Italy’s best-kept secret is the pint-sized university city of Udine, with its regal architecture and unique way of life. One of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region’s two main cities, Udine prides itself on its stunning surroundings, Slavic-inspired culture, and warm, welcoming locals. If you’re looking to break away from Italy’s better-known tourist traps, then Udine should be your first port of call.
Located mere kilometers from the Slovenian border, and only short car journeys away from both Austria and Croatia, this town is a melting pot of diversity, drawing influences from the range of European countries which surround it.
With its own language – its roots more Slavic than Romantic – and cuisine as varied as its changeable landscape, this is not Italy as you know it. Being in the very heart of the region makes Udine a perfect stopping point for anyone passing through, and is almost equidistant from the Adriatic Sea and the Dolomite mountains.
We’ve crafted the perfect itinerary of the best way to spend 3 days in Udine, from local watering holes to traditional dinner spots!
HAVE BREAKFAST IN PIAZZA SAN GIACOMO
This wide, open square forms the heart of Udine’s city centre. Framed by colourful, Venetian-style buildings, with rustic cobbles and a crisp, white church, Piazza San Giacomo is the perfect place to kick off your tour around town.
Often home to a number of events and community gatherings, you’ll always find life in this square. Settle yourself at any one of the numerous cafes which face onto the square and order a coffee and a pastry – anyone with a sweet tooth should make sure to try a jam-filled croissant (or ‘brioche alla marmellata’).
WALK UP TO THE CASTLE
From Piazza San Giacomo, the delicate castle turret is visible, and only a short walk away. Climbing up towards the castle – which is perched on a hilltop above the city – is beautiful in itself; as you walk through the archway, you’ll follow the gentle curve of the elegant Porticato del Lippomano.
The lawn in front of the castle will give you a 360-degree view of Udine, with the hazy, almost pastel-coloured mountains lurking in the background on a clear day. Entry to the castle’s 5 museums is €5, or €2.50 for 14-18-year-olds and university students, and includes sections about the Italian unification, ancient art, photography and archaeology.
TRY A PIADINA @ ITALIAN SECRET
Don’t be intimidated by the fancy name; a piadina is actually just a warm wrap. But at Piazza San Giacomo’s Italian Secret, they’re the perfect lunchtime snack.
Choose from a range of fillings, such as mozzarella, rocket and cotto (ham). These delicious sandwiches are served with crisps and ‘salsa rossa’, which is essentially a sweet mayonnaise-style dipping sauce. You’ve never had a wrap quite like it!
EXPLORE THE PIAZZA DELLA LIBERTÀ
The most jaw-droppingly beautiful part of the city, the Piazza della Libertà is composed of two extremely unique and wonderfully elegant buildings: the Loggia del Lionello, and the Porticato di San Giovanni.
Both heavily influenced by the city’s Venetian roots, the blue and white clock tower of the Porticato is said to reflect that of the San Marco cathedral in Venice itself. The two buildings are architecturally astounding from every angle; particularly the Loggia del Lionello, whose marble columns cast light and shadow across the glittering tiles, framing the looming castle perfectly.
Fun Fact: The square was also one of the main filming locations for a Mika music video.
TRY THE PIZZA @ PEPERINO
Infamous among locals for its delicious, fluffy Neapolitan pizzas, no trip to Udine is complete without a visit to Peperino.
With a huge range of toppings, and its modern, friendly atmosphere, you’ll never be disappointed by a meal in Peperino. If your appetite is particularly ample, then try their ‘Würstel e patatine’ pizza – a pizza with sausage and French fries on top, particular to this area of Italy.
HAVE COFFEE NEAR THE CATHEDRAL
Whilst the coffee at absolutely any bar is guaranteed to be creamy, strong and downright delicious, Adoro Caffè is one of the best.
With an outside seating area looking out over Udine’s rustic cathedral, this café is the perfect spot to enjoy a quick breakfast. If you choose to sit inside, the interior is sleek, white, and inviting, with a large glass cabinet encasing their mouth-watering pastry selection.
GO SHOPPING @ GALLERIA BARDELLI
This tiny yet modern shopping centre wouldn’t look out of place in the fashion capital of Milan. Galleria Bardelli is one of few malls within the city centre and is home to a number of high-street stores, including Flying Tiger, Zara, H&M, and everyone’s most sought-after European make-up store, Sephora. There is also a bookstore for any avid readers.
Walking through the shopping centre, and out towards Via Poscolle will lead you across a tiny stream and onto a shaded square. Browse the overflowing flower stall, or simply grab a coffee at one of the many cafes.
EAT A TRADITIONAL FRIULIAN LUNCH @ OSTERIA AL VECCHIO STALLO
If you’re an adventurous foodie, then you can’t miss out on sampling some of the unique Friulian cuisine. In Udine, the best place to do this is at Osteria Al Vecchio Stallo.Tucked away in a cobbled side street, this locally-recommended restaurant is known city-wide for its extremely traditional dishes, and its cosy, chalet-inspired interior. With red and white checked tablecloths and an extensive wine list, too, this is the perfect place to fuel up for the day ahead.
Renowned for its hearty cuisine, no trip to Friuli is complete until you’ve tried some of their infamous frico: fried Montasio cheese with potatoes. Originally created to keep you warm during the harsh winter months, this dish is a speciality here. Try also their pumpkin gnocchi, or their orzotto.
WANDER THROUGH PARCO MORETTI
Approaching this modern, well-kept green space, you will be greeted first by Udine’s imposing Parrocchia di San Nicolò: an enormous church built to honour the fallen soldiers of WWI. But behind this is Parco Moretti, a large expanse of greenery loved by Udine residents.
This park is the perfect place to relax or to go for a run. With children’s play areas, winding pathways to follow, and even a bar, you can easily while away hours in the tranquillity of this place.
HAVE AN APERITIVO @ CAFFÈ DEI LIBRI
Let’s face it: after a huge, traditional lunch, you probably won’t be hungry come dinner time. The best solution? Snacks and Spritz at Caffè dei Libri.
By day, this is a popular place for students to study, surrounded by shelves and shelves of books from all genres; but, by night, the place livens up, offering also live music sessions and an outside seating area. With everything from antipasti platters to full-blown meals, the Caffè dei Libri is the best place to start an evening in Udine.
DRINK COCKTAILS @ GLASS
Another well-loved student hangout is Glass: a cocktail bar renowned for its vast outdoor seating area and detailed cocktail menu. This is the ideal place to try a refreshing Spritz Hugo – a North-Italian cocktail, made from elderflower syrup, prosecco, soda water, and mint. Glass also hosts regular DJ sets.
SEE A FILM @ VISIONARIO CINEMA
In keeping with the city’s reputation of being the ‘England of Italy’, it’s likely to rain at least once while you’re in Udine. So where better to wait out the downpour than an old-fashioned cinema?
With regular showings in English, the Visionario is a unique cinematic experience. Check out their weekly viewing list, which also includes movies at their sister cinema, the Cinema Centrale.
TRY THE PROSCIUTTO SANDWICHES @ OSTERIA PIERIMORTADELE
Being so close to the home of San Daniele ham, it is no wonder that this tiny osteria ‘Pierimortadele‘ specialises in fresh prosciutto sandwiches.
A typically Friulian bar, which proudly displays its history and heritage through a series of old photographs on the wall, a glass of wine here will only set you back €1. If you’re feeling daring, try ordering a ‘taj di neri’ at the bar – a glass of red wine, in the local language, ‘friulano’!
WINDOW SHOP IN VIA MERCATOVECCHIO
Recognised by its elegant pastel houses and marble, pillar-clad walkways, Via Mercatovecchio is one of the most picturesque in the city.
Leading you towards the beautiful Piazza della Libertà, punctuated by the Loggia del Lionello, this street is known mainly for its range of high-end shops and swanky bars. Whether you’re looking for jewelry and watches or shoes and bags, Via Mercatovecchio will have you covered.
HAVE DINNER @ ENOTECA ARS BIBENDI
Although more famous for its prosciutto, Friuli produces also a huge variety of delicious wines and cheeses. One of the best places in town to sample these locally-sourced antipasti is Enoteca Ars Bibendi.
Located in the quiet, quaint Via Paolo Sarpi, this wine bar offers a range of mouth-watering antipasti boards to suit all tastes. Settle yourself at the barrel-turned-table in the street outside, and choose from one of their many wines to accompany your final meal in Udine.
GO FOR DRINKS @ CANTINETTA DEL BORGO
To the untrained eye, the passageway between the buildings next to the enoteca seemingly leads nowhere. But, for locals, the Borgo Mercatovecchio actually leads to one of the city’s best bars: the aptly-named Cantinetta del Borgo.
Another student favourite, this bar will have you dancing until the early hours, and is the perfect place to meet new people. With its reasonably-priced drinks and large outdoor area, this bar makes a wonderful swansong to your time in Udine.
GETTING TO UDINE
Getting to Udine is actually easier than it may initially seem. If you’re flying, there are three main airports nearby: Trieste Airport, Venice Treviso, and Venice Marco-Polo (although the only international flights that operate in and out of Trieste Airport go to London, Munich and Valencia). From each of these, there are easy train and bus routes to Udine.
From Venice Marco-Polo, take the shuttle bus to Venezia Mestre station, where there is a direct 1h30 train to Udine. From Venice Treviso, take the bus to Treviso Centrale station, where you can catch another direct train to Udine, which lasts roughly 1h20.
Being relatively close to both Venice and Trieste, it is fairly straightforward to get to Udine by train from a number of different European countries, including Munich, Vienna, and Ljubljana.
Udine is a wonderful Italian city off the beaten track, and I hope this 3 day itinerary has given you some ideas of how to spend your time visiting the city!
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