If you are looking for a charming Umbrian hill town to visit in one day, consider Orvieto. Easily done as a day trip from Rome, Orvieto has a fabulous Duomo to explore, and a stunning location for those jawdropping views of the Umbrian countryside. Continue reading to see how to spend one day in Orvieto!
The medieval hill town of Orvieto is situated high atop a tufo (volcanic rock). With a rich history going back to Etruscan times, side streets exhilaratingly free of tourist crowds, and lots of charming architecture, Orvieto definitely warrants a spot in your itinerary for Italy.
ONE DAY IN ORVIETO: WHAT TO SEE AND DO!
Orvieto is the quintessential Italian small town experience to round out your trip to Italy. It’s very accessible from Florence/Siena or Rome, and convenient to explore in a brief visit. We spent one night here, en route from Siena to Rome. But Orvieto also makes for an excellent day trip out of Rome, if you don’t want to spend a night here.
Orvieto is compact, so you can walk everywhere. In fact, wandering around the streets of the town is one of my most beautiful memories of Orvieto. If you want an active day, there’s a lot you can see and do, but you can also relax and just revel in the charm of the small town.
#1 Shop for Ceramics
One of the things Orvieto is famous for is ceramics! Ceramics were made in Orvieto since Etruscan times, but it became a major center of majolica, Italian tin-glazed pottery, during medieval times. Near the Pozzo della Cava in Orvieto, you can see the remains of a medieval ceramics furnace and factory.
Start your day in Orvieto by strolling around the Piazza del Duomo, browsing the little ceramics shops. You’ll find ceramics shops all over Orvieto, so if you plan to buy, browse as you walk around town during the day and then decide. I picked out some pretty plates at Ceramiche Giacomini, right on the Piazza del Duomo, to take back home.
Most shops will ship your purchases for you, insured, so you don’t have to worry about packing them yourself.
The variety and beauty of hand-painted ceramics on display is mind boggling. You’ll be captivated by the rich colors and lovely designs, mainly birds, fish, animals, human faces, and flora.
#2 Explore the Magnificent Duomo di Orvieto: The Exterior
Exploring the magnificent Duomo di Orvieto, inside and out, should definitely top your list of things to do in your one day in Orvieto. A mix of styles, including Gothic and Romanesque, this Duomo has to be one of the prettiest in Italy!
Construction on the Duomo began in the late 1200s, and it was not completed until the second half of the 1500s. It is the work of multiple builders and artists, but you’ll find the result harmonious and pleasing.
Admire the beautiful facade, with its lovely gold and jewel-colored mosaics and intricate borders. The mosaics on the facade tell the story of the Virgin Mary. The bas reliefs on the pillars show stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament. Even the door pulls are lovely!
#3 Explore the Duomo di Orvieto: The Interior
You’ll find the interior of the Orvieto Duomo just as riveting. The striking striped walls and pillars are a great backdrop for the wealth of art you will view here. However, to view a lot of the stunning sculptures and other furnishings that used to be in the Duomo, you’ll have to visit various museums in Orvieto where they are being housed.
SAN BRIZIO CHAPEL
Gaze in awe at the frescoes begun by Fra Angelico and eventually completed by Luca Signorelli in the San Brizio Chapel. Signorelli’s depiction of the Apocalypse and the Last Judgment are considered masterpieces, with stunning interpretation of the nude human form and the use of foreshortening. Michelangelo is reported to have been inspired by Signorelli for his work on the Sistine Chapel.
If you feel the dark subject matter of Signorelli’s fresco cycle is at odds with the benign sleepy little hill town outside, wait until you discover that the Orvieto of Signorelli’s time was much different! The town was in the grip of plague, and the inhabitants included two warring clans with members always looking for a fight. So Signorelli’s work was very attuned to the times.
Also don’t miss La Pietà o Deposizione, sculpted by Ippolito Scalza, a local son whose works you will see in many places in Orvieto.
#4 Take a Quick Look at the Torre di Maurizio
Pause at the Torre di Maurizio, where the little bronze figure still strikes the hour with a hammer. Built in the mid 14th century to time the shifts of the workers at the Cathedral site, it’s reported to be the oldest automated clock mechanism in operation today.
You can only climb to the top on special days, such as during Culture Week. But if you are interested, stop at the entrance to the tower to see the webcam show the clock mechanism in action.
#5 Walk Via del Duomo to the Torre del Moro
Next, walk along the Via del Duomo, a charming street with little shops and beautiful doorways, to your next stop, the Torre del Moro. You’ll be stopping every few seconds to take a photo of yet another doorway!
The warm brown buildings look stunning, even on a drizzly day. When we visited, most of the folks on the street appeared to be locals going about their business rather than tourists, a refreshing sight in Italy.
#6 Climb to the Top of the Torre del Moro
The clock tower is located at the intersection of the Via del Duomo, Via della Costiuente and the Corso Cavour. The mechanical clock was installed in the 1800s. Climb the 200+ steps to the top (there’s a lift that can take you part of the way up), for beautiful views of the rooftops of the town. Even though it was a little misty when we visited, the views were gorgeous. We had the whole deck to ourselves…a first in Italy!
#7 Walk along the Town Wall to the Pozzo di San Patrizio
Next, walk to the Pozzo di San Patrizio (St. Patrick’s Well), located clear across town near the funicular station. You might want to visit the well before heading into town, especially if time is precious, but the walk from the Clock Tower is only about 20 minutes.
Walk along the outer wall of the town, for more beautiful views of the valley down below as you approach the well.
#8 Go to the Base of the Pozzo di San Patrizio
Descend to the base of St. Patrick’s Well: it’s is a really cool activity for your one day in Orvieto!
The unique Pozzo di Patrizio is a 16th century underground well. It was built at the behest of Pope Clement VII to provide water supply to Orvieto, when he had to flee Rome and the wrath of the Roman Emperor and took refuge in the little hill town.
AN ENGINEERING MARVEL
The well is an engineering marvel, with a circular shaft 175 feet deep. There are two staircases, one to allow mule-carts to descend to the bottom to access water, and the second to carry water back up the shaft without colliding with traffic going the other way. It’s not in use any more, but it provided the people of Orvieto with water for many years after it was completed.
It is very cool to climb all the way down to the bottom and then back up again!
#9 Do the Underground Tour of Orvieto
Next, do the underground tour of Orvieto. Under the above-ground city, the people of Orvieto dug a vast labyrinth of cavities and structures over a period of 2,500 years to form an underground city. It’s a guided one-hour tour, and a fascinating walk through time.
You’ll see caves and tunnels from Etruscan times, thousands of years ago. The Etruscan era came to an end in the 2nd century BC, but the underground structures continued to be used in the Middle Ages and as late as the 18th century. You’ll learn about the need to dig deep for water. You’ll see how these people from bygone years lived, raising pigeons for food and pressing olives for oil.
Buy your tickets for the tour at the Piazza del Duomo when you arrive, to be assured of spots in the time slot you want.
#10 Wander around Orvieto
You must wander the streets of Orvieto, to admire the architecture and savor the ambience. When we visited, it was drizzling lightly, and the street lights were on. The wet cobblestoned streets have a lovely sheen in the warm light of the lamps.
Admire the facade of the Palazzo del Popolo (Palace of the People). It used to be the residence of the Captain of the People in the Middle Ages. Today it functions as a conference center and is not open for tourist visits.
The church of Sant’Andrea in the Piazza della Repubblica contains the remains of Etruscan buildings in its basement, which can be viewed by appointment. The facade is simple but stunning. Next to the church is the twelve-sided tower.
The Chiesa di Sant Angelo was also built on the ruins of an ancient temple. The warm facade of brick and stone is beautiful.
End at the Via del Duomo, with the clock face in the clock tower lit for the evening. The wander around Orvieto was one of the most fascinating things we did during our one day in Orvieto. We highly recommend it as an activity for your visit!
Where to Eat
For dinner, reserve a table at Trattoria la Palomba, a well-known and highly-rated Orvieto restaurant. While it’s known for pigeon, the local specialty, my husband and I had the local umbrichelli pasta with shavings of truffle on top. Our meals were delicious! If you like wine, try the local Classico, made from a number of white grape varieties.
We stopped by at lunch and made our reservation for the evening. We were fortunate they could accommodate us. You should book in advance to be assured of a seating at the time you want.
After dinner, we were walking to find a taxi back to our hotel, when we came upon a Madonna and Child in a square. We saw many many versions of Madonna and Child in Italy, many of them ornate and created by celebrated sculptors and painters, but somehow this simple little version in this unpretentious little town touched me deeply.
It had been a wonderful day, and this was a very special ending!
Orvieto is on the Rick Steves 21-day Italy itinerary, so I was somewhat apprehensive about crowds. But my fears were unfounded. On the day we visited, Orvieto was blessedly uncrowded. Our time in the charming little hill town was relaxed, yet very fulfilling.
Our one day in Orvieto was spent just absorbing the charms of the town for the greater part. But if you want a more active experience, there are plenty more cool things to do in Orvieto!
Getting to Orvieto
If you are traveling by train from Siena (or Florence) to Orvieto, you have to change at Chiusi-Chianciano. It takes about 2.15 hours from Siena to Orvieto by fast train that leaves early in the day. You’d want to go from Siena to Orvieto only if you plan to spend the night.
For a day trip to Orvieto, Rome is by far your most convenient base. From Rome, take a direct train to Orveto, with a fast connection getting you there in 50 minutes and a slower, less expensive one in about 65-75 minutes. Multiple trains run between Rome and Orvieto everyday. Fast and regional trains run from Roma Termini, and regional only from Roma Tiburtina as well.
Visit Trenitalia for train schedules and to book your tickets. If you aren’t booking your tickets in advance (and you don’t need to), note return train times for Rome before you exit the station at Orvieto.
At Orvieto, you’ll be deposited at the train station at the bottom of the hill. Just across from the train station is the funicular that takes you up to the medieval town at the top of the hill. From the funicular station at the top, catch a bus to the Piazza del Duomo, or walk.
Take the A1 Autostrada from Rome to Orvieto. Follow signs for Orvieto and then for Campo della Fiera, where you can park in the covered parking lot. Then take the elevator or escalator to the medieval town. You may be able to find free parking as well.
BY GUIDED TOUR
You can also choose to take a guided day trip to Orvieto from Rome.
Where We Stayed
We stayed at an absolute gem of a place called Misia Resort, which is in a little village called Rocca Ripesena, about four miles from Orvieto. We took taxis back and forth, since we didn’t have a car. Our room had a stunning view of the Umbrian countryside and the furnishings were rustic chic…really gorgeous. I would recommend you consider this place, particularly if you have a car.
Where to Next?
If you are headed south from Rome to Naples or Sorrento, discover the delights of the Amalfi Coast and do a day trip to the stunning Isle of Capri! If you are headed north, discover the charms of medieval Siena.
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ITALY
VENICE: How to Spend Two Perfect Days in Venice
CINQUE TERRE: Two Days in the Magical Cinque Terre
LIGURIA: Why You Should Visit Lerici and Portovenere on the Ligurian Coast
UNESCO SITES: 20 Stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Italy You Must Visit!
TUSCANY: Driving the Scenic Val d’Orcia in Tuscany
ROME: 25 Things to Do in Rome for First-Timers!
FLORENCE: 10 Best Things to Do on Your First Visit to Florence
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