A Weekend Guide To Udine, Friuli-Venezia Giulia

Even for the most seasoned travelers, Udine is a city that lies under the radar.
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©Abi Prowse

At once stubbornly Italian yet entirely unique, Udine is one of the largest cities in the north-eastern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and is celebrated as the heart of Friulian culture. Just a 40-minute drive from the Adriatic Sea and set against a striking backdrop of crisp mountains, Udine’s peculiar geographical position sets it apart from other cities.

Mere kilometers from Austria, Slovenia, Croatia (not to mention, the Veneto region), Friuli is a tapestry woven from threads of these vastly differing cultures which culminate on the streets of Udine in a celebration of Friulianism. Udine finds the perfect balance between tradition and vibrancy – and its bars and cafés are always gently buzzing with the hum of conversation. Coffee here is savored, and aperitivi, like family lunches, are lengthy. The pace of life may be slow, but there is more to Udine beneath its placid surface than meets the eye.

For a truly authentic taste of life in northern Italy, Udine should be your next port of call. One weekend here is all it’ll take for you to fall hard and fast for its friendly people, its comforting cuisine and breathtaking nature. From wood-clad osterie and candlelit bars to artisan boutiques and elegant architecture, read on to discover how to spend a weekend in Udine.

Friday

Check into a local bed & breakfast

To truly immerse yourself into life in Udine, there is no better place to stay than the Mercatovecchio Luxury Suites: an elegant bed and breakfast which stands proudly at the very center of the city. As Udine is home to the region’s celebrated Far East Film Festival, as well as its proudly independent Visionario Cinema, it is little wonder that each suite is named after a different cinematic masterpiece. Whether you opt for the ornate decoration of their Casablanca Suite or prefer the bright, quirky style of the Gorky Park Suite, you are guaranteed beautiful surrounding both inside and out.

Start with a Neapolitan pizza at Fratelli Panza

There’s nothing better than a soft, doughy pizza to mark your arrival in any Italian city. The best pizzeria in Udine is undoubtedly Fratelli Panza, whose convivial atmosphere is second only to the flawless quality of their pizzas. Whether you sit at one of their many outdoor tables, beneath the graceful porticoes of the town hall, or choose to hide out in their warmly-lit dining room, an evening at Fratelli Panza is the perfect introduction to Udine.

Head back to the 1950s with jazz night at Caffè Caucigh

One of Udine’s most characteristic and historic hangouts, Caffè Caucigh is the city’s home of jazz music. Every Friday night, locals and visitors of all ages flock to its gold-detailed, dark-wood interior to enjoy a free performance from local musicians. With vintage posters in bronze frames, round wooden tables are speckled across a marble floor, and an L-shaped glass counter that sweeps around the room, you could easily feel like you’ve been transported back to the 1950s. Order a glass of whiskey or a house red and settle in until the early hours.

Saturday

Coffee and croissants at Caffè Beltrame

Ask any Udinese local where to find the best coffee and pastries you’ll likely be directed to Caffè Beltrame. A pint-sized café just across the square from delicious Fratelli Panza, Beltrame is known city-wide for its unbeatable flaky croissants and creamy cappuccinos. Pull up a chair at one of their outdoor tables in the square, or perch at a window seat as you watch the slow-moving stream of local life flow past.

Stroll through Piazza Libertà and Via Mercatovecchio

Arguably Udine’s most iconic landmark, Piazza Libertà is Udine’s oldest square dating back to the 15th century. A place where varied architectural styles meet in harmony, the piazza acts as a true testament to the city’s melting-pot culture. Perhaps most striking is the Venetian-styled Loggia di San Giovanni – its white and blue bell tower is inspired by the tower in Piazza San Marco. Directly opposite lies the elegant pink-and-white marble Loggia del Lionello, Udine’s town hall. The loggia features tall marble pillars that perfectly frame the bright square surrounding them.

Via Mercatovecchio is bookended by this square and links Piazza Libertà to the more modest Piazza Marconi. Hugging the base of the city’s imposing castle, this pedestrian street is decorated with bars and shops with tables that spill out into the wide, cobbled avenue. On the weekends, students and young professionals flock to Via Mercatovecchio for drinks until late.

Try the sandwiches at Poco di Buono

Tucked off-the-beaten-path, Poco di Buono is an unexpectedly quaint place to grab a quick lunch. Whilst its front door can be found in Piazzetta Cristoforo, the café’s outdoor area is located beside the gently-rushing canal in Via Molin Nascosto (or “hidden mill street”). Order a toasted sandwich, a Spritz and enjoy the view of the canal.

Browse the artisan wares of Opificio Harold Maude

Nothing is more important in Italy than upholding traditions and artisan practices. That’s why creators like Elisabetta, who runs and owns boutique Opificio Harold Maude, are so essential to life in Friuli-Venezia Giulia. Elisbetta’s compact store is a treasure trove, every corner and surface shimmering with promise and history. A collection which unites both the refined and the eclectic, Elisabetta’s wares are all crafted by hand – either by herself or by local artists and artisans – and are often made using repurposed vintage goods.

Whether you’re searching for a unique gift for someone you love, or simply browsing for a keepsake from your time in Udine, spend an hour or so in Opificio Harold Maude – and be sure to ask Elisabetta for the story behind each and every object.

Aperitivo with the locals at Pieri Mortadele

They say you haven’t really graduated from the University of Udine if you haven’t celebrated your festa di laurea (graduation party) at Pieri Mortadele. With a grounded yet energetic soul which encompasses Friulian tradition, this osteria is something of a Tardis. As you step inside, the bar appears compact and homely but a small archway on the back wall reveals a large, wood-clad room that is perfect for parties, events, and everyday aperitivi.

As proudly implied by Pieri Mortadele’s all-pink décor and fun branding style, this osteria specializes in prosciutto dishes sourced from some of the region’s most celebrated prosciutterie. Big groups should order a charcuterie board, adorned also with artisan breads and cheeses. If you’re stopping for a quick aperitivo, be sure to order their flavorful crostini.

©Abi Prowse

Traditional Friulian dinner at Osteria alla Ghiacciaia

Although Italy takes the gold when it comes to the world’s most beloved cuisine, most never look beyond pizza, pasta, and gelato. Friulian food, like every other aspect of the region, is entirely unique, drawing inspiration from neighboring regions and countries. The result? A hearty, homely cuisine crafted using fresh, local ingredients and produce.

There are a number of places in the centre of Udine which offer wonderfully authentic Friulian food, but there is nowhere like Osteria alla Ghiacciaia. As picturesque as it is delicious, this restaurant is known for its unbeatable dining set-up, with a wooden balcony overhanging the canal, framed by softly bowing willow trees. Be sure to reserve a table outside and try frico, a local delicacy that resembles a cheesy potato pancake, or a creamy risotto alla zucca.

Enjoy a nightcap at cocktail bar Gatti e Re

Udine may be teeming with pint-sized, traditional bars and osterie, but it also knows how to do fancy. If you’re pining for a pinch of sophistication, take a nightcap at sleek, modern cocktail bar Gatti e Re. With an interior reminiscent of the youthful haunts of London and New York, this hidden gem is one of the best places in the city to sample a range of cocktails, from the classic to more innovative tipples.

Sunday

Refreshing morning walk up to the Castello di Udine

Friulians are known across Italy for their drinking abilities, so chances are your Saturday night got a little boozy. The perfect remedy to blow away those cobwebs is a refreshing walk up to the Castello di Udine on a Sunday morning. Enter via the grand archway in Piazza Libertà and follow the sweeping pathway up to the Piazzale del Castello. On a clear day, you’ll be regaled with uninterrupted views of the Dolomites, so close they feel almost painted onto the sky.

Begin your descent towards Piazza 1 Maggio by following the leafy footpath tucked behind the chapel. If you’re lucky, you may just stumble across the scattered stalls of the antique market, which takes place on the third Sunday of each month.

©Abi Prowse

Enjoy a hearty lunch at Trattoria Antica Maddalena

Il pranzo della domenica, or Sunday lunch, is sacred in Italy – and in Udine it is no different. One of the best spots in the city to savor this tradition is Trattoria Antica Maddalena: a restaurant tucked into the warren of streets behind Piazza San Giacomo. Whether you’re craving local Friulian cuisine or hankering for a generous bowl of pasta, its war, atmosphere and mouth-watering dishes are sure to hit the spot. The menu changes monthly to reflect the flavors of seasonal ingredients, so each visit is a new experience.

Time for one last coffee in Piazza San Giacomo

Before you bid goodbye to your weekend in Udine, find time for one last afternoon coffee. Framed on all sides by pastel houses which are slightly wonky but endlessly charming, Piazza Matteotti (or Piazza San Giacomo, as it’s known to locals) encompasses la dolce vita in all its entirety. Pigeons flutter through the sky, chased by playful dogs; children splash in the stone fountain as parents catch up with passing neighbors; the tinkling of coffee cups forms the soundtrack to what is an undeniably idyllic scene. It doesn’t matter which of the numerous cafés you choose to sit at – here, bad coffees are few and far between.

There is no better way to wrap up your weekend in Udine.

See More: Friuli-Venezia Giulia Travel Guide

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