Before heading out to the stunning region of Tuscany from the imperial city of Rome, a stopover at Viterbo is well worth your time.
This medieval walled hill-town is located north of the Lazio region and famous for ancient Etruscan relics, medieval architecture and great antique finds. You can step into the pages of medieval history at the town’s historic centre or go way back to ancient times at the nearby Etruscan archaeological sites.
If ambling around the countryside is more your thing, you can go on easy hikes around the verdant landscape dotted with sparkling deep lakes. You can also take a tour at the therapeutic thermal spas of the area or take an excursion around Viterbo’s grand villas.
Viterbo offers picturesque medieval architecture, good traditional food and relaxing spas, just 90km from Rome.
To get to the atmospheric little town of Viterbo from Rome, you can take a Cotral bus from the Saxa Rubra stop or you can just hop on a commuter train from Stazione Ostiense for a two-hour trip. It’s not fast but the pleasant scenery along the way will keep you happily occupied.
The train will stop at Porta Romana station of Viterbo, just outside the medieval town walls. Make sure to visit the tourist information office located right at the station to get your hands on maps and brochures of the local sights and attractions. With your haul at hand, sit back and relax for a moment and plan out the itinerary that best suits your interests before starting your tour of the area.
The historic medieval centre
Although many of Viterbo’s attractions can be found in the town’s surrounding areas, the walled Old Town at the top of the hill is a must-visit. It is a small and compact place surrounded by walls and towers. There are numerous Romanesque buildings and palaces from the 13th to the 14th centuries. Viterbo’s highlights are centrally located on two of its most popular town squares, the neighbouring Piazza San Lorenzo and Piazza del Plebiscito.
Begin from Piazza San Lorenzo where you will find the famous Palazzo dei Papi or the Papal Palace, the site of the longest conclave (papal election) which is three years in the making. The Palazzo also features a beautiful seven-arched loggia, which is a must-see. The cathedral of San Lorenzo is nearby. Although the cathedral is not spectacular at first glance, it features ornate details such as the striking tiled floor, the lavish font and interesting frescoes that are worth checking out. Also, go and see the neighbouring Museo del Colle del Duomo to view the church’s valued treasures.
Also beautiful is the church of Santa Maria della Verità from the 12th century, nowadays converted into a city museum and a Renaissance town hall. For the believers is a great attraction the church of Santa Rosa, where the body of St. Rose of Viterbo is kept.
Piazza del Plebiscito, on the other hand, boasts of the towns important civic buildings such as the Palazzo dei Priori and Palazzo del Podesta. The piazza also makes for a lovely place to savour some Italian fare from one of the many cafes or small restaurants surrounding the square, with a view of the piazza’s beautiful fountain. You can then proceed downhill to Palazzo Comunali where you will discover lavish rooms and spectacular frescoes.
If you are interested in Viterbo’s museums, check out the 14th-century fortress of Rocca Albornoz to visit the Museo Nazionale or Piazza Crispi for a look at the exhibits of Museo Civico. Both museums display valuable finds from the Etruscan era.
Walking aimlessly around the walled town is also rewarding. You will discover countless fountains, interesting sculptures at unexpected places and several fascinating shops with plenty of antiques to offer.
Cultural events and traditional festivals
Throughout the year, and with particular intensity in spring and summer, the city of Viterbo is animated by a series of cultural events and traditional festivals. They range from cinema to music, from literature to historical re-enactments, from theatRE to innovation, to events that perpetuate and enhance the identity and history of Viterbo.
It starts from Medioera in March, the digital culture festival that offers talks, meetings and seminars on technology, new media, social networks, startups, new knowledge related to the digital age. During the May 1st long weekend, San Pellegrino in Fiore, now in its thirtieth year, is held. It is a floriculture event and much more, in which the characteristic views of the medieval old town are decorated with floral arrangements, creating an atmosphere of colours and unique scents.
In June Ludika 1243 offers events and re-enactments in medieval costume and is broadened by an emphasis on the world of fantasy literature. Performances, cosplay, role play, meetings with authors, medieval taverns, street theatre and much more for an event that always ends with the commemoration of the pitched battle between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, in memory of the historic siege of Federico II in Viterbo in 1243.
Between June and July, Caffeine is a great cultural and literary festival with hundreds of events including book presentations, meetings with authors, journalists, TV personalities, politicians, intellectuals, theatre and musical performances, children’s activities, food and wine, in the most picturesque locations in the historic centre.
In July, the spectacular Piazza San Lorenzo hosts the Tuscia Film Fest, almost two weeks of screenings and meetings with Italian film stars. The best films of the last cinema season are offered during this occasion. The films are presented by the best known Italian actors, directors, screenwriters and producers. Between July and August, Piazza San Lorenzo hosts the Tuscia Opera Festival, an event dedicated to classical and symphonic music, opera, dance and other cultural facets that leads to the performance of well-known masters and young Italian and international talent.
In the beginning of September, Viterbo is enlivened by patronal festivities, culminating in the spectacular transportation of the Santa Rosa Car on September 3, which a few years ago become part of the intangible humanitarian heritage recognized by Unesco. 30 meter high and 5 tonne light tower is carried on the backs of about 100 Santa Rosa Porters along a path of more than one kilometRE along the city streets. The festival is dedicated to Saint Rose, patron saint of the city.
Finally, don’t miss the attractions near Viterbo such as the spa complex of Terme dei Papi, the hot pools of Bagnaccio, the spectacular gardens of Villa Lante and the wine offerings of Montefiascone, among many others.