Do picturesque Medieval towns, rolling green hills covered in vines, cypress lined roads, and some of the most delicious food in Italy sound like your idea of paradise? Then you need to visit Tuscany.
Home to the Renaissance capital, Florence, the region is renowned for its art history, Chianti wine, beautiful cities, and charming small towns that have inspired films like Under The Tuscan Sun and a whole suite of dreamy literature. Considered by many to be ‘quintessential Italy’, Tuscany is one of Italy’s biggest regions and it offers visitors many diverse experiences from city, to countryside as well as the seaside along the Mediterranean coast.
Whether you’re dreaming about a trip to visit the Leaning Tower, sipping a glass or two at a Chianti winery, or eating the famous Florentine steak, travel in Tuscany is truly a dream come true for many. Keep reading to find out how to make the most of your time there with our Tuscany travel guide.
Where is Tuscany
Tuscany is nestled in the middle of Italy and on its western border are the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian seas. including an archipelago of 7 islands off the coast. The region borders Liguria, Emilia Romagna, Le Marche, Umbria and Lazio.
Florence is the capital of Tuscany and is easily reached from Rome in an hour and a half on the fast train; from Milan in two hours; and Venice in just over two hours. When visiting Tuscany by car, it is remarkably quick to enter into the countryside from Florence – the Chianti region is just 35km away.
Map of Tuscany
Main cities and towns in Tuscany
Tuscany is the fifth largest region in Italy and is divided into different areas that each offer something new to discover from art and local traditions to wine, olive oil and the seaside. Some of our favorite Tuscan towns to visit include:
- Florence: A trip to Tuscany is not complete without passing through Florence considered to be the birthplace of the Renaissance. Art and history lovers will delight as they stroll the streets once home to Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Botticelli, and visit the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries as well as the Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens.
- Lucca: Encircled by Renaissance-era walls, Lucca is one of the most charming towns to visit in Tuscany (and beyond!) A trip to this gorgeous small city could include a bike ride along the walls, visiting the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (built over an ancient Roman amphitheater), stunning villas like Villa Garzoni and Palazzo Pfanner, as well as Casa di Puccini – home to the great opera composer.
Chianti / Siena Area
- Siena: Long time rival of Florence, this medieval city is stunning in her own rite. Siena is a place where traditions run deep, best embodied by the continuation of the Palio horse race that has been running since 1232! Explore the UNESCO Heritage listed old town, 12th century Cathedral, and of course the Piazza del Campo where the Palio is held every year.
- Greve in Chianti: In the heart of the Chianti wine region, Greve is a gorgeous town famed for wine, extra virgin olive oil, and the truffles that grow in the surrounding countryside. Wine shopping is on the cards here, as well as a delicious lunch in one of the town’s many excellent restaurants.
- San Gimignano: Considered the ‘Medieval Manhattan’ thanks to its dozen towers still standing, San Gimignano is one of the most picturesque and atmospheric towns in Tuscany. Don’t miss climbing up one for a fabulous view! While you’re there, feast on their famous saffron, ham, with a glass of local wine – Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
- Pienza: Cheese lovers will want to visit Pienza to try their incredible Pecorino sheep’s milk cheese! Redesigned by Pope Pius II to be a ‘utopia’, the town is full of charming cobblestoned lanes, romantic street names, and the scent of fresh cheese wafting through the air at every turn. Enjoy breathtaking views of the Val D’Orcia countryside from the Piccolomini Palace gardens.
- Montepulciano: In the heart of Tuscany’s southern wine country, Montepulciano is said to be one of the most beautiful Tuscan Medieval hilltop towns. Indulge in wine tasting of the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and feasting of cheese, pork, thick hand-rolled pasta, honey, and lentils here.
- Montalcino: To enjoy some of the most stunning views over the Arbia, Asso, and Ombrone valleys, you can’t miss a stop in Montalcino. Covered with olive orchards and vineyards, Montalcino is known for its Brunello di Montalcino wine so plenty of tasting is recommended here.
- Arezzo: The setting for Academy Award winning film La Vita e’ Bella (Life is Beautiful), Arezzo is a total gem. Settled by Etruscans, it is full of fascinating history and architecture that also spans across Roman, Medieval, Renaissance, and Romanesque periods. Visit to enjoy quiet piazzas, long lazy lunches and the monthly antiques fair.
- Cortona: Made forever famous thanks to Frances Mayes’ Under the Tuscan Sun, Cortona is a sweet Medieval town with Etruscan roots and incredible hillside views across the Valdichiana valley and Lake Trasimeno. Wander its narrow streets, admire the Medieval architecture, and pay a visit to the Museo dell’Accademia Etrusca to learn more about its past.
Province of Pisa
- Pisa: Made forever famous thanks to the Leaning Tower, you can’t miss the main attraction of this city. However, you should linger a little longer in Pisa. A trip to this university city will uncover beautiful historic churches, Medieval castles, and ancient bridges across the River Arno. Strolling through the beautiful old town pre or post ‘tower-selfie’ is something many visitors miss out on in their rush to see the main attraction.
- Volterra: We think it’s impossible to visit too many pretty hilltop towns, and Volterra is a highlight. A walled town perched atop a mountain, Volterra has a long and fascinating history that dates back to before 8BC. Explore along the ancient walls and fortresses and go shopping at one of the many artisan shops in town.
- Grosseto: The capital of Tuscany’s ‘Maremma’ coast, Grosetto is an interesting town rebuilt by the Medici family in the 16th century. Visit the Archeological Museum, Dante Alighieri square, and Cathedral of San Lorenzo.
- Porto Ercole: Don’t miss this pretty seaside town in the Maremma along the Monte Argentario peninsula. Enjoy swimming and boat trips, exploring Spanish forts and indulging in the delicious seafood focused cuisine.
- Capalbio: A charming town on the border of Tuscany and Lazio, Capalbio is also known as the city of artists. Don’t miss the Tarot Garden full of gigantic, grotesque statues created by Franco-American artist Niki de Saint Phalle. It’s also particularly famous for its wild boar sagra (food festival) in September.
- Elba Island: Enjoy sparkling blue waters, and nature on this little piece of Tuscan paradise. Devoid of the crowds that flock to the more well known coastal areas of Italy, you can enjoy some tranquility and gorgeous beaches here.
Top things to do in Tuscany
Whether you are a foodie, wine connoisseur, history buff, art lover, beach goer, or nature enthusiast, there is truly something for everyone in Tuscany. Here are some of the best things to do when traveling in Tuscany:
Taste the celebrated local wines
Home to some of the best known wine in Italy, wine tasting is one of the best things to do in Tuscany. Visit the Chianti region to try the famous Chianti Classico wines made with Sangiovese grapes or head to the Val d’Orcia to try Brunello di Montalcino or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Enjoy a stroll along the vines, and pay a visit to the cantina (cellar) to see how wine is made, before sampling the wine. Be sure to make an appointment to visit a winery in advance as you can generally not just turn up unannounced in Italy. An exception to this is Marchesi Antinori where you can drop in for a tasting at their futuristic wine room. Or, better yet, relax while everything is taken care of and consider joining this popular small group wine tour from Florence.
Explore Tuscany’s many Medieval towns
There are endless beautiful Medieval towns to visit in Tuscany so be sure to add some to your itinerary. Sweeping views over vineyards and olive groves are guaranteed, as is delightful meandering along cobblestoned paths, fantastic local food and popping into artisan workshops. If you’re not planning to drive, consider joining a day tour like this day trip from Florence to explore some of the top towns in Tuscany plus have lunch at a winery.
Relax at a thermal spa
Did you know Tuscany is famous for its healing thermal spas? The most famous to visit is Saturnia where thermal warm water cascades down the slope of a hill into gorgeous pools of 37°C water for you to bathe in. Besides the free baths, you can also visit many luxury thermal spa hotels in and close to the Val d’Orcia area like the Terme di Saturnia Resort.
Explore the best art galleries in Florence
If you’re a lover of art, then you really cannot miss a trip to Florence. Start with the world renowned Uffizi Gallery, home to Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, statues by Michelangelo and more. Next, you’ll want to visit the Galleria dell’Accademia where you’ll find Michelangelo’s original and magnificent statue of David. Get the most out of your trip with a guided tour with Liv Tours.
Go truffle hunting
Try your luck finding the elusive white or black truffle when in Tuscany! The best area in Tuscany for truffle hunting is near the town of San Miniato. Try this tour that includes a delicious truffle laden lunch after your hunt in the area. In fact, the town hosts a spectacular truffle sagra (festival) every weekend in November which is well worth the trip.
Bike around Lucca’s Renaissance city walls
Lucca is a jewel of the region and easily reached from Florence by car or train. Do as the locals do whilst there and hire a bike for the day to ride around the city walls and take in the gorgeous views with the wind in your hair. Try this bike tour that includes some stops to sample typical cuisine too!
What to eat and drink in Tuscany
Tuscany is home to many delicious specialties, but some favorites you can’t miss include:
- Bistecca alla Fiorentina: Perhaps the most famous food in Tuscany is Florentine steak. This cut of beef comes only from the white Chianina cows found in Val di Chiana, is served on the bone and is dry aged for between 15 to 20 days. Florentine steak must be served rare for the ultimate mouth watering experience.
- Lampredotto: Florence’s favorite street food is a panino filled with the fourth stomach of a cow and a zesty salsa verde
- Cinghiale pasta: wild boar pasta served with long pappardelle noodles.
- Ribollita: a hearty Tuscan bread and vegetable soup, including locally grown cavolo nero (black kale)
- Finocchiona Salami: Tuscany is known for its spectacular cured meats, but perhaps the best is the finocchiona – a pork salami flavored with fennel.
- Schiacciata di Uva: Look out for this treat during the harvest season (Sept-October). It’s a fluffy bread made with focaccia dough and small, sweet, black grapes called uva fragola.
- Castagnaccio: A Fall/Autumn favorite, this chestnut flour cake is made with new olive oil, raisins, and pine nuts and is both gluten-free and vegan friendly.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Peppery Tuscan EVOO is revered throughout Italy. If you are lucky enough to travel to Tuscany in Fall/Autumn, look out for ‘olio nuovo’ or new oil that has just been pressed for the best olive oil tasting of your life.
- Chianti Classico: Tuscany is known for many wines, however Chianti Classico is the most quintessential. Don’t miss tasting some on your trip.
Where to stay in Tuscany
There are many different accommodation options available in the region including hotels, apartments, B&Bs, and agriturismi (farmhouses). Tuscany is no stranger to tourism, which means that there are well-established facilities built up in the region to suit a range of group sizes, budgets, and accommodation needs.
Florence makes for a great base to explore Renaissance art as well as day trips into the Chianti countryside. Whether you’re driving, going with a tour group, or taking public transport, you can also easily visit Siena, the Val d’Orcia, Pisa, Lucca, and Arezzo for the day from here.
We like the St Regis Hotel for 5 star luxury or try a more budget friendly option that’s extremely well located like Hotel Perseo. Take a read of our article on where to stay in Florence for more ideas.
If you’d like to immerse yourself in the countryside for a few days, then consider staying in the Chianti or Val d’Orcia areas. Castellina in Chianti, Pienza, and Montepulciano all make wonderful bases for exploring wineries, and hilltop towns. Consider staying at a winery like Querceto di Castellina or an agriturismo like Merigge Montepulciano for a more immersive experience.
Lucca is another excellent base to escape the crowds with easy access on the train to Florence. From here, you can explore the Garfagnana area too with a car.
Siena is perfectly placed for visiting the southern part of Tuscany, the Val d’Orcia, if you prefer to have city accommodation and are prepared to drive as this area is not well serviced by efficient public transportation.
For those looking to soak in what life in a real Tuscan town is like, consider basing yourself in beautiful Arezzo instead. It’s well connected by train and lacks the crowds of Florence and Siena.
When to go to Tuscany
Spring is a wonderful time to visit Tuscany as the countryside turns green and temperatures are pleasant for exploring (46-66°F or 8-19°C). Enjoy new season artichokes, fresh fava beans, fresh cheese and plenty of food festivals like the cherry sagra or the frog festival.
Summer in Tuscany can get very hot with temperatures easily reaching 86F(30C) and beyond. Florence gets particularly hot and humid during this time, so staying outside the city and having access to a swimming pool or the beach is a good idea.
Fall/Autumn is a wonderful time to visit as the region comes to life with the harvest season. If you’re a foodie, you’ll enjoy truffles, porcini mushrooms, saffron, new wine and extra virgin olive oil as well as a suite of sagre or food festivals. Look out for the sagre (food festivals) in Panzano and Greve where the towns are decorated with flags and colorful decorations, as well as the Pecorino di Pienza festival dedicated to the delicious sheep cheese.
The wintertime in the region can get very cold and even snow with temperatures around 38-42°F (3.5°C – 5.5°C). During the festive season, there are wonderful Christmas markets held all over the region particularly in Florence, Siena, and Arezzo. Prices are a little cheaper and crowds a little thinner too after the new year.
How to get to Tuscany
It might surprise you to learn that the main airport in Tuscany is Pisa and not Florence. Florence is a very small airport that doesn’t have great connections so consider flying into Pisa instead from abroad or other major Italian cities.
Traveling by train to Tuscany is easy from the major Italian cities. Take the high speed rail services and you can be in Florence in 90 minutes from Rome, 2.5 hours from Venice, under 2hours from Milan and around 40 minutes from Bologna.
If you’re driving, you can reach Florence from Rome along the A1/E35. The average travel time ranges between 2 hours and 30 minutes and 3 hours and 15 minutes depending on traffic. From Milan, you’ll travel south along the A1 with travel time around 4 hours. From Venice, the trip is a little shorter around 3 hours along the A13.
How to get around Tuscany
Florence is best explored by foot and a car will only frustrate so it’s best to leave this parked during your stay in the Renaissance city.
There are reliable and fast regional train routes to Lucca, Arezzo, and Pisa. Florence to Lucca takes around 1 hour and 40 minutes, whilst Pisa and Arezzo are quicker and take less than an hour by train. Getting to Siena however takes about two hours so is much slower via train. Book your train tickets in advance online with Omio.
It’s best to hire a car to explore the countryside including the Chianti, Val d’Orcia, and Maremma regions. We recommend renting your car with Autoeurope or Rentalcars.com from the airport (Pisa or Florence) to avoid navigating through sometimes stressful driving in the city centers. Read our driving tips for Italy for more information.
For those not wanting to drive, consider hiring a private driver or joining a tour to experience the best of the countryside.
Let’s go to Tuscany!
Are you inspired to visit after reading our travel guide to Tuscany? If you would like to learn more about this gorgeous region of Italy, have a listen to our podcast episode about the Chianti region, or exploring Florence.
Want to discover Tuscany with us? For a deeper local connection, why not join one of our Tuscany small group tours.