Orvieto is a small Italian town that I’d never heard of. That is, until one day, my boyfriend at the time, an aspiring chef, announced he’d be going to work at a restaurant there as part of an externship program. Naturally, I began planning my visit.
Prior to visiting Orvieto, I spent some time studying in Rome, so I was not completely unfamiliar with navigating Italy. Still, upon first arriving in Orvieto, it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. This truly enchanting town, with its winding, hilly lanes and the smell of porchetta wafting through the air, is a beautiful place to visit. Whether it’s an escape from a larger city or part of an Italy road trip, there are plenty of things to do in Orvieto.
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What is Orvieto, Italy known for?
Orvieto is mainly known for its renowned white wines made from Grechetto and Trebbiano grapes. Orvieto Classico is a staple in the region, with a crisp minerality and a clean finish. It’s also known for truffles, which are abundant in the nearby forests. You’ll also be surprised to see an unusual bird on many Orvieto restaurant menus – pigeon!
Is Orvieto Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! Particularly for visitors who enjoy sweeping views, medieval architecture, and a quiet reprieve from the more touristy destinations in Italy. With delicious food and wine, a towering cathedral, and a strong sense of welcome from the locals who live here, Orvieto is sure to capture your heart. In addition to all of these things, there are plenty of things to do in Orvieto to keep you busy for a day or two or three.
Getting to Orvieto
Getting to Orvieto by car is the fastest. It’s approximately an hour drive from Rome or a little over an hour and a half from Florence.
If you’re restricted to public transportation, fret not. Orvieto is a stop on the Rome-Florence-Milan line, making it quite accessible. From Rome, the train ride is just over an hour. It’s a bit further from Florence via train, with the ride taking around two hours.
Train tickets cost between €7.90 to €11.92 depending on when you purchase. It’s less expensive to purchase train tickets in advance, however, it’s not required.
Best Things to do in Orvieto
This is one of the first things you’ll do in Orvieto. After arrival at the Orvieto train station, you’ll need to take the cable car to make the ascent into town. There aren’t many cars in Orvieto, particularly in the Old Town.
The cable car takes you through a channel of trees up to the Duomo.
The ride only takes a few minutes and costs a couple of euro.
Il Duomo is the highlight of the town. A towering cathedral that is located in a large piazza, il Duomo is an impressive architectural feat and one of the most impressive landmarks in Italy.
As with most Italian localities, the main church serves as the focal point of local life. Orvieto is no exception.
Il Duomo dates back to the late 13th century and showcases an array of architectural styles from different eras.
While the exterior is incredibly impressive, you should definitely pay the nominal fee to check out the interior. There is an unsettling surprise waiting for you in the Cappella di San Brizio. In stark contrast to the typical art found in Italian chapels, the art in Cappella di San Brizio is pretty disturbing, to say the least.
You’ll see intricate portrayals of hell painted on the ceiling. Different acts of onslaught, flying devils, and pools of blood are depicted in the small chapel.
Definitely bring your wide-angle lens if you’re using a camera with interchangeable lenses – this cathedral is IMPOSSIBLE to get in the frame without it!
The entirety of Orvieto is founded upon an intricate tunnel and cave system that dates back thousands of years. There is literally an entire maze of tunnels that lies beneath the town!
Many of the underground caves are owned by private individuals (if you own a home in Orvieto, it probably came with a cave!), but there are a couple that are available to tour publicly. There are over 1,200 caves beneath the surface of the earth in this Umbrian town.
Your guide will lead you through the caves and tunnels giving you a deeper insight into their history. You can even see the places that were formerly used to breed pigeons (the unspoken delicacy of Orvieto).
Definitely book your tour in advance if you plan to tour the caves. This tour generally isn’t available to book on-the-spot.
Torre del Moro
Torre del Moro is a looming tower that dates back to the 13th century. It stands at the crossroads of Via del Duomo, Via della Costituente, and Corso Cavour. Torre del Moro serves as a useful monument in case you ever find yourself lost in the labyrinth of city streets.
It was originally built as a defensive lookout tower, but today it serves as a popular tourist attraction. You can climb the 250 stairs to the top of the tower, which rewards you with sweeping, panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside. The climb is truly worth the epic vistas.
You can hear the toll of the bells every thirty minutes, echoing through the streets.
For a nominal fee, you can enter and climb. The tower is open every day but closes for riposo, the midday break Italians are known for.
Teatro Mancinelli is a gorgeous theater that most likely dates back to ancient times. However, the earliest records date back to the 16th century. Still, Teatro Mancinelli is certainly worthy of a visit. You can take a self-guided tour of the theater to admire the ornate interior for a mere €2. You can look around the main foyer, the event rooms, private boxes, and the orchestra.
If you want to do more than just peek inside, you can also catch a show here if you spend the night in town.
Visitors are welcome each day from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm.
Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Orvieto
The archaeological museum in Orvieto showcases its Etruscan roots. In the land of the ancient Etruscans, their caves, and necropoli, it’s a must-do addition to your trip to Orvieto.
It’s a rather small space, but it’s chock full of frescoes, relics, and ancient artifacts. You’ll also see Bucchero, a famous type of Etruscan black pottery that was an integral part of funeral rituals of the era. Many of the items on display were discovered in the northern part of the Crocifisso del Tufo Necropolis.
There are also some significant artifacts that were dug up from the Campo della Fiera site, the rumored location of one of the most extensive Etruscan sanctuaries.
The guides here are very enthusiastic to share with you their deep knowledge and love for their region. It’s a small museum, but well worth a visit!
St. Patrick’s Well
Pozzo di S. Patrizio, also known as Saint Patrick’s Well, is among the most popular tourist stopovers in Orvieto. To this day, modern engineers consider it an amazing feat.
When you visit the well, you can actually climb the nearly 250 steps down the 53 meter deep well in order to fully appreciate its depth and scale. There are two spiral staircases, similar to a double helix. The staircase is similar to the two in the Vatican museum. It was designed in such a way to allow those coming down to collect water not to interfere with the people bringing the buckets up. Each staircase was ‘one-way’.
Pope Clement VII commissioned this well in the 1500s while the Sack of Rome was occurring, in order to ensure enough water would be accessible should he not be able to travel outside the city walls.
I wouldn’t recommend making the descent if you’re claustrophobic or get anxious easily. It was almost too much for me to bear!
Necropoli Etrusca del Crocifisso del Tufo
Some of the artifacts on display at the Archaeological Museum of Orvieto were excavated from this site. But it’s here where you can actually visit the tombs.
This Necropolis is a magnificent example of an ancient society that once reigned supreme in Western Italy.
Among the tombs that are accessible to visitors, most belong to individual families. Each tomb is closed with a large slab of tufo rock, which is what the city was built upon.
Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo
This ancient palace was formerly an important civic establishment during medieval times. It also served as a residence for prominent public figures over the years. First built in the 13th century, overlooking People’s Square, it’s undergone a lot of preservation and restoration efforts in order to maintain its majestic beauty.
Though the palace is not open for tourist visits, it’s a beautiful building and makes for some nice photos.
The palazzo and historic square are now a popular place for markets and buskers. It’s not uncommon to see musicians playing in the square while shoppers visit the stalls of fresh produce, porchetta, and other artisan goods. The market takes place on Thursdays and Saturdays and is free to enter.
Cooking Class at Zeppelin
Ristorante Zeppelin is a Culinary Art Institute that offers cooking classes, demonstrations, internships, and externships, as well as a full-service menu. I spent many a day here while my boyfriend at the time was cooking in the kitchen, and I even worked one New Years Eve during dinner service.
Chef and owner Lorenzo Polegri is among the friendliest people I’ve ever met, and his hospitality is palpable. You can feel the passion he has for food and cooking. His sous chef, Carlo Alessandro (pictured above, left), is the same (though Carlo and I usually communicated with hand signals, since my Italian and his English were both a bit of a mess).
Come to Zeppelin to see a cooking demonstration or take a class, followed by dinner. The food is incredible. In fact, Lorenzo has been the featured chef at the James Beard House on numerous occasions. You won’t be disappointed with a trip to Zeppelin. Even if you don’t take a class, stop in here for dinner.
Orvieto Classico is renowned around the world as being a crisp, clean white with a hint of minerality and an easy finish. You can visit a number of vineyards to explore, take a tasting (formal as part of a tour, or informal at a bar or ristorante), or simply shop around for a local bottle.
Head to Cantina Custodi or Cantine Neri for tastings. At Cantina Custodi you can also tour the vineyards or cellars and learn a bit more about the winemaking process.
Italy is home to some of the world’s best ingredients, with one of the most renowned being the elusive truffle. Truffle hunting in Orvieto is an awesome experience to have in Italy, something a little more original and exciting than wine tastings or visiting the Colosseum.
Wild boars used to be the standard animal used for truffle hunts, but today dogs are more widely used. On a truffle hunt, you will have an experienced guide and dog to explore the Umbrian forests and find your very own truffles.
Most people think of Alba when they think of truffles, but Umbria has a great market for them as well.