Travel guide: best things to do in Cortona, how to get there, what to eat and where to stay.
Cortona is a pretty hilltop town in Tuscany and one of the most charming small towns in Italy.
It is a popular Italian destination with international tourists who got to know it as the stet of Under the Tuscan Sun however, Cortona is an ancient town who has been welcoming visitors form near and far from centuries.
Blessed with a beautiful position on top of a scenic hill, a historical city center and more churches and attractions you will believe possible, for such as small town, it is a place that charms anyone who see it.
This is our guide to the best things to see in Cortona.
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Where is Cortona?
Cortona is a small hilltop town in the South East of Tuscany, in central Italy.
It is easily reached by car from both Rome and Florence and it is a good destination for a day trip from Siena, Val d’Orcia, Orvieto and the Tuscia area.
- From Rome – 2.h30 mins by car
- Orvieto – 1h.15 mins by car
- Siena – 1h by car
- Florence – 1h45 mins
You can learn how to add Cortona to your trip looking at our Tuscany itinerary planner.
Is Cortona worth visiting? What makes Cortona special
Cortona is one of the prettiest small towns in Italy and a destination worth visiting for anyone who wants to experience a quintessential Italian historical town, beautiful country views and delicious food.
The things that make Cortona famous are:
A scenic position on top of a hill, with pretty views over the expansive countryside of Southern Tuscany
A long history that gave the town beautiful palazzi, churches and museums worth visiting
Delicious food, that comes straight from the local area and is known for being genuine, tasty and authentic
Cortona is a wonderful day trip from Florence, a lovely destination for a weekend out of Rome and also a lovely base to visit Tuscany.
You can find excellent villas in the area here.
The best things to see in Cortona
Cortona has a remarkable amount of attractions for being such a small town.
The main things I recommend you seek out in the town center are:
Piazza della Repubblica, Cortona’s historical center
Piazza della repubblica is the historical heart of Cortona, the main piazza in the center of the town and, most likely, the first place you will encounter in Cortona, once you walk up from one of the town gates.
The square is dominated by the medieval Palazzo Comunale, a stunning palazzo dating frm the XIV century.
Once in the square, you will recognize it straight away: cortona’s most famous palazzo has a tall staircase (perfect to sit and people watch!) and a huge clock tower, which was added to the main structure in the XVI century.
As well as palazzo comunale, the square has the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, the tallest in the square, that also served as Papal residency in the 1500s and many pretty cafes and shops, where you can get aperitivo and see locals and tourists pass by.
Piazza della Repubbica is the main piazza in Cortona but not the only one! Just beside it, and somewhat unexpectedly, you will find another one, equally historical and interesting: Piazza Signorelli.
This second piazza is dominated by Palazzo Casali, another historical building from the XVI century and the famous Signorelli Theater, which is easy to recognize thanks to it beautiful loggia.
Cortona usually charms its visitors with its medieval atmospheres however Cortona is way more ancient than its town center may suggest as it dates back to Etruscan times!
The best way to learn about the origins of Cortona is to visit the fabulous MAEC museum, Cortona’s museum of the Etruscan Civilization.
The MAEC is beautiful and it is interesting for the beautiful Etruscan artifacts it contains but also for the space in which it contains them, a wonderful elegant palazzo with décor and frescoes from the XVIII century that make it look like an elegant castle!
Cortona’s Diocesan Museum
If you love art, then you should not miss the Diocesan Museum of Cortona in Piazza Duomo, notable expecially for some beautiful masterpieces by beato Angelico, Lorenzetti, Bartolomeo della Gatta and Luca Signorelli.
Cortona’s pretty medieval streets
Cortona is a walled town and one of the best things to do here is simply to walk down up and down its pretty medieval streets, the words ‘up and down’ being descriptive of the facts that some of them are on a slope!
Compared with other towns in Tuscany, Cortona is not particularly steep nor poses big mobility challenges however, you are on a hill and some of the streets have cobbles and less than even surfaces, so good shoes are your friends here!
Cortona’s beautiful shops
Cortona welcomes many tourists each year and is well equipped with shops with authentic Italian souvenirs. Many are beautiful and worth your money. Among the best things to buy in Corona I recommend:
Leather goods – an ancient Tuscan craft. You easily find bags, gloves and leather accessories here, some from now international brands, some made locally in smaller scale
Tuscan Food – anything from the local land here is nice, especially oil, cured meat and dry pasta
Wine – search for Cortona DOC with a good selection of reds and whites.
The best things to see in Cortona out of the center
Le celle, stunning Franciscan Hermitage
Le Celle is an ancient Franciscan hermitage and convent built bt St Francis, who is said to have come to Cortona in 1211.
The hermitage is only about 10 minutes from Cortona by but it feels remote and immediately evoke the quiet and connection with nature we can imagine St Francis was longing for.
The cells are built to follow the lay of the land and almosy blend in it and the dominant elements are water and rocks which, in St Francis’ words’ symbolized Jesus (waters symbol of life and rock as a base to build upon).
Fortezza del Girifalco (Girifalco Fortress), and Basilica of Santa Margherita
The Girifalco fortress is a large, historical structure dating from the XIV century, located at the end of a path, outside of Cortona town center.
The place is perfect if you want to stretch your legs and get away form the often busy Cortona center: the views alone are worth the walk!
On the way to the fortress it is also worth stopping at the basilica of St Margerita, who lived in Cortona in the 1200s.
The basilica is worth a visit and was the original home of many beautiful artefacts now in the Maec Museum.
What and where to eat in Cortona
Cortona is in Tuscany and makes its region proud with excellent food. Things to taste here are:
Ciaccia – the cortona focaccia, delightful especially as a base for cured meats and vegetarian speads
Ribollita – classic Tuscan specialty, an earthy and super tasty bread soup with local pruduce
Pappardelle al sugo di lepre or sugo di cinghiale – a type of pasta with a hare ragout (lepre) or wild boar (cinghiale), another typical Tuscan dish
Pici – a traditional type of pasta born in Siena
Buccellato Tuscano – a sweet baked good with raisins and
Some of the best restaurants to try in Cortona are: Osteria del Teatro, Bottega Baracchi, Antica Trattoria, Nessun Dorma
Where to stay: recommended Cortona hotels and agriturismo
When deciding where yo stay in Cortona the decision is: in the city center or in the countryside nearby.
If you are staying in the city center, I recommend the B&B Dolce Maria, which is perfectly located between the main Cortona gate and Piazza della Repubbica, in a quiet street near both and with lovely, old world décor full of charm.
If you are staying in the countryside, you can have a look at local villas or consider an agriturismo such as:
- Casa Bellavista B&B
- Villa Poggio Winery and Boutique hotel
- Relais et Cahteaux il Falconiere, stunning Manor House in the country
- Hotel Villa Marsili BW signature collection
If you want to get your own villa, I recommend you check on VRBO, as they have amazing places and rental opportunities.
How to get to Cortona by car and train
The easiest way tp get to cortona is by car.
Cortona is well served by the motorway and the road up to the town center is well singaled and well kept. The main issue you have in Cortona is parking: several areas serve the city (pay and display) but they do fill up so come early to get a spot.
If you come by train, you will find yourself at the bottom of the hill, at stazione di Camucia (Cortona train station). From here, you can get the handy but to get up to the town.
Places to see near Cortona
- Arezzo – lovely small town with beautiful cathedral with frescos by Piero della Francesca
- Lake Trasimeno – lovely lake perfect for lakeside meals, easy walks and a relaxing day on water
- Montepulciano – delightful hilltop town with a beautiful main square, stunning views and famous wine (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano)
- Oulet val di Chiana, well known shopping outlet
- Orvieto – stunning hilltop town in nearby Umbria, famous especially for a stunning duomo, one of the best examples of gothic architecture in Italy
- Siena – UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most beautiful historical towns in Tuscany and Italy in general
Useful Italy travel resources
- Best luggage for Italy – all our tried and tested recommendations
- Omio – Handy website for Train and Bus connections across Europe
- Booking.com – My go-to resource for accommodation (hotels, apartments and specialty lodging) with good deals and excellent cancellation policies
- LuggageHero – Large selection of luggage storage options for bags-free day trips
- GetYourGuide: booking platform for attraction tickets and day tours
- Lonely Planet: my one and only go-to travel guide provider
- AutoEurope: handy comparison website for the best car rental deals