A local’s guide to Perugia, Italy: five great things to do

The ancient walls, papal fortress and creative quarter of Umbria’s 2,500-year-old capital make a happy haunt for flâneur Gianluigi Bettin

A writer and walking guide living in Perugia for 12 years, Gianluigi Bettin is co-author of the Via di Francesco guidebook (Terre di Mezzo, €20).


Perugia is a great place to enjoy products and specialities from all over Umbria. A recent restaurant discovery was Numero Zero, where the owners are keen on social inclusion and employ young people with mental health problems. Their philosophy is to create a place where “being different is not a cause for embarrassment”.

I went there on a first date, and though that relationship didn’t work out, I’m still in love with the restaurant for its food and super-friendly service. They do a lot of meat, all sourced from small farms – I had gorgeous pigeon with chard and forest fruits – but my vegetarian date enjoyed his courgette escabeche and strangozzi pasta with vegetable ragù.


Underground tunnels and chambers of the Rocca Paolina fortress.
Underground tunnels and chambers of the Rocca Paolina fortress. Photograph: Bernard Bialorucki/Alamy

Help! How can I pick one place from a city with 2,500 years of history? The two miles of Etruscan city walls? The medieval Torre degli Sciri? I’m a flâneur, a Perugian Baudelaire, and my favourite stroll is in the dimly lit Rocca Paolina, redolent of the plots and power struggles of centuries past. It’s a fortress built in 1543 for Pope Paul III, with a whole district – particularly the house of his arch-enemies the Baglionis – demolished or remodelled. All very Game of Thrones. Today it’s a series of high-ceilinged passageways under the old town – all open to the public, with exhibition spaces and a museum. Continue the time-travel with a tour (€10pp) of the excavations under San Lorenzo cathedral, which take you into Roman Perugia, then back to when this was the Etruscans’ Acropolis, with a sixth-century BC temple.

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Porta Sole has become the city’s creative quarter, where there’s always something new to see: performance art, street art, poetry, craft workshops. Start with Mannaggia (nearest translation: “Damn it”) bookshop on Via Cartolari, which specialises in small publishers and does regular evening events, then follow Via della Viola past little shops and restaurants to the Post Modernissimo cinema, actually the oldest in Perugia. It closed in 2000 but reopened in 2014, thanks to crowdfunding by a social enterprise. The cinema has three screens, and a terrace outside for aperitivi.

Green space

Many people connect the Tiber with Rome, but from its source in the Apennines, the river passes below Perugia, and can be reached on a two-hour circular walk along Sentiero delle Lavandaie (washerwomen’s walk, part of the 550km Via di Francesco trail). Begin at Porta Pesa gate, where the washerwomen used to arrive from the riverside village of Pretola. Once the only route from the city to the river, the path is mentioned in a Perugia city council document from 1299, but was still used by washerwomen until the mid-1960s. Every Sunday they could be seen coming to collect laundry from wealthy families. The footpath, reinstated in 2011, runs alongside a stream, across fields and woodland to Pretola’s watermill, with its medieval tower. Download Perugia InApp for more GPS-marked walking routes.


Evening strollers on Corso Vanucci.
Evening strollers on Corso Vanucci. Photograph: Getty Images

Punto di Vista bar, on the hill below the town hall, has a stunning view over the Tiber valley, and good cocktails. But the best thing to do of an evening is wander along Corso Vanucci, sit on a bar terrace and people-watch. Dempsey’s, near the cathedral, is a cocktail bar open till 1.30am, with every spirit in the world seemingly on offer, and fantastic margaritas. Up narrow Via del Sole is Bottega del Vino, with live jazz on Wednesdays and a huge choice of Umbrian wines.


Little Italy hostel was converted from an 11th-century church. Dorm beds cost from €17, but it also has family rooms and a double in a former side chapel. Hotel Fortuna is in a 14th-century building off Corso Vanucci, with roof terrace, doubles from €77 and flats from €380 a week.


Interview by Liz Boulter

The GuardianTramp

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