If you are staying beautiful Florence and want to explore Tuscany but don’t want to rent a car, no problem! You can visit much of Tuscany by train (or bus). Here are 10 really fabulous places to visit in Tuscany with things to see and do, and approximate travel times by train.
10 Day Trips From Florence By Train
Fiesole sits on the hilltop overlooking Florence. A mere 20 minute bus ride from the heart of town it is worth the trip just to take in the view, but Fiesole has much more to offer! (The best view is from the climb up to the monastery of San Francesco)
The town has a long history with famous artists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who lunched his flying machine from the hillside of Fiesole. All summer long the town hosts cultural events (see the Estate Fiesolana calendar)
What To Do In Fiesole
Visit the Etruscan-Roman Archeological site. The Etruscan settlement probably dates back to the 8th century B.C, but its first historical mention was in the 2nd century B.C when it was conquered by the Romans. In the archaeological are you can see Roman baths and the Roman amphitheater, and in the Civic Museum you can see both Etruscan and Roman artifacts. Also look for the Antiquarian Costantini collection of more than 150 pieces of ceramics from Greece and Etruria.
After the museum head down the street behind to see the remains of the massive Etruscan walls.
The Bandini Museum houses Florentine art from the 12th-14th centuries and is well worth visiting.
The first Sunday of the month there is an antiques market in the main square, Piazza Mino. During the month you will frequently find other markets in the same space.
How To Get There
From Santa Maria Novella station take the #7 bus.
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Certaldo is a hidden treasure, far from the tourist crush but well worth making the trip for.
From the train station take the 5 minute walk across the heart of town to the base of the hill where the funicular will take you up to Certaldo Alto, a magnificent walled, medieval town.
The main street of this beautiful and historically significant town is Via Boccaccio, which abruptly ends at the Palazzo Pretorio/Priori Palace. This 12th century palace is a must see, with its frescos dating back to the 13th century and a little museum full of Etruscan treasures (800 BC – 500BC) dug up on the property. Statues, vases and other historic finds in excellent condition are quite spectacular to see!
The palace was taken over by the church by 1420 and was used as a vicarage.
Also of note is the 13th century Church of Saints Jacopo and Filippo. The church is little and peaceful, watched over by a fantastic 14th century “Triumphant Christ” crucifix. It is noteable for Memmo di Filippuccio fresco of Virgin and Child between Saint James and Peter, and also for Boccaccio himself.
The writer of the Decameron, Boccaccio (1313-1375) is buried here. A sign marks the exact place he is buried and a bust of the writer holding his masterpiece (15030 sits against the left wall.
Take time to walk this tiny town and take in the spectacular views of Tuscany from the open spaces and the city walls. You can see San Gimignano across the hill.
How To get There
From Florence by train it take 50 minutes to reach Certaldo.
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Florence’s arch enemy for centuries, Siena lies in the heart of Tuscany and is a beautiful city to visit. Make your way up to the walled city and spend your day strolling within the walls. Make a note of which city gate you arrived through so you can find your way back out!
What To Do In Siena
Start by walking into the heart of Siena, Piazza del Campo.
This is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world, and is the home to the Palio horse race every July and August. The Campo has been the heart of Sienese life since 1300 and has been the place everyone gathered for parties and celebrations, political rallies and markets.
It’s shell shape is both unique and lovely. The beautiful Fonte Gaia fountain sits at the top of the shell (this one is a copy – the original is in the Museum Santa Maria della Scala), and looks out across the Campo.
The Torre del Mangia sits across the Campo from the Fonte Gaia. If you enjoy a good thigh burn take the 400 steps (!) tot the top for a truly breathtaking view of all of Siena and the surrounding hills.
Built in 1338-1348 it was constructed to the same height as the cathedral, to signify the equal power of church and state. The tower got its name from its original guardian (I have also read the original bellringer) Giovanni di Balduccio who was known as Mangiguadagni or Mr Eats-the-profits, because he ate all his earnings at the local taverns!
The Duomo. Siena’s cathedral is truly sensational and deserves a significant portion of your time. Built between 1215 and 1263 both the exterior and interior are made up of alternating stripes of white marble and a greenish black marble. The cathedral is enormous and holds incredible art from the likes of Michelangelo, Donatello and Pinturicchio.
The enormity and verticality of the cathedral draw the eye upward but be sure to look down too – the floors are incredible. Decorated with mosaics designed by 40 leading artists between 1369 and 1547, the 56 inlaid marble panels took 600 years to be completed!
The Piccolomini Library inside the Duomo is spectacular. Built by Pope Pius III to celebrate his uncle, Pope Pius II (creator of the nearby town of Pienza), the library houses Pius II’s collection of manuscripts, which are wonderful to look at, but more significantly the room is exquisitely frescoed by Pinturicchio and his students, including Raphael. With stunning use of perspective the frescoes are divided into 10 scenes depicting the life of Pius II.
Make sure you look up while you are in there. The ceiling is spectacular!
You purchase tickets next door prior to entering the cathedral, and various city passes are available. One item you may want to take note of is the opportunity to go up to the “Gate Of Heaven” and walk with a guide near the frescoed ceiling. This is a really remarkable tour, well worth doing, but as there are only a few tours per day, and they are timed, you may want to buy this ticket online ahead of time and plan your day around it.
The Baptistery is another must see and can be included in a multi entry ticket. The Baptistery was built in 1300 and is a separate building behind the cathedral. Catholics, even babies, couldn’t enter a church or cathedral without first being baptized, so it is normal to see a separate building for the baptistery. This one has beautiful artwork but its most special treasure is the bronze and marble baptismal font where for centuries every person in Siena, rich and famous or not, was baptized.
Santa Maria della Scala stands across the piazza from the cathedral (by the ticket office). Built in the 1330’s and at one time used as a hospital for abandoned children,the sick, the poor and the pilgrims it is now home to some tremendous museums, spread over 4 floors.
If you have just one day in Siena spend the rest of your time walking around the city. There is so much to see! Be sure to try a slice of panforte, a Sienese delicacy originally made as a gift for the nuns at Christmas time. It pairs perfectly with a cappuccino.
How To get There
By train from Florence you will need an hour and 45 minutes. The Siena train station is outside the walled city but plenty of city buses can take you back and forth.
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Arezzo is an ancient city, older than Alexandria in Egypt! It was one of the main Etruscan cities and went on to become strategically important to Rome. It was known for its foundaries, its commerce and for the red coralline pots made there and seen throughout the Roman world.
If you can possibly swing it try to do a day trip to Arezzo on the weekend when its world famous antiques market is happening. The market is fantastic, and you can spend hours wandering around looking at the treasures found in the attics of estates and villas that have changed hands.
What To Do In Arezzo
Go To The Market. The first Sunday of the month hosts a really incredible antiques market in Piazza Grande. With 500+ stalls you can lose yourself for hours looking at cool old treasures.
The Arezzo Cathedral. Go to see Piero della Francesca’s Mary Magdalene fresco and Donatello’s baptismal font relief.
The Basilica of San Francesco doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it houses one of Italy’s most important and most treasured pieces of Renaissance art – Piero della Francesca’s Legend Of The True Cross fresco cycle. Even though Arezzo doesn’t get a huge tourist crush it is still a good idea to book tickets for this online as they are frequently sold out.
The Medici Fortress was built between 1538 and 1560, and from the top of its walls you can get a 360 degree view of Arezzo and the surrounding area.
Roman Amphitheater and Arecheological Museum. The museum which holds 2nd century treasures sits on top of part of the amphitheater. Both are fantastic to see.
Casa Vasari. Giorgio Vasari’s Renaissance home is well worth visiting for both the art – his own frescoes line the walls, and also a handwritten letter from Michelangelo.
Just wander. Have lunch or a coffee in Piazza Grande, take in all the shields and coats of arms on the walls of the surrounding buildings, and enjoy being in this lovely city with so few tourists!
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How To Get There
Arezzo is approximately one hour from Florence by train.
As you cross the lovely valley of Casentino between Florence and Arezzo you will see a castle rise up out of nowhere – this is the town of Poppi.
Poppi is one of the best preserved walled cities, watched over by the Guidi Castle, which has been lovingly cared for and is still in amazing condition today.
What To Do In Poppi
A trip to Poppi is all about the castle. If it looks familiar that’s because it was the prototype for the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. The Poppi castle was built in the 13th century for the noble Guidi family.
From the interior courtyard a series of intricate staircases wind and weave their way upwards, and your eyes are drawn with them up to a sizeable collection of family crests.
Inside the Chapel of Counts you will discover a truly breathtaking 14th century fresco cycle by Taddeo Gaddi.
The library has an incredible collection, considered to be a literary treasure trove. It was donated to the Municipality of Poppi by the Rilli-Orsini family.
As you walk back from the castle under the porticos make your way to the ancient Abbey of Saint Fedele. Built in the 11 th century it houses paintings by Ligozzi, Solosmeo, Morandini, Portelli and Davanzati.
While in Poppi take time to visit the Camaldoli Hermitage. Surrounded by a forest of fir trees this sanctuary was founded in 1012 by Saint Romauld. The church has undergone many transformations over the centuries, and is now baroque. A must see inside the church is the Andrea della Robbia glazed terracotta alterpiece in the Sant’ Antonio Abate chapel.
There are 20 cells here at the sanctuary but the only one open to the public is Saint Romauld’s cell, which faces the church.
Some of Giorgio Vasari’s earliest works can be seen in the Church of Santi Donato e Ilariano, a monastery a few kilometers down the road.
How To Get There
The most direct route takes less than an hour by car, but by train from Florence it takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Take the train to Arezzo, then a second train to Poppi.
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If not for Frances Mayes and her wonderful books we may not have even known about Cortona. A tiny little town on top of a hill above Camucia, it is a lovely place to spend a day or part thereof.
What To Do In Cortona
Wander the Etruscan walls. I never get tired of seeing Etruscan anything, and the fact that walls and portions there of still stand 2500 years later is always amazing!
Museo dell’ Accademia Etrusco is housed in the 13th century Palazzo Casali and holds a substantial collection of local Etruscan and Roman treasures. The Etruscan objects are amazing, especially those gathered from the tombs just outside town in Sodo.
The Fortezza del Girifalco is a 15 minute hike uphill to the highest point in Cortona. The remains of what was a Medici fortress are the perfect viewing point to gaze out over the Valdichiana and Lago Trasimeno.
Caffe degli Artisti on via Nazionale is a fantastic place to stop for lunch. The owner is hilarious and will seat you elbow to elbow with fascinating people, as though it was all an elaborate dinner party. I never miss lunching there and have met the most fabulous people and made wonderful friends in the process!
People-watch in Piazza della Republica, the central piazza and main hub in town. The Town Hall stands at the top of a big staircase, on which you will normally find people sitting and looking out at the town. There are plenty of bench seats around the piazza and you will often see locals hanging out on them and catching up on the gossip, but if you find a space it is a lovely spot to enjoy the beauty of this lovely little town.
The Museo Diocesano is only little but it holds some amazing paintings from the 12th to the 17th centuries, including works by Fra’ Angelico and Luca Signorelli, who was from Cortona.
The church of Madonna del Calcinaio and its dome are one of the famous landmarks of Cortona. Luca Signorelli is buried there and the grounds are wonderful to wander along, with ancient little staircases and wonderful views.
The Saturday morning market is a wonderful chance to join the locals and buy cheeses and prosciutto, local breads and produce.
How To get There
The train from Florence takes an hour and forty minutes. You will need to take the local bus up the hill from the train station, and it will drop you outside Piazza Garibaldi.
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Of course you will you see the famous leaning tower, but Pisa has much more to offer as well.
What To Do In Pisa
Walk along the Corso Italia and check out the shops, until you arrive at Logge dei Banchi, a loggia that has hosted markets or centuries. Positioned next to the the clock tower it makes one of the most famous views of Pisa along the Arno river. Palazzo Blu is a mere 2 minutes walk from there, and is a great place to catch fabulous art exhibitions.
Look for the beautiful little church Chiesa della Spina sitting alongside the Arno.
Take time to stop on any of the bridges and take photos along the Arno.
Piazza della Vettovaglie is a market during the day and is the heart of Pisa’s nightlife after the sun goes down.
The National Museum of San Matteo has sculptures, paintings and ceramics in the Pisan style.
While in Pisa make sure to visit the Verdi Theater, a beautiful 19th century 900 seat theater built in the round.
How To Get There
Pisa is approximately 50 minutes by train from Florence.
Lucca, the city of 100 churches, sits a half hour inland from the coast on the Serchio River. Known for its Romanesque churches, hidden gardens and olive oil, Lucca is a lovely place for a day trip, or to base your entire trip.
What To Do In Lucca
Perhaps the most famous thing to do here is to rent a bicycle and bike along the top of the city wall. The 4 km bike ride (or walk) gives you unparalleled views of the city, its hidden gardens and the surrounding landscape.
The Romanesque Duomo has several great works of art including Tintoretto’s Last Supper, Ilaria del Carretto’s Tomb and the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix of the Holy Face.
The Basilica di San Frediano’s exquisite mosaic façade, glistens in the sunlight and is definitely worth seeing.
San Michele in Foro was first mentioned in 795 A.D. when it was part of the Roman Forum in Lucca. At some point after 1070 it was rebuilt, but what is most notable is the façade which was added in the 13th century.
The upper part has 4 levels of loggias (remarkable in themselves) atop which stands the 4 meter tall statue of St Michael the Archangel, flanked by 2 angels. Make sure you see the white marble statue of Madonna with baby Jesus in her arms in the south-west corner of the façade. Sculpted by Matteo Civitali it was commissioned to celebrate the end of the 1476 plague.
Piazza Anfiteatro is a lovely oval shaped piazza built around the original elliptical structure of a Roman amphitheater. During the summer events and concerts are held in the piazza, and year round it is a lovely place to have a coffee or a glass of wine.
The Guinigi Tower is a Romanesque-Gothic tower in the heart of Lucca. Built in the 1300’s it is the most important tower in Lucca. You can’t miss it with its ancient Holm Oak trees growing out of the roof!
The roof garden is definitely worth the 4 euros and 200 stairs you must climb to reach it. It is a lovely place to take in the views of the city as well as to hang out in the garden. Interestingly the kitchen of this centuries old former home was on the level below, with the roof serving as a kitchen garden for the cooks.
If you are tires and hungry after the 200 stairs and your day walking and biking around Lucca, make sure you try the famous buccellato, a sweet bread with raisins that is a local specialty!
How To Get There
Lucca is approximately 90 minutes by train from Florence.
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Whether you want to escape the heat or just enjoy a little ocean breeze, a day trip to Viareggio makes for a lovely break. One of Italy’s traditional seaside towns, Viareggio’s beach stretches 20 kms along the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea.
You don’t come here for art, history and culture, you come for a day on the sand. Most of the beach is private beach – you pay to spend the day at one of the many lidos lining the waterfront, but you will have sunchairs, a sun umbrella, restroom facilities and a restaurant/snack bar. The lungomare, or beach promenade is full of eateries and little shops catering to the beach trade.
How To Get There
From Florence by train it will take you 1.5 to 2 hours
If you want to escape the crowds and experience something extra special head to the heart of the Serchio Valley in the province of Lucca to Barga. This absolute gem is known for its artistic and historical importance and has also received awards for being one of the most beautiful villages in all of Italy.
The village’s ancient traditions date back to the Longobard era in the 6th-8th centuries. The layout of the town with its narrow winding streets and irregular shaped buildings has remained virtually unchanged since then, adding to its charm. Barga became a prize fought over by Pisa and Lucca during the middle ages, and later by Florence too.
What To Do In Barga
Take time to visit the beautifully restored castle, The 11th century Duomo, the Church of San Francesco (1471) and take time to enjoy the view from the breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape from the Arringo, the stretch of lawn between the Praetorian Palace and the cathedral.
On the second Sunday of every month there is a second hand/antiques fair in the town’s historic center, starting at 8am. Barga is also famous for its Jazz Festival and its annual Opera Festival.
How To Get There
From Florence take the train to Pisa (or Lucca) then the Lazzi bus which will take you to Lucca Piazza Verdi then on to Barga, dropping you just outside the medieval gates at the Fosso stop.