Perugia: Planning Your Trip

Perugia, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

The medieval towns, bucolic countryside, and rolling vineyards are the biggest draw to visiting Central Italy, although most visitors beeline directly to the beautiful but overcrowded city of Florence. However, less than 100 miles away is another city that's remained under-the-radar and maintained its rustic charm: Perugia.

Perugia is the name of the capital city of the surrounding province with the same name, both of which are inside the larger region called Umbria, nicknamed "the Green Heart of Italy." Compared to the region of Tuscany, Umbria is much less developed, less crowded, and less expensive. Perugia the city is a great place to start, but the real magic is in the villages throughout Perugia the province where you can go foraging for mushrooms, visit ancient ruins, and, of course, drink lots and lots of wine.

Planning Your Trip

  • Best Time to Visit: Perugia doesn't experience extreme summers or winters, but late spring and early fall are the most comfortable times of year to visit. From about May to August, the black truffles that Umbria is famous for begin to pop up all over the countryside for mushroom lovers to forage. If you miss those, you can look for white truffles in the fall. Perugia is a major chocolate producer in Italy and the Eurochocolate Festival in October is a huge draw for travelers with a sweet tooth, as is the Umbria Jazz Festival in July for jazz fans.
  • Language: The language spoken in Perugia is Italian. In fact, the University for Foreigners in Perugia is one of the most popular destinations in the country for foreign students to study Italian. Locals in Perugia speak varying levels of English, especially younger Perugians, but you may be hardpressed to find English speakers in the small towns around it.
  • Currency: The currency in Perugia, as with the rest of Italy, is the euro. However, most restaurants and hotels accept credit cards.
  • Getting Around: It's easy to explore the city of Perugia on foot, but there's also a one-line tram called the Minimetrò that passes through the historical center. For getting up and down the hilly city, there are a series of escalators to make it easier. For visiting other towns around Umbria, buses are available but it's easiest if you have a car.
  • Travel Tip: If you want the experience of Tuscan vineyards without paying Tuscany prices and crowds, Perugia has the same great wine options and the same picturesque countryside as its next-door neighbor.

Things to Do

As is true of most Umbrian walled hill towns, one of the best things to do is to simply wander through the narrow streets and along the walls at the edge of town for views of the valley. The most important things that you can't miss in Umbria typically revolve around one of three things: history, nature, or wine.

  • Historical artifacts in the city span over a thousand years of history in Perugia, such as the pre-Roman Etruscan well from the third century B.C. The Palazzo dei Priori, where the town councilors used to meet, has some beautiful 13th-century frescoes and wooden furniture and also houses the National Art Gallery of Umbria. In the heart of the city, the Piazza IV Novembre is the main square with the intricate Maggiore Fountain and the Perugia cathedral.
  • On warm summer days, do like the locals and head to Lake Trasimeno, about 20 minutes away by car. Once you're there, choose any of the lakeshore towns to stop in or rent a small boat to visit one of the small islands in the middle of the lake. Make sure you have your swimsuit to take a dip and pack along some snacks for a picnic.
  • Tuscan wines may be more famous internationally, but Umbria's wine region is just as highly regarded in Italy. You can sip on locally-produced bottles in wine bars—or enoteche—throughout the city of Perugia, but take advantage of where you are by visiting any number of the many vineyards in the nearby countryside. There are a lot to choose from, so start with the Sagrantino Wine Road if you need to get your bearings.
  • You can't miss out on seeing the city of Perugia, but the most alluring parts of the region can be found in the small villages scattered around the province of Perugia. The town of Assisi is famous for being the birthplace of St. Francis and his remains are buried in the Assisi Cathedral. The medieval town of Spoleto has a 13th-century aqueduct that crosses a massive ravine and now functions as a scenic footbridge.

What to Eat and Drink

Umbria's most popular ingredient is undoubtedly the truffle, and you can find these delicacies incorporated into all types of meals, whether it's scrambled eggs with truffles for breakfast or pasta soaked in truffle butter or a pizza that has a truffle topping and even some truffle oil for good measure. Proscuitto from Umbria—specifically from the town of Norcia—is considered one of the best cured meats in Italy and is best enjoyed in a testo, an Umbrian bread similar to a focaccia.

Whatever you eat, make sure it's paired with a glass of Umbrian wine. The Orvieto white wine from the town of the same name is one of the most well-known from the region, made from Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes. Two red wines from the province of Perugia that are standouts and protected under Italian law are Torgiano and Montefalco Sagrantino.

Where to Stay

If you stay in the city of Perugia, it's easy to get around and see the entire town regardless of what part you stay in. As the biggest city in the region, Perugia has the most options for hotels and restaurants which can make staying there a bit easier.

However, most travelers would agree that Perugia's charm lies in the rolling hills of the countryside and the medieval villages surrounded by a sea of vineyards. Each one offers something unique and you could almost choose one at random and still be astonished. Assisi and Spoleto are two of the most popular, but other nearby towns worth visiting include Panicale, Todi, and Gubbio.

Getting There

Perugia is almost directly in between Rome and Florence, so it's easy to add on a side excursion from either city. The easiest way is to go by train, which takes between two and two and a half hours from Florence or Rome, respectively. The Perugia train station is about a 25-minute walk from the historical town center, but it's an uphill climb to get there. Thankfully, you can use the escalators built into the city or, even easier, take the Minimetro directly from the train station into the town center.

If you have a vehicle, then the journey to Perugia is two hours from Rome or Florence by car. Driving in the major cities of Italy is not easy, but once you're on the highway and in the countryside, driving is an easy way to get around.

Money Saving Tips

  • Train seats go up in price as tickets sell out, so be sure to buy your tickets early and not wait or you may end up paying more.
  • For inexpensive gifts to bring back home, pick up some of Perugia's famous chocolate baci, or "kisses" (sound familiar?). The tiny milk chocolate dollops from Hershey don't compare to the baci from Perugia, which are chocolate mixed with hazelnut puree and dipped in more dark chocolate. Your friends at home will eat them up, figuratively and literally.
  • The wine options around Perugia are just as good as those in nearby Tuscany—some are even better. But since Umbrian wines don't have the same international prestige as the ones next door, you can often visit vineyards and pick up bottles for a fraction of the price.