Perugia is the capital of Italy’s Umbria region; a substantial town with a number of historical attractions and good transport links. There are direct budget flights to Perugia from the UK, making the town an appealing destination for a weekend break, or a starting-point for a tour of this part of central Italy.
Perugia has two major universities, one of which is for foreigners, and it has become a heavily student town, with over 40,000 students arriving each year. This is too much for some locals, who feel that the departure of residents from the town centre, as they are replaced by student digs, bars and a drinking culture, has impacted on the historic heart of Perugia. This is just the latest step in a long history beginning in Etruscan times, which encompasses sieges, destruction, re-building, papal conclaves, excommunication, the usual warring families and struggles with other city-states, French rule, Austrian rule, absorption into a united Italy and a number of earthquakes. Nowadays, apart from its universities, Perugia is known for its chocolate production, with an annual festival called ‘Eurochocolate’ being held each autumn and even a ‘chocohotel’ (see below). The town’s annual jazz festival, Umbria Jazz, also has a high profile, filling a week or two of summer with concerts and entertainment.
Perugia tourist sights
Perugia’s hilltop town centre – connected by escalators – is a good place to explore medieval lanes and fine buildings. Corso Vannucci, the town’s principal street, is pedestrianised and leads to the main square, Piazza IV Novembre. A grand thirteenth-century fountain known as the Fontana Maggiore is the square’s centrepiece. The town’s cathedral, the Duomo or Cattedrale di San Lorenzo has a baroque facade and Roman ruins below, but dates mainly from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.The cathedral museum contains some of the finer artworks from the church, including an altarpiece by Luca Signorelli.
As the region’s capital, Perugia is home to the Museo Archeologico Nazionale dell’Umbria, a regional archaeological collection including interesting local Etruscan exhibits, and also to the main Umbrian art gallery, the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, which includes works by Piero della Francesca and Fra Angelico. The art gallery is housed in what is probably Perugia’s most notable building, the Palazzo dei Priori. This is the old civic palace, the town’s administrative headquarters, sitting proudly right at the heart of town. Attractive and formidable on the outside, the medieval building contains fine frescoes, including some – in the old money exchange, the Collegio del Cambio – by local star artist Perugino.
Other sights in Perugia include a 36-metre deep Etruscan well (Pozzo Etrusco), the Rocca Paolina fortress, a museum of the city walls and gates, a Roman mosaic within the university buildings on Via Pascoli, various appealing churches from different eras and the Botanical Gardens outside the Porta San Costanzo. If you are particularly interested in chocolate, it is possible to learn more about the Perugina company, famed for chocolates called baci – kisses – at their Casa del Cioccolato and Museo Storico (historic museum) at San Sisto, outside town.
Perugia tourist information office is at Piazza Matteotti, 18. The tourist board produces thorough tourist guides to the town in English – which can even be downloaded in advance as a good preparation for your visit (see our links panel). Various combined tickets are possible for the tourist attractions, so it’s worth looking into ways to save money.
Perugia airport, travel and transport
Perugia airport is called the Aeroporto Internazionale dell’Umbria, and also Perugia Sant’Egidio. Ryanair – at the time of writing – operate flights to Perugia from London Stansted. The airport is only eight miles from Perugia, and there is a limited bus service into town, stopping by the railway station and in Piazza Italia. More details are available on the airport website (see our links panel) under the heading trasporti.
Alternative airports for Perugia are much further away – possible gateways include Rome (from Fiumicino Airport there are occasional direct buses), Florence, Ancona and Pisa. Ancona is just under three hours away by train, changing at Foligno. Pisa is a 3 – 4-hour journey with one or two changes. Central Florence is two hours away by train.
Perugia is served by lifts, escalators, a bus network and a novel new driverless system called the Minimetro, which connects the historic centre with the railway station and other parts of town. The local transport company is called APM.
Things to do around Perugia
The closest tourist destinations to Perugia are the lovely pilgrimage town of Assisi – just 20 minutes away by train – and Lake Trasimeno. A circular tour of the Umbria region could take in a range of pretty historic towns: Assisi, Spello, Spoleto, Orvieto, Lake Trasimeno and Gubbio. There are also plenty of smaller towns and villages where travellers can potter and pass a pleasant couple of hours. Deruta is famous for its ceramics and is a good place to view Italian majolica in a museum and to buy in local shops.
Where to stay in Perugia
It would be hard not to be tempted by the Etruscan Chocohotel, a cunning weaving-together of Perugia’s claims to cultural fame. This three-star is outside the town centre, but has the advantages of a swimming pool and car parking. Tourists who prefer to be based in the historic centre could try the popular three-star Hotel Fortuna or the four-star Sangallo Palace near the foot of the escalators leading up to town.
Useful external links
Eurochocolate – chocolate festival
Museo Archeologico Nazionale – National Archaeological Museum
Perugina – chocolate makers
APM local transport (see timetables under orari)
Perugia Minimetro (Guardian article)