10 Reasons To Visit Umbria Instead Of Tuscany

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Assisi town in Umbria, Italy

Umbria or Tuscany? It’s not a decision facing you every day, but here we are.

I have had the joy of living in Central Italy many times in my life. Of course, traveling through Tuscany and Umbria is different from living there. But I’m always inspired by the combination of the countryside, olive groves, hilltop towns, and world-famous culture.

Now, whenever I visit, I have to decide which of the Italian regions I prefer to spend my time in. Let’s take a closer look at these two regions, and I’ll share with you my favorite reasons to visit Umbria over Tuscany.

Tuscany

Sunny fields in Tuscany, Italy
Jarek Pawlak / Adobe Stock

If you know anything about Italy, you’ve likely at least heard of the region of Tuscany. Tuscany is considered the crown jewel of Central Italy and the fourth-largest region in the country.

If you plan to visit Tuscany, you may think of masterpieces from Botticelli to da Vinci. Beyond Renaissance art and medieval architecture, Etruscan tombs at the Necropolises of Sovana speak to the long history of innovative civilizations in the area. 

Outside of the big cities like Florence or Pisa, tourists covet the panoramas of sunflower fields and cypress trees rising along the dirt roads. Charming medieval towns perch atop sunny hilltops. It’s all quite spectacular.

I’ve explored the Tuscan countryside in search of delicious food like traditional pici pasta and great wines like the famous Super Tuscans. It’s easy to find the aromas of Chianti or Sangiovese grapes present in wine shops, restaurants, and cafes around the tiny towns and historic piazzas. 

Umbria

Orvieto is a clifftop city in Umbria, Italy
Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

In a country where secrets feel few and far between, Umbria still feels like a hidden gem. That might be because of its relatively small size and proximity to the overshadowing Tuscany.

It’s every bit as lovely – perhaps more! The landscape unfolds before your eyes rather than being revealed all at once. Golden grasses shine in the fall, and fragrant truffles hide in the soil of the fertile woodlands.

Umbria is a region of pilgrimages and great food, quiet artistic triumphs, and authentic culture. And when it comes to beauty, history, and culture, it can match pretty much anything neighboring Tuscany has. Tuscany may be known in Italy as the “Art Palace,” but Umbria is the “Green Heart.” 

From a small Etruscan necropolis in Orvieto to a Roman aqueduct running through Perugia, history feels more connected with daily contemporary life. Time seemingly slows down in Umbria’s ancient villages, with mazes of cobblestone streets winding through these picturesque towns. 

See Related: Places to Visit on the Amalfi Coast & Things to Do

10 Reasons To Pick Umbria Over Tuscany

Umbria and Tuscany are two beautiful regions, and choosing between the two might be tricky. Both showcase Renaissance art, architecture from the Middle Ages, and gorgeous olive trees scoring their countryside. And don’t even get me started on the food.

Tuscany is a natural choice for the first-time visitor, but Umbria is much more than just a day trip from Florence. That’s why I’m here to recommend a wild card move: choosing Umbria over Tuscany for your next trip. Why? Well…

1. Hidden Gem Towns With No Crowds

A panoramic view of the picturesque vineyards in Umbria, Italy.
StevanZZ / Shutterstock

While you can find plenty of gorgeous towns in Tuscany, you might find yourself tripping over the well-known ones. Tuscany has tons of notable landmarks and famous cities like Florence and Siena. Even the smaller towns in Tuscany see more tourists than the most famous places in Umbria.

In contrast, Umbria provides a peaceful atmosphere to explore off-the-beaten-path places and discover hidden corners without massive crowds. Its intimate charm and hushed beauty make it seem like a secret. Heck, the whole region IS a secret, considering the number of visitors each region sees.

Umbria has Perugia and Assisi. Perugia and Assisi retain the charms of centuries of Italian life found in narrow cobblestone streets.

You can also enjoy the tranquility of the even lesser-known gems such as Spello and Orvieto. Time stops in these towns, making for a serene break from the crowded tourist hotspots you’ll find in Tuscany.

2. Umbria Is More Budget-Friendly

Hilltop view from Porta di Venere in Perugia, Umbria, Italy
Ragemax / Adobe Stock

Tuscany has an upscale reputation and is a bit spendy, what with all its world-famous tourist attractions. Teenty-tiny Umbria provides a more budget-friendly escape without sacrificing your experience.

In Tuscany, you pay a premium for its luxury status and tourist traps. Umbria offers a delightful exploration of real-life Central Italy at much cheaper prices. 

In Umbria, the deals just get better. You can also enjoy the affordability of great accommodations and unique experiences. You can book luxury farm resort stays in the countryside or chic bed and breakfasts at a fraction of the cost of something similar in Tuscany.

If you’re thinking about staying in Tuscany, it’s not impossible to find cheap accommodation, even in places like Florence. But – they’ll book out far in advance. Plus, if you are going to Tuscany, you may as well go all out. Consider exquisite hotels such as Hotel Roma for a once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

3. Art and Architecture

Chapel or Orvieto, Italy
Nigel Swales / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

Choosing between Tuscany and Umbria’s art is not a question of better but different. Few places in Italy can match Tuscany’s celebrated art scene in both culture and crowds.

Cities like Florence, Siena, and Pisa are synonyms for the Renaissance. Each is considered a major cultural hub, and Tuscany is filled with busy museums, sprawling galleries, and breathtaking architecture.

Umbria’s lesser-explored places offer an enriching artistic experience and a deeper understanding of Italian history and culture. You can find masterpieces by Giotto and Perugino in Assisi’s Basilica di San Francesco, and you won’t have to wait in line for hours. 

Dive into the mesmerizing frescoes of Orvieto’s Duomo to explore the town’s hidden artistic gems and underground. Visit the cathedral of Città di Castello and walk through Ducal Palace in Gubbio.

4. Umbria’s Cuisine Is Just As Good

Truffle Pasta ingredients
igor_kell / Adobe Stock

It’s well known that Chianti vineyards blanket the Tuscan landscape. Traditional pici pasta is a staple in the countryside, and Florentine steak is ordered by the kilo. Tuscany is also where I tried real crostini with chicken pâté for the first time – heaven.

But Umbria’s fertile soil provides produce and supports livestock for incredibly diverse and fantastic regional dishes. Instead of Tuscany’s renowned Sangiovese grapes, you can taste Umbrian wines like Sagrantino di Montefalco. The wine demonstrates why Umbria has gained esteem as one of Italy’s top wine-growing regions.

Local delicacies – like porchetta, torta al tartufo, and rich Pecorino di Fossa cheese – are distinctive to the region. Even the area’s extra virgin olive oil is award-winning and dedicated to quality, not quantity.

Umbria is also the land of truffles. You can dive into the world of truffle hunting in the woods surrounding Norcia, a region known for its decadent and expensive black truffle.

See Related: Best Tours in Italy: Food, Walking & Bike Tours

5. Easy Access To The Central Italian Countryside

The town of Assisi in Umbria, Italy, from above
Leoks / Shutterstock

Apart from major metro areas, Tuscany has an iconic countryside. This sprawling patchwork of rolling green hills and forests is one of the region’s main draws, and its beauty really cannot be understated. You can see what I mean from the film Under the Tuscan Sun.

But you don’t have to be in Tuscany to enjoy the scenery! Umbria’s serene appeal stems from classic Italian panoramic views and small villages. It’s perfect for those looking to avoid Tuscany’s infamous crowds.

The landscapes are similar, consisting of a combination of rolling hills, lush valleys, and sparkling lakes. But being smaller, it all feels closer to hand in Umbria. With fewer crowds, it also feels more exclusive.

Take a hike in Monti Sibillini National Park or cycle through olive groves. You could also take a leisurely boat trip on Lake Trasimeno and do some Instagramming.

6. Ancient and Medieval Towns

Hilltop in Todi, Umbria, Italy
ValerioMei / Adobe Stock

Both Umbria and Tuscany are littered with medieval towns and villages – not to mention a few founded by the Romans. Tuscany has the famous walls of Lucca and the towers of San Gimignano. The city of Siena is known for the Renaissance mosaics in the cathedral and the epic horse races held in the central piazza in the summer.

Still, Umbria’s rich history surrounds you differently. Exploring it is a little more hands-on, feeling a little less touristy and sanitized. 

Delve layers beneath medieval streets to find ancient Roman ruins in Assisi. Climb the towers of Spoleto and see Roman and Medieval worlds collide.

When you discover the town of Gubbio in the Apennines mountains, you can take the funicular railway up Monte Ingino. At the top, explore Palazzo dei Consoli. In the end, Tuscany is built for touring, while Umbria is to be explored. 

7. Historic Religious Sites

Tourist visiting the Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi
GattoCeliaco / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Italy is the home of Catholicism, so it is splattered with churches. And, being the home of the Renaissance, Tuscany is covered in beautiful churches.

Florence’s Duomo is among the most spectacular churches in the entire world. A personal favorite of mine is the Basilica of Santa Croce, which is every bit as stunning.

But Umbria is no slouch either when it comes to pretty churches. After all, Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, and the city exudes a profound spiritual ambiance.

Delve into a spiritual sanctuary on a tour of the Basilica of San Francesco, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Or visit the tranquil Hermitage of Carceri and follow in the saint’s footsteps.

Again, the lack of crowds makes exploring Umbria’s churches a unique, serene experience. While there’s no replacing a visit to the Duomo, there’s a lot to be said for this underrated region that offers an authentic local experience.

8. Slow Travel Experiences

Cityscape image of Siena, Italy with Piazza del Campo during sunrise
rudi1976 / Adobe Stock

“Slow travel” or “slow tourism” is a growing trend. The idea is to spread out your visit over a few weeks instead of a few days – it’s a great intro to the digital nomad lifestyle. This way, you can spend more time enjoying the little things and immersing yourself in the experience.

Umbria naturally embodies a slower pace of life, letting you relax in a long lunch in a charming piazza or stroll down cobblestone streets. In Umbria, you can lean into the preservation of traditions, like making medieval candles in Perugia.

The simplicity of Umbrian life offers a stark contrast to the hustle and bustle associated with Tuscany’s cities. Siena’s Piazza del Campo has huge crowds, Florence’s Uffizi Gallery has long lines. Even small San Gimignano feels a bit busy, thanks to the tourists.

9. Regional Festivals and Celebrations

Performer in Perugia Jazz Festival
Fabio / Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Where do I start? The Central Italian calendar is stacked with events.

Umbria has the internationally acclaimed Jazz Festival. Perugia’s Eurochoclate festival transforms Perugia into heaven on Earth for anyone with a sweet tooth. Spoleto’s Festival dei Due Mondi showcases a harmonious blend of classical music, opera, and visual arts.

Sure, both regions can transport you to musical paradises or to medieval times. Umbria can feel like a window into vibrant, varied, and unique local heritage.

That being said, I admit, I’m a huge fan of Siena’s colorful Palio horse race in Tuscany. But, you can avoid the sky-high lodging costs by making the Palio a day trip event when you stay in Umbria.

10. Authentic Italian Experiences

Enjoying Gelateria Dondoli gelato at night in San Gimignano Piazza
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Yes, Tuscany and Umbria are both well worth visiting. However, the depth of connection distinguishes Umbria from the potentially more touristic encounters in Tuscany.

It’s harder to revel in the Italian way of life in the larger cities that show up on Google searches, postcards, and travel guides. Personally, I find connecting with local people enhances the authenticity of your travel experience. Staying in Umbria fosters authentic encounters with locals.

These create meaningful connections that linger in your memories. I found a genuine warmth from sharing stories with a family-run trattoria owner to participating in a local festival in Umbria.

As mentioned, I am gaga for the horse race in Siena, but trying to find the same genuine trattoria experience was a little tougher. I know it was the race day, but everyone working that day seemed to have a “1000-tourist stare” behind the smiles.

So, if you want to feel like you’re living in Central Italy instead of just visiting, choose Umbria. Learn to cook traditional dishes in the spirit of community or walk through the hidden corners of Perugia like a local.

Related Resources

Douglas Weissman
WRITTEN BY

Douglas Weissman

Douglas Weissman is an acclaimed travel writer, known for his gripping storytelling and uncanny ability to transport readers to the places he explores. Hailing from Simi Valley, CA, Douglas has journeyed through continents and cultures, from the lush landscapes of South Africa to the bustling streets of India. He offers readers an intimate view of the world, built upon his extensive experience in luxury travel, adventure tours, family vacations, and more.

His contributions to the field of travel literature have been widely recognized. He finished second in the Imustbeoff Travel writing competition and was featured as a storyteller on the Fit For Joy Podcast. His expertise was also utilized in BestLife’s article on preserving travel memories, revealing his commitment to not just experiencing the world, but encouraging others to immortalize their adventures.

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Features Umbria Tuscany
Location Central Italy Central Italy
Capital city Perugia Florence
Area (in square kilometers) 8,464 22,993
Population about 880,000 about 3.7 million
Famous landmarks Assisi, Lake Trasimeno Pisa tower, Uffizi Gallery
Wine production Yes Yes
Famous dishes Truffle, Strangozzi Bistecca alla Fiorentina, Ribollita