Best Things to Do in Cortona

Piazza Della Repubblica​ - Cortona, Tuscany

Cortona, a delightful hillside town nestled in Tuscany, Italy, has enchanted travelers for centuries. Set amidst picturesque vineyards and olive groves, Cortona offers an authentic Tuscan experience, blending history, art, delectable cuisine, and stunning panoramic views. Renowned not just for its association with the book and film ‘Under the Tuscan Sun,’ Cortona boasts a significant reputation of its own. Its rich history, steeped in legends, ancient civilizations, battles, religious heritage, and artistic legacy, makes it a must-visit destination in southern Tuscany.

Continue reading to discover the best activities in Cortona, including travel tips, attractions, dining options, accommodations, and ideal visit times.

How to get to Cortona

Plane to Cortona

The nearest major airport to Cortona is Florence Airport (FLR), also known as Peretola Airport. From there, you can rent a car or take a train to Cortona. Another option is Pisa International Airport (PSA), which is a bit farther but also offers convenient connections to Cortona.

Train to Cortona

Cortona doesn’t have a train station, but you can take a train to Camucia-Cortona, which is the nearest train station. From Camucia-Cortona, you can either take a taxi or a local bus to reach the hilltop town of Cortona.

Car to Cortona

If you prefer the flexibility of traveling by car, you can rent one from Florence or another nearby city. The drive to Cortona is a scenic adventure, with picturesque views of the Tuscan countryside. Be prepared for narrow and winding roads as you ascend the hill to reach the town.

Rent a car Tuscany

Rent a car Tuscany

The best way to experience Tuscany is to rent your own car! We recommend booking well in advance using price comparison sites like rental cars if traveling in the peak summer season.

What to do in Cortona

Quick Facts about Cortona

  • Due to its location,Cortona doesn’t get quite as many visitors as the other hill towns.
  • Cortona dates back to the 4th century BC, to the time when this land was inhabited by the Etruscans. 
  • Cortona sits on a hilltop. On a visit here, you’ll walk quite a few narrow, hilly streets with wonderful views of the countryside. 
  • Every year from July to October Cortona on the Move takes place; an international photography festival in which events and exhibitions transform the streets of the town

Santa Margherita Sanctuary

Santa Margherita Sanctuary - Cortona, Tuscany

Perched on the hill above Cortona, the Santa Margherita Sanctuary offers a serene escape from the hustle and bustle of the town. The sanctuary is dedicated to Saint Margaret of Cortona, who spent her early life here before becoming a Franciscan nun. The interior of the church is beautifully adorned with frescoes and a statue of the saint. From the terrace, you’ll be treated to breathtaking panoramic views of the Valdichiana and Lake Trasimeno.

Visiting the Santa Margherita Sanctuary not only offers a spiritual experience but also a chance to appreciate the Tuscan landscape from a different perspective. The peaceful setting and stunning vistas make it a must-visit spot in Cortona. The climb to the top is rewarded with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. It’s especially enchanting during sunrise or sunset, so bring your camera!

Opening Hours And Ticket Price

The church is generally open from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM and 3:30 PM to 6:30 PM.
Admission is free, but donations are appreciated.

Cortona's historic center

Cortona's Historic Center - Tuscany

Cortona’s historic center is a gem frozen in time. As you stroll through its winding cobblestone streets, you’ll be transported to the medieval era. You can visit the Piazza della Repubblica, a bustling square surrounded by charming cafes and restaurants.

The town’s hallmark is the imposing Palazzo Comunale, a 13th-century town hall with a clock tower that offers panoramic views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Don’t miss the Etruscan Academy Museum, home to an extensive collection of Etruscan artifacts, as well as impressive works of art by Renaissance masters. The charm of Cortona’s historic center lies in its quaint shops, art galleries, and local artisans. It’s an ideal place to wander, enjoy some gelato, and immerse your-self in the authentic Tuscan atmosphere.

Museo Diocesano

Museo Diocesano, Cortona, Tuscany

The Museo Diocesano is a hidden treasure of religious art and culture. Housed in the former Church of Gesù, the museum showcases a remarkable collection of religious art, including works by famous Italian painters like Fra Angelico, Pietro Lorenzetti, and Luca Signorelli. The highlight of the museum is the breathtaking Annunciation by Beato Angelico, a masterpiece that draws art enthusiasts from around the world.

The intimate setting and the meticulously curated collection make the Museo Diocesano an essential stop for those interested in the art and history of Cortona and Tuscany.  Don’t miss the opportunity to see the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, a masterpiece of the 15th century.

Opening Hours And Ticket Price

The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM and from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM (Closed on Mondays).
Admission is €5 (The ticket price is subject to change; please visit the official website for more details)

Eremo Le Celle

Eremo Le Celle - Cortona, Tuscany

Eremo Le Celle, a short drive from Cortona, is a peaceful hermitage founded by St. Francis of Assisi in the early 13th century. This tranquil retreat consists of small stone cells nestled in the hills. The simplicity and serenity of the place create a unique spiritual atmosphere. Visitors can explore the cells, the chapel, and the garden while reflecting on the spirituality of St. Francis. It’s a serene and evocative place, perfect for those seeking a quiet and reflective experience.

The hermitage is surrounded by picturesque woodlands. Take a peaceful stroll along the walking paths, surrounded by lush greenery and the sound of flowing streams. Step into the intimate chapel adorned with frescoes dating back to the 13th century. It’s a place of spiritual significance and artistic beauty. Eremo Le Celle is a place of tranquillity and historical significance, inviting you to connect with nature and the spirit of Saint Francis.

Opening Hours And Ticket Price

The hermitage is open from 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM and from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (Closed on Mondays).
Admission is €5 (The ticket price is subject to change; please visit the official website for more details)

Fortress of Girifalco

Fortress of Girifalco - Cortona, Tuscany

The Fortress of Girifalco, also known as the Fortezza Medicea, is a well-preserved fortress that offers not only historical insights but also stunning panoramic views. Built in the 16th century, this fortress played a crucial role in the defence of Cortona during various conflicts. Today, it’s a popular attraction with a museum and beautiful gardens.

Inside the fortress, you can explore the museum that houses a diverse collection of weapons, armour, and archaeological finds. However, the real highlight is the walk along the fortress walls, where you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of Cortona and the surrounding landscape. The best time to visit is during sunset when the golden hues of the setting sun bathe the town in a magical light.

Opening Hours And Ticket Price

The fortress is open from 10:00 AM to 7:00 PM(April to October)
Admission is €5. 

Visit the Etruscan Academy Museum

Cortona, Tuscany

The Etruscan Academy Museum is an excellent place to learn about Cortona’s Etruscan past. The museum houses a remarkable collection of Etruscan and Roman artifacts, including pottery, jewellery, and sculptures. The highlight is the beautifully preserved Etruscan chandelier, known as the “Lamp of Cortona.”

Venture into the world of the enigmatic Etruscans through intricately detailed artifacts, pottery, and bronze statues.  MAEC offers interactive workshops, allowing you to experience the art of pottery, making your own Etruscan-style ceramic. It is a great way to immerse yourself in the culture. Ascend to the museum’s rooftop terrace for breathtaking views of Cortona and the surrounding countryside, enhancing your historical journey with a modern-day perspective.

Opening Hours And Ticket Price

The Etruscan Academy Museum is open from 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM every day except Mondays.
General admission is €7, and reduced admission (for students and seniors) is €5.

Explore Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza Della Repubblica​ - Cortona, Tuscany

Piazza della Repubblica stands as the historic nucleus of Cortona, serving as the central square within the town. Often the initial encounter for visitors arriving through one of the town gates, this bustling square embodies Cortona’s essence. A prominent feature is the renowned palazzo, distinguished by a grand staircase—a perfect vantage point for observing passersby—and a towering clock added to the main structure during the 16th century.

Alongside the Palazzo Comunale, the square boasts the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, the tallest edifice therein, which also functioned as a Papal residence during the 1500s.

Additionally, the square hosts an array of charming cafes and shops, offering the perfect setting for indulging in a refreshing aperitivo while observing the blend of locals and tourists strolling by. This vibrant hub encapsulates Cortona’s allure, inviting exploration and immersion into its lively atmosphere steeped in history and local culture.

Wander through the Medieval Streets and Via Jannelli

Exploring Cortona involves strolling through its charming medieval streets enclosed within its walls—a highlight of visiting this town. The phrase “up and down” aptly describes some of these pathways due to their sloping nature.

In contrast to several other Tuscan towns, Cortona’s inclines aren’t notably steep and don’t present significant mobility hurdles. Nonetheless, situated atop a hill, the streets feature cobblestones and occasionally uneven surfaces, making sturdy footwear a valuable companion for comfortable exploration.

Experience a taste of medieval ambiance on vicolo Jannelli, named after the Jannelli family. This narrow lane ascends from the elevated rear facade of the Gesù church, marking itself as one of Cortona’s most evocative streets. Undoubtedly, it stands out as the most characteristic thoroughfare, distinguished by houses along its north side that retain remnants of fourteenth-century structures, including wooden projections from the sixteenth century. The ancient medieval dwellings exhibit a construction mix of stone and brick, featuring stone exclusively for jambs, thresholds, and architraves. The upper floors of these houses extend over the street, supported by wooden ledges, adding to the street’s historical charm.

Villa Bramasole

An American author purchased and renovated a villa in Tuscany, situated above Cortona, where he began spending his summers. The surroundings boasted breathtaking scenery, a mild climate, and delightful cuisine. Enchanted by the serene rural lifestyle with its distinct countryside customs, he penned a memoir that captivated America. The book beautifully described the environment and vividly conveyed the sheer delight of living amidst Italy’s vibrant colors, enticing aromas, exquisite flavors, culinary recipes, and insightful recommendations gathered during his Italian explorations.

Today, this villa has become a sought-after destination for numerous tourists, particularly international visitors from various corners of the globe. They come to experience and relish the ambiance depicted in the immensely popular book, “Under the Tuscan Sun.” Accessible by foot, a pleasant walk starting from Cortona’s public gardens, the “Parterre,” leads to the villa—a journey of about half an hour covering a distance of approximately 4 kilometers.

Enjoy the view from piazza Garibaldi

The panoramic view from Piazza Garibaldi offers one of Cortona’s most splendid vistas. Referred to as the “Belvedere di Cortona” on Google Maps, this scenic spot provides a captivating overlook where one can admire the vibrant array of Cortona’s buildings against the backdrop of the picturesque Tuscan countryside.

What to eat and where

Located just steps from the Piazza della Repubblica, Osteria del Teatro offers a delightful blend of Tuscan and Mediterranean cuisine. The restaurant is known for its warm and welcoming atmosphere, with a charming outdoor terrace that’s perfect for a romantic dinner. Their menu features local specialties like pici pasta with truffle sauce and succulent Florentine T-bone steak.

Situated in the heart of Cortona, Trattoria Dardano is a family-run restaurant that prides itself on traditional Tuscan recipes. You can expect to enjoy classic dishes like ribollita (Tuscan bread soup), pappa al pomodoro (tomato and bread soup), and tender bistecca alla fiorentina (Florentine steak). The cozy interior and friendly service make it a favourite among both locals and visitors.

Ristorante Tonino is located within the walls of Cortona’s historic center and offers a unique dining experience in a medieval cellar. Their menu features a wide range of Tuscan dishes, including a variety of fresh pasta and game meats. Don’t forget to pair your meal with a local wine, as they have an excellent selection.

For a truly special dining experience, make a reservation at La Grotta, a Michelin-starred restaurant nestled within a cave just outside Cortona. This fine-dining establishment offers a tasting menu that showcases the best of Tuscan and Italian cuisine, with a creative and modern twist. The setting, with its stone walls and unique atmosphere, adds to the overall allure of this restaurant.

Where to Stay

Hotel San Luca is a charming and centrally located hotel with comfortable rooms, a terrace overlooking the town, and friendly staff. It’s an excellent choice for those who want to be in the heart of Cortona.
Address: Piazza Garibaldi, 1, 52044 Cortona AR, Italy

For a luxurious escape, consider staying at Relais & Châteaux Il Falconiere, a beautiful villa and spa located just outside Cortona. This elegant property offers stunning views, a gourmet restaurant, and a spa for relaxation and pampering.
Address: Località S. Martino Bocena, 370, 52044 Cortona AR, Italy

If you prefer a more rustic and authentic experience, consider staying at Agriturismo Il Sambro. This charming farmhouse offers cozy accommodations and the opportunity to immerse your-self in the Tuscan countryside.
Address: Via Molinella, 19, 06084 Passaggio PG, Italy

Villa Marsili is a lovely boutique hotel that combines modern comforts with a historic setting. The hotel boasts a beautiful garden and a terrace with panoramic views.
Address: Viale Cesare Battisti, 13, 52044 Cortona AR, Italy


Is Cortona worth it?

Having explored numerous walled towns in Tuscany and Umbria, it’s fair to assert that Cortona stands out as potentially one of the most enchanting and authentic among them. While each town possesses its unique charm, Cortona distinguishes itself as a place where one might envision residing for an extended period, or even a lifetime, captivated by its allure and genuine ambiance. Its distinctiveness among these towns is remarkable, fostering a sense of connection and an enduring appeal that could entice visitors to linger and establish roots within its captivating surroundings.

What are the must-see attractions in Cortona?

Cortona is known for its historic and cultural sites. Some of the must-see attractions include the Etruscan Academy Museum, which houses a significant collection of Etruscan artifacts, and the Diocesan Museum, which features religious art. You can also visit the Santa Margherita Sanctuary and take a stroll through the charming historic center with its medieval and Renaissance architecture.

When should i visit Cortona?

The best time to visit Cortona depends on your preferences. The town experiences a Mediterranean climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Spring and early autumn are often considered the best times to visit, as the weather is good, and the town is less crowded than during the peak summer months. However, if you enjoy the summer vibe and don’t mind larger crowds, July and August offer warm weather and plenty of events and festivals.

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