Many visitors come to Orvieto, Italy, on a day trip from Rome, and while those there-and-back trips are wonderful, this small mountaintop city is worth a stay in its own right.
The city stands high up on a rocky hill, with vineyards and olive groves at its feet and all around its limbs. Once walled and cut off from the surrounding areas, the city has some fascinating attractions, like its striking duomo (cathedral) and the many wonders underground. Quieter than the more famous cities nearby, Orvieto is packed with history and art and feels like it’s still undiscovered. It really is Umbria’s jewel.
1. Duomo Di Orvieto
Visit The City’s 14th Century Cathedral
Rivaling the grandest churches in Rome, the Duomo di Orvieto has a quirky and stunning exterior. It’s unusual to have such a striking exterior, but the gold and mosaic gothic style of the outer walls are only a taste of what’s to come when you step inside. While the exterior is gothic and precise, the interior appears more Roman and opulent. It’s said that Michaelangelo spent time here studying this ceiling before he went on to paint the Sistine Chapel. One look up and you can see why. Give yourself about an hour to really appreciate all there is to see in this imposing cathedral — it’s more than worth the modest ticket price.
Pro Tip: You might not be able to find the ticket office when you turn up. It’s directly opposite the building, across the piazza.
2. Orvieto Underground
See The City Under The City
Like many European cities, for various reasons, Orvieto has an underground almost as big as the one above ground. This hilltop city has a varied history, and it’s thought that the people here first started digging underground for a water source that could supply the town. Whatever the original reason, this digging went on and on until Orvieto had the series of tunnels and cellars that you see today. A guided tour of the underground lasts about an hour, and tour parties are made up of around 30 people.
If you don’t mind the terrain, it’s a fascinating tour underground. There are some narrow passageways and stairs to navigate, and some of these can be uneven. Note this is not one for anyone with mobility issues. In other areas, you’ll need to mind your head as the ceilings are very low.
Pro Tip: Take a long-sleeved shirt or pullover down with you. You might be escaping the heat of the city above, but it gets chilly underground.
3. Museo Dell’Opera Del Duomo Di Orvieto
Spend Time In The Cathedral Museum
This museum connected to the duomo is a bit like an overflow basement for all the art and artifacts that were once housed within the Duomo. Some have been moved to keep them preserved, and some, you have to presume, are here because of a lack of space in the cathedral where they were originally located. It’s hard to believe so much was once displayed inside the church itself, and there’s no doubt it’s easier to view it in the museum. There’s an incredible amount of religious art, as well as sculptures, stonework, and trinkets. Depending on when you visit, you could find you’re the only ones in there, as many visitors overlook this museum. Or you might find a local artist inside arranging their own exhibition, as the quiet museum is also used as an arts space. You never know what you might find.
Pro Tip: One ticket will allow you entry into the duomo and the museum, or for a few more euros you can buy a ticket that lets you into five museums in the city.
4. Museo Archeologico Nationale
Discover A Museum Of Etruscan Artifacts
A somewhat overlooked museum, this is a collection of archaeological finds, mostly from the Etruscan period. No matter when you visit, it’s likely you’ll have the museum to yourself as not many people seem to come in. This can be a double-edged sword. If it’s quiet and the attendants don’t hang around, which they often don’t, you might have no information on what you’re looking at. Tombs, sculptures, pots, furniture, and jewelry are all on display here. If nothing else, it can be a great place to go to avoid the crowds in high season and to escape the heat of midday.
Pro Tip: Don’t be shy about grabbing a staff member and asking them questions. Most of the information plaques are in Italian only, but the staffmembers are happy to help if you ask them.
5. Chiesa Di San Giovenale
Experience Quiet Contemplation In The Oldest Church In Orvieto
Still a community church and much used by the locals, this is the oldest church in the town, dating back to the 11th century. It’s free to enter and you can visit at any time, but be aware there’s likely to be a handful of locals in there praying whenever you go. This is an authentic Italian church, with incense burning and services being held. The interior of the church, and the artwork on the walls, is more subtle and subdued than in the cathedral. It’s a more traditional experience and it’s said to have been built on the site of an Etruscan temple to Jupiter.
Pro Tip: Be careful when you enter. Locals do use this church and services are held here, so you could be entering a christening, a prayer service, a wedding, or even a funeral.
6. Torre Del Moro Orvieto
Climb Up To The Top Of The Clock Tower
The clock tower in Orvieto can be seen from anywhere in the city, but the experience from inside the tower gives you a whole new perspective. It’s a 250-step climb up to the top of this tower, so tough going, and not suitable for someone with mobility issues. Even if you’re fairly fit it’s a hike, so take your time, the views from the top are so worth it. You have a 360-degrees view of the entire city, and beyond, and the bell above you in the bell tower is also an experience climbing for.
Pro Tip: Don’t be fooled by the elevator. It only goes up to the second level, so while it will save you a few steps, you still have 160 of the 250 steps to climb!
7. Porta Maggiore Di Orvieto
Pass Through The City Gate
In times gone by Orvieto was a walled city, like many cities, built defensively to hold the town within. Porta Maggiore was the main entrance into the city, or the city’s gate, and is now a historical monument. It’s still an entrance into the city, as well. Above the entrance, you’ll see an inlet in the wall, quite high up, and in this niche is a statue of Pope Boniface VIII. This is a throwback to when the entrance was used for welcoming popes who were visiting the city.
8. Madonna Del Latte Winery
Tour A Family-Owned Vineyard
This independent boutique winery runs tours and tastings amid beautiful scenery. This is a small-batch vineyard, so you know the wines are unique, and you’ll get to sample them on this tour. You’ll have a short lesson on how the wine is made, and you’ll tour the cellar and the vineyard. And then it’s time for the tasting. Each wine you taste is paired with meat and cheese from neighboring farms, and the experience is kept intimate and local. The wine is really good, and you’re likely to leave with a bottle or two.
Pro Tip: Make sure you taste the syrah. It’s unusual to find one being produced in this area, and it really is outstanding.
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