These are organized roughly in order of preference, though of course this is just my opinion. Note that some of the best things are free. There’s also lots of other stuff to do -ask people who have been here a while. These are sort of the basic, inexpensive, touristy things, though don’t leave them all for your last days here.
Le Scalette > The long steps on the side of the cathedral have likely hosted the young (or at least tired) of the city for centuries. This is my favorite place to sit and relax. An old Perugian leaned over one day and told me, “Ste scale sono la spiaggia di Perugia, e la gente, le onde,” which means “These steps are the beach of Perugia, and the people in the piazza, the waves.” It’s free, you always meet people, and you can people-watch to your heart’s content. You might even get a harangue from Mauro the Prophet, the crazy guy in a jogging suit who occasionally preaches at the top of his lungs. At some point turn around and look at the Duomo, noting that the pink and white façade was never finished. Close your eyes and imagine masons six hundred years ago putting down their tools and saying “la finiamo domani!”
Want to learn some of Perugia’s cool history? Check out the new book Home Street Home: Perugia’s History Told Through Its Streets. Free extracts available here.
The panorama walk > You’re up on a hill surrounded, at least on three sides, by beautiful valleys. Enjoy these vistas. Start with the one behind the Provincial building on Piazza Italia, in the Giardini Carducci. It’s populated mostly by cooing couples at night, when the lights of the city below sparkle. If you go to the far corner of the gardens and cross the street, there’s an overlook and a drawing explaining the sights (which mountains are which, etc.) next head down Via Baglioni (Corso Vannucci’s parallel) to where it widens to become Piazza Matteotti. Now head out to the panorama on top of the Mercato Coperto: at Piazza Matteotti 18A, go through a little arch/tunnel, go around the stands selling clothing, and to the terrace. Look out across the valley towards the city on the far side of the valley halfway up the mountain, Assisi. The mountain above Assisi is Monte subasio – Perugians say “Quando il subasio ha il cappello, esci con l’ombrello.” The two spires to your right are San Domenico (the nearest) and San Pietro. When it’s foggy the valley will fill up so that Assisi looks like a port on the far side of a big lake.
From here, go back to Piazza IV Novembre. Go around the right side of the Duomo and up Via del Sole, the only road that ascends. Go up and bear left when it becomes Via delle Prome. At the end, you’ll find the best picture in Perugia. Off to your right you can see the medieval walls and the Monteluce neighborhood. The area where you are now, known as Porta Sole, is the highest, publicly accessible point in Perugia. You are standing on the remains of a fourteenth century addition to the city’s fortifications. As you descend the steps you can catch a glimpse of the supporting arches (and the green door).
After you take a picture, go down the steps to your left. The area behind the green door is the vineyard we take care of with Dave and David. At the bottom of the steps, continue down along the wall to Piazza Fortebraccio. Noting the Etruscan Arch on your left, cross the piazza to Palazzo Gallenga, and go up the stairs in front of you as you enter and act like you know where you’re going. At the very top you’ll find a great terrace that will give you a perfect view of the twelfth century aqueduct (via dell’acquedotto, now a cool footbridge) that occasionally in its eight hundred year existence brought water to the Fontana Maggiore. Go back down and snaffle an ice cream at the nearby gelateria, Augusta Perusia, at Via Pinturicchio 2 and eat it sitting on the overlook off to the right of the Etruscan Arch.
San Francesco and Sant’Angelo > Two other great places to relax and catch some sun. The first is the lawn outside of San Francesco: follow Via dei Priori down until near the end, bearing right as it becomes Via San Francesco. It’s one of the only places in the center level enough for a good football match. Sant’Angelo is closer to the University for Foreigners. Follow Corso Garibaldi up all the way to the massive gate, Porta Sant’Angelo, and go up the stairs to your right to the Chiesa di Sant’Angelo. The nearby thirteenth century defensive tower is also a visitable attraction, offering a small museum about the city walls and panoramic views. Open 11-13:30 and 15-17:00 (daily except Tuesdays). The €2.50 entry ticket includes access to the Pozzo Etrusco and San Severo.
Perugina Chocolate Factory > Now owned by Nestlè, the iconic chocolate factory has been around for a long time. It’s a bit outside the city, about half an hour. Get there with a bus from Piazza Partigiani; tell the bus driver you want to get off at the Perugina. Open Mo-Fr 9-13:00, 14-17:30. You have to make an appointment for the tour. Call the free toll 800.800.907. And yes, they do give you free baci (kisses), which make Hershey’s kisses taste like spinach-so be sure to try one. They all have little love sayings in four or five languages inside the wrapper. You can also go to their store at 101 Corso Vannucci, near Piazza Italia, if all you want to do is buy great chocolate. Cost of the factory tour and tasting:7 €
The Umbrian National Gallery > I finally went there for the first time with my friend Laura after three years of living here. It’s in the Palazzo dei Priori and open 8:30¬19:30, and Saturdays a bit longer. There is a lot of medieval and renaissance art as well as work by Perugia’s hometown boy, Perugino. As Francesco, one of my Italian friends, tells me, Perugino’s real name was Pietro Vannucci, hence the street. The gallery features paintings on canvas, wood and masonry, sculptures in wood and stone, jewelry and textiles. More info at www.gallerianazionaleuMbria.it. Audio guides available.
Academy of Fine Arts of Perugia > We often take a dim view of Italy’s artistic heritage—mainly because most museums simply have too much set out, with little explanation. The Accademia di Belle Arti di Perugia is a refreshing exception to this. From Corso Vannucci, walk all the way down Via dei Priori and when you see steps in front of you descending to a large city gate, bear off to the right in Via San Francesco. Walk fifty meters and you’ll see the church: go through the door between the big church on the right and the chapel on the left. Walk down the ramp and keep going straight. With a ticket (€5, €3 reduced), and you can then go into the Plaster Casts Gallery and the Pinacoteca. “Plaster casts? Boorrrring!” you would think. But no, it’s pretty cool: there are casts (some centuries old) of a lot of famous statues that you may not be able to go see: the Dying Gaul, two of Michangelo’s Prisoners, the Laocoön and His Sons (the sea serpernt has just grabbed them outside Troy’s gates!), even the reconstructed façade of a Roman temple. The Pinacoteca is like the Plaster Casts Gallery: not too much. There are maybe fifty frames on the walls, so it’s a great panorama of four centuries of work, but not overwhelming. Open Sa 14:30-17, and Su 10:30-13 & 14:30-17 (Read more about the Academy of Fine Arts of Perugia).
Museum of the City Walls > Explore this neat little museum that is located inside the Porta Sant’Angelo at the end of Corso Garibaldi. It’s housed in the Sant’Angelo tower, the largest remaining item of the defensive structures that once served to keep nasties out of the city. The museum display explains the development of Perugia’s three rings of city walls, constructed variously during the Etruscan, Medieval and Renaissance epochs. The summit has arguably the best 360-degree view of the city. You also get the tower well-fresco combo-card so you can see that large Etruscan hole with water at the bottom and Raffaelo’s chapel up on Porta Sole. Open 11-13:30 & 15-17:00, daily except Tuesdays.
The Pauline Fortress > You don’t need the museum ticket to see the fortress. This area used to be Perugia’s swanky neighborhood, with the houses of all its rebellious nobles. Then came the salt war with the Pope and the entire area was razed. An enormous fortress, the Rocca Paolina, was built to keep Perugia under the papal thumb. It was so well fortified that, according to Zach’s shady former landlord, the Pope always fled there if there was trouble in Rome. Centuries of being papal lackeys made the populace tear down the rocca after unification in 1848. They got a little carried away and used explosives and a piece of the rocca fell on passers-by in Via Mazzini (near the fountain), but the basement still is there. Go down the escalators on the right side of the big building on Piazza Italia, and imagine being imprisoned here by the vicar of the Prince of Peace. At the bottom of the first escalator and around to the left are several maps of the “before and after” of Perugia’s biggest makeover.
Palazzo dei Priori > At the other end of Corso Vannucci is the Palazzo dei Priori, the town hall of Perugia. Go up the round set of steps on the side of the Palazzo nearest the fountain and check out (for free) the hall of the notaries. It was here that the Perugian nobles met in splendor to decide how to squeeze even more money out of the peasants. The hall is often used for special occasions and concerts.
P.O.S.T > Nope, no long lines to lick a stamp here. This is Perugia’s Science Museum, right next to the informagiovani office. It’s pretty sweet, and worth the couple euros to get in. It’s open Sat 15:30-19, Sun and holidays 15:30-19. www.perugiapost.it
The Etruscan Well > This well is thirty-six metres deep and was dug by the Etruscans; it remained the principal source of water for the city well into the Middle Ages. The covered top of the well is in the middle of Piazza Piccinino, but you’ll have to go down a little alleyway from just before the piazza to actually look into it (look for signs). We heard that after the Americans bombed the water lines to the city at the end of the Second World War, Perugians used the 2,300-year-old well to keep from dying of thirst. If you’re not having a grand Museum day, your ticket for the Etruscan well also includes entry to San Severo (see Raphael’s fresco below) and the Sant’Angelo tower (see Museum of the City Walls above) at the top end of Corso Garribaldi. It’s not a bad value for €2.50. Hours 10:30-13:30 & 14:30-17:00, closed Tuesdays.
Raphael’s Fresco > Painting his first fresco in an obscure church didn’t adversely affect the career of Raphael. Dating back to 1505, his “trinità” can be found in the chapel adjacent to the Chiesa di San Severo above Piazza Piccinino. There’s also a “Mary with Jesus” in terracotta for all you “Madonna col bambino” fans. 10:30-13.30 & 14:30-17:00 every day except Tuesday. Tuesday is apparently not a good Museum day.