Assisi is one of the most picturesque Italian hill towns, and can easily fit into a one-day trip. Here’s how to make sure those charming Assisi explorations are Wanderlost-approved.
Growing up in Catholic schools, St. Francis of Assisi was always my favorite saint. He loved animals, animals adored him (they are the best judge of character, after all) and he promoted peace to no end.
Now, I may be past my Catholic schoolgirl days (see ya, uniform!), but I still feel a strong connection to St. Francis each time I wander through his birthplace and home, the Umbrian hill town of Assisi.
Assisi is one of the most picturesque cities in the Italian countryside, with a maze of moss-covered cobblestone streets and secret alleyways that dead end into breathtaking views of Umbria. It’s a popular site for pilgrimages, both of the religious and touristic nature (the latter being particularly noticeable in summer).
But Assisi is more than just a pretty picture. This ancient city has tales of medieval battles and Franciscan beginnings tucked neatly away between each and every foundational stone.
Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi
Likely the most popular tourist spot in Assisi, the Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi is the church where St. Francis was born and died, and has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2000.
The Basilica offers tour options for visitors of every interest level:
- Tours with a friar,
- An authorized tour guide, or
- Your own self guided tours.
If you haven’t noticed, I’m not a big fan of group tours, so my family and I took the no-guide, go-at-your-own-speed approach. While touring the Basilica, you can explore the upper and lower churches, both covered floor to ceiling in ornate mosaics, paintings and frescos.
The Tomb of St. Francis, my favorite part of the Basilica, is peaceful, and more muted in color. It is filled with an eerie-yet-captivating echo of friars reciting daily prayer — a ritual you can actually watch on webcam. Hello, 21st century!
Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “Hey – what’s Wanderlost about seeing one of the most popular basilicas in Italy?” And you’re right. It’s tough (read: impossible) to get lost in a major site like the Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi because they keep you on a very straight path. No stragglers here.
But sometimes Wanderlost isn’t physically getting lost; it’s letting your mind get fully lost in the moment. While visiting the basilica, my mind was way lost, somewhere between the ancient friars chanting below ground, and the chirping birds outside, filling the Basilica’s lush green gardens with cheery songs in spring and summer.
If the Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi is a little too well-trodden for you, then focus your Assisi day on climbing to the city’s medieval castle, Rocca Maggiore.
Set way atop the city, Rocca Maggiore is the highest point in Assisi. A climb to the top offers 360-degree views across Italy’s rolling green hills and mile-long vineyards, with the Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi standing tall and mighty in the foreground.
Want to brush up on your Assisi history? You can pay for a tour of the Rocca Maggiore. Or, if you’d prefer to soak it all in under the sun, then you can take my route and explore the medieval exterior, fill a memory card with countryside shots and pretend you’re Khaleesi, staring serenely into the horizon as you plan your army’s next move.
Wait, did I say that out loud? #TeamKhaleesi.
Know before you go
Tour hours for churches vary depending on day of the week, mass schedule and season. While yes, you should definitely allow for some Wanderlost exploring in Assisi, make sure you’re on top of the church schedules so you’re not locked out of something you’ve been dying to see!
Also, I know I mentioned that the Basilica Papale San Francesco D’Assisi is a bit more of a tourist attraction, and consequently can get pretty crowded, but it all depends on the time you go. I’ve visited Assisi in both early spring and late summer, and would recommend spring. Not only is it less crowded (and it is — significantly!), it’s also a much milder temperature, which means you won’t be sweating as you go up and down Assisi’s steep and winding hills.
In terms of getting there, a rental car is probably your best option, but you can also go by group tour or — more preferably — train.
Do you love Assisi? You’ll also enjoy an equally beautiful Tuscan hill town, Cortona!