Ah, day trips. There’s a fine art involved in planning a successful day trip while you’re traveling. A trip somewhere close to home might be more accessible, but once you put yourself in a different country, with cities and places that you don’t know much about or haven’t researched extensively, it becomes a bit more difficult. The main barriers I find in planning and having successful day trips are transportation and what you can fit into a small period of time. In Italy, transportation can limit which day trips you take because unless you’re willing to rent a car, the transportation systems (i.e. trains) only access certain areas of the country. The fast regional trains will take you to the main cities of region, but not the smaller, cute towns that a lot of people are looking to see.
Oriveto is the solution to this problem, mostly because it’s in central Italy and easily accessed from any part of the country by trains. There are a number things to do in the center that can easily use up the span of a day. Factor in some shopping for local delicacies, lunch at a great restaurant with Umbrian food, a tour of the underground caves, a quick trip around the cathedral and some time spent wandering the small streets in this medieval city and you've got yourself a perfect day.
From Rome, it takes an hour to get to the outskirts of Orvieto by regional train and a short 3-minute gondola ride up to the top of the walled city to reach the center. Hiking up the very tall hill is possible, but not advised.
I recommend buying your train tickets (€7.50) ahead of time online at trenitalia.it but you can also use cash at the ticket machines on the platform. Then, be sure to stamp and validate your ticket before boarding. If you bought one online, all you’ll need to do is show the ticket collectors (who actually do check) your bar code on your phone.
Once you get to Orvieto train station, you’ll then need to take a cable car up from the station to the actual town, where there will be buses waiting to take you the centro storico. The lift is actually fun because it takes you up a steep hill and gives you a front-seat view of the local countryside. It might seems confusing, but it’s actually well planned for foreigners because it is a popular spot for tourists. A ticket to the top is €1.50 and that works on the bus as well.
All this said, Orvieto is super easy to get to by car (1 hr 45 min from Rome) and has parking lots all over the city perimeters. Park and pay for the time you plan to be there and enjoy the city by foot!
There are plenty of museums in Orvieto but there are a couple that I think are worth mentioning. The famous cathedral of Orvieto has a ton of history behind it and is something you should definitely look into. A ticket to enter will also get you access to a nearby archeological museum, so that’s worth a look if you’re interested in the history of the city.
If you’re looking for an amazing view of the city’s rooftops and the surrounding countryside, buy a ticket for €2 to the Torre del Moro and be prepared for 200 steps up to the top. I skipped out on this one because #lazy but my friend Jason took one for the team and got some pretty fab photos.
The Pozzo di San Patrizio which I STILL haven’t been able to see, despite visiting the city a number of times, is said to be one of the most interesting sites in the city. It’s a 16th-century well with a staircase that winds down all the way to the bottom, accessible by group tours and just one of the many wells in this walled-city, made necessary by the high plateau that it’s located on where the only access to water in ancient times came from the water table underground.
The underground of the city is also full of caves, originally dug out by Ovieto’s nobles who owned property and needed someplace to store food, life stock and produce olive oil. These underground areas gave them a place to hide during sieges and a continuous food source with room for the pigeons that were a major staple food.
I learned all this (and more!) from a tour I took with Orvieto Underground and our fun and knowledgeable tour guide, who was informative and made the history super interesting. We went under the city into three different caves, with explanations of their different uses at each stop. For €6, I highly recommend taking it and learning more about what's happening underneath your very feet.
Umbria has some of my favorite Italian food. While all Italian food is absolutely delicious, there’s something about the rustic, hearty meals that Umbria, Lazio and Tuscany have to offer that gets me every time. I can never turn down a cheese platter with local cheeses and cured meats, ragù made with wild boar, lamb or hare, truffle anything, or a glass of organic wine from a nearby vineyard. Like I said, it gets me.
Finding some of this authentic rustic food is a little harder when you’re in major cities like Orvieto, but there are still so many choices for restaurants. I take a lot of suggestions from other Italy bloggers so when I head to Orvieto, I look to Linda and Elizabeth for their advice, as they both live part time in the area. Linda suggests Trattoria del Moro-Aronne, Trattoria del Orso, and Bistrotrotters, while Elizabeth’s recommendation of the Michelin Star restaurant La Palomba completely won me over and we ended up heading there on my most recent trip with friends.
At La Palomba, we tried their speciality of Carbonara with shaved truffles and a handmade pasta with lamb ragu which was equally delicious. Other diners went for their namesake dish, palomba (dove), which in this case was a pigeon dish that we’d already heard so much about on our tour. Every single thing was amazing and the place was super busy, so you'll need to make a reservation if you’re looking for lunch/dinner here.
What to buy
If you’re heading to Umbria and enjoy Italian-made ceramics, you’ll want to pick up some here. As Elizabeth says, the region is famous for its colorful ceramics and there are many nice shops in Orvieto to get them from. She recommends Jolanda Artiginiato for classic Umbrian dishes. Lace, leather and cashmere products are also popular, and the main streets have plenty of small shops to buy from. And of course, food and wine are the winners here, so bring home a bottle of Orvieto’s famous dry white wine and as many sausages/hard cheeses that you can fit in your suitcase.
To reiterate, I do not consider myself an expert on Orvieto and this list is only some of my favorites that I’ve tried in the past. I really do think everyone should try to make it here if you’re traveling in central Italy, because it’s a gorgeous city, steeped in history and culture with amazing food to boot. There’s no excuse not to spend a day or afternoon in this amazing example of medieval Italy, so why not fit it in on your next trip to Rome or Florence? If you're looking for more inspo on what to do in Umbria, check out this blog post for other cities and small towns in the region that I love.