The hilltop city of Perugia is Umbria’s main cultural hub and it’s the perfect base for exploring this underrated region. Authentic travel is harder to achieve in a time of over-tourism, but the ‘green heart of Italy’ offers a true Italian experience. Day trips from Perugia are one of the best ways to really embrace that experience.
From its roots as an Etruscan settlement, this city is famous for its 14th-century university and chocolate, but there are equally tempting treats awaiting intrepid travellers outside the city walls.
The best day trips from Perugia
Often seen as the major drawback to the region is the lack of seaside. Even neighboring Tuscany has an enviable coastline which tourists and locals alike enjoy in the summer months. Instead, this landlocked region has Lago Trasimeno, Italy’s fourth-largest lake and it’s only a short drive or train journey from Perugia.
There are three islands on the lake – Isola Maggiore, Isola Minore, and Isola Polvese. The latter being the largest with free access. Isola Polvese is part of Lago Trasimeno’s Regional Park and it contains centuries-old vineyards, the ruins of Church Olivetana di San Secondo, the Church of San Giuliano, and a fortress.
Isola Maggiore is the only inhabited island where visitors can take in the beautiful docks on entry, Roman ruins, churches, a windmill, and the island is said to be a place where St Francis of Assisi meditated in 1211. The third island (Minore) is unfortunately private and uninhabited.
Aside from island hopping, locals come here to sunbathe on beaches, swim and do water sports. There are also impressive castles to visit around the lake. From Castiglione del Lago you can take in both the Palazzo della Corgna and the Rocca del Leone using the same ticket. Overlooking the lake is the 13th century Castello di Zocco, which is on the edge of Magione. The castle got its name from its unique horse hoof shape and was once one of the most powerful military settlements in the area.
For those who want to follow in the footsteps of Italian composer Puccini and poet Vittoria Agnoor Pompilj, a visit to the village of Monte del Lago is also an option. Cobblestoned streets, a medieval setting, and its wonderful views over Lago Trasimeno have inspired composers, artists, and poets for centuries although it’s often unfairly overlooked! It’s truely one of the best Perugia day trips on offer!
Our tip: Buy an UmbriaGo ticket as it covers transport across Umbria on regional trains, buses, and the ferries on Lago Trasimeno. By train, there are stations at Castiglione del Lago, Chiusi-Chianciano Terme and Terontola, on the Milan-Florence-Rome line. There are also stations at Magione, Passignano sul Trasimeno and Tuoro sul Trasimeno on the Ancona-Foligno-Florence line. The surrounding villages are also easily accessible by car.
The birthplace of St Francis has become a world-famous pilgrimage town, known for its wonderfully preserved medieval churches and rolling fields of lavender in spring.
Assisi is the most popular day trip from Perugia. It has a grand Gothic cathedral (a UNESCO World Heritage site), which the town built to be the burial place of Saint Francis. After the Vatican in Rome, the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is the second most visited religious site in Italy.
The cathedral itself looks almost carved into the hills. The stone surfaces are made from the surrounding Mount Subasio giving it a slight pink hue in the daytime, while it shines brightly at night. The cathedral will take time to fully explore its upper and lower churches. Inside are Giotto’s famous frescoes which depict the life of St Francis who dedicated his life to helping the poor, being kind to animals and eschewed a privileged lifestyle. There are also exhibitions and frescoes from the school of Giotto throughout the cathedral. There are no photos allowed inside, but the views outside onto the cathedral are worth saving yourself for.
Meander through the town to take in cafés, restaurants and shops selling local lavender products and taste local olive oil from groves around Assisi. Continue to explore Assisi’s hilly terrain, marvel the impressive 13th-century buildings and cobblestone alleyways.
One day in Assisi should also include a visit to Piazza Santa Chiara, with its sweeping views over the valley below and the glorious Basilica di Santa Chiara. A short walk will bring you to Piazza del Comune, a beautiful medieval piazza which is also home to the Temple of Minerva. Underneath this, you can explore the excavated Roman Forum and stand on an old Roman street! Finally, enjoy the sunset with a climb to the Rocca Maggiore, an old castle fortress with a tower that offers views to Perugia.
If you get the train from Perugia it will stop in Santa Maria Degli Angeli, from here you make your way uphill to Assisi in a taxi or bus. While you’re here don’t miss the baroque Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels, which houses the Porziuncola chapel. This a little stone church St Francis first took refuge in after renouncing everything he owned, and it’s considered to be where the Franciscan movement began.
Cannara Wineries and Olive Oil Tasting
A visit to Italy must include a winery, and Umbria with its reputation as the ‘green heart’ of the country does have exceptional wines. A short distance from Perugia is the town of Cannara, which is famous for having the best onions in the country. It does, however, also offer somewhere to taste an incredibly unique wine.
Independent wineries like Colle di Rocco and Di Filippo, focus on replanting native vines and producing Vernaccia di Cannara, an ancient sweet wine that very few wineries still produce. Traditionally this rich wine accompanies the typical Umbrian Easter bread with a choice of meat and cheese. However, it’s also recommended to drink alongside chocolate!
This part of Umbria has olive groves, cultivated since Etruscan times. The town of Cannara was once a lake and in the hills these olive groves sit amongst ancient vines. Locals say that the distinctly bitter olive oil, which you can taste on a visit to either winery, even helps heart disease.
If you’re an onion aficionado or just a curious foodie, each year at the end of August there is the Cannara Onion Festival were well-renowned chefs battle to assume a residency in local restaurants to make onion inspired dishes! There are also exhibitions, events, and concerts to enjoy.
This Perugia day trip will involve a drive of 30 minutes or you can take a bus – this might mean getting a train to Assisi then bus to Cannara, but access to vineyards will probably require a designated driver.
The magic of medieval Gubbio is quite encapsulating from the moment you step inside the historic town centre. As you arrive into the town, there’s a Roman theater, which although a ruin, is one of the best-preserved theaters of its kind. Don’t miss the exhibition of archaeological finds next to the site. It’s from here you can walk over towards the town itself through a signposted passageway.
Most buildings date back to the 14th and 15th century, and it can be a little confusing navigating its streets and alleyways! On the buildings, you will notice they have two front doors, nicknamed the ‘porta dei morti’ which takes its name from the belief dead bodies were passed through these doors, although proven to be just a myth.
The town has a cable car that takes you up to Basilica di Sant’Ubaldo, the building holds a bronze urn containing the ashes of the town’s patron saint, Sant’Ubaldo. Most people take the cable car (funivia) for the thrill of the journey and to see the town in all its glory up high.
Gubbio’s biggest piazza, or Piazza Grande, houses the Palazzo dei Consoli and Palazzo dei Podesta. These audacious medieval buildings are the Museo Civica and town hall. The museum contains the Iguvine Tables (also known as the Eugubian Tables or Tablets), bronze tablets with early examples of Umbrian text and galleries with medieval Gubbian art. Weaponry fans should also look inside the Crossbow museum, not far from the piazza.
Now, are you certifiably mad? Well in Gubbio you can get a certificate which says you are as mad as a Gubbian! You do this by finding the Fountain of Mad Men (la Fontana dei Matti), running around it three times while shouting “I am crazy” and for a small price you can have an official document to say that you are indeed bonkers. A trip to Gubbio then can be one of the most unique day trips from Perugia around!
Alongside the back of the town is Ranghiasci park, a beautiful public and free park with tiered walkways that lead uphill with sneaky glimpses of the town below. The walkways are punctuated by works of modern art, these sculptures are varying in style and liven up the 19th-century park making for a pleasant walk.
It’s also a town of festivals with medieval fairs throughout the year, the most famous being the bizarre Corsa dei Ceri on May 15th. Three teams race statues of saints’ uphill to the basilica and thousands of people come to watch this historic race. Gubbio also has the biggest Christmas tree in the world which sits on Mount Ingino, holding that record since 1991. In the autumn come for a white truffle festival, a specialty you can try in the city’s restaurants alongside fried Gubbian flatbread.
Gubbio is reachable by car and by bus it takes around one hour to get here as a day trip from Perugia. Other similar towns in the nearby vicinity are Spello, which is famous for its exceptional beauty and the ancient Foligno.
Seasonal Perugia day trips
Truffle hunting in Umbria – From mid-March to mid-December there are local companies who offer truffle hunting with dogs in the Umbrian countryside. They often come with a lunch and pasta making tutorial. Also look out for white and black truffle festivals in Citta di Castello, Gubbio, Norcia and Valtopina.
Sagrantino Wine Festival in Montefalco – September is the perfect time of year to visit Montefalco for their local wine festival. There are guided tasting sessions, lunches and you can even cycle along the Sagrantino Wine Trail.
Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds – This amazing arts festival happens at the end of June into July for two weeks. The festival is a series of concerts, opera, dance, drama, visual arts, and round-table discussions on science in the most beautiful setting. Its sister festival runs alongside it in South Carolina, USA.
Festival delle Nazioni in Citta di Castello – This small city near the border of Tuscany, has an annual chamber music festival every year in August. The concerts are in churches and outside in piazzas for everyone to attend.