Each Italian region is unique. For such a small peninsula, the diversity of history, art, culture, and cuisine from region to region is remarkable. At first glance, Umbria and Tuscany seem to have a lot in common. Both are celebrated for their medieval hilltop towns, spectacular scenery, and delicious food and wines; but each has its own charms, atmosphere, and traditions. I personally believe that each region in Italy has much to offer and this is why the vacations I design are always individually tailored with my travelers in mind with an emphasis on local culture.
Both regions are beautiful but different. Trying to decide whether to do a day trip or (better yet!) a longer trip to one of the two regions? Here’s some help!
Both regions have spectacular scenery…
If you’re after rolling hills and cypress trees, olive groves and sparkling lakes, medieval hill towns and spots of thick forest, either region offers that.
…but if you’re looking for the sea or beaches, head to Tuscany
The one thing Umbria doesn’t have? A coastline. Umbria is land-locked, so if you’re dead set on making it to the sea, then Tuscany is your best bet. Just keep in mind that most of Tuscany’s best beaches are in the Maremma area, which is a more than 2-hour drive from Florence, as well as the beautiful islands of Elba and Giglio.
For those visiting Umbria but still looking to include a visit to the sea, the new tunnels carved into the Apennines can bring travelers from Umbria’s Spello area to the Adriatic Sea in about 30 minutes for an easy seaside day trip.
Both Umbria and Tuscany are easily reached from Florence…
By car from Florence, you can get to both Tuscany and Umbria easily. Reaching some of Tuscany’s more beautiful countryside areas—the Chianti wine-making region, for example—takes just a half an hour’s drive. It’s a little further to get to Umbria, but still close: In an hour and a half on the road, you cross the border from Tuscany into Umbria and can be in the area of Lake Trasimeno and Perugia. (On a train, Florence to Perugia takes two hours). If you want to take in the grandeur of Tuscany (and sip some fine Chianti) without having to navigate the country roads, we’ll drive you ourselves on your private guided tour.
…but Umbria is easily reached from Florence or Rome
Meanwhile, from Rome, Tuscany’s a bit farther than Umbria. It takes two hours to drive from Rome to Pitigliano, a lovely town right over the border from Lazio in Tuscany. Umbria is much closer: It takes one hour to drive to the medieval hill town of Narni, or 1 hour 15 minutes to drive to Orvieto. (On the train, both Rome to Orvieto and Rome to Narni-Amelia take as little as an hour).
Both regions have hidden, off-the-beaten-path gems…
Don’t let friends who have traveled to Tuscany and only visited the tourist hotspots tell you anything different: Tuscany does have medieval towns and stretches of countryside that remain unvisited by big tour buses and untrampled by tourist hordes.
…but Umbria has more of them
Because Umbria is less famous than Tuscany, there are more of these off-the-beaten-path gems in Umbria. Where Tuscany’s most beautiful towns and rural areas have become famous—and, therefore, more touristy—Umbria’s best offerings remain little-known. Like Spoleto, Spello, Todi, Montefalco, Norcia, Narni, Amelia, Bevagna, even Perugia. And that’s not to mention all of the really tiny towns that receive no tourism whatsoever, towns that you discover simply by driving around the countryside.
You can find deals in Umbria or Tuscany…
Especially if you do go off-the-beaten path.
…but, in general, Umbria is cheaper
There’s less tourism in Umbria (although the region is getting more popular all the time), so most things, from eating out to staying at a villa or agriturismo, will cost you less than it would at its Tuscan equivalent.
Umbria and Tuscany both produce excellent wines…
Although it’s a much smaller region, Umbria produces some great wines, like the world-renowned Sagrantino wines or its DOC-protected Orvieto wines.
…but Tuscany produces more, and has some of Italy’s most famous wines. Umbria has smaller producers and wines of equal stature.
If you’re determined to try Italy’s most famous labels, then Tuscany is your best bet. Tuscany has the most famous, and established, labels. After the Veneto and Piedmont, Tuscany produces Italy’s highest number of DOC/DOCG wines, and wine country is spread throughout the whole region. From Chianti to Montalcino, Montepulciano to Bolgheri, Tuscany’s winemaking prowess is proven. Which wines are produced in Tuscany? Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and Vin Santo, not to mention the Super Tuscans—wines that are considered some of Italy’s best, but don’t follow the restrictions that govern DOC or DOCG-protected labels.
Although Tuscan wines may enjoy more worldwide fame, Umbria’s vineyards have equally noteworthy, delectable options. Try the Orvieto DOC white wine made with the region’s star white grape or the Rosso di Montefalco, a dark red made with Sangiovese grapes.
The king of Umbrian wines, however, is the ancient Sagrantino di Montefalco. A DOCG red wine made with the eponymous grape, Sagrantino is 100% native, aged in oak barrels and, when cellared correctly, can be kept for up to 30 years.
Visit Umbria and Tuscany for the impressive cathedrals
Brunelleschi’s Duomo of Florence is an architectural masterpiece and must-see for visitors to the region, while the Duomo complex of nearby Siena, in Tuscany, merits a full tour inside, out…and up, as visitors can now explore the eaves of the magnificent cathedral.
In Umbria, finding striking basilicas in small town settings–like Orvieto’s magnificent cathedral–is all the more impressive. The sensational gothic cathedral stands out against Orvieto’s austere city center. Inside, frescoes that rival those in Rome grace the walls. Then there is the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular destination for religious pilgrims, the cathedral boasts massive paintings and frescoes by Cimabue, Lorenzetti, and the school of Giotto.
Art and architecture are on full display in the many basilicas, cathedrals, and chapels of Tuscany and Umbria.
Visit Umbria for a unique food experience
You may be familiar with the olive oil, fresh pasta, and steaks of Tuscany, but know less about the specialties of Umbria. In many respects, Umbrian and Tuscan cuisine is quite similar. Both are born of a cucina povera tradition, and feature myriad vegetables and legumes, rustic flavors from game meat like wild boar and rabbit, and homegrown olive oil.
But only Umbria has the highly-prized tartufo nero. May to August is black truffle season, but you can get this pungent delicacy shaved over your pasta or omelet or simmered in a gravy sauce any time of year.
Also worth noting are Umbria’s renowned norcinerie–high-quality pork butcher shops from Norcia–whose butchers take the art of processing pork to an art form. Try it for yourself with a roast porchetta panino or an appetizer of affettati (sliced meats) including the classic Norcia prosciutto.
Visit Umbria for cashmere and Tuscany for leather
There’s no better souvenir than a genuine “Made in Italy” product, and the gifted craftsmen of Tuscany and Umbria produce myriad artisanal goods. Artisans in both regions work with gold and precious stones, wood, marble, oil paints, and watercolors, and, of course, various fabrics and textiles. When shopping for clothes and accessories in central Italy, get your leather in Tuscany, and fine cashmere in Umbria.
Leathercraft has been practiced in Tuscany for centuries and the tradition continues today. Get the perfect fit with a pair of tailor-made shoes or go simple with a quality belt, purse, or wallet. Before purchasing anything, be sure to verify that it is truly made in Italy or, better yet, go straight to the artisan’s studios!
Umbria is where you can purchase a beautiful sweater, warm scarf, or elegant purse directly from local cashmere producers. In some cases, you can even visit the cashmere workshops, which are clustered in and around Montefalco, Bevagna, and Marsciano.
Visit Umbria for small-town charm
In general, Tuscany is the perfect place to explore iconic city centers, while Umbria is ideal for soaking in the Italian experience.
It’s true that Tuscany also has small towns that feel less “discovered,” but Umbria has more, and it’s generally easier to escape the crowds in the region known as Italy’s “green heart”.
With only two true cities – Perugia, the region’s capital, and Terni, its industrial powerhouse – Umbria is a region of villages and towns. Of course, Perugia, Assisi, and Orvieto are all must-visits, but we recommend you go beyond the most famous cities to tap into Umbria’s charming small-town ambience. Visit Gubbio, considered the oldest village in Umbria, Spello with its narrow walls and enchanting balconies, or the butcher shop-lined streets of Norcia. Explore the islands on Lago di Trasimeno, the small town of Narni, with its recently excavated underground, or the less-visited village of Bevagna. Tour the ancient streets of Spoleto and enjoy panoramic views from Montefalco.
In Umbria, you can find that authentic Italian spirit, untarnished by international influences. The pace of life is slower and the travel richer with local experiences. In Tuscany, you can live out a scene straight from an iconic film, but you’ll have to share the set. In Umbria, the set is yours!
Still unsure which region to choose? Why not visit both?
After all, they are right next to each other. And they each have a lot to offer! So you could combine them in one vacation on your private guided tour with us.
Umbria is one of my favorite regions in Italy! Easily accessible from either Rome or Florence, even for a day trip, Umbria is filled with medieval hilltop towns, gorgeous vineyards, rolling hills… and yet it’s remained uncrowded and authentic. Want to explore this fantastic region? Here are some of our favorite places.
Assisi is one of the most-visited towns in Umbria… with good reason! The birthplace of St. Francis (and, therefore, a major site of pilgrimage for Franciscans and other Catholics), this medieval city on a hill deserves a spot on anyone’s itinerary. The frescoes in the Basilica of St. Francis are some of the most beautiful, and important, early Renaissance frescoes in the world. Assisi also boasts not one, but two, medieval castles, Gothic churches, and much more—part of the reason why the whole center was named a World Heritage site!
The small, lovely town of Montefalco has a big claim to fame: wine! The area’s famous Sagrantino di Montefalco has DOCG protection, and you can do tastings at nearby vineyards or even right in town. Montefalco also has beautiful views, winding medieval streets, several fascinating churches, and a kind of small-town tranquility that’s perfect for unwinding!
The ancient, hilltop town of Spoleto (the streets are steep, so bring your walking shoes!) is gorgeous. Its Duomo has vibrant frescoes by the early Renaissance master Filippo Lippi, and Roman ruins are scattered throughout the town. One of our favorite views, though, is of this bridge, the Ponte delle Torri, which is a 13th-century aqueduct built on ancient Roman foundations.
The capital of Umbria, Perugia is one of the region’s most major cities, with some 170,000 residents. It’s also lovely! With its cobblestoned streets and graceful palaces, Perugia has a wonderful atmosphere. It also boasts one of the most important art galleries in Umbria, filled with medieval and Renaissance masterpieces. And it’s home to the annual Umbrian Jazz Festival.
The tiny, hilltop town of Narni is worth exploring for its beauty, wonderful food, great views, and fascinating churches, including one that has a hidden underground that was used by the Church as prison cells during the Inquisition! At the bottom of the hill, there’s also an enormous section of ancient arch, built by Emperor Augustus all the way back in the 1st century A.D.
Gorgeous Gubbio is classic Umbria: medieval buildings, hilltop location, and great views. But it also has one of the region’s best truffle festivals. And year-round, the food is downright fantastic.