For whatever reason, I was intrigued by the idea of visiting the city of Perugia in the Umbria region of Italy. So when I found decent flights for my visit home to Australia out of Rome, I decided to visit a few places in Italy on the way. Perugia was the first place on my list.
Having not visited the region of Umbria before then, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect or how it differed from nearby regions like Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. I knew a friend who had briefly visited and said he liked his time, but beyond that I knew next to nothing of what there was to do in Perugia. Turns out, there’s plenty of things to do.
1. Admire the architecture of Palazzo dei Priori
Why not start with probably the most striking building in all of Perugia? The Palazzo dei Priori is situated in the centre of the old town of Perugia and was home to the civilian magistrate and later the local governor. Over the Grand Portal seen above were the symbols of the city, a Griffin and a Lion, not to mention the keys to the city of Siena upon a chain, for a time.
2. Perugia Cathedral
Across the Palazzo is the Perugia Cathedral of San Lorenzo and a rather uncommon cathedral at that. From its unconventional pattern along its side, to its orientation away from the main square, the Perugia Cathedral is just a little different. Also along its side is numerous statues, a pulpit and the Braccio Lodge, a notable renaissance structure.
3. Take a seat in Piazza IV Novembre
For a break, take a seat on the stairs outside the Palazzo dei Priori or Cathedral and watch people pass through the central square of Piazza IV Novembre. A major feature of the square is the ornate fountain Fontana Maggiore, which looks even more special at night. During Christmas time, the square also hosts a small Christmas Market but it also clearly a popular meeting point for locals year round.
4. Walk along Corso Pietro Vannucci
The main pedestrian street passing through the heart of Perugia is the Corso Pietro Vannucci, which is festively decorated around Christmas time. This artery of the city is lined with bars, cafes and plenty of clothes shops, not to mention some worn, but elegant buildings. Corso Pietro Vannucci really reflects both the wear and tear found throughout Perugia, but also its architectural splendour.
5. Admire the Artwork in Via della Viola
Down an unsuspecting backstreet out behind the main centre of Perugia, I came across all these unusual art installations up and down Via della Viola. Whatever the reason, they certainly made this one, kooky and unique street stand out amongst the historic, traditional city centre.
6. Look out over the city at Porta Sole
After chatting with a friendly gentlemen outside a nearby church, he suggested I head up to the lookout at Porta Sole, the highest point in town. I’m quite glad he did, because with the fog lifting I could not only see heaps of the city but also out across the beautiful Umbrian hillside. From the viewpoint you had almost a 180° view from the north to south, seeing the way in which Perugia was shaped by its terrain. Definitely the best viewpoint in the city in my opinion.
7. Wander through the Backstreets
What comes with an old town with a messy maze of streets is the opportunity to deviate from the main parts and venture into the unknown. Much of what I loved about Perugia was the way its labyrinthine layout encourages you to wander down random alleys and explore its backstreets, whether deliberately or accidentally. There’s a certain elegance in the way the streets and stairways piece together in Perugia. It’s truly a place where you can be lost one moment and then realise you’ve somehow arrived above where you were by going down hill, in something straight out of an Escher print.
8. Savour the delicious Porchetta
Perugia and wider Umbria is known for its love of meat and the most popular sandwich throughout is with the local Porchetta. Slices of fatty, salty, roast pork, Porchetta is crazy delicious and I would have eaten it for every meal were it socially acceptable. Each place I went to prepared it slightly different, with different cuts of meat, so I recommend trying multiple places if you eat meat and love delicious flavour.
9. Arco Etrusco o di Augusto Gate
Quite possibly the most imposing of the entrances into the upper reaches of Perugia’s old town, the Etruscan Gate is a thick and solid gate on the city’s northern end. The gate is one of five that allows access into Perugia Old Town through the thick walls built by the Etruscans between 600 and 300 BC when they inhabited the city. It’s worth exploring around the walls to see each of the different gates but the Arco Etrusco o di Augusto is by far the most dramatic.
10. Walk along the Aqueduct
An unexpected find as I ventured away from the centre of Perugia was the long path atop the aqueduct stretching away. I instantly realised how unusual it looked from above and decided that I had to walk on top of it. What’s bizarre to me is that there are actually houses along the Via dell’Acquedotto – people literally live along an aqueduct by their front door. Imagine having your front door lead out onto the top of an aqueduct.
11. Visit the markets inside Rocca Paolina Fortress
Visiting a market is fine and all, but visiting a market in the subterranean tunnels beneath a medieval fortress? That’s just plain cool. At the southern end of Perugia Old Town is the Rocca Paolina Fortress and a series of tunnels that lead from below up to the old town. Inside these tunnels you’ll find many of the souvenir and craft stalls that you’d expect to see above ground but I was too busy taking in the whole scene. Coolest market I think I’ve been to.
12. Get around via Escalator
How often in a city can you legitimately say that travelling by escalator is using public transport? Well you can in Perugia. Thanks to its long, steep roads leading up into the old town centre, there are several series of escalators linking the upper and lower reaches of Perugia. Sure beats walking up, trust me!
13. Venture out to the Basilica di San Domenico and San Pietro
While many of the main sights to see are located in and around the centre of town, there are some areas that stretch out from the gates of Perugia Old Town. One of these leads along the Corso Cavour, first stopping at the Basilica of Saint Dominic, before heading out to the further Basilica of Saint Peter. Both are quite different, with the Basilica of Saint Dominic housing a museum and the Basilica of Saint Peter part of the university I believe and sitting by a pleasant park. It’s a nice stretch of town if you want to escape the stone maze of the old town.
14. Take a ride on the MiniMetro Monorail
The people of Perugia must really hate the grind of climbing the hill as they actually introduced a cable car/monorail/metro line called the MiniMetro that runs from the very bottom of the hill beyond the city’s main train station up into the heart of the old town. Even if you don’t come by train, it may be worth parking down below and taking the monorail up to avoid trying to navigate the razor-thin streets of the old town. A ticket only costs 1.5€ so it’s an inexpensive way to save yourself a steep walk, either up or down.
15. Watch the Sunset from Giardini Carducci
Who doesn’t like watching a good sunset when they’re travelling and Perugia has the perfect viewing point in the gardens of Giardini Carducci. From the viewpoint you can not only look out towards the Saint Peter and Saint Dominic basilicas, but you see out to the gorgeous Umbrian countryside as the sun sets behind it. What a view, huh?
16. See the city by night
Some places are just made to be explored at night and Perugia is one of them. It’s as if the worn, historic atmosphere of the city is just amplified by the fall of darkness and yet it doesn’t feel unwelcoming or spooky, ok maybe a little. There’s something out the cold light on the ever-present stone among its narrow streets that is equal parts romantic and gothic. Or maybe I’m just a little nuts for Perugia.
Have you had a chance to visit Perugia before? If not, which of the above would you do first? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
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