Julie Italy 1 Comment

Located in Umbria, sitting on the slopes of Monte Subasio, is the beautiful city of Assisi. This city, which is the birthplace of St. Francis, is filled with spiritual treasures and works of art. There are many things to do in Assisi…visit the long list of churches and basilicas, stroll the picturesque streets, go shopping for souvenirs, and enjoy the views over the Spoleto Valley.

Assisi is a delight to explore. In some ways, Assisi resembles the hill towns of Tuscany, with stone buildings, narrow cobblestoned streets, and wide piazzas.

But there is something different about Assisi.

Many of the buildings are constructed with the local limestone, giving the city an almost white appearance from afar. In the evening, this city sparkles, as the light from the street lamps reflect off of the light colored stone buildings.

Strolling the streets and exploring the narrow, flower-lined alleyways was one of our favorite things to do in Assisi, but we also loved learning about the history of the town and the life of St. Francis. And Assisi is filled with some of the most beautiful churches we have seen in Italy.

Whether you are here on a religious pilgrimage, or to see the artwork that adorns the basilicas, or if you are here to simply explore this beautiful city, you have a lot to be excited about.

I can’t wait to share with you what we learned about this lovely place. Let’s get started.

A Brief History of Assisi

Before we jump into the best things to do in Assisi, it is important to get a little background information on this city. Many of the top sights in Assisi are linked to St. Francis and the rich history of the city.

Early Beginnings

Three thousand years ago, Assisi was inhabited by the Umbrians, an Indo-European civilization. The first foundations for Assisi were laid out during this time, as the city streets follow the terraces constructed by the first people here.

Control of Assisi changed hands several times, from the Romans to the Lombards and Franks. In the 11th century, Assisi became an independent city, but it would still war with nearby cities, such as Perugia.

Ties to St. Francis

In late 1181 or early 1182, St. Francis was born in Assisi. During the war with Perugia, he was imprisoned, an event that changed his course of life from a carefree son of a wealthy merchant to one who would go on to renounce his possessions and start the Franciscan Order.

St. Francis traveled throughout Italy, Egypt, and Spain, spreading the world of the gospel. He lived a life of poverty, and following this principle was essential for the members of his order.

While meditating and fasting in preparation for Michaelmas, an angel appeared in a vision, and he received the stigmata (the five crucifixion wounds of Jesus). These wounds, combined with other medical issues, made St. Francis very ill. He died on October 3, 1226.

In 1228, he was declared a saint by Pope Gregory IX and the following day, the foundation stone for the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi was laid. St. Francis was buried in a tomb under this basilica and the tomb can be visited while in Assisi.

St. Francis is one of the most venerated figures in Christianity and, along with St. Catherine of Siena, is a patron saint of Italy.

Recent History

Assisi is now a pilgrimage site, drawing visitors from around the world.

In 1997, two massive earthquakes damaged many buildings in Assisi and the nearby towns. The Basilica di San Francesco was closed for two years for repairs.

In 2000, UNESCO designated the Franciscan structures of Assisi as a World Heritage Site.

Assisi Street | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Corso Giuseppe Mazzini

Best Things to Do in Assisi

Below is a list of the best things to do in Assisi, within the city center. The best way to get around these places is to explore the city on foot. The city is hilly, so you will walk up and down some steep hills to get to some places, but it’s the best way to get around town.

1. Visit the Basilica di San Francesco d’Assisi (St. Francis Basilica)

Without a doubt, visiting the Basilica di San Francesco is one of the best things to do in Assisi.

This basilica was built in 1228 and construction began just two days after St. Francis was canonized as a saint.

Two churches are built at this site, one on top of the other. On top sits an enormous Gothic cathedral and below it is a much smaller Romanesque church. The lower church preserves the remains of St. Francis.

Basilica di San Francesco | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Basilica di San Francesco | Best Things to Do in Assisi

From Via San Francesco, take a moment to enjoy the view of this basilica. Then walk the wide walkway to the upper church. Step inside and be prepared to be amazed. This is one of the most beautiful churches we have visited.

The walls and ceiling are covered with brightly colored frescoes and stained-glass windows. Along the nave, the frescoes on the lower walls tell the Stories from the Life of Saint Francis (painted by Giotto) and the frescoes on the upper walls tell the Stories from the Old and New Testament.

Exit the upper church and take the stairs down to the lower church. This church is much smaller and more solemn than the upper church. It is here that you can enter the crypt of St. Francis. The frescoes on the walls of the lower church were painted by artists Cimabue, Giotto, Lorenzetti, and Martini.

How to Visit the Basilica of San Francesco

 
Dress Code: Shoulders and knees must be covered to enter the basilica.
Cost: The basilica is free to enter.
Photography: Photography inside of both churches is not permitted.
Hours: 6 am to 8 pm for the lower church, 8:30 am to 6:45 pm for the upper church. Get updated hours on the official website. 

Basilica di San Francesco View | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Basilica di San Francesco | Best Things to Do in Assisi

2. Take a Stroll along Via San Francesco

Via San Francesco is the road that connects Piazza Del Comune with the St. Francis Basilica. It is lined with small stone buildings, housing boutique shops that sell food, souvenirs, and religious artifacts.

Via San Francesco | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Via San Francesco | Best Things to Do in Assisi

 

Assisi Shops | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Shops along Via San Francesco

At the western end of Via San Francesco, within view of the St. Francis Basilica, is Ristorante Bar San Francesco. We had breakfast here, dining on pastries and coffee, after our visit to the basilica.

Bar San Francesco

Ristorante Bar San Francesco

3. Visit Piazza del Comune

Piazza del Comune is the main square of Assisi. This large, open area is bordered by some of the oldest and most important buildings in Assisi.

Piazza del Comune Assisi | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Piazza del Comune | Best Things to Do in Assisi

The Temple of Minerva, which dates back to the first century BC, is the oldest building on the square. Sitting next to the Temple of Minerva is Torre del Popolo, which was built in the 13th century. Also lining the square is the town hall and the tourist information point.

In addition to the historic buildings, there are a few restaurants lining the square, plus a fountain that sits on the east end of the square.

If you are here during lunch or dinner, we had a great lunch at Taverna dei Consoli, which has seating on an outdoor terrace overlooking the square.

Assisi Fountain | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Fountain on Piazza del Comune | Best Things to Do in Assisi

 

Assisi Piazza del Comune | Best Things to Do in Assisi

View of the piazza from Taverna dei Consoli

4. Torre del Popolo

Torre del Popolo is the tower that looms over Piazza del Comune.

It is possible to climb this tower if you make a reservation in advance. We had no idea that a reservation was necessary during our visit, and tickets were sold out until the afternoon of the following day. If you like the idea of climbing the tower (I bet the view is awesome!), learn from our mistake and book your ticket in advance. We were told that only 20 people per hour are permitted to climb the tower. 

5. Step Inside the Temple of Minerva

Dating back to the 1st century BC, this temple was dedicated to the goddess Minerva. Inside of the temple is the Santa Maria sopra Minerva church, which was built in 1539.

Six Corinthian columns line the front of the church. Inside, the altar is very ornate.

Church inside of Temple Minerva

Santa Maria sopra Minerva church | Best Things to Do in Assisi

6. Visit Chiesa di Santo Stefano

This very small church dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries. Legend has it that the bells kept tolling, on their own, after the death of St. Francis.

Chiesa di Santo Stefano

Chiesa di Santo Stefano | Best Things to Do in Assisi

 

Santo Stefano Bells

The bells of Chiesa di Santo Stefano

To get here, it is a very pretty walk along Vicolo S. Stefano. In this part of town, we loved exploring the hilly but scenic city streets. It is a much quieter area than Via San Francesco and Piazza del Comune, so if you are looking to escape the crowds, go for a scenic stroll through this part of Assisi.

7. Cathedral of San Rufino

The cathedral as we see it today was built in the 12th century (there are several older versions of this church) in Umbrian Romanesque style. This cathedral is important in that this is where St. Francis and St. Clare were baptized.

Cathedral of San Rufino

Cathedral of San Rufino | Best Things to Do in Assisi

8. Basilica di Santa Chiara

The Basilica di Santa Chiara, also called the Basilica of St. Clare, was built in the 13th century in a Gothic style, just a few years after the death of St. Clare.

Basilica Santa Chiara | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Basilica di Santa Chiara | Best Things to Do in Assisi

St. Clare was one of the first followers of St. Francis. She founded the Order of Poor Ladies, which was a religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition.

The remains of St. Clare are preserved in the crypt within the basilica.

Inside the Chapel of San Giorgio is the Crucifix that is said to have spoken to St. Francis.

This is a beautiful cathedral, with its three flying buttresses that run along one side of the church. The basilica sits on Piazza Santa Chiara. From the south side of the piazza, you get a beautiful view of the countryside and a small part of Assisi.

The basilica is free to visit. Photography is not allowed inside of the basilica.

Piazza Santa Chiara View

The view from Piazza Santa Chiara

9. Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino

The oratory is the location of the birthplace of St. Francis. It was once the location of a stable, where St. Francis’ mother gave birth to him. Later, it was turned into an oratory.

This place can be hard to find, but as you walk up Via Santa Chiara, from the Basilica di Santa Chiara towards Piazza del Comune, look for an entranceway on the left. It’s next to Bar Sensi. Here’s what to look for.

Assisi Passageway

 

Descend the small stone staircase and the sanctuary will be on your left.

Oratory of San Francesco Entrance

Entrance into the Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino

 

Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino

Oratory of San Francesco Piccolino

10. Chiesa Nuova

This church was built over the site where St. Francis’ home once stood. Even today, you can still see the doorway into the house and the cell where St. Francis was imprisoned by his father.

Chiesa Nuova Assisi | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Chiesa Nuova | Best Things to Do in Assisi

11. Enjoy the View from Rocca Maggiore

Sitting above Assisi is Rocca Maggiore, the fortress that guards the city.

During our visit in 2022, the fortress was closed for a major renovation project. But it is still worth the steep uphill walk to get to the fortress because from here, you not only get a stunning view over Assisi, but you can also look out over Basilica di San Francesco.

Rocca Maggiore | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Rocca Maggiore | Best Things to Do in Assisi

 

Things to Do in Assisi View | Best Things to Do in Assisi

The view from the terrace next to Rocca Maggiore

 

View of Basilica di San Francesco

View of Basilica di San Francesco from the terrace near Rocca Maggiore

For more information, visit the official website.

PRO TRAVEL TIP: As you walk downhill into Assisi, keep an eye out for Bar Giardino San Lorenzo. This lovely café has a garden-like setting and beautiful views of Assisi.

12. Explore the Side Streets of Assisi

As you can see, there is a long list of historical and religious sites to visit in Assisi. But one of the best things to do in Assisi is to explore the side streets. These narrow, cobblestoned streets lead to picturesque alleyways, viewpoints over the city, and small restaurants and shops.

Assisi Walking Tour Photo | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Assisi Street Umbria Italy

Assisi Street Signs

As you stroll through Assisi, there are plenty of signs like this one, pointing you in the direction of the many places to visit in town.

Things to Do in Assisi, Outside of the City Center

1. The Carceri Hermitage

The Carceri Hermitage, also called Santuario Eremo delle Carceri, is a retreat high in the mountains above Assisi. This is where St. Francis would go to meditate.

Tucked away in the forest, this small collection of stone buildings houses a few small chapels, a cloister, and the grotto of St. Francis. It is a beautiful setting, away from the hustle and bustle of city life, tucked away in the natural environment, which St. Francis loved.

Carceri Hermitage | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Carceri Hermitage | Best Things to Do in Assisi

 

Carceri Hermitage Eremo

Inside the Church of San Bernardino | Best Things to Do in Assisi

A visit here lasts about 30 to 45 minutes. It’s free to visit and you will follow signs that lead you to the notable places within the sanctuary.

To get here, it is a 15-minute drive from Assisi on a narrow winding road. It’s quite a distance from town, and if you plan to do this on foot, it could take several hours and will be quite strenuous.

We loved this experience. We were here at 9 am and it was still very quiet, with just a handful of visitors. Since there were so few people, we were able to experience the tranquility of which this site was intended. If your timing works out, try to visit early or late in the day, when there are fewer people.

2. Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli

This basilica was built between the 16th and 17th centuries.

It houses the Portiuncula (also called the Porziuncola), which is the chapel where St. Francis founded his Order of Friars Minor and gave Clare the habit of the poor.

The Chapel of the Transitus is an infirmary. It is here that St. Francis died on October 3, 1226.

Also within the basilica you can see the Courtyard of the Roses, the Rose Garden, and the Chapel of the Roses.

Inside of the Porziuncola Museum is a Crucifix by Giunta Pisano and a portrait of St. Francis. Upstairs is the Ancient Friary, a collection of small, austere rooms that were the living quarters for the first friars living near the Portiuncula.

The basilica is free to visit but there is a small fee to enter the museum. Photos are not allowed within the basilica or the museum.

Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli

Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli | Best Things to Do in Assisi

3. The Church of St. Damian

The Church of St. Damian (also called the Convento di San Damiano) is a very old church that dates back to the 8th century. During the time of St. Francis, it was in disrepair. While praying at this church, God spoke from the crucifix, telling St. Francis to repair his house. St. Francis took that to mean the Church of St. Damian, so he set about renovating the church with his own hands.

St. Clare would go on to form the Order of Poor Clares here and St. Francis would write Canticle of the Creatures just before his death.

Damiano

View from the Church of St. Damian

4. Visit the Sanctuary di Rivotorto

The Sanctuary di Rivotorto is where St. Francis and his first followers lived and prayed. This small stone sanctuary sits inside of the Neo-Gothic church in the photo below. It is free to visit and photography is allowed.

Chapel of the Magdalene

Santuario di Rivotorto

Santuario di Rivotorto

With More Time

Below is a list of more things to do in Assisi. These are only worth it, in our opinion, if you have a lot of time in town and have an interest in the history behind these additional sites.

Visit the Roman Forum and Archaeological Museum

Located just a few steps from Piazza del Comune, descend below the city streets to the excavations of the ancient Roman Forum. A walkway leads to the remains of a temple, a cistern, and podium.

Roman Forum Assisi

Roman Forum

A visit here is relatively quick, taking anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how much interest you have in archaeological sites. It is open from 10 am to 6 pm and tickets cost €5.

SAIO Winery

This winery gets great reviews but we did not have a very good experience here. The tasting room is small and very loud, even with just a few people in the room. The service is also very slow and the hours for tastings are extremely limited throughout the day. However, it is a nice drive to get here with beautiful views of Assisi.

Italy Travel Guide
 

Things to Do in Assisi: On a Map

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left hand corner of the map to view the layers (places to go, where to eat, and where to stay). You can click the check marks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.
 
If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

How Much Time Do You Need in Assisi?

For the best experience, plan on spending one day in Assisi. This gives you enough time to visit all of the sights in the historic city center, stroll the streets, and have lunch and maybe even dinner. Those with an interest in St. Francis can spend the second half of the day visiting the religious sites that sit just outside of the city center.

For more information, check out our walking tour and one day Assisi itinerary. 

Assisi in the Evening

Assisi in the evening 

Helpful Tips for Visiting Assisi

To check the weather forecast, we used Meteo Italy and the forecast was relatively accurate. There is also an app that you can download onto your phone.

If you plan to have dinner in Assisi, make your reservation in advance. In our experience in Italy, you will need to have a reservation for dinner at the highly rated restaurants.

From October 2 through October 4, there are festivities in Assisi celebrating the Feast of St. Francis. Festivities start on October 2. On the nights of October 3 and 4, oil lanterns are lit throughout town. We were in town October 1 through the morning of October 3, so we just missed seeing the lanterns. Expect bigger crowds than normal during this time.

Assisi Feast Day

Festivities next to the Basilica di San Francesco

Where to Eat in Assisi

Bibenda Assisi gets wonderful reviews and is located just one minute away from Piazza del Comune. This was #1 on our list, both for lunch and a wine tasting, but unfortunately, they were closed during our visit.

Assisi Photo

The two tables on this street are for Bibenda Assisi.

Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba also gets very good reviews and sits right next to Bibenda Assisi.

Taverna dei Consoli is located on Piazza del Comune. We ate on their upper terrace. The views over the square are beautiful and the food is even better. We highly recommend the Cacio e Pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper).

Best Restaurants in Assisi

Taverna dei Consoli | Best Things to Do in Assisi

Le Terrazze de Properzio. This restaurant is located high in Assisi, about a 5 to 7-minute walk from the St. Francis Basilica. It’s an uphill walk to get here, but what you get is great food and a view over the town from their outdoor terrace.

Best Assisi Restaurants

Le Terrazze de Properzio | Best Things to Do in Assisi

We also loved breakfast at Ristorante Bar San Francesco and a snack at Bar Giardino San Lorenzo.

Where to Eat in Assisi

Bar Giardino San Lorenzo | Best Things to Do in Assisi

How to Get to Assisi

By Public Transportation

A train station and bus station are located in the town of Santa Maria degli Angeli, which sits southwest of the historic city center, near the Basilica Santa Maria degli Angeli.

To get from Santa Maria degli Angeli to Assisi, you can take a taxi or the public bus.

By Car

Assisi also makes a great place to visit if you will be on a road trip through Italy. You will have to park your car outside of the city center and then explore the town on foot. Only local traffic is permitted to drive in Assisi.

Here are driving distances and times from nearby destinations:

  • Perugia: 25 km, 35 minutes
  • Cortona: 72 km, 1.25 hours
  • Orvieto: 91 km, 1.5 hours
  • Rome: 190 km, 2.5 hours
  • Florence: 175 km, 2 hours
  • Ancona: 145 km, 1.75 hours

Tours of Assisi

There are numerous tour options for visiting Assisi. This full day tour from Florence includes a visit to Assisi and the lovely Tuscan town of Cortona.

There are also several great walking tours in Assisi, which is a good option if you want to learn more about the city and the life of St. Francis from an experienced guide. This private tour gets fantastic reviews and this 3-hour small group tour is better for those on a budget.

Don’t feel like walking the hilly streets, check out this tuk-tuk tour of Assisi.

Finally, how about a balloon flight over Assisi, plus breakfast and wine tasting?

 

Where We Stayed

We stayed at Cheri Home Assisi Apartment. This two-bedroom apartment has a fantastic location in Assisi, less than a 5-minute walk from Piazza del Comune. We had lots of space to spread out and the apartment was clean and quiet and has a washing machine. We parked in a small, private lot and from here, it was about a 5-minute walk to the apartment, not too bad for carrying luggage into town. It’s one of the top reviewed accommodations on Booking.com.

Cheri Home Assisi

The entrance into Cheri Home Assisi is the wooden door to the left, on this charming street, Via Bernardo da Quintavalle.

Alter Ego B&B gets great reviews and is located just steps away from Piazza del Comune. If you want a room with a view, check out Assisi Panoramic Rooms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Assisi worth visiting?

With its ties to St. Francis, its UNESCO World Heritage status, and its long list of historical sites and churches, Assisi is well worth it. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy a visit here. This is one of the most picturesque cities in Italy and has a stunning location on the hillside of Monte Subasio. Tour the historical and religious sites, go shopping along the scenic streets, go wine tasting, and enjoy lunch or dinner with a view. There is something here for everyone.

How much time do I need in Assisi?

Given its long list of things to do, it is best to spend at least one day in Assisi. This gives you enough time to stroll the city streets and visit the important historical and religious sites both inside and just outside of town.

What is Assisi known for?

Assisi is the birthplace of St. Francis, one of the most celebrated figures in Christianity. Numerous churches in town have ties to St. Francis and the Franciscan Order, making this a popular pilgrimage destination.


If you have any questions about the best things to do in Assisi, let us know in the comment section below.

More Information for Your Trip to Italy

FLORENCE & TUSCANY: If this is your first visit to Florence, read our guide to the Best Things to Do in Florence and the best rooftop bars in Florence. If you are planning a visit to Tuscany, learn how to spend one day in Sienahow to visit Pienza, and the best things to do in San Gimignano.

VENICE: Learn more about what to do in Venice in our Venice Bucket List. To help you plan your time, we have a detailed one day Venice itinerary and a 2 day Venice itinerary.

ITALY ITINERARIES: If you are just beginning to plan your Italy itinerary, take a look at our 10 Days in Italy Itinerary for three different ways to spend 10 days in Italy. We also have a detailed 10 day itinerary that includes Rome, Florence, the Cinque Terre, and Venice.

BEST OF ITALY: In our Guide to the Best Places to Visit in Italy, we list 20 beautiful destinations to consider for your next trip to Italy. 

CINQUE TERRE: One of the best experiences in the Cinque Terre is to hike between all five towns. If you are traveling on a budget, get our money saving tips for the Cinque Terre.

PUGLIA: Alberobello is one of the most popular towns to visit in Puglia. Here’s a list of the best things to do in Alberobello.

 

We have TONS more information about Italy in our Italy Travel Guide, including Rome, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, the Dolomites, the Amalfi Coast, the Cinque Terre, and Puglia.

 

Things to Do in Assisi Italy

 

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