Guide to Assisi: what to see, do, eat and stay
While Tuscany often steals the spotlight in Italy’s tourism scene, the enchanting region of Umbria, with its lush landscapes and medieval charm, is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Nestled in the heart of Umbria lies Assisi, a UNESCO World Heritage town that epitomizes the region’s beauty, history, and serene ambiance. From its stunning basilicas to the cobblestone streets echoing with tales of Saint Francis, Assisi is a treasure trove of cultural and historical wonders. Whether you’re planning a leisurely weekend in Umbria or looking for an unforgettable day trip, Assisi offers an array of experiences for every traveler. In this guide, I’ll share the top things to do in Assisi, taking you through its captivating scenery, rich history, and unique attractions that make it a must-visit destination in Italy.
How to get to Assisi
You can easily reach Assisi by train. If you’re coming from Rome, you need to take the regional train from Roma Termini Station to Assisi Santa Maria degli Angeli, which will take around 2hr depending on your time of departure. Make sure to book the direct train to avoid having to change trains.
If you’re coming from another Italian city, you will most likely have to get a connecting train either in Rome or another station. Once you’ve arrived at the Assisi train station you can take a taxi, which will cost you €25, a private transfer (€20-29) or the bus. For the bus, you have to purchase the tickets at the newspaper store inside the Assisi station.
Traveling to Assisi by car offers the flexibility to explore the scenic beauty of Umbria at your own pace. The town is well-connected by various major highways, making it easily accessible from different parts of Italy. If you’re coming from Rome, you can take the A1 highway, then switch to the E45 towards Perugia, and follow the signs to Assisi. From Florence, the A1 southbound is your main route, followed by the same E45 highway.
Once you arrive in Assisi, keep in mind that the historic center is a ZTL area (Limited Traffic Zone), where only authorized vehicles are allowed. This means you’ll need to park outside the historic center. The Mojano and Porta Nuova parking lots are the most convenient options, offering secure parking spaces for a daily fee of €10-€12.
The nearest airport to Assisi is the San Francesco d’Assisi Airport in Perugia, which is about 20 kilometers away (20-30 mins drive). This airport serves both domestic and international flights, including European destinations like London, Vienna, Barcelona and Bruxelles, among others.
To make your journey to Assisi as smooth as possible, I highly recommend booking your rental car online in advance. This not only saves you time at the airport but also ensures that you get the best choice of vehicles at competitive rates. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or a bus to reach Assisi. For international travelers, flying into Rome or Florence and then traveling to Assisi by car or train can be a more feasible option due to the wider availability of flights and connections.
What to see in Assisi
With its rich history, outstanding basilicas and churches, beautiful piazzas, ancient castle and Roman ruins, there are sure a lot of things to see in Assisi! These are my absolute favorite places, but there are many more things to do in Assisi.
Piazza Santa Chiara and Santa Chiara Church
Piazza Santa Chiara, with its breathtaking views of the Umbrian countryside, leads to the Basilica di Santa Chiara. This basilica, dedicated to St. Clare of Assisi, a follower of St. Francis and founder of the Order of Poor Ladies (Poor Clares), is notable for its delicate pink and white stone facade. Inside, visitors find a blend of solemnity and grace, with the basilica housing the tomb of St. Clare and the famed San Damiano Crucifix, said to have spoken to St. Francis.
Piazza del Comune and Museum of Roman Assisi
The heart of Assisi’s social and architectural grandeur is Piazza del Comune. Surrounded by medieval buildings, this piazza is a harmonious blend of the past and present. A highlight here is the Roman Temple of Minerva, an ancient structure that has been transformed into a church. Steps away lies the Museum of Roman Assisi, a subterranean wonder that reveals the layers of history upon which medieval Assisi was built, offering a glimpse into the town’s Roman roots.
Basilica di San Francesco
The Basilica di San Francesco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a cornerstone of Assisi’s spiritual and cultural identity. Comprising two distinct parts, the Upper and Lower Basilicas, it presents contrasting artistic styles. The Lower Basilica, with its darker, more somber tone, features frescoes by renowned medieval artists like Cimabue and Giotto, depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis. The Upper Basilica, brighter and more airy, is adorned with Giotto’s famous fresco cycle that beautifully narrates the story of St. Francis’s life, setting a new direction in the course of Western art.
P.S. Book a private tour if you’d like an expert to guide you around Assisi and the Basilica of St. Francis
Eremo delle Carceri
Perched 4km above Assisi, atop Monte Subasio, the Eremo delle Carceri is a spiritual retreat that once served as a sanctuary for St. Francis. This hermitage, surrounded by tranquil woods, is a place of contemplation and peace. Here, the legendary oak still stands, under which St. Francis is said to have preached to the birds. The serene ambiance of the hermitage, coupled with its historical significance, makes it a must-visit for those seeking a deeper connection with Assisi’s spiritual legacy.
Cathedral of San Rufino
The Cathedral of San Rufino, a Romanesque architectural wonder, is not just a religious site but also a historical landmark. Its impressive facade and intricately carved portal lead to an interior where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized. The Cathedral is a blend of solemnity and historical depth, integral to Assisi’s spiritual heritage.
Overlooking Assisi, the Rocca Maggiore is a historical fortress offering spectacular views. This castle, with its rich feudal history, provides insight into the region’s past and breathtaking views of Assisi and the surrounding Umbrian landscape.
Bosco di San Francesco
Managed by the Italian National Trust (FAI), the Bosco di San Francesco is a tranquil haven that blends the natural beauty of the Umbrian landscape with the spiritual legacy of St. Francis of Assisi. Spanning about 64 hectares, this serene woodland area near the Basilica of St. Francis allows visitors to explore a network of trails through ancient woodlands, olive groves, and along the Tescio River. It offers a unique experience of reflection and connection with nature, echoing the teachings of St. Francis.
Best activities and experiences in Assisi
Assisi isn’t just about its stunning historical and religious sites. It’s nestled in the heart of Umbria, a region known for its exquisite wines, scenic countryside, and rich culinary traditions. If you’re looking to dive deeper into what this area has to offer, here are some of the best things to do in Assisi:
- Hiking on Monte Subasio: Beyond the spiritual retreat of Eremo delle Carceri, Monte Subasio boasts a network of hiking trails suitable for all levels. For those unfamiliar with the terrain, join a guided hike with I Tuoi Cammini, led by my aunt’s friend Laura. They organize weekend hikes, often followed by a delightful local food experience, combining the beauty of nature with Umbrian culinary delights. Stay updated with their latest adventures on Instagram.
- Cooking Classes: Immerse yourself in Umbria’s culinary heart by participating in a cooking class. Learn how to craft traditional Umbrian dishes, especially various types of pastas, and take home the secrets of authentic Italian cooking.
- Wine Tasting: Umbria’s pride, the Montefalco Rosso and Montefalco Sagrantino, are must-try red wines. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit local vineyards or book a wine tasting experience near Assisi. Each sip promises a journey through the region’s rich winemaking heritage.
- Hot Air Balloon Ride: For a truly unforgettable experience, soar over the Umbrian countryside in a hot air balloon. It’s an adventure that offers breathtaking views and a unique perspective of this beautiful region. You can book your ride here.
- Truffle Hunting: Dive into the world of Umbrian truffles. Join a truffle hunting excursion where you can explore the forests, discover these culinary treasures, and afterwards, savor them in various local preparations. It’s an authentic way to connect with Umbria’s natural and gastronomic heritage.
Where to eat in Assisi
Assisi can be a bit tricky for eating — there are so many pilgrims and tourists that you can easily end up in a tourist trap. Lucky for you, I’ve rounded up a couple of my absolute favorite places to eat in Assisi but make sure to read my selection of the best restaurants in Assisi for the complete guide.
Located in a small side street on Piazza del Commune, Pallotta is an OUTSTANDING family-run restaurant with an intimate vibe. The setting is simple yet elegant and the food is classic Umbrian. If you love truffles this is the place to order the strapazzata al tartufo (eggs with truffle shavings), pappardelle al ragout di anatra e mirtillii (pasta with duck ragout and cranberry sauce) and the best for last, the piccione ghiotto (pigeon).
If you’re venturing into the heart of Assisi and seeking a culinary experience that combines trendiness with gourmet finesse, “Il Vicoletto” is your go-to spot. Nestled in a quaint alley, this restaurant is a haven for food lovers, offering a creative twist on classic Umbrian dishes. With its dimly lit ambiance, arched ceilings, and an array of delectable options like octopus with burrata and tagliolini al carbone, “Il Vicoletto” promises an unforgettable dining experience in Assisi.
Staying in Assisi
If you’re staying in Assisi, location is everything! That’s why I recommend you stay in the centro storico — or historic center. You’ll be walking distance from everywhere and you can say goodbye to your car and parking nightmares, while saying hello to beautiful walks exploring this stunning Umbrian town. Check out my guide to the best accommodations in Assisi. You’ll find options ranging from budget to luxury.