Perugia and Orvieto are two distinctly beautiful hilltop towns that grace the Umbrian countryside. They are both definitely worth a day trip from Rome. But, I found Orvieto to be definitely the better option. Let’s review.
(Wait, first let me say that Perugia is the capital city of Umbria, and therefore bigger and not as tourist-oriented. Some of the things I mention here might not seem to take that into account. But, this is my review, so there you go.)
Getting from Rome to Perugia: Depending on your departure time, you might have to switch trains at Foligno on the way to Perugia. It’s a tight layover – and like us, you might miss your connection and wind up with almost two hours on your hands. Not a good thing if you’re on a schedule – although right above the door of the train station is a map of Foligno, and we were able to plan out a lovely stroll that brought us back to the train station in plenty of time to catch the next train. But, still. Ugh.
Getting from Rome to Orvieto: It’s a shorter ride, and it’s only one train. On the way back it ran about 20 minutes late, but that’s Italy for you. Still, a more pleasant travel experience all the way around.
Reaching the city center of Perugia: When exiting the train at Perugia, you’re met with a busy piazza and a formidable hillside in front of you. I went over to the bus ticket/information booth off to the left and asked how to get up to the city center, and the lady was informative and sold us tickets. But, you have to know Italian and pay attention in order to get the info – I still am not sure which bus we took to the top. It’s a 20-minute ride to the top on a regular city bus crowded with commuters, and if you get at all nauseous while traveling be prepared.
Reaching the city center of Orvieto: When exiting the train at Orvieto, you’d have to be legally blind not to see the funicular station in front of you. It’s less than a euro, leaves continuously and takes about four minutes: Boom, you’re there.
The view: Both cities have a spectacular view from the top. But Orvieto, with its precipice reached through a pristine park and original guards’ catwalks open to the public, is by far the more breathtaking panoramic opportunity.
Getting a feel for Perugia: As I said, it’s a pretty big city for a hilltop, so you’re able to see more easily the city in action and the tourists were few when we were there. This appeals to me, because I always search for signs of real life in a place I’m visiting.
Getting a feel for Orvieto: It was us, eight German tour groups and at least three school field trips. I cannot imagine what it’s like in high summer. But, we did see plenty of locals out and about.
Getting around Perugia: Because it’s a big city, it kind of tumbles down the hillside – which means there is a LOT of walking up and downhill to see it all. There is a mini-metro you can take on one flank that allows you to reach each level, so that’s a plus – if we hadn’t found out about it when we were already back down at the train station!
Getting around Orvieto: Once you’re at the top, you’re there. When exiting the train station, take the road leading away from it on the left and just keep walking – you’ll see everything there is to see (except for the Duomo, which is off to the left of that road and clearly marked by the cleverly named Via del Duomo).
Hidden gems in Perugia: There are plenty. While it’s not as architecturally pure as Orvieto, there is a fascinating set of back alleys that were built in order for people to reach their homes, the front of which are some 20-60 feet of solid stone. I thought these were awesome.
Also, many of the cliffside bars, restaurants and buildings have seating, well, cliffside, which is a great way to take a load off while enjoying the view.
Hidden gems in Orvieto: Orvieto was so freaking adorable, at a certain point we were like, “Oh, come ON!” Literally every side street, nook and cranny was the cutest or most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Main piazza vibe in Perugia: Lots of students hanging out on steps, a surprisingly delicious and affordable restaurant with outdoor seating, and a yummy gelato place. Oh, and stunning architecture. Right on, Perugia.
Main piazza vibe in Orvieto: Tons of tourists and the shops they flock to; but, the left side off the Duomo had a great gelato place, too, as well as three nice-looking restaurants and plenty of space in which to stand back and marvel at the Duomo. (By “nice-looking” I mean they did not have extortionist prices, they had outdoor seating and the food looked decent.)
My favorite obsession in Perugia: The St. Anna train station, halfway up the hill. You could not see it unless you were literally on top of it; seriously, we turned a corner and it was GONE. They had only three lines, but one of them went to one of the stops on the train we took; it would be interesting to try the trip again but taking that train instead.
My favorite obsession in Orvieto: This place:
What’s up with that? We even walked inside to that strange grotto back there, and could not hear any children or really any noise whatsoever. It was like the strollers were abandoned, the mothers having sacrificed their first born to the Madonna. Loved it. Wanted to know much, much more. I could write a book based on this photo alone.