Tuscany Travel Guide
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Book your individual trip, stress-free with local travel experts
The idea of Tuscany as an idyll of olive groves, vineyards, hill-towns and frescoed churches may be clichéd, but it is largely true. Late medieval Tuscany was the birthplace of Italian culture and in many ways remains the essence of what travellers imagine Italy to be, a place where art and landscape are fused in the kind of harmony familiar from Renaissance paintings. The national language evolved from the Tuscan dialect, a supremacy ensured by Tuscan writers such as Petrarch, Boccaccio and, most influential of all, Dante – who all wrote in the Tuscan vernacular.
Indeed the era we know as the Renaissance, which played so large a role in forming the culture not just of Italy but of Europe as a whole, is associated more strongly with this part of the country than with anywhere else.
Florence was the most active centre of the Renaissance, flourishing principally through the all-powerful patronage of the Medici dynasty.
Every eminent artistic figure from Giotto onwards – Masaccio, Brunelleschi, Alberti, Donatello, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo – is represented here, in an unrivalled gathering of churches, galleries and museums.
Siena, one of the great medieval cities of Europe, remains almost perfectly preserved, and holds superb works of art in its religious and secular buildings.
In addition, its beautiful Campo – the central, scallop-shaped market square – is the scene of the Palio, when bareback horseriders career around the cobbles amid an extravagant display of pageantry.
From falling in love with Florence to truffle hunting in the Tuscan hills, there’s plenty to do in Tuscany. These are the highlights.
Stepping out for the first time in Florence, it’s almost impossible not to gravitate straight towards the square in the centre, the beating heart of Florence, Piazza del Duomo.
You’ll be beckoned by the iconic form of Brunelleschi’s extraordinary dome, which dominates the cityscape in a way unmatched by any architectural creation in any other Italian city.
Yet even though the magnitude of the Duomo is apparent from a distance, and even though you may have seen it in a thousand photos, the first full sight of the church and adjacent Baptistry still comes as a jolt.
The colours of their patterned exteriors are a startling contrast to the dun-coloured buildings around them.
Attracting well over two million visitors a year, the Galleria degli Uffizi is the most visited museum in Florence and even in all of Italy. In housed in what were once government offices (uffizi) built by Vasari for Cosimo I in 1560.
After Vasari’s death, work on the building was continued by Buontalenti, who was asked by Francesco I to glaze the upper storey so that it could house his art collection.
Each of the succeeding Medici added to the family’s trove of art treasures, which was preserved for public inspection by the last member of the family, Anna Maria Lodovica.
Her will specified that it should be left to the people of Florence and never be allowed to leave the city.
Considered to be the finest art collection in Italy, the three-floor gallery also contains the world's greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art.
Drinking local wine is one of the best things to do in Italy, and the Chianti vineyards between Siena and Florence produce some of the country's finest wines thanks to a mild climate year-round.
Chianti scenery is stunning too so it's also the perfect place to gaze at typically romantic Tuscan views.
Hotels in Chianti are rarely inexpensive, but this is prime agriturismo territory, with scores of farms offering rooms or apartments (or even self-contained mini-villas).
The venue for Chianti’s biggest wine fair (the Rassegna del Chianti Classico, usually held in early September), Greve in Chianti is a thriving mercantile town where there’s wine for sale on every street.
Well-heeled Castellina in Chianti formerly stood on the front line of the continual wars between Florence and Siena, and its walls and fortress bear testimony to an embattled past.
The best of Chianti lies east of Castellina and the Chiantigiana, in the less domesticated terrain of the Monti del Chianti.
For many tourists, Pisa means just one thing – the Leaning Tower, which serves around the world as a shorthand image for Italy.
It is indeed a freakishly beautiful building, a sight whose impact no amount of prior knowledge can blunt.
Yet it is just a single component of Pisa’s breathtaking Campo dei Miracoli, or Field of Miracles, where the Duomo, Baptistry and Camposanto complete a dazzling architectural ensemble.
These amazing buildings belong to Pisa’s Golden Age, from the 11th to the 13th centuries, when the city was one of the maritime powers of the Mediterranean.
It has to be said that visiting the Campo dei Miracoli in high season is not a calming experience – the tourist maelstrom here can be fierce.
Within a short radius, however, Pisa takes on a quite different character, because very few tourists bother to venture far from the shadow of the Leaning Tower.
Lucca has some of Europe's finest Romanesque buildings and it's an easy city to explore.
While the focus of Lucca’s compact centro storico is the vast Piazza Napoleone, its social heart is Piazza San Michele just to the north.
Once the site of the Roman forum, these days this lively square is fringed with shops and cafés.
The “long thread”, Via Fillungo, heads northeast, cutting through Lucca’s shopping district to reach the extraordinary circular Piazza Anfiteatro.
Further east, beyond the Fosso (“ditch”), lies San Francesco and Lucca’s major art museum, housed in the Villa Guinigi.
Whatever else you do, be sure to walk – or cycle – at least some of the city walls, which are crested by a broad, tree-lined promenade.
The entire circuit is four kilometres round and lined with trees. If you want to avoid crowds, visit in the mid-afternoon.
The Siena Palio is a twice-yearly bareback horse race around the Piazza del Campo in Siena.
One of Italy’s most spectacular events, it is preceded by weeks of preparation, medieval pageantry and chicanery.
Only 10 of the 17 contrade (neighbourhoods), chosen by lot, take part in any one race; horses, too, are assigned at random.
The only rule is that riders cannot interfere with each other’s reins.
Otherwise, anything goes. Each contrada has a traditional rival, and ensuring that it loses is as important as winning oneself.
Jockeys may be bribed to throw the race or whip a rival or a rival’s horse; contrade have been known to drug horses and even to ambush a jockey on his way to the race.
Held since at least the 13th century, the race originally followed a circuit through the town.
Since the 16th century it has consisted of three laps of the Campo, around a track covered with sand and padded with mattresses to minimise injuries.
Tuscany is well known for truffles and truffle hunting.
But one of the best things to do in Tuscany if you want to hunt down the biggest variety of the much-prized fungi is to go to San Miniato.
You'll find this famous truffle town strategically placed on top of three small hills overlooking the lower Arno Valley, between Pisa and Florence.
Tuscan cooking is all about the freshest ingredients, cooked simply, and has had a seminal influence on Italian cuisine.
Classic antipasti are peasant fare: bruschetta is stale bread, toasted and dressed with oil and garlic; crostini is toast and pâté.
Tuscan menus always include soup, often ribollita, a hearty stew of vegetables, beans and bread, or zuppa di farro, a thick soup with spelt.
Tuscany is not known for pasta, but many towns in the south serve pici, thick, hand-rolled spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs.
Meat is kept plain, often grilled, and Florentines profess to liking nothing better than a good bistecca alla fiorentina (chargrilled steak), or the rustic dish of arista (roast pork loin stuffed with rosemary and garlic).
Spinach is often married with ricotta and gnocchi, and used as a pasta filling, in crespoline (pancakes) or on focaccia.
Sheep’s milk pecorino is the most widespread cheese, but Chianti’s marzolino is the most famous.
Elba has exceptionally clear water, fine sand beaches, and a wooded interior that’s superb for walking.
Almost everyone comes for the beach resorts, so the inland villages remain largely quiet even in high season.
The principal town, Portoferraio, makes a worthwhile day-trip from the mainland. At the highest point of the old quarter sits Napoleon’s residence-in-exile, the Villa dei Mulini.
The isolated village of Marciana is the oldest settlement and most alluring spot on Elba.
Its steep old quarter is a delight of alleys, arches, belvederes and stone stairs festooned with flowers.
Marciana’s main draw is 500m south – a cable car that climbs to the summit of Monte Capanne, Elba’s highest point.
No fewer than 156 beaches dot Elba’s coast, from little-visited shingly coves to broad white sand stretches.
If you don’t mind negotiating the ranks of baking bodies in summer, they offer all the facilities you could wish for.
The Tuscan shoreline is at its best in the Maremma region, most notably in hilly Monti dell’Uccellina, 12km south of Grosseto.
Monti dell’Uccellina is recognised as the last virgin coastal landscape to survive on the Italian peninsula, and is therefore protected as the Parco Regionale della Maremma.
This breathtaking piece of countryside combines cliffs, coastal marsh, macchia, forest-covered hills, pristine beaches and beautiful stands of umbrella pine, and remains devoid of the bars, marinas, hotels and half-finished houses that have destroyed much of the Italian littoral.
The best beach here (20 minutes from Pratini, along the Strada degli Olivi) is a beautifully unspoilt, curved bay, backed by lush greenery.
The park authorities have defined half a dozen different walking itineraries; some set off from Alberese – home to the visitor centre – with the remainder leaving from Pratini, 10km into the hills, reached via hourly shuttle bus from the visitor centre.
With its captivating landscapes, rich history, and world-class cuisine, Tuscany beckons travelers to explore its picturesque wonders and indulge in unforgettable experiences. From charming agriturismos nestled amidst vineyards to luxurious villas perched atop rolling hills, the region offers a diverse array of best places to stay that perfectly complement the enchanting essence of Tuscany.
Florence has many hotels but demand is almost limitless, which means that prices are high and the tourist inundation has few slack spots.
“Low season” is defined by most hotels as meaning mid-July to the end of August (the weeks during which nearly all Italians head for the beaches or the mountains), and from mid-Nov to mid-March, except for the Christmas and New Year period.
Between March and October, booking ahead is in effect obligatory.
Boutique hotels and B&Bs have sprung up all over the city, operating under several different labels: places calling themselves relais or a residenza d’epoca are generally smart B&Bs, often located in historic palazzi.
From handsome old townhouses to reasonably-priced hotels (you'll pay more for accommodation closer to the Campo), Pisa has a range of hotels, even if most people visit on a day trip.
Siena is small enough that every hotel within the old walls is within a 15min walk of the main sights.
Anyone visiting in summer should reserve accommodation as far in advance as possible; hotels are specially booked up at Palio time (early July & mid-August) when they charge higher prices.
You’ll also be glad of air conditioning in the summer heat.
San Gimignano has too many visitors and too few locals. Hotels can be hit or miss. From tasteful mid-range hotels to lovely eighteenth-century farmhouses, there's enough to go around. Camping is also an option.
The choice is limited here, but there is a youth hostel housed in a converted monastery, a couple of smart hotels, plus camping options too.
Browse the places to stay in Tuscany.
Navigating the idyllic landscapes of Tuscany is a seamless delight, as this enchanting region provides an array of convenient and delightful transportation options to traverse its picturesque countryside and historic towns.
Much of Tuscany's remarkable countryside requires a car as it allows you the flexibility to explore the region at your own pace.
Note that many historic centres have a Zona a Traffico Limitato (ZTL), a limited traffic zone which won't allow you to drive through.
The buses in Tuscany are affordable and extensive. The region offers a reasonably comprehensive bus service, including the corse rapide (express) service between Florence and Siena.
Validate your ticket as you get on the bus to avoid the risk of an on-the-spot fine.
Tuscany's rail network provides convenient connections to several captivating cities. High-speed trains link Florence, Arezzo, Cortona, Grosseto, Livorno, and Pisa. Slower regionale (regional) trains can be useful and cheap too.
To really get to know Tuscany, allocate at least five to seven days in the region. That gives you a couple of days to explore Florence, plus day trips to Siena and Pisa.
There will also be time to venture to a charming hill town or two, such as San Gimignano, Volterra, or Montepulciano.
Aim for 10 days if you want to indulge in a wine-tasting experience in the renowned Chianti region, or embark on scenic drives through the rolling Tuscan countryside.
Midsummer in central Italy is not as pleasant an experience as you might imagine: the heat in the summer months can be stifling. From May to September the big tourist hotspots of Florence, Siena and San Gimingnano are too crowded to be really enjoyable.
If it’s at all possible, avoid August, when the majority of Italians take their holidays. This means that some restaurants and hotels close, and the beaches are jam packed.
The best time to visit Tuscany is before Easter or in the late autumn. The main towns are quieter then and the countryside is blossoming or going into harvest season.
The best time to see the fields of sunflowers bloom in Tuscany is in June or July. Winter is often quite rainy, and temperatures can drop, particularly in the hill-towns. This does, however, make it a good time to visit all the cities and major art trails.
Tuscany beckons travelers from across Europe with its two main gateways: Pisa International Airport and Florence Airport. Both airports are well-connected to the wider region.
For those arriving in northern Italy, Milan is the major rail hub. The city serves as a gateway to Tuscany, welcoming European services from various destinations.
From Milan, you can easily catch onward connections to Florence and Pisa.
Buses offer an affordable overland option to Italy but are less frequent and notably slower than the train.
Find out the best ways to get to Italy.