Things to do in Umbria: Soak Up Culture, Fall in Love with Food in Italy

By Abi King | Italy

Apr 26

Amid poplar trees, wide lawns, forests, myths, legends, one glance at the key things to do in Umbria reveals the truth: it's all about the food, the flavours, the character of the place. Make way Tuscany. Umbria's time is here.

The Best Things to do in Umbria

What a difference a C makes...Cumbria is a wild, wet and wellie-wearing region in the north of England, whose damp hedgerows and fields of daffodils fired the literary imagination of Wordsworth several times over.

Umbria, on the other hand, is a fragrant, olive-soaked region in central Italy, whose soft pink stone apparently fired the literary imagination of C.S.Lewis and introduced the rest of the world to Narnia (via the real world town of Narni.)

As a Brit, I knew Cumbria far better than Umbria (in my mind a smaller, wetter, wellier version of the Cumbria with perhaps a slightly different ratio of poets to daffodils.)

How wrong I was.

Things to do in Umbria Italy cover image

Bookmark now and read later: the best things to do in Umbria Italy

Let me clear up any misunderstandings here and now by introducing you to the region of Umbria, Tuscany’s neighbour and overshadowed little sister. Umbria is the Mary to Anne Boleyn, the Dannii to Kylie Minogue, the Robert F. to JFK. Whatever you may believe about those names, Umbria certainly doesn’t deserve its place in the shadows.

Here, you'll find the best of the best when it comes to looking for things to do in Umbria, Italy.

Things to do in Umbria

Gorgeous city of Assisi in Italy from @insidetravellab

Visiting the hidden crypts in the gorgeous city of Assisi is one of the best things to do in Umbria

Soak in Saintly Culture in Assisi

Yes, it's that Assisi. Home to St Francis and the animals.

Assisi is a popular destination for pilgrims in Italy, making it one of the most visited cities in Umbria.

But Francis isn't the only saint in town. Assisi also calls Santa Chiara (Saint Clare) her own.

Traditional highlights include Saint Clare's Church, St. Francis' Basilica and the Palace "Capitano del Popolo."

But as beautiful as the religious grandeur is, for me the highlight involved escaping to nearby Mount Subiaso and learning all about Italy's Slow Food Movement. 

Lake Trasimeno in Umbria Italy person standing in boat with silhouette behind

Lake Trasimeno: a tranquil place to gather your thoughts

Embrace Nature at Lake Trasimeno

Lake Trasimeno, Italy's fourth largest lake, snuggles right in to the green hills of Umbria.

Its banks sprout picturesque villages, from Castel Rigone to Tuoro sul Trasimeno, San Feliciano to Passignano sul Trasimeno and even Castiglione del Lago.

Cultural sites you can visit in this region include the ruins of the Tower of the Roman era and Guglielmi Castle.

If you love seafood, you need to try out the carpa in porchetta, a delicious meal consisting of bacon, fennel and carp baked in aromatic spices. Otherwise, near Trasimeno, seek out roasted goose and fried perch fillets. 

Perugina chocolate sweets in Perugia

Perugina chocolate sweets in Perugia - a cultural icon. Honest.

Perugia: Feel Cultured About Chocolate

Perugia swims with artistic and historical treasures on steep stony steps, spilling its secrets slowly.

Yet for all the pretty postcard streets, this is a town with a pulse and panache and that's largely thanks to its university.

Founded by Pope Clement V in 1308, today it is the biggest university for foreigners in the whole of Italy.

Key monuments include Corso Vannucci, the Oratory of San Bernardino, the Etruscan Well (Pozzo Etrusco), and the National Gallery.

And, well, the Perugina chocolate factory on the outskirts of town. You can even learn to make your own...

Orvieto - bursting with character in Umbria, Italy

Orvieto - bursting with character in Umbria, Italy

Orvieto: Subterranean Etruscan Charm on a Rust Red Rocky Clifftop

Orvieto is one of the most ancient cities in Italy, with strong Etruscan roots, a sacking by Rome and a touch of renaissance following the Middle Ages.

Perched dramatically on a rust red volcanic clifftop, its Duomo di Orvieto isn't shy, with zebra-like columns and mosaics and frescoes aplenty. Other key landmarks include the Chiesa di Sant'Andrea, Museo Claudio Faina e Civico and Torre del Moro.

It's also a good spot for wine ;-)

Narni in Umbria Italy a subterranean candlelit journey

Narni in Umbria, Italy: a subterranean candlelit journey

Narni: The Hamlet That Inspired Narnia

The lovely hamlet of Narni oozes with cobbled stone mystique. Located in the province of Terni, its subterranean world includes a 13th century Benedictine church, Roman aqueduct, the Holy Inquisition and a prison cell.  Above land, check out the Duomo of San Giovenale and Ponte Cardona.

Once in the city, make sure you try the local pasta manfrigoli served with guanciale, fava beans and pecorino cheese.

Spoleto Duomo in Umbria Italy

The Duomo in Spoleto, Umbria, Italy - The Area That Overflows with Culture

Spoleto

You'll find the footprints of the Romans fresh and fearsome in Spoleto as well. Important churches, a cathedral, an imposing fortress and a roman theatre add to the sense of importance and history.

When it comes to food, Spoleto's dishes bring meat and land products to the fore. Look for strozzapreti (umbricelli), Torta al testo, Palomba alla ghiotta and Castelluccio di Norcia lentil soup.

Things to do in Umbria: Soak Up Culture, Fall in Love with Food in Italy
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About the Author

Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.

  • Ayngelina says:

    I was so sorry to miss TBU this time but looking forward to all your posts.

  • Gorgeous!!! I adore Italy!

    • Abi says:

      I’m still discovering it bit by tiny little bit. No complaints though – so much to see!

  • Abby says:

    I love the depth and romance of your photos! I was also so sad to miss TBU and can’t wait for your posts!

    • Abi says:

      Thank you! Yep, it’s a shame we can’t make everything that’s going on all the time!

  • Christy @ Technosyncratic says:

    Beautiful! I really enjoy the photo of Assisi, and that last shot is great.

    • Abi says:

      I think the first one’s my favourite but I also love those candles!

  • Michela @RockyTravel Blog says:

    Great Post! You really captured the essence of beautiful Umbria in words and photos!

    • Abi says:

      Hmm. I’m not so sure now! I think it needs even more photos of food!

  • Tal Gur says:

    Love the photos! I’ve traveled all around the world a few times and now wish I had a better camera! (p.s. Also love the short about box: “a doctor for a life on the road…” very cool)

    • Abi says:

      Yes, it’s one of the few things I wish I’d done earlier! Once I bought an SLR, I kicked myself for not buying one sooner because you can never reclaim those moments you’ve lost. Happy travelling…

  • Kieu says:

    The Mary to Anne Boleyn.. Lol sold! I’ve always wanted to visit the C-less Cumbria. ;) your photos just made me want to go even more.

    • Abi says:

      Haha! It’s absolutely beautiful (not that I’m knocking the Cplus C-umbria. It’s just not quite the same…;) )

  • Steve says:

    AC also makes living in Seville bearable during July and August :-)

  • Erica says:

    I would definitely say it is a bit different than England lol! This place looks wonderful. What a cute getaway!

    • Abi says:

      Haha! Yes, it was beautiful. And so peaceful…

  • carlo alberto says:

    Very funny!
    And I completely agree with you about Umbria.
    Less known than its closer sister Tuscany, and for this reason more wild, in the sense of keeping its original atmosphere.

    • Abi says:

      Yes, I suppose that’s the perennial travel conundrum! I want places to be appreciated but with that appreciation comes a touch of Disneyland and swarms and swarms of tourists. And there goes the original atmosphere…

  • Paul says:

    Funny that you picked up on the Cumbria/Umbria thing as well. Whenever I told anyone where I was going for the week the usual inquisitive reply was Cumbria?

    Umbria blew me away with its beauty, the rolling green fields with small towns perched on hillsides.

    Can’t wait to go back!

    • Abi says:

      Oh Paul, thank goodness someone else understands! I had that moment just after I hit publish when I thought…Hmmm…Is this going to be one of those things that only I get?! That’s never a good thing…

  • Umbria on the Blog says:

    Thanks so much for these wonderful photos…you really captured both the majestic and humble sides of this unforgettable region!

    • Abi says:

      You are very welcome. Thank you for the invitation to see this part of the world. More to follow!

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