IV Novembre and a flight of steps leads up to a Gothic portal and the Sala del Notari.

This remarkable room was used for public assemblies and later by the city’s notaries. It has an impressive vaulted ceiling and is wallpapered with frescoes by an anonymous painter.

4. See Perugino’s frescoes at the Nobile College del Cambio

Pietro Vannucci, better known as Perugino, was one of the most important painters of the Renaissance and Perugia’s favourite son. In 1449, he was commissioned to decorate the hall and chapel of the Collegio del Cambio, or Bankers’ Guild.

With the help of his pupils, including Raphael, he created one of the most beautiful Renaissance rooms in Italy. His frescoes include a self-portrait and combine depictions of Christian virtues with Classical culture.

Your ticket for the Nobile College del Cambio includes the Capella di San Giovanni Battista. This exquisite small chapel is smothered in frescos with stories from the life of St. John the Baptist by Giannicola di Paolo, a student of Perugino.

Photography is not permitted inside these rooms.

5. Get a sense of Perugia’s history at the College della Mercanzia

For a few euros extra, you can add the College della Mercanzia to your visit to the Collegio del Cambio. I recommend you do, purely for the sense of history this room exudes.

This is where the powerful Guild of Merchants imposed taxes, administered justice and elected councillors.  The wooden panels in the room’s ceiling and walls are extraordinary.

painted and gilded wooden panelling with gothic arches and heraldic insignia

6. Unpeel the layers of Perugia’s history by joining an underground archaeological tour

Perugia’s history began with the Etruscans around 500 BC before its peaceful integration into the Roman Empire two hundred years later. It was passed to the Byzantines in 592 and given to the Papal States, after which time it was embroiled in a series of punch-ups with its neighbours.

The best way to appreciate Perugia’s history is to join the excellent Archaeological Tour of Underground Perugia, operated by the Museo del Capito. This guided tour takes you beneath the San Lorenzo Cathedral Complex to view the Roman Decumanus, scorch marks from the fire that devastated the city during the civil war between Octavian and Mark Anthony and Etruscan remains, including carvings, a temple and a wonky column.

an old roman pavement
Roman pavement
a wonky etruscan column
Etruscan column

When I visited, English language tours took place at 2 pm daily (there are frequent tours in Italian). You can book your place here or buy your ticket from the Museo del Capitolo on the morning of the tour.

7. Descend into the Etruscan Well (Pozzo Etrusco)

perspex walkway across the head of a deep well

This well, also known as Pozzo Sorbello, was built in the 3rd Century BC and reaches a depth of 37 meters. Three underground springs still supply the well.

Although I preferred St Patrick’s Well in Orvieto, this is nonetheless worth visiting. There’s a good introductory video to watch before descending a modest number of steps to a Perspex walkway overlooking the well.

8. Dive into Perugia’s art history at the National Gallery of Umbria (Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria)

painting of an angel playing a violin
Detail from Madonna of the Orchestra, Giovanni Boccati (c. 1445)

The excellent National Gallery of Umbria is an art-lover’s paradise.

Its works are arranged chronologically, tracing the history of Umbrian art from the gilded paintings of the Medieval period to the Baroque and beyond. Detailed information boards in English and Italian in each room set the scene and there is information about the collection’s most important artworks.

As you might expect, there are paintings by Perugino and Pinturicchio, another Perugian native, but they are kept company by Florentine works.

painting of the shepherds with baby jesus mary and joseph
Adoration of the Shepherds, Perugino (c 1501 – 1502)

And when you need a break from an overdose of art, you can sit on one of the cushions in the window alcoves and take in the views from the gallery.

You will need to leave your bag in one of the gallery’s free lockers

9. Marvel at Raphael’s frescoes in San Severo

Renaissance fangirls and fanboys should beat a path to the ancient Church of San Severo. Although Baroqued to the hilt in the 1700s, it preserved a chapel decorated with Raphael’s first major commission, Holy Trinity with Saints, painted in 1505.

damaged fresco of jesus with angels and saints
Holy Trinity with Saints, Raphael (1505)

It was left unfinished when he was summoned to Rome to complete the work on the Vatican Stanze. Following his premature death, his master, Perugino, was commissioned to paint the figures of the six saints in the lower level

painted figures of 2 saints
Two of Perugino’s saints in San Severo Chapel

10. Take in the view from Porta Sole

panoramic view across the rooftops of perugia to the tuscan hills

Thanks to Perugia’s lofty hilltop position, there is no shortage of views across the city to the Umbrian countryside. In my book, some of the best views in town are from Porta Sole.

The huffing and puffing to reach this viewpoint are well worth it and it’s not far from San Severo and the city’s Etruscan Arch.

arched entrance to perugia with roman writing along top
Etruscan Arch, Perugia

11. Walk along the ancient aqueduct (Antico Acquedotto e via Appia)

This is one of Perugia’s most famous sights.

man walking down steps between pastel coloured buildings in perugia in umbria

An aqueduct was built in the 13th Century to channel water from Monte Pacciano to Fontana Maggiore in the city centre. By the first half of the 19th Century, it was no longer viable and the final stretch leading into the city was transformed into a pathway –  Via dell’Acquedotto – connecting the historic centre with Porta San Angelo.

12. Visit the Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo

circular church building of san michel archangelo in perugia

Continue north from Via dell’Acquedotto and you will reach the lovely Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo. It’s worth the hike to the northern edge of the historic centre.

Dating from the 5th or 6th century, this remarkable circular church is one of Italy’s oldest. It reused 24 Roman columns from the ancient temple it replaced and I loved that these represented a variety of styles.

interior of tempo san michel arcangelo perugia with circular dome and classical columns

13. Stroll along Corso Garibaldi

Corso Garibaldi is one of Perugia’s prettiest streets.

Stretching from Porta Sant’Angelo, near Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo, and the Etruscan Arch, this medieval thoroughfare is lined with old houses. Picturesque narrow lanes lead to a small park and the pink-and-white Church of Sant’Agostino is its main church.

old houses lining a narrow street in perugia italy
picturesque narrow lane in the city of perugia

14. See Italy’s largest stained-glass window at Basilica di San Domenico

Located on the city’s southern edge, the massive San Domenico Basilica was founded in 1305 and rebuilt in 1632. It is famously home to the immense stained-glass window, created in the 15th Century and bearing the signatures of Fra’Bartolomeo di Pietro da Perugia and Mariotto di Nardo.

huge stained glass window in a church in the shape of a gothic arch

The church also has the beautiful tomb of Pope Benedict XI and terracotta by Agostino di Duccio.

ornate tomb of benedict xi with effigy of sleeping pope and angel

15. Learn more about the city’s history at the Archaeological Museum

The former convent of Basilica di San Domenico houses the city’s Archaeological Museum (M.A.N.U.).

It has a fine collection of Etruscan pieces but as there is precious little information in English, you may struggle if your Italian is rusty. There’s the largest collection of Etruscan funerary urns I’ve seen, the paint still visible on some.

etruscan funerary urn carved with stone figures
Etruscan funerary urn

Other highlights include the San Mariano Bronzes, Sarcophagus della Sperandio, the exquisite stone carvings from the Cacni Tomb and the reconstructed Cutu Tomb.

small bronze carving of an etruscan warrior
San Mariano Bronze

16. Visit the multi-frescoed San Pietro

Enter through a cloister to explore this beautiful basilica which is smothered in vibrant frescoes and has a carved and gilded ceiling. There are a few Peruginos in the sacristy and above its door but my favourite was the painting of Judith in the church’s nave.

painting of a women holding the decapitated head of a man
Judith by Sassoferrato (1630)

The carved and inlaid wooden choir stalls might be the finest I have seen in Italy.

wooden carving of a woman reading a book
Judith by Sassoferrato

When you have finished looking at San Pietro visit the adjacent medieval garden.

17. Explore Perugia’s street art

Perugia may be famous for its Peruginos and Pinturicchios but did you know it also has fun street art?

Walls, doors and shutters around Via della Viola and Via Carolari act as canvases for urban artists. Unlike other street art I’ve seen, Perugia’s collection includes 3-D works and sculptures.

vibrant painting of a lively street scene

18. Take a look at Rocco Paolina

I confess that I was a little underwhelmed by Rocco Paolina but it is worth a visit for something a little different.

This monumental papal fortress was built between 1540 and 1543 by incorporating an entire city neighbourhood. You can stroll through this shadowy medieval quarter to see how its houses, towers and streets have been retained.  

underground vaulted passageway

19. Try to catch a festival

men in medieval costume throwing flags in the air

When it comes to festivals, I have lucked out twice in Perugia.

My first visit coincided with the Eurochocolate festival. This sweet event is one of the biggest celebrations of chocolate in Europe and takes place in October.

Perugia 1416 was taking place on my last visit in June and marks the year Braccio Fortebracci of Montone entered the city, signalling the beginning of the Renaissance era. The streets of Perugia were filled with locals wearing medieval costumes, from peasants to noblemen.

woman in medieval costume banging a small drum

There was a Javelin Toss, live music, medieval dancing and a Historical Parade through the historical centre. It was enormous fun. 

20. Have a sundowner at Punta di Vista

After a busy day exploring Perugia’s attractions, you deserve to make the end of the day with an Aperol Spritz. My favourite bar is Punta di Vista which has wonderful views and friendly staff.

Saluti!

a glass of aperol spritz

Tips for Spending a Day in Perugia

If you have just a day or less in Perugia, I recommend sticking to the central part of the historic centre, following this broad itinerary:

  • Piazza IV Novembre and Fontana Maggiore
  • San Lorenzo Cathedral
  • Sala del Notari
  • College della Mercanzia
  • Etruscan Well
  • Underground archaeological tour (2 pm English tour)
  • Via dell’Acquedotto
  • Porta Sole
  • Capella di San Severo

Perugia’s historic centre is compact and easily explored on foot. Just be prepared for a few steep uphill climbs.

Escalators are dotted around the city and are marked on the free map you can pick up from the friendly Tourist Information Office near Pincetto Minimetrò station.

Another excellent option is to join a walking tour of Perugia. Choose between this 90-minute tour or this two-hour tour, both of which other travellers have highly rated.

Getting There & Getting Around

Getting there

green, red and white regional train in umbria italy
Regional train in Umbria

Perugia’s main train station (Perugia FS) is a few miles from the historic centre and serves regional trains to Foligno (for Assisi, Spoleto, Terni and Rome) and Terontola (for Lake Trasimeno, Arezzo and Florence). Rome is typically 3 hours away, while the regional train to Perugia from Florence takes 2 hours and 30 minutes.

You can interrogate train times and fares here. As these are regional train services, fares are fixed and there is no advantage in booking your ticket in advance.

The easiest and most fun way to get from Perugia FS to the historic centre is on the innovative Minimetrò. One of these elevated, driverless carriages will whisk you to Pincetto station in ten minutes. From here, the escalator will land you in the heart of the historic centre.

2 driverless rail carriages on an elevated line in perugia italy

Perugia is also connected by bus (I arrived there by Flixbus from Siena on my most recent visit). Services stop at Piazzale Umbria Jazz, reachable from the historic centre by the Minimetrò, and the more centrally-located Piazza Partigiani.

Although Perugia has an airport (PEG), flights are limited to a handful of destinations, most of which are in Italy.

Getting around

The historic centre of Perugia is very walkable.

Most sights are within a ten-minute walk of Piazza IV Novembre. Even San Pietro and Tempio di San Michele Arcangelo, which are further out, are within 20 minutes of the central square.

Where to Stay in Perugia

I enjoyed my stay at Cozy Studio 308 in the heart of Perugia. It was comfortable, stylish, quiet and a stone’s throw from Piazza IV Novembre. The hosts were super helpful and responsive.

studio apartment with white kitchen units, grey flooring and a dark grey sofa

If this doesn’t meet your needs, take a look at these alternatives:

Sina Brufani

There aren’t many hotels where you can swim over 3,000-year-old Etruscan ruins. That’s just one reason to stay at this centrally-located 19th-century luxury hotel which offers fabulous views over the Umbrian hills.

Hotel Fortuna

This charming 3-star hotel was around the corner from my apartment. Some of it dates back to the 1300s and it has a lovely rooftop terrace.


Where to next?

I hope this article helps you identify what to see in Perugia and you have the best time there. It really is a gem.

If you are looking for more information about travel in Umbria, check out a few of my other guides before you leave:

Happy travels!