Abruzzo is one of those Italian regions that don’t attract as many visitors as they should. That’s why, if you are short on time, spending one day in L’Aquila, the region’s capital, is enough.
Often, the capital of the Abruzzo region is taken as the base to visit the nearby Gran Sasso National Park, but this would require staying more than one day in L’Aquila. As a matter of fact, we stayed two days in L’Aquila because we wanted to explore the surrounding mountains, too.
But if you can only afford 24 hours, rest assured that there are plenty of things to see and do, plenty of landmarks to visit, and plenty of history to learn.
Let’s find out what to do in L’Aquila in a day to make the most of this short trip.
Best things to do in one day in L’Aquila
Breakfast at Tre Marie Antico Caffè
If you have stayed over for the night or reached early by train, you might want to start your day in L’Aquila by having breakfast.
Tre Marie Antico Caffè coffee shops is known for its delicious pastries and coffees. Open until night time, it serves also, brunch, light lunch, aperitif, and dinner.
Start your day in Piazza Duomo and duck into Chiesa of Santa Maria del Suffragio
3 minutes on foot from Tre Marie Antico Caffè
The best place to start your itinerary for one day in L’Aquila is the heart of the city, Piazza Duomo. Unfortunately, the main church here, the Duomo, is not yet opened to the public after it was heavily damaged in the 2009 earthquake.
In the same square, however, is another important church that definitely deserves to be included in your route, the Church of Santa Maria del Suffragio. Erected in 1713 as a tribute to the victims of the 1703 earthquake, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Suffragio is the most iconic example of the local religious architecture of the 18th century.
The architectural style is a mix of late-Baroque and Classic, and the dome has been attributed to the famous architect Giuseppe Valadier.
Duck into Chiesa di San Silvestro church
15 minutes on foot from Piazza Duomo
When you are done with your coffee in the elegant Piazza Regina Margherita, take Via Giuseppe Garibaldi and reach Piazza San Silvestro to see its namesake church.
Dating back to the 13th century, Chiesa di San Silvestro owes its construction to the inhabitants of the Collebrincioni castle who thus contributed to the foundation of the city.
Among the artwork worth noting here are the frescoes of the Maestro di Beffi and the works of Francesco da Montereale, Raffaello Sanzio, and Giulio Cesare Bedeschini commissioned by the Branconio clan between the 15th and 16th centuries.
See the Fontana Luminosa fountain
7 minutes on foot from the Church of San Silvestro
Standing for the bright fountain, Fontana Luminosa was made by sculptor Nicola D’Antino in 1934. It draws its name from the colorful light interplay we can witness at night.
The monumental fountain stands in Piazza Battaglione degli Alpini in the city center and portrays two naked women holding above their heads the iconic water container symbol of the region.
See the Neptune fountain in Piazza Regina Margherita
2 minutes on foot from Fontana Luminosa
Taking Corso Vittorio Emanuele, in a few steps, you will reach the historical Piazza Regina Margherita dating back to the 18th century. Strategically located at the meeting point of the important Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Via Garibaldi roads, the square is surrounded by historical notable palaces.
Before leaving Piazza Regina Margherita, you can sip on another coffee or cappuccino in front of the monumental Neptune Fountain built with the white and pastel-pink colors typical of the city that you can see in other important landmarks including the Basilica of Collemaggio.
Visit the Basilica of San Bernardino
6 minutes on foot from Piazza Regina Margherita
You can start the afternoon of your day in L’Aquila by visiting the beautiful Basilica of San Bernardino.
The important Basilica of San Bernardino was founded in the 15th century to host the relics of the saint from Siena and is regarded as an iconic symbol of sacred art from Abruzzo.
The interior is majestic and you will be struck right at the entrance of the three-nave basilica. The large central nave is surmounted by a gilded wooden ceiling with San Bernardino’s monogram in the middle completed in 1724 and enriched in 1732-1733 with three canvases by painter Gerolamo Cenatiempo from Naples.
Lunch at Grotta di Aligi Osteria
11 minutes on foot from San Bernardino Basilica
Grotta di Aligi was by far our favorite restaurant, and since it’s in the city center, it’s the perfect stop for lunch in your 1-day L’Aquila itinerary.
We had here our first lunch and loved the food. They serve very well-prepared traditional dishes. I ordered pasta with fresh truffle and was absolutely divine.
They warned me that it was going to be simply fresh truffle finely sliced and not the truffle cream many expect. Having tried both, I can state that this was a million times better: delicate and flavorful.
Since I was with my family, we ordered a bit of a mix of first courses, mains, side dishes, and desserts and everything went beyond our expectations. I suggest booking because the restaurant is not too large, in the city center, and very popular.
Explore MUNDA – Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo
20 minutes on foot from Grotta di Aligi Osteria
Take a break from the churches and explore L’Aquila’s archaeological museum set in a 16th-century castle. MUNDA – Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo hosts a rich collection of archaeological relics found in the surroundings as well as artwork from medieval times and the modern age.
To visit this museum, you will need to carve at least one or two hours out of your 1-day L’Aquila itinerary, so if you think you are short on time, you have to consider whether you want to visit this and leave out some churches or the other way around.
See Fontana delle 99 Cannelle
2 minutes on foot from MUNDA – Museo Nazionale d’Abruzzo
Facing the museum is the famous Fontana delle 99 Cannelle. Standing for the fountain of the 99 water spouts, it’s one of the few buildings in the city that remained pretty unscathed after the 2009 earthquake, even though the building right in front looks completely crumbling.
I found this fountain utterly fascinating. It’s a large square where you can actually enter surrounded by 99 spouts (cannelle) and on top of each spout is mounted a mascaron, except for 6 spouts that are unadorned. There is a different mascaron for each spout.
Right next to the fountain is one of the historical gates known as Porta Rivera.
Head to Basilica di Santa Maria di Collemaggio
30 minutes on foot from Fontana delle 99 Cannelle
This church is slightly out of the city center and truthfully a bit far. But it’s so beautiful that I strongly suggest adding it to your itinerary even if you have only one day in L’Aquila.
It’s located in the Collemaggio hill right outside of the city walls. You can either walk for half an hour or take a taxi that can wait there for the time of your visit and then drive you back to the city center.
Founded in 1288 upon the will of Pietro da Morrone who was here nominated pope as Celestine V on August 29th, 1294, the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio is considered the highest example of the region’s sacred architecture as well as the symbol of the city. The church hosts the mortal remains of Pope Celestine V.
Tips to save time in one day in L’Aquila
Inquire with the tourism office
The local tourism office is in Piazza Battaglione degli Alpini close to the Fontana Luminosa fountain. I suggest popping in and asking them any questions you might have including opening hours, maps, how public transport works, and if there are some landmarks that are closed for the day.
Draw your itinerary
Having a detailed itinerary beforehand will help especially because you are trying to see L’Aquila in one day only. This is why I suggest checking our itinerary and routes before you get there in case there are some landmarks you want to tick off your list because not interesting to you or because you prefer to take things slower.
Use public transport
You can ask the tourism board also about the local public transportation in case you don’t want to walk if a stop is too far. Apart from the buses, consider taxis, too, as public transport. It will be more expensive than the bus but you can book it when you need it.
You’ve got more time? Go to Campo Imperatore
This is a popular ski resort in the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso, so particularly indicated if you are traveling to Italy in winter. It’s about an hour’s drive from L’Aquila. If you don’t mind driving up to the mountains, that is. If you are visiting in summer, you can enjoy a scenic hike. Even though quite close, this is not a trip you can take if you stay only one day in L’Aquila.
We went at the beginning of June, so late spring, and it was still freezing. It also gave us some good showers, so this might not be the best time to visit.
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