Suspended in time and space, Civita di Bagnoregio is a magical, almost surreal, destination.
Teetering on a plateau of volcanic rock above a vast canyon, this tiny medieval village is one of the most beautiful places in Italy. Picture cobbled streets lined with flower-bedecked Renaissance buildings, a handsome Romanesque church and sweeping views of the Valle dei Calanchi and you’ll have the measure of the place.
Whether you visit this Civita di Bagnoregio as a day trip from Rome, on a shore excursion from the port of Civitavecchia or stay overnight, here is all you need to know to plan your trip.
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A Short History of Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio was founded by Etruscans around 500 BC. Numerous traces of this ancient civilisation remain, including its street system, a necropolis and a chamber tomb.
The Romans arrived in 265 BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, it changed hands between the Goths, the Byzantines and the Lombards, before becoming part of the Papal States.
Civita di Bagnoregio: The Dying Town
Civita di Bagnoregio’s beauty is fragile.
Christened La città che muore – the dying town – by the Civita-born writer Bonaventura Tecchi, the village is slowly and inexorably crumbling.
This is thanks to its position on top of a plateau of unstable volcanic tuff overlooking the Tiber river valley. Tuft rock is subject to erosion, putting the village’s buildings in danger of collapse as their underlying support falls away.
As a result, Civita is home to more cats than humans.
The risk of having your home crumble beneath your feet would do little to compel you to stick around. In 2020, the village’s population had dwindled to just 12 permanent residents. A colony of 20 cats make up Civita’s main bloc of residents.
Crossing the Bridge to Civita di Bagnoregio
To reach Civita you need to walk across the 300-meter concrete suspension bridge that links the village to the town of Bagnoregio.
Civita di Bagnoregio is the only town in Italy that charges an admission fee. To cross the bridge, there is a €5 charge, payable on the Bagnoregio side. Some of this money goes towards preserving the town.
From the terrace of the town’s belvedere at the start of the bridge, there are panoramic views of Civita di Bagnoregio.
When I arrived, the medieval village and surrounding countryside were shrouded in mist. As the sun started to break through, the mist lifted slowly revealing the village.
It was an extraordinary, almost other-worldly, sight. Civita appeared to be suspended in mid-air amidst a weirdly eroded landscape.
Things to See in Civita di Bagnoregio
Civita di Bagnoregio is a town that is short on attractions but brimming with history and charm.
This is a village that is frozen in time. Thanks to its relative isolation, it was spared the ravages of two world wars and its architecture spans several hundred years.
Typical medieval stone buildings, with small balconies with flowers and ladders, flank narrow streets. At the end of some of these streets are majestic views over the valley below.
You enter Civita di Bagnoregio through Porta San Maria, the village’s only remaining entrance. Carved into tuff by the Etruscans 2,500 years ago, a Gothic arch was added to this stone gateway in the 12th century.
The crosses are scratched into triangles on its walls are attributed to pilgrims returning from the Holy Land. On either side of the gateway are sculptures of a pair of lions holding a human head in their claws, commemorating the defeat of the despotic Monaldeschi family by Civita residents in 1457.
Via S. Maria del Cassero widens into Civita’s main square, Piazza S. Donato.
This is the setting for the village’s festivals, most notably the Palio della Tonna. In June and September each year, donkeys race in Civita’s main square.
Think of it as a smaller and more charming version of Siena’s Il Palio.
The Romanesque Church of S. Donato occupies the eastern corner of the piazza.
Restored in the 16th Century, it houses a sacred wooden Crucifix of the school of Donatello and relics of Sant’Ildebrando, bishop of the city in the 9th Century. There is also a fresco by the school of Perugino.
Civita di Bagnoregio is the birthplace of Saint Bonaventure, born around 1217 AD. In return for being miraculously healed by Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Bonaventure became a leading theologian, minister general of the Franciscan order and cardinal-bishop of Albano.
His only remaining relic – his right arm – is preserved in the cathedral in Bagnoregio. Although his home is long gone, there is a shrine is close to the house in which Saint Bonaventure spent his teenage years.
How Long Do You Need to Visit Civita di Bagnoregio?
Allow at least two hours when visiting Civita di Bagnoregio.
How to Get to Civita di Bagnoregio
The easiest way to visit Civita di Bagnoregio is by car. However, with a little forward planning, you can get here by public transport.
Organised day tours from Rome to the port of Civitavecchia are also available.
Getting to Civita di Bagnoregio by car
Civita di Bagnoregio is reached by the A1 motorway. Leave the motorway after the toll booth at Orvieto and follow the signs to Civita di Bagnoregio.
From Rome, Bagnoregio is a 1.5 – 2 hour journey by car.
If you visit Civita di Bagnoregio by car, you will have to use one of the pay-and-display car parks in the valley below the bridge.
Although the belvedere parking area is only a few minutes walk from the bridge, it is closed to visitors on busy days and is unlikely to be available on summer weekends.
Parcheggio Battaglini, at the bottom of Bagnoregio, is likely to be a better bet. From here you can reach Civita di Bagnoregio on foot, which will take you 15 – 20 minutes. Although it’s an uphill climb and steep in places, you get to explore Bagnoregio.
Alternatively, take the Civita shuttle bus from Parcheggio Battaglini to the belvedere at the start of the bridge. This costs 1 Euro per person and children go free.
If you want to save time and energy, catch the shuttle bus to Civita and walk back.
Visiting Civita di Bagnoregio without car
Getting to Civita di Bagnoregio by train and bus
The closest train stations to Civita di Bagnoregio are Viterbo and Orvieto. The journey via Orvieto is the better one.
From Rome, trains depart Tiburtina and Termini stations for Orvieto. The fastest journey time is just over one hour. From Orvieto, catch a bus for the journey to Bagnoregio.
The fastest train journey from Roma Ostiense station to Viterbo takes 100 minutes. From Viterbo there are infrequent buses to Bagnoregio.
Visiting Civita di Bagnoregio on a day excursion
Although it is entirely possible to reach Civita by public transport, the infrequent bus schedules mean that this isn’t the best of journeys. To be frank, it’s a faff.
The easiest way to visit Civita di Bagnoregio without a car is by joining an organised day tour.
I use and highly recommend using GetYourGuide to source and book day excursions. Not only does the platform offer an extensive selection of tours from independent operators, there is also a very generous cancellation policy.
Discover two of Italy’s most beautiful villages in Italy in one easy day trip from Rome. Includes lunch and entrance fees.
For something a little different, join this 14-hour bike tour of the Tiber Valley. It includes pick-up from your hotel, transfer by train to the Tiber Valley.
Visiting Civita di Bagnoregio from the port of Civitavecchia
The second time I visited Civita di Bagnoregio was on a shore excursion from the port of Civitavecchia, which is one of the ports of call on Mediterranean cruises. This excursion also included the lovely Etruscan town of Tuscania.
At that time (October 2021), the government had mandated shore excursions with the cruise operator if you wanted to get off the ship at Italian ports. But in better times, it is likely that you will be able to save money by booking your shore excursion independently.
From Civitavecchia Port, this day excursion visits the “Monster Park” in Bomarzo in addition to Civita. Entrance ticket to both places is included.
Where to stay in Civita di Bagnoregio
Whilst most people visit Civita di Bagnoregio as a day tour from Rome or Orvieto, there’s something to be said for staying overnight in either Bagnoregio or Civita to savour the flavour of the place once the day-trippers have left.
Here are a few places that I have found that are worth considering.
This holiday rental in Bagnoregio has garnered superb reviews.
Also in Bagnoregio, this apartment is a ten-minute walk from Civita
A gorgeous-looking apartment in the centre of Civita.
Why Should You Visit Civita di Bagnoregio?
One of the best reasons to visit Italy is for its hilltop villages.
Visit Civita di Bagnoregio for the charm of the more famous hilltop villages of Tuscany with a unique twist. Thanks to its topography, it is suspended in time and its streets are mercifully clear of motorised vehicles.
Whilst it attracts a fraction of the visitor numbers of places such as Montepulciano or Orvieto this may not always be that case. If a proposal for Civita to enter the prestigious UNESCO list in 2022 is successful, visitor numbers could soar.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing. Increased tourist revenue may be just the thing to literally keep the town standing, preserving it for generations to come.