If you’re making a trip to Italy, then Tuscany might be at the top of your list. Located in the northwest of Italy, Tuscany has a coastline on the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian Seas. The capital, Florence, is known for its art and architecture. In fact, the region is the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance.
Tuscany is hilly, generally. The countryside offers many exploration sites: Villages, vast farms that host villas, castles and mansions that have both historic and modern architectural designs. If you want to traverse between the cities of Pisa, Florence and Siena, you can easily do that by train or by bus and coaches offering you a chance to site-see the surroundings.
You can partake in truly amazing adventures in Tuscany. Consider truffle-hunting in San Miniato if you enjoy that delicacy, take a hot air balloon ride over the Chianti vineyards, or enjoy a relaxing soak in the hot springs of the Val d’Orcia. Here are some of the top things to do in Tuscany, on a city-by-city basis.
When one thinks of Tuscany, the enchanting city of Florence often springs to mind. As the heart of the Italian Renaissance, Florence is a trove of artistic wonders. Due to its importance and size, this capital city has some of the best things to do in Tuscany. It’s a great city to explore on your own, but I found that transportation can be a bit difficult if you don’t speak Italian. Another option is to take a guided tour to see some of the attractions you’re most interested in.
Don’t miss the magnificence of the Florence Cathedral, or the Duomo as it’s locally known, standing tall in the Piazza del Duomo right in the historic center of the city. This beacon of architectural grandeur is beautiful on the inside as well as from outside. The bell tower is especially unique.
Not far from there, the Galleria dell’Accademia beckons with its art collections, most notably the statue of David by Michelangelo. Wander a little more and you’ll find yourself in the Piazza della Signoria, another historic square, lined with statues and adjacent to the famed Uffizi Gallery. This gallery houses an unrivaled collection of Renaissance art, a reflection of the city’s deep-rooted artistic legacy. Nearby make sure to take in the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest of all the Italian bridges.
No trip to Florence is complete without a stroll to Piazzale Michelangelo. This elevated square offers panoramic views of the city, where the terracotta rooftops and iconic landmarks sprawl beneath in a picturesque scene.
The Medici family, once the city’s ruling dynasty, has left an indelible mark on Florence. Their patronage fueled the city’s artistic and architectural boom, which can still be felt as one navigates through Florence’s winding streets and alleyways. As you wander, consider taking a moment by the Arno River, perhaps over Ponte Vecchio, and relishing an espresso in Oltrarno. The mopeds zipping by, paired with the aroma of Italian coffee, captures the essence of Florence, blending its rich history with the vibrancy of modern life.
And for those with a few extra days to spare, Florence’s central location makes it a perfect starting point for various day trips you can take from Florence, promising more Tuscan wonders. Florence is also the perfect starting point for a complete tour of the area, so check this 10-day Tuscany road trip itinerary.
Pisa, more than just its iconic leaning tower, is a jewel nestled in the Tuscan countryside. As you approach the city, it’s the UNESCO World Heritage site of Campo dei Miracoli (Field of Miracles) that truly takes one’s breath away. This sprawling green expanse is the setting for the world-renowned Leaning Tower of Pisa. Contrary to popular belief, this tower’s tilt isn’t an architectural blunder but a consequence of the shifting ground beneath, giving it its unique charm.
But the tower isn’t the only marvel in the Campo dei Miracoli. The radiant Cathedral and the rounded Baptistry stand in harmonious contrast, each an architectural wonder in its own right. Together, they paint a sublime picture of Pisa’s golden age, echoing tales of power, faith, and artistic prowess.
As you tread further, beyond these illustrious monuments, you’ll discover the true essence of Pisa. Its streets, imbued with history, are perfect for leisurely strolls, allowing visitors to soak in the ambiance of a city that effortlessly weaves the splendors of its past with the rhythms of contemporary Tuscan life.
Pisa is an easy day trip from Florence, taking about an hour each way on a regional train.
In the undulating hills of Tuscany lies Siena, a city that resonates with history and charm. From its perch atop three hills, Siena offers a tranquil retreat within its city walls, distinct from the bustling tourist centers of Florence or Pisa. Here, you’re transported back to a time where the echoes of Roman times blend seamlessly with the grandeur of Gothic architecture.
Walking through its narrow, winding streets, one is greeted by a city that has retained much of its historic allure. The grand Piazza del Campo, once the hub of Roman forums, now stands as a testament to Siena’s rich past. Twice a year, this vast expanse bursts into life with the Palio, a historic horse race that sends the city into a festive frenzy.
Not far from the piazza stands the majestic Palazzo Pubblico and its towering counterpart, Torre del Mangia. Their silhouettes punctuate the skyline, inviting visitors to delve deeper into Siena’s art and history. And then there’s the Duomo of Siena, a Gothic masterpiece that rivals even the grand churches of larger Italian cities.
Yet, despite its historical treasures, what truly sets Siena apart is its atmosphere. Unlike the ever-popular Florence or the iconic Pisa, Siena offers a more laid-back experience. The streets here are less crowded, allowing visitors to meander with ease, to take in the grandeur of impressive palazzos, the tranquility of secluded piazzas, and the serene beauty of its many churches. Siena is one of the best places to visit if you want to enjoy more Italian life and less of a tourist experience. Make sure to sit back with a glass of Brunello di Montalcino wine to truly be at home in this perfect place.
Nestled between the art-laden cities of Florence and Siena lies the tranquil Chianti region, a picturesque realm that seems to have been conjured up from a dream. Here, the hustle and bustle of tourist-heavy towns give way to a serene symphony of rolling hills, olive groves, and enchanting vineyards.
Known globally for its namesake wine, Chianti Classico, this region is a paradise for oenophiles and casual wine enthusiasts alike. The vineyard-clad landscape beckons visitors to embark on a sensory journey, tasting world-class wines in the very cellars and estates where they are meticulously crafted. Enjoy a wine tasting in the beautiful area to fully experience the region.
Beyond the vineyards, Chianti’s charming small-stone villages and parishes exude an old-world allure. Visitors often opt for the agritourismo experience, staying in countryside villas that marry rustic charm with modern comforts. It’s not just about wine; Chianti invites explorers to traverse its hills on cycling tours or leisurely drives, revealing panoramic vistas that seem to leap out of a Renaissance painting.
The Chianti area is also home to various food festivals and markets where one can savor local flavors – be it truffles, olive oil, or traditional Tuscan dishes. Here, amidst the lush green fields and historic hamlets, time seems to slow down, allowing you to lose yourself in the pleasures of Chianti’s serene ambiance. Want a bird’s eye view? Try a breathtaking (and heartstopping?!) ride in a hot air balloon!
Venturing to the northern reaches of Tuscany, you’ll find the rugged and majestic Apuan Alps. Distinct from Tuscany’s typical rolling hills and vineyards, these mountains offer a breathtaking panorama and a hint of adventure. The Apuan Alps are perhaps most famous for their gleaming white marble quarries, which supplied the material for masterpieces such as Michelangelo’s David. But beyond the quarries, the Alps are a haven for hikers and nature enthusiasts. With trails ranging from serene walks to challenging climbs, the Apuan Alps cater to all levels of outdoor adventurers. As you explore, you’ll come across unique karst formations, sprawling meadows, and views that stretch all the way to the Ligurian Sea. Whether you’re tracing the paths of ancient stonecutters or simply soaking in the alpine beauty, the Apuan Alps add a touch of rugged splendor to your Tuscan journey.
The Apuan Alps region is accessible by train to some extent. The nearest major train station to the Apuan Alps is in Carrara, a town known for its famous Carrara marble. From major cities like Florence or Pisa, you can take a train to Carrara. Once in Carrara, you might need to rely on local transport or arrange for tours or taxis to reach specific parts of the Apuan Alps, especially if you’re looking to hike or visit particular quarries.
Driving offers more flexibility and might be the preferred choice for those wishing to explore the Apuan Alps more extensively. By car, you can access various parts of the Alps, explore multiple trails, and visit remote areas. This option gives you the freedom to move at your own pace and explore places that might not be easily accessible by public transport.
If you’re keen on thorough exploration, renting a car would be the best option. However, if you’re planning a shorter visit or are more interested in the marble aspect, the train to Carrara followed by local arrangements might suffice.
If you like medieval castles, you must take time to visit Fosdinovo! Perched atop a hill overlooking the valleys of the Magra River and the Apuan Alps, the Malaspina Castle in Fosdinovo is a testament to Tuscany’s rich medieval history. Dating back to the 12th century, this castle boasts a blend of military and residential architecture, encompassing a maze of corridors, rooms, and fortifications that tell tales of its storied past.
Owned by the Malaspina family for centuries, the castle is rich in legends and folklore, including tales of ghosts and mysterious happenings. One of its most famous legends is that of Bianca Maria Aloisia, a young girl said to have been imprisoned within the castle walls by her own family due to a forbidden love affair. Visitors often recount tales of eerie sounds and apparitions as they explore the castle’s ancient corridors.
However, beyond its myths, Malaspina Castle offers breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding region. From its towers and battlements, one can gaze upon the vast stretch of the Tuscan landscape, from the shimmering Tyrrhenian Sea to the rugged peaks of the Apuan Alps. Today, the castle serves not just as a historical monument but also as a venue for cultural events, art exhibitions, and literary initiatives, ensuring that its grandeur and legacy continue to inspire and captivate.
Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, not far from the famed Chianti region, lies the medieval town of San Gimignano. Often referred to as the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages,” the town is distinguished by its skyline of thirteen towers, remnants of a time when noble families competed to build the tallest structures.
Strolling through the cobbled streets of this small town, you’ll feel transported back to the 13th century. The Piazza della Cisterna and Piazza del Duomo form the town’s epicenter, where frescoes, palazzos, and churches narrate tales of its illustrious past. The town’s charm isn’t confined to its architecture; local vineyards produce the renowned Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine that perfectly encapsulates the region’s rich flavors.
Though smaller than its more celebrated Tuscan counterparts, San Gimignano offers a unique blend of history and serenity. A visit here promises a timeless journey, allowing one to bask in the shadows of ancient towers while savoring the delights of Tuscan culture.
A tapestry of rolling hills, roads line with cypress trees, and golden fields, the Val d’Orcia stands as one of Tuscany’s most enchanting regions. This UNESCO World Heritage site, with its undulating landscapes and historic villages, seems to have leaped out of a Renaissance painting, offering visitors a glimpse into Tuscany’s soul.
Every turn in the Val d’Orcia unveils a new vista: from the historic hill towns of Pienza and Montalcino to the thermal baths of Bagno Vignoni. These ancient settlements, perched atop hills, are a testament to the region’s rich history, offering narrow alleyways, historic churches, and fortresses that whisper tales from centuries past.
One of Tuscany’s lesser-known treasures is its array of natural hot springs. Scattered across the region, many of these thermal waters have been enjoyed since Roman times, providing therapeutic and rejuvenating experiences for both locals and travelers alike. Whether hidden amidst dense forests or part of an organized spa, these hot springs are an ideal way to unwind after a day of exploring, enveloping visitors in warm, mineral-rich waters against the backdrop of Tuscany’s stunning landscapes.
Perhaps the sheer tranquility of Val d’Orcia captivates travelers most. Here, against a backdrop of terracotta farmhouses and vineyards stretching to the horizon, one can truly embrace the timeless essence of Tuscany, basking in nature’s beauty and the legacy of ages gone by.
Nestled in the heart of Tuscany, Montecatini is renowned as a spa haven. This city rose to fame for its splendid thermal baths, which originated in the 16th century, offering visitors a rejuvenating escape. Beyond its therapeutic waters, Montecatini boasts a range of attractions, from the esteemed Golf Club to the historic Funicolare. Dine in exquisite restaurants, enjoy vibrant nightlife in its clubs, or immerse yourself in cultural events ranging from theatrical performances to art exhibitions. Whether attending concerts, participating in festivals, or simply waltzing in grand ballrooms, Montecatini ensures a blend of relaxation and cultural enrichment.
Lucca, ensconced within well-preserved Renaissance walls, is often hailed as the “City of Hundred Churches,” a testament to its rich religious heritage. As visitors stroll along its cobbled streets, they encounter a myriad of historic churches, each narrating tales of bygone eras. The city’s walls, which once served as fortifications, have now been transformed into pedestrian promenades, offering picturesque vistas of the cityscape and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
Beyond its ecclesiastical wonders, Lucca is a realm of art and music. Home to the renowned composer Giacomo Puccini, the city resonates with operatic history, making the annual Puccini Opera Festival a must-visit for enthusiasts. The elliptical Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, once a Roman amphitheater, now stands as a vibrant hub of cafes, shops, and lively events. With its blend of history, culture, and Tuscan charm, Lucca is a jewel waiting to be explored.
San Quirico d’Orcia
Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the Val d’Orcia, San Quirico d’Orcia exudes a charm reminiscent of a bygone era. This small medieval town, though often overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, is a gem waiting to be discovered. As you stroll through its ancient walls, you’ll come across beautiful Romanesque churches, well-preserved Renaissance gardens, and narrow streets that echo tales of its rich history. The iconic Collegiata Church stands as a testament to the town’s artistic heritage, while the Horti Leonini gardens provide a tranquil space to relax and take in the beauty. With fewer crowds and a serene ambiance, San Quirico d’Orcia offers an authentic taste of Tuscany’s timeless allure.
Perched elegantly atop a hill in Tuscany, the small village of San Miniato offers a delightful glimpse into the region’s rich tapestry of history and culture. Far from the bustling tourist hubs, this quaint village remains one of Tuscany’s best-kept secrets, providing a serene backdrop for travelers seeking authenticity.
San Miniato’s strategic location, midway between Florence and Pisa, once made it a prized possession during medieval times. This historical significance is evident in its architectural gems, from the evocative Cathedral of San Miniato to the fortress that watches over the village and its surroundings. As you meander through its narrow streets, the scent of the prized white truffle—a local specialty—may tantalize your senses, further enhancing the village’s charm.
Yet, perhaps the most enduring memory of San Miniato for many is the panoramic vista it offers. Overlooking sweeping valleys and vineyards, the village serves as a serene vantage point, encapsulating the timeless allure of Tuscany in every gaze.
Extending Your Journey to Cinque Terre
While exploring the wonders of Tuscany, consider extending your journey northward to the captivating Cinque Terre. Just a few hours away, this collection of five cliffside villages along the Ligurian coast offers a stunning contrast to Tuscany’s rolling hills. With its pastel-hued houses clinging to rugged cliffs, azure waters, and scenic hiking trails connecting each village, Cinque Terre presents a unique coastal Italian experience. Whether savoring fresh seafood on a terrace overlooking the sea, wandering the narrow stone-paved streets, or hiking between the villages with breathtaking views at every turn, this UNESCO World Heritage site is a delightful addition to any Tuscan adventure.
Tuscany, with its harmonious blend of historic cities, undulating landscapes, and unparalleled cultural legacy, is a region that promises an immersive experience in central Italy. Each corner, from the art-rich streets of Florence to the tranquil vineyards of Chianti, tells a story of centuries past and the enduring spirit of Italian culture. Whether you’re soaking in natural hot springs, gazing down from a hot air balloon, or simply sipping on a glass of wine against a backdrop of a Tuscan sunset, the region beckons with an allure that’s timeless. As you embark on your Tuscan journey, remember to embrace not just the sights but the soul of this Italian gem. Here, in the heart of Italy, memories are etched not just in photographs but in the very essence of one’s being. Buon viaggio!