The 2-Day Itinerary – Overview
Assisi is divided into two parts—the Lower (Parte de Sotto) and the Upper (Parte de Sopra). Though the distinction is purely semantic for most of the year, each May the town—home of peaceloving Saint Francis—sheds its normal spirit of brotherly love to spend three days (and nights) locked in intense competition as the two parts stage processions, scenes of medieval life, and concerts with period music as they vie for the honor of the Palio during the annual Calendimaggio festival. Today we’ll explore the Parte de Sotto (everything that lies between the Basilica of Saint Francis and the main—and officially “neutral”–Piazza del Comune and the Parte de Sopra, which covers the area from the central Piazza del Comune and extends east. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, as there will be some steep climbs through the narrow streets marking the upper part of this famed hilltown, but the views will be worth a bit of huffing and puffing!
Many of the more spiritual sites in Assisi are outside the historic center, either on the slopes of Mount Subasio above the town or in the Valley below. Your final day in Assisi will be spent with a slower pace, exploring the peaceful places in Assisi’s environs. The timing of this itinerary is only a recommendation, as much depends upon your method of transportation (public transportation and walking will take more time than driving or hiring a taxi) and how long you choose to linger at each site.
La Basilica di San Francesco (The Basilica of Saint Francis)
Hours: Lower Basilica 6:45am-6:00pm/Upper Basilica 8:30am – 7:45pm
To begin your first day, start at the Piazza Giovanni Paolo II public parking lot (some locals still call it Piazza San Pietro). Here there is ample paid parking, one of the main bus stops for those taking the local bus from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli in the valley below; check schedule at the bus stop for times and purchase tickets at the bar in the train station for €1), and a taxi stand (€10 from the train station). From here, it’s a short uphill walk to the Basilica above.
The ties between Assisi and her most famous monument are so symbiotic that it’s difficult to discern where one begins and the other ends; to know one, you have to know the other. Despite its sprawling size, the Upper and Lower Churches can get crowded during peak hours, so to enjoy the fabulous Giotto school fresco cycle documenting the life of Saint Francis in relative peace, it pays to time your visit for early morning—in fact, if you’re an early riser I suggest you try to get there before the time listed here to beat the tour bus crowds.
Local’s Tip: To fully enjoy the Basilica’s rich art and history—and its two churches, crypt, and museum– you should visit armed with a good guidebook or rent an audioguide from the stand to the left of the entrance to the Upper Church (€6/one hour tour; open 9:30am-5:30pm).
From The Upper Church in the Basilica, simply cross the street to the first building; your next stop is right on the corner.
Caffè San Francesco
Address: Via San Francesco, 52
After your visit to the Basilica, it’s time to give your brain and feet a rest at this landmark local cafè. Try to grab the secret hidden table behind all the flowerpots on the corner for the best view in town, or enjoy the old-world style marble and scarlet decor inside while you sip your cappuccino.
From here continue down the main Via di San Francesco.
Via San Francesco
One of Assisi’s main thouroughfares, this long road is lined with everything from the kitschiest of souvenir shops to Assisi’s civic museum.
Local’s Tip: Stop to get a drink and fill your water bottles at the small fountain at the bottom of the stairs on the left which lead up Vicolo S. Andrea from Via San Francesco. The water is potable and the lionhead fountain charming.
Casa dei Maestri Comacini
Where the stairs of Vicolo S. Andrea meet Via San Francesco, take a good gander at this 13th century loggia and two-story extension to the right (dated 1477 on the coat of arms on the lower story). The building was named for the compass and rose reliefs above the door and the window to its right, suggesting that it might have belonged to the master masons who traditionally came from Lake Como. One of the best preserved medieval facades in Assisi.
From here, continue up Via San Francesco (away from the Basilica).
Oratorio dei Pellegini and Monte Frumentario
Hours: 10am–12pm/4pm-6pm ; closed Sun
You will come first to the unassuming Oratorio dei Pellegrini, built by a group of pilgrims returning from Santiago di Compostella in the 1400s. Though the drab exterior is easily overlooked, it belies the rich frescoes of the Perugino school completely covering the interior.
On the next block, the uniform series of facades lining Via San Francesco is broken up by the delicate columns of Monte Frumentario’s portico. This 14th century building—originally a hospital—later housed a guild which lent wheat and other farm products to peasants in exchange for pawned goods.
Next door, the Oliviera Fountain, built in 1570, features a plaque fixing the fine for doing wash in the fountain at one “scudo”. Don’t drink the water here, but feel free to take some great pictures of this lovely public fountain.
After admiring the fountain, continue along Via San Francesco passing under the arch and continuing about a block. Here, turn left and climb the steep Via A. Luigi; then take the stairs to the right which end in front of the Church of Santo Stefano.
Church of Santo Stefano
Duration: 30 minutes
Hours: 8:30am–6:30pm Sept.-May/8:30am-8pm June, July, Aug
The tiny, simple stone Church of Santo Stefano is a stark contrast to the opulent Basilica, and its unadorned Romanesque interior and facade remind visitors that it is one of the oldest churches in Assisi.
Local’s Tip: As you continue your walk, take a moment to enjoy the view over the valley and Santo Stefano’s pretty church bells, said to have miraculously rung on the day of St. Francis’ death in 1226.
Take the staircase to the left of the door of the church, and follow it as it turns right around the corner of the church. Continue climbing until it turns left and ends on Via San Paolo. Turn right and follow Via San Paolo into Piazza del Comune.
Piazza del Comune and Archaeological Museum
Address: Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum (Via Portica, 2)
Price: €4 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)
Website: http://www.sistemamuseo.it/museoid.php?uid=218 (in Italian)
It’s time to take a break and admire the pretty Piazza del Comune. Grab a table at one of the outdoor caffes (try Bar Trovellesi under the portico near the fountain) and admire the 13th century municipal building lining one side of the piazza, the pretty fountain with its jetted lions, the soaring belltower, and—most importantly—the Temple of Minerva. From the 1st century BC, this is the most intact Roman temple facade in Italy. To put the Temple of Minerva into context, head to the entrance to Assisi’s Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum just a few meters down Via Portica on the far side of the Piazza. Here you’ll find a scale model reconstructing the layout of the Roman forum, the foundation of the Temple of Minerva, and three classical marble statues unearthed in Assisi, one of which represents Minerva herself.
From the exit of the Archaeological museum, turn right (downhill) and walk down Via Arco dei Priori until it ends at Via Sant’Antonio. Turn right and continue about a block until you reach Piazza del Vescovado with the Chiesa di Santa Maria Maggiore at the far end.
Piazza del Vescovado and Roman Domus
Price: Entrance is a flat €80 fee for groups of 2-15, so the individual ticket price is variable depending upon group size. (See the “Before you go” section above for more information.)
Hours: To reserve call the Infoline 199 151 123 Mon-Fri 9:00am -5:00pm
In the nineteenth century, excavations near the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Piazza del Vescovado uncovered the remains of a luxurious Roman villa. This domus, with its original mosaic floor, painted wall decorations, and a long section of richly decorated vault-covered portico, is a must-see for anyone passionate about Roman civilization. Next door, a second domus is currently being excavated and restored under the Palazzo Giampé. This site, with its excellent frescoes and mosaic floors, is one of the most important and intact examples of a Roman domus on view in Italy.
From here, retrace your steps along Via Sant’Antonio, turning left on Via Arco dei Priori until you return to the Piazza del Comune. From here, turn right onto Corso Mazzini.
La Piazza and Il Corso is where all Assisi go to see and be seen. Unfortunately, Assisi’s main street has been taken over by shops and caffes catering primarily to the tourist trade, but if you’re looking for some traditional souvenirs to take home, you may want to stop in the stores here.
Local’s Tip: Assisi’s best bakery is “Bar Pasticcieria Sensi” about halfway down the corso on your right. Though not as showy as many other pastry shops around town, this is where the locals all flock to satisfy their sweet-tooth. If you have a taste for something savory, try the pan caciato (cheese bread with walnuts).
Unfortunately, there are no restaurants worth their salt along the Corso, so for lunch double back to the main Piazza. From here you have three great options, all within a few meters.
Trattoria degli Umbri
No frills traditional family-style trattoria with traditional Umbrian fare. It can get crowded in peak season and you may need a little patience with the slow service.
Address: Piazza del Comune, 2
Osteria Piazzetta delle Erbe
Modern twist on traditional cuisine and one of the few spots in Assisi with outdoor seating.
Address: Via San Gabriele dell’Addolorata, 15/A
Trattoria La Pallotta
A Slow Food restaurant, this historic family-owned spot is heavy on local dishes and ingredients.
Address: Via della Volta Pinta, 3
From any of these three restaurants, make your way back into the Piazza del Comune, then follow Corso Vannucci until it reaches Piazza Santa Chiara.
Local’s Tip: As you pass under the archway at the end of the Corso (where Piazza Santa Chiara begins) there is a water fountain in a niche in the wall to your left (at the base of the staircase). Stop for a quick drink here.
Chiesa di Santa Chiara (Church of Saint Claire)
The pink and white striped facade of the church dedicated to Saint Claire shortly after her death in 1253 dominates this piazza, and the immense flying buttresses and intricate rose window only render it more dramatic. Don’t miss the San Damiano Crucifix inside (in the Oratorio del Crocifisso)…this is the one which spoke to Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” thus changing the course of history.
Local’s Tip: The stone benches along the overlook at the far side of Piazza Santa Chiara are a wonderful, shady place to rest for a minute and snap some fabulous photos of the Umbria Valley below.
From Piazza Santa Chiara, walk the length of the Corso back to Piazza del Comune. Circle right around the fountain, and take the steep pedestrian Via San Rufino di Piazza San Rufino. At Piazza San Rufino turn left into Via Porta Perlici and climb for about a block. On the left, take the stairs (there is an arrow indicating La Rocca Maggiore) as they climb, ending at the service road which leads to the entrance to the fortress.
Local’s Tip: If the climb uphill to the fortress is too rigorous, you can also get a taxi at the stand right in Piazza Santa Chiara. Taxis have access to the service road leading to the Rocca, but not normal traffic.
La Rocca Maggiore
Price: €5 (or included in the €8 ticket purchased on Day 1 at Palazzo Vallemani)
The medieval fortress which sits above Assisi is one of its most fascinating, yet least visited, sites. This captivating warren of semi-restored tunnels, turrets, and courtyards is a thrill to explore for kids and grown-ups alike, and the heart-stopping climb up the far tower rewards you with one of the most amazing views over Assisi and the whole of the Umbrian valley below.
Descend the access road back to the staircase you took coming uphill. At the bottom of the stairs, turn right down Via Porta Perlici until you arrive in Piazza San Rufino.
Chiesa di San Rufino (Church of Saint Rufino)
Hours: 10:00am – 1:00pm/3:00pm-6:00pm
Price: €3 (for the Museum and Cript)
Assisi’s cathedral has been recently restored, so its twelfth century Romanesque facade and massive belltower are even more breathtaking. Don’t miss the small but excellent museum and crypt (in the piazza to the right of the facade), with its vaulted rooms and gracefully restored columns, it is perhaps the best collection of art and architecture in Assisi.
Local’s Tip: Ready for a snack? The tiny pizza shop “Da Andrea” on the corner right across the street from the Church of San Rufino (there is a small wooden bench next to the door) has the best slices in Assisi.
From Piazza San Rufino, continue straight downhill along Via San Rufino, passing through Piazza del Comune and taking Via Portica downhill on the left.
You are probably pretty much art-and-history-ed out by this point, so it’s time for more frivolous pursuits (especially now that you don’t have to schlepp your purchases around with you for the rest of the day). The lion’s share of Assisi’s shops line the long walk from the main Piazza del Comune to the Basilica, so take a leisurely look along this route. There are a plethora of trashy trinket hawkers, but also a couple of gems. Here are a few to pause at:
Address: Via Portica, 15/A
This shop is bursting with wooden toys and decorations…Pinocchio in all sizes and colors, mobiles, wall clocks, rocking horses. Toys from another era yet somehow ageless.
I Colori del Tempo
Address: Via Portica, 6/b
A wonderful, quirky shop with natural fiber clothing (mostly women and children) and accessories. Some euro-fashion that won’t break the bank.
StudioAssisi Via Fortini
Address: Via Fortini, 7
An eclectic collection of clothing, shoes, accessories, and home decor.
Address: Via Fortini, 20
An entire shop dedicated almost exclusively to items carved for the richly veined local olive wood.
Laboratorio Artistico Alice
Address: Via San Francesco, 81
I can’t talk up the kids’ t-shirts Alice hand-paints enough…sunflowers, doggies, dinosaurs, poppies, whimsical scenes of Assisi. If you give her a couple of days (and she’s not too busy), she’ll even personalize the back with your choice of name painted in a rainbow of colors. A one-of-a-kind gift. Aside from her handpainted tshirts, Alice has jewelry, photo albums, paintings and prints. All in her lovely, whimsical style.
Address: Via San Francesco, 24
Mauro’s leather shop is a landmark in Assisi. He has a great selection of pretty sandals, purses and carrier bags, wallet, belts, and just about any other leather item you can imagine.
You are now standing back in front of San Francesco, and there are a few options for dinner. You can choose a table with a view at the Ristorante San Francesco (you were here for a cappuccino in their adjacent bar this morning). Their terrace windows face the facade of the Basilica, which is fetchingly lit up at night.
If you are hankering for pizza, head back up Via San Francesco, pass under the archway and after about a block on your right you will see the Teatro Metastasio (there is a small piazza in front). There is a staircase leading down from the piazza, and halfway down the flight of stairs to your left you’ll find the entrance to Ristorante I Monaci (you passed the downstairs entrance a few hours ago). They’re a popular local favorite for pizza, the place is usually hopping with those looking for a simple meal at a fair price. They serve pasta and meat as well.
Address: Via Scallette, 10
The Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli
Hours: 6:15am – 12:50pm/2:30pm – 7:30 pm
To begin your first day at the Basilica, you can park in the free lot directly in front of the church. Otherwise, for those using public transportation, it’s a short (flat!) ten minute walk from the Assisi train station (located in Santa Maria degli Angeli) where all trains and buses arrive; just point yourself towards the soaring dome.
You can’t miss the imposing domed Basilica which dominates the valley below the historic center of Assisi in the neighboring town of Santa Maria degli Angeli; this church is probably the second busiest after the Basilica of Saint Francis. The church itself is remarkable perhaps only for its size (it’s the eighth largest church in the world), but inside it holds the tiny 11th century Porziuncola oratory, where Saint Francis and his followers worshipped. Saint Claire took her vows of poverty here, and Saint Francis asked to be brought here to die. Here you can also visit the Cappella del Transito, where Francis died, and the rose garden, where the miraculous roses which shed their thorns at the Saint’s touch still bloom.
If you are using public transport, you will have to take the local bus from the train station at Santa Maria degli Angeli to the Sanctuary at Rivotorto (check bus schedules at the bus stop right outside the station and buy tickets from the bar inside for €1…buy a return ticket, as well, if you are planning to take the bus back to Santa Maria degli Angeli for lunch). Otherwise, you can easily drive from the Basilica, passing in front of the train station and continuing for two kilometers straight on until you reach the large church on the left. There is also a taxi stand in front of the Basilica, and you can take a taxi (€10 from Santa Maria to Rivotorto).
Local’s Tip: Along the left flank of the Basilica (where the road passes), there is a lovely Renaissance fountain perfect for snapshots and to fill your water bottle.
The Sacro Tugurio (Rivotorto)
Hours: 8:00am – 12:00pm/2:30pm-7:00pm
Website: http://www.sanfrancescoassisi.org/RIVOTORTO_HOME.htm (Italian only)
Another example of a modest treasure enclosed in an ornate box, the sprawling Franciscan sanctuary in the neighboring village of Rivotorto contains the first home of Saint Francis and his disciples, the Sacro Tugurio (or sacred shed). Francis and his followers lived and worshipped in this rough stone hut from 1208-1211 and here began organizing what would become his order. In 1211, the group was granted use of the Porziuncola from the Benedictine Order, and the Sacro Tugurio was abandoned only to become a site of pilgrimage in the following centuries.
To return to Santa Maria degli Angeli for lunch, drive back the way you came. In front of the train station you will have to turn right at the traffic circle (the road you took coming is only open to buses going the opposite direction), but simply follow this road until the next traffic circle, turn left, and turn left again at the following traffic circle. Follow this road as it passes under the train tracks, and Da Elide is directly in front of you as you come up from the underpass on Via Patrono d’Italia. Otherwise, any local taxi driver will know this restaurant or the local bus (check bus times at the stop in Rivotorto) will leave you at the station and it’s about three blocks walking to the restaurant.
Lunch at Da Elide
Address: Via Patrono d’Italia, 48 Santa Maria degli Angeli
If you think that a restaurant near the train station is bad news, Da Elide is pleasant surprise. Just steps away from the Assisi train station (which is located in the valley in Santa Maria degli Angeli), this historic restaurant (and hotel) is a local favorite, known especially for their meat grilled over the wood coals and fresh egg pasta.
To reach the Hermitage by car, find your way back to Piazza Matteotti in Assisi (your beginning and ending point for Day 2). From here, turn right on Via Eremo delle Carceri (there is a brown arrow indicating the turn for Mount Subasio). After passing under the city gate, veer left and follow this road as it climbs up the mountain until you reach the Hermitage. Otherwise, the local bus runs from the train station in Santa Maria degli Angeli to Piazza Matteotti. From here, you can either get a taxi to the Hermitage (€15 or €20 directly from the train station) or—if you’re feeling athletic—walk the road up the mountain (you’ll be in good company; most pilgrims walk to the Hermitage). It’s about an hour uphill.
The Hermitage (L’Eremo delle Carceri)
Hours: 6:30am – 7:00pm
One of the most peaceful and evocative spiritual sites in Assisi, the Hermitage where Francis would often seclude himself in prayer and meditation is just off the beaten track enough to avoid the crowds of the Basilicas in Assisi and Santa Maria degli Angeli. Take time to wander both the building and the surrounding walking paths.
From the entrance to the Hermitage, continue climbing straight as the road climbs the remaining slope to the plain at the top of Mount Subasio. You can do this by car, taxi, or on foot.
Umbria is known as Italy’s “Green Heart”, and one indication of this is the numerous natural parks in this small region. Mount Subasio is one of these (the entire town of Assisi is included in the Park’s boundaries), and it would be a shame to miss out on the lovely fields at the softly rolling peak of this mountain…often full of wildflowers and grazing horses. You can take a drive through, or park you car and walk out onto the pastures.
Retrace your steps down the road which descends the slope of Mount Subasio, passing the Hermitage and stopping about 2/3rds of the way down at the Bar Ristorante Gli Eremi along the road on your left.
Caffè at Gli Eremi
Address: Via Eremo delle Carceri, 15
You’ve earned a break after all this walking, so stop for awhile here for a snack and a cappuccino with a view (grab one of the picnic tables along the road).
From here, continue descending the road until you find yourself back in Piazza Matteotti. Take Viale Umberto 1 as it circles its way around the perimeter of the historic center. When you pass in front of the new cement multistorey Mojano parking long on the right, look sharp because Via San Damiano is the next left (there is a small brown arrow indicating San Damiano at the intersection, as well). You can also walk this same route (there are sidewalks along this busy road) or take a taxi (€15 from Piazza Matteotti).
The Sanctuary of San Damiano
Hours: 6:15am – 12:00am/2:00pm – 6:45pm
Your final stop today is actually where it all began. The sanctuary at San Damiano once held the famous crucifix (now in the Basilica of Saint Claire) which spoke to a praying Francis, commanding him to “go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin,” three times. Francis did just that…first interpreting the message as a call to restore the neglected San Damiano and Porziuncola chapels and later taking it to mean a tweaking of the Roman Catholic Church itself. In this vein, he founded the Franciscan Order and the Order of Saint Claire and—many hold—became one of the most influential figures in religious history, pioneering virtues of poverty, brotherhood, respect for animals and the environment.
Local’s Tip: If you are planning on using a taxi for this itinerary, consider hiring a driver for your whole day. Many drivers will take you from sanctuary to sanctuary (and also for a nice drive on the top of Mount Subasio) and wait while you visit each site for a set fee—often much less than what they would charge for each individual run. Call the Radiotaxi line at 073 813100 for information and prices.
You are in your final hours in Assisi, and have three days of restaurant suggestions to choose from for your “last supper”. Most won’t start serving before 7:30, but chances are you are already a bit behind schedule and won’t have long to wait. From San Damiano, you can easily head back to the historic center of Assisi for one of the suggestions there, or, if you’ve had enough wandering for one day, have a simple pasta or pizza meal just steps from the sanctuary.
Address: Via Padre Antonio Giorgi 6
Along the access road you took to reach San Damiano, a green gate on the left leads you to a parking lot. From here take the steep steps down to the charming restaurant/pizzeria which is immersed in a small wood and marks the site of an ancient Roman spring with baths. The food is simple and honest, the service quick, and the place is hopping with locals most nights.
Before You Go
Almost all the sites included in this three day itinerary are open to the public with no advance reservations needed. There is, however, one exception:
Piazza del Vescovado and Roman Domus
It is in your best interest to join up with a group to visit the Domus, as entrance is a flat €80 fee for groups of 2-15, so the individual ticket price is variable depending upon the number of visitors. To do so, call the Infoline (199 151 123 Mon-Fri 9:00am -5:00pm) to be included in a group tour.
The itinerary for Day 1 is exclusively on foot (except for one step, when a taxi is a possible alternative). The itinerary for Day 2 is best done by car, though it can also be done by a combination of public transportation (bus) and taxis.
Have some extra time? Here’s one thing to add to this itinerary:
Piazza Matteotti and “Piazza Nova”
The area near Piazza Matteotti (known locally as Piazza Nova) is one of the most characteristic in Assisi, with its twisting alleys and geranium bedecked stone houses lining the narrow lanes. Where other quarters in Assisi seem half-abandoned, this neighborhood is still quite populated, and the locals sitting on their front stoops exchanging gossip and shelling peas only add to the old world charm.
From Piazza Matteotti, cross Via Eremo delle Carceri to take a quick walk around the Via Dell’Anfiteatro Romano; the oval-shaped lane follows the outline of the Roman amphitheater which once dominated this area. From here, walk back across Via Eremo delle Carceri, and then go around the corner, using the crosswalk to cross the busy Via Umberto 1°, and enter the narrow Via del Comune Vecchio. Take the first left on Vicolo Bovi, and go about a block. Double back on yourself with the sharp right on Via Montecavallo, and then turn left (Via Montecavallo again). Follow this as it winds its way to Via Porta Perlici, turn left here (downhill) and continue to Piazza San Rufino. Veer right (downhill) onto Via San Rufino, which descends steeply until reaching Piazza del Comune.
Staying longer (or shorter) in Assisi?
- See here for a one day itinerary.
- See here for a three day itinerary.
- See here for a one week Umbria itinerary.
- See here for a two week Umbria itinerary.