Known as “The City of Tufa”, Orvieto is a charming town to visit in a few hours or on a longer stay to explore enchanting nearby locations. Follow our guide to discover what to see in and around Orvieto!
Orvieto is an Umbrian city in the province of Terni, a small town perched on a tufa cliff from which it dominates the entire valley below with the Paglia and Chiani rivers, in the southeastern part of Umbria, bordering on upper Lazio (province of Viterbo) and lower Tuscany (provinces of Grosseto and Siena).
Orvieto’s elevated position, once strategic for a natural defense of the city, makes it a natural terrace overlooking the Umbrian countryside dotted with vineyards and olive groves.
Visiting Orvieto is the desire of thousands of foreign tourists who wish to admire one of the most beautiful places in Italy, where they can have unforgettable cultural and exploratory experiences, as well as taste some of the most renowned food and wine specialties.
If you’re thinking of spending a few days in Orvieto, you might want to know more about it, some interesting facts that can make your visit easier. For example, the best times to come to these parts are definitely autumn and spring. Even during the holiday season it could be a destination to discover because of the temperate climate.
Certainly, knowing the top sights in and around Orvieto is essential for a focused visit without unnecessary wandering. Our convenient guide offers the best attractions in the town, including the historic center which can be explored in just one day.
Those who want to spend more time exploring this beautiful area will find useful tips on what to do and see in and around Orvieto for a weekend or multi-day vacation.
What to see in Orvieto
There are several things to see in Orvieto, here are all the ones you can’t miss. But before we venture out to explore this village enjoyed by tourists from all over the world, here is some useful information.
Those who come by car can park in the dedicated areas at the parking lots in Orvieto Scalo, free of charge in Piazza della Pace (known as the “funicular parking lot”) or in the guarded, paid parking lots in the historic center: the Via Roma parking lot and the Campo della Fiera (former Foro Boario) which is connected to a mobility system that allows you to get to the center using escalators or elevators (Ripa Medici). Another large parking lot is located in Piazza de’ Ranieri, below the Pozzo della Cava, and in this case you get to the historic center using free escalators.
From Orvieto Scalo, where the train station is located, you can reach the upper part, the historic center, by taking the funicular or going up by elevator or escalator. The funicular runs every 10 minutes and is open from 7:15 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. while on holidays, it runs from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tickets are made on site for a cost of €1.30 per person (it lasts 90 minutes and is valid as a discount on the purchase of tickets for other attractions).
For access to Orvieto’s most important monuments, you can buy the Carta Unica, a card with exclusive discounts for access to museums, monuments and places of art.
The card gives access to the Chapel of San Brizio, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Pozzo di San Patrizio, the National Archaeological Museum, the Crocifisso del Tufo Necropolis, the “Claudio Faina” Etruscan Museum, Orvieto Underground, the Pozzo della Cava and the Torre del Moro.
In this guide to visiting Orvieto you can follow a simple walking itinerary consisting of the most important monuments, strolling through alleys and lanes, encountering the palaces and historic city gates (Porta Maggiore, Porta Soliana, Porta Romana and Porta Vivaria).
Cathedral of Orvieto
A must-see in Orvieto is definitely the Cathedral of the Assumption of Santa Maria Assunta, or the Duomo. This impressive work of art is one of the main landmarks and among the most significant examples of Gothic architecture in Italy.
The facade of the Duomo, a true sculptural masterpiece to be admired up close, is adorned with mosaics dedicated to the Virgin Mary, bas-reliefs and statues depicting biblical scenes and figures of saints. The building is crowned by pointed spires that rise to the heavens.
The interior is no less impressive with marvelous frescoes, including those in the Chapel of San Brizio by the famous painter Luca Signorelli. Begun in 1499 and completed in 1504, these frescoes depict scenes of the Last Judgment, with vivid images of the Apocalypse and the Resurrection of the Dead. Signorelli’s work is considered one of the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance. The chapel is named after a local bishop, St. Brizio, who is said to have introduced Christianity to Orvieto.
The Corporal Chapel, meanwhile, houses the Corporal of the Miracle of Bolsena, a piece of linen on which, according to legend, blood fell during the celebration of Mass by a priest who doubted transubstantiation. The miracle, which occurred in 1263, led to the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi by Pope Urban IV. The chapel, decorated with frescoes by three Orvieto artists – Ugolino di Prete Ilario, Domenico di Meo and Giovanni di Buccio Leonardelli – tells the story of the miracle and the institution of the feast.
Another notable feature is the magnificent mosaic floor, which features intricate geometries and religious symbols. In addition, one cannot fail to mention the high altar, embellished with a finely crafted Gothic canopy.
You can access the Duomo, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Modo) – Palazzi Papali and Museo Emilio Greco with a single ticket at a cost of €5.00.
Opera del Duomo Museum
We continue with a visit to the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo under the cathedral floor, which collects works from precisely the Duomo and its chapels, allowing visitors to see up close many of the treasures that once adorned the cathedral: sculptures, paintings, reliquaries and liturgical vestments.
Among the most notable works are the magnificent 12th and 13th century sculptures, as well as frescoes and outstanding examples of cabinet-making.
One of the gems of the museum is the Corporal Reliquary, mentioned in the previous section, made of gold and precious stones in the 14th century to hold the Corporal of the Miracle of Bolsena.
The museum also houses a number of historical artifacts related to the construction and decoration of the cathedral.
Palazzo Soliano and the Emilio Greco Museum
A must-see in Orvieto, near the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, in Piazza del Duomo, is Palazzo Soliano, a medieval building constructed in 1297 (according to some historical sources at the behest of the Comune and Pope Boniface VIII, which is why the building is also known as “Palazzo Bonifacio VIII”).
The structure is the largest and most imposing of Orvieto’s papal residences, the historic home of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Today, Palazzo Soliano houses an important collection of works (including drawings, engravings and sculptures) donated by Sicilian sculptor Emilio Greco, one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Claudio Faina Etruscan Museum
For lovers of the genre, just across the street from the Duomo is the Claudio Faina National Archaeological Museum at a 19th century building, for many years the residence of the Faina family.
It was 1985 when Count Mauro donated the building and its collection of archaeological artifacts to the city of Orvieto, one of the most important in Italy for Etruscan and Roman archaeology, with Etruscan (ceramics, bronzes, jewelry), Greek (black-figure and red-figure vases) and Roman (a rich coin cabinet) artifacts.
Admission to the museum costs 6 euros for a full ticket and 4 euros for a reduced ticket.
St. Patrick’s Well (the “perfect well”)
One of the must-see attractions in Orvieto, considered among the most important, is St. Patrick’s Well, a historic work of engineering built in the 16th century.
The well is 53 meters deep by 13 meters wide, and can be explored by descending 248 steps of a helical staircase created by Sangallo to separate the flow of people descending to draw water from those ascending.
The well, dug into the tuff of the plateau on which Orvieto stands by order of Pope Clement VII (who took refuge here after the Sack of Rome), is surrounded by walls from which there is a wonderful panoramic view of the valley below.
Recently, St. Patrick’s Well was added to UNESCO’s Global Network of Water Museums.
Admission to St. Patrick’s Well costs 5 euros.
Medieval quarter with the Quarry Well
The Pozzo della Cava is located in the medieval quarter of Orvieto. This structure, which dates back to the Etruscan period, was expanded during the Middle Ages to be used as a water well.
The 36-meter-deep well was dug into the tuff and closed in the 16th century until 1984, when it was reopened and restored.
Today it is open to the public as part of the Pozzo della Cava Museum and Archaeological Park, which also includes a series of underground caves and archaeological finds dating back to Etruscan times.
During the holiday season, a characteristic nativity scene is set up inside the Pozzo della Cava.
The full ticket for admission to the Pozzo della Cava is 4 euros; reduced, 2.50 euros; free for children under 5.
Underground City of Orvieto
Orvieto, like other Italian cities, has a hidden soul underground, a labyrinth of caves and tunnels carved into the tuff to explore, known as the “Underground City”.
The experience begins in Piazza Duomo near the information point. From there, you can embark on a guided tour that winds through Orvieto’s underground passages.
Here’s what’s hidden in underground Orvieto:
- 1,200 Underground Cavities: Orvieto is home to an incredible labyrinth of 1,200 underground cavities carved out of tuff, the volcanic rock on which the city stands.
- Hypogea: underground rooms used for a variety of purposes, including agriculture, crafts and pigeon breeding.
- Mill or Olive Oil Mill: an ancient mill or oil mill, active until the late 17th century.
- Pozzolana quarry: pozzolana, a type of stone used for construction, was quarried here.
- Etruscan wells: during the tour, you can also see some Etruscan wells.
- Columbariums: these were used for raising pigeons as a source of food.
- Miscellaneous attractions: other attractions include the Quarry Well, Hadrian’s Labyrinth, medieval and Renaissance silos, wells, and a Renaissance log.
Tickets cost €8.00 and the visit lasts about an hour.
Piazza del Popolo with the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
Orvieto’s Piazza del Popolo is one of the city’s most representative squares, known for housing the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, an imposing example of medieval Italian architecture with its tufa facade.
The Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, dating back to the late 13th early 14th century, was the institutional seat of an important figure in medieval times, that of the Capitano del Popolo who was in charge of the guilds and represented, precisely, the people. Over the years it also became the seat of the Podestà and finally was used as the town theater.
Now, the square where it is located is home to the local fruit and vegetable market, and the palace has been converted into a modern convention center.
Today, the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo is used for a variety of functions, including meeting and convention halls. The palace has three meeting rooms with a maximum capacity ranging from 99 to 330 people, making it an ideal place to host various events.
Piazza della Repubblica and Church of St. Andrew and Bartholomew
Worth seeing in Orvieto’s bustling Piazza della Repubblica is the small Church of St. Andrew and Bartholomew, a historic church dating back to the 11th century.
Piazza della Repubblica is one of the city’s most beautiful and historic squares, located at the end of Corso Cavour, where there is also Palazzo Comunale.
Visiting the church is free of charge and reservations are required only in case you want to visit its basement. Guided tours can be taken Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m., at a cost of €5.
Opposite the church is the Town Hall, designed by Orvieto architect and sculptor Ippolito Scalza. The palace’s neoclassical facade dates from the 19th century, although the building still retains traces of the pre-existing medieval structure.
Torre del Moro
The Torre del Moro, in the heart of the city on Corso Cavour, is one of Orvieto’s most fascinating monuments. The medieval tower stands 47 meters high and offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city and its territory.
Originally known as the Torre del Papa, the Torre del Moro takes its current name from Raffaele di Sante, known as il Moro. Some historical sources suggest that the palace adjacent to the tower was his home.
A distinctive feature of the tower is the clock added only in 1866, which has been marking the city’s time ever since.
The tower is easily accessible to visitors who can climb its 250 steps to enjoy spectacular views.
It costs 3.80 euros to climb the tower.
The Albornoz Fortress, also known as the Albornoz Fortress, is a historic monument, an imposing military structure in Cahen Square at the eastern end of the city’s historic center.
It was built in 1364 by Spanish Cardinal Álvarez de Albornoz, a papal legate in the 14th century on the instructions of Pope Innocent VI, during the period when the Papal Court was in Avignon; of the original quadrilateral fortification with moat and drawbridges, today only the tower overlooking the ancient Porta Rocca or Soliana remains. The fortress area is home to Orvieto’s main public gardens.
Cardinal Albornoz was an influential 14th-century cleric and statesman known for restoring the temporal power of the popes in the territories of the Church State during the period of the Avignon exile.
His work to reconquer and reorganize the papal territories is remembered through various fortified structures that bear his name, including the Rocca Albornoziana in Spoleto and precisely the Albornoz Fortress in Orvieto.
Full ticket €7.50 (ages over 25); reduced €2.00 (between 18 and 25); free for E.U. citizens under 18.
Church of St. Juvenal
The Church of St. Juvenal is a religious building of great historical importance, considered the oldest church in the city (1004) on the remains of an early Christian church dedicated to St. Juvenal, built in turn, it is presumed, on the foundations of an Etruscan temple dedicated to Jupiter.
The church is famous for its medieval frescoes which represent the style and subjects typical of Orvieto painting of the time dating from the 12th century onward.
Orvieto National Archaeological Museum
Also located in Piazza Duomo is the National Archaeological Museum of Orvieto, at the Palazzo Papale, a building dating from the late 13th century. This museum offers a rich display of Etruscan artifacts discovered during recent excavations in the Orvieto area, including ancient and recently discovered materials.
Opened in 1982, the museum displays materials found in the area up to the 19th century that were previously housed in the archaeological section of the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo.
Highlights of the museum include a reconstruction of two Etruscan tombs and an extensive collection of artifacts, some of which date back more than 2,500 years.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., with last admission at 6:45 p.m. It is closed on Mondays and December 25, 2023.
Full ticket: 4.00 euros; reduced 2.00 euros; free for E.U. citizens under 18.
Etruscan Necropolis of the Tuff Crucifix
The Etruscan necropolis of Crocifisso del Tufo, located on the outskirts of the city, is an archaeological site dating back to the 6th century B.C., one of the most significant testimonies of the Etruscan presence in Umbria.
The name “Crocifisso del Tufo” derives from a 16th century crucifix carved into the tuff and preserved in a chapel below the area of San Giovenale.
The necropolis consists of a network of well-preserved “roads” leading to stone tombs arranged according to the urban organization of Etruscan cities.
The necropolis is open to the public but visiting hours may vary depending on the season.
Full ticket 3.00 euros, reduced 2.00 euros, free for E.U. citizens under 18 years old
Visiting Orvieto and its surroundings
Around Orvieto, you can visit a number of villages and natural settings, including Lake Corbara, an artificial lake along the Tiber River where you can picnic on its banks or try your hand at fishing.
Fabro, known as the city of truffles, hosts an annual festival dedicated to this delicious mushroom. Its medieval castle is also worth a visit. Don’t miss Civita di Bagnoregio, an ancient village known as “the dying town” because of the erosion of the tuff on which it sits, is one of Italy’s most picturesque places.
Also worth visiting is Viterbo, known as “the City of the Popes”, with a well-preserved medieval historic center, the Baths of the Popes and the Palace of the Popes. A must-do trip is to Lake Bolsena, Europe’s largest volcanic lake, with beaches, water sports and a series of medieval villages dotting its shores.
Also worth seeing near Orvieto is Todi, another charming medieval town with Roman, medieval and Renaissance monuments, and Perugia, the capital of Umbria, famous for its university, Jazz Festival and chocolate (thanks to the presence of the historic Perugina company, founded in 1907, as well as the “Eurochocolate” event, one of the most important chocolate festivals in Europe).
And then there is Assisi, known worldwide as the city of St. Francis and for its places of worship and historic sites, including the Basilica of St. Francis and the Rocca Maggiore.
What to do in Orvieto
After seeing what to visit in Orvieto, let’s look at what to do among the many activities.
Strolls and shopping for typical products: the historic center of Orvieto is a labyrinth of narrow, winding streets where you can wander among stores selling local crafts: ceramics, wooden and leather worked objects, as well as handmade jewelry.
Street Art and Markets: Orvieto is a vibrant place of culture, with street art works decorating many of its streets (https://www.instagram.com/orvietostreetart/). At the city market, in Piazza del Popolo, on the other hand, you can buy local products and gastronomic specialties.
Gastronomy: Tasting typical food is a must when visiting a city like Orvieto where street food is one of the most engaging and immersive activities to enjoy.
Children’s activities: Orvieto offers fun for even the youngest of children, from a funicular railway ride to a walk through Hadrian’s Labyrinth (an underground labyrinth) to a visit to Orvieto Sotterranea.
Nature and sports: for nature lovers, Orvieto offers e-bike tours of the surrounding medieval towns, join a day trip to the nearby Marmore Falls Park or visit Lake Corbara for nature hikes.
Local food and wine
The Umbrian specialties are truly memorable. Those who have tasted them will surely confirm!
Food and wine in Orvieto is a sensory experience that immerses you in the authentic flavors of Umbria. Undisputed stars of the culinary scene are extra virgin olive oil and Orvieto DOC wine, known for its versatility, which can be either dry or sweet, depending on the vinification, and many other typical products and dishes worth discovering.
Savory dishes include umbricelli, a typical pasta of the region and meat dishes. Among the city’s oldest and most typical are “palomba alla leccarda” and “pollo alla cacciatora”. Game and dishes such as braised wild boar are also very popular as is pork, another star ingredient in Umbrian cuisine. Dishes such as sausage with beans all’uccelletto and potatoes alla buttera are typical specialties.
Other famous local products include mushrooms and truffles. There is also no shortage of street delicacies such as lumachelle, snail-shaped sweets, cicadas, cookies called tortucce, and the traditional “pizza under the fire”.
Tastings of wine and typical products are a great way to savor their excellence. But even more so has become one of the most popular activities for tourists coming to Orvieto: cooking classes with local chefs and cooks, a fun and engaging way to learn traditional Umbrian recipes.
For truffle lovers, truffle hunting is a must-do experience that allows you to explore the Umbrian countryside in search of this precious ingredient. And then, to cook it as taught by ancient recipes.
Events in Orvieto
Let’s start with the traditional as well as evocative event that takes place in the Pozzo della Cava, which, for the Christmas occasion, is decorated and set up with an artistic themed nativity scene every year during the Christmas season (from mid-December and until January 6).
On the occasion of Pentecost, however, the festival/descent of the Palombella has been celebrated since 1404, with a pigeon flying from tower to tower in the main square, a symbolic representation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles. During the weekend, there is also the “Orvieto in Fiore” event, which sees the city adorned with flowers in the colors representing the city’s 4 districts.
The Feast of Corpus Christi is one of the most important events commemorating the Miracle of Bolsena that occurred in 1263.
Umbria Jazz Winter is a jazz music festival that takes place between December and January to the delight of jazz fans from all over the world.
Orvieto Music Fest is another music event held in May in Piazza del Popolo. On several spring weekends there is the famous Cantine Aperte, an event that sees several local wineries open for vineyard tours and wine tastings, from the classic “Orvieto” to other regional wines.
Another gastronomic kermis of excellence is “I Gelati d’Italia”, which brings together gelato makers from all regions of Italy to participate in the “National Gelato Championship”.
How to get to Orvieto
Orvieto is well served by both rail and highway networks.
Those arriving by train can take advantage of the convenient train station located on the route from Rome to Milan, passing through Florence, Arezzo and Bologna. Just in front of the train station are the funicular and the rest area of the buses (Busitalia and Cotral) used for local transport.
It is convenient to reach Orvieto also by car: driving along the A1 Autostrada del Sole exit directly at the Orvieto toll booth and then follow the local signs for the center about 4.5 km from the toll booth. It also leads to Orvieto from the E45 freeway (coming from Perugia-Assisi), exiting at “Orvieto-Todi” and following the state road 71 that runs along Lake Corbara.
From the E45 it is also possible to reach other major towns in Umbria, such as Perugia, Assisi, Gubbio, Spoleto and Terni.
Finally, you get to Orvieto by driving along the Cassia (from Viterbo-Rome) along which there is also a well-equipped rest stop called “the Belvedere of Orvieto.”
If you are traveling by plane, you can land at the nearest airports, namely that of Rome-Ciampino and Rome-Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci) to reach Orvieto with a trip of just 2 hours along the A1 Autostrada del Sole highway. Alternatively, you can land at Perugia (San Francesco d’Assisi) airport in Sant’Egidio.
Now that you know what to see in Orvieto, we just have to wish you a happy trip to Umbria! Book your experience and your tailor-made food and wine trip now with Italia Delight. 😉
Cover photo: sterlinglanier-lanier-unsplash
Featured photo: pixabay, valtercirillo