Need a Quick Escape from the City Center?
Basing yourself in the city center of Florence for the holidays but want to branch out and visit the many highlights in Tuscany?
Florence lends itself to planning day trips throughout the region of Tuscany - no corner is too far - offering various options for transport, destinations and types of activities. Historic exploration, quaint towns, wine tasting, trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, and stunning landscapes make up just a few of the possibilities that you can integrate into your vacation itinerary.
Below we have highlighted 8 of our favorite day trips giving you a few pointers on why we love them and how to incorporate these into your holidays.
1 - Pisa
Traveling without a car? Pisa is easily reached from Florence’s main train station, Santa Maria Novella. There are regional trains which leave frequently (every 15 - 30 minutes ) check the Trenitalia website for timetables, insert ‘Pisa centrale’ , as your final destination. The train station is located close to the city center, you can either walk (about 1.5 km) into town and the Leaning Tower or to take the public transportation.
If you would like to walk, head in the direction of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele and cross the Arno River. If you would like to take the bus, pick up tickets at the kiosks in the train station and then head to the bus stop across from the Jolly Cafe to catch the LAM Rossa bus, which will take you close to the Piazza dei Miracoli in about 10 minutes. You will want to get off at the stop called ‘Torre’. To return to the train station, you can catch the same bus from directly across the street where you got off.
If you have a car, Pisa couldn't be any easier to find! Simply follow the free two lane highway SGC Firenze - Pisa - Livorno to Pisa. You will find the exits well indicated, and road signs for directions towards the "Torre Pendente" (Literally the leaning tower.) We highly suggest that if you decide to drive to Pisa, that you combine this city with a stop at San Miniato and Livorno.
2 - Lucca
Lucca, can be reached by either train or bus, but I recommend taking the train because it is direct and offers wonderful views of Tuscany. Trains leave about twice an hour from Santa Maria Novella. The Lucca train station is located just two blocks from the city’s 16th century walls, which enclose the center, in Piazza Ricasoli. I suggest taking the short walk and entering through the closest door Porta San Pietro.
Going to Lucca by car gives you a bit more freedom to explore the amazing countryside in this area of north Tuscany, especially the various historic villas and vineyards. Depending on the time you have to dedicate to this intin, you can easily opt for the quicker pay toll highway or follow the roads that wind through the small towns and sunflower fields. Read here for a driving itinerary with a wine tasting.
3 - Arezzo
This city is filled with pleasant surprises. The characteristic streets are filled with cafes, enotecas, restaurants and specialty shops that cater as much to the locals as tourists looking for genuine flavors. The city also boasts a fantastic selection of historic monuments: the Roman amphitheater, archaeological museum, Medici Fortress, art museum and the churches.
Arezzo is just a short 45 minute train ride south of Florence. Take one of the hourly trains for €8.00 from Santa Maria Novella and get off at Arezzo, being sure not to buy a ticket to Arezzo Casello 1 or Arezzo Pescaiola, which are outside the city center.
If you are driving to Arezzo, you will take the pay toll Autostrada del Sole south in the direction Roma. The toll is less than 5 Euro, and the exit is clearly marked. Once you pay the toll you will take the second exit on the roundabout and head towards to the city. Parking is clearly marked and it is all fairly close to the city center.
You can easily stay the entire day at Arezzo and never run out of things to see, do and enjoy.
Side Trip: Cortona
If you were to decide you had enough of Arezzo, then you could head down towards Cortona reached by car or by train from either Florence or Arezzo. The Camucia-Cortona station is located about 3 km just below the hill top town. Be sure you take the direct train if you are leaving from Florence, lasting about 90 minutes, rather than to Terontola-Cortona, which is further away and requires a change. The town center is a bit of a trek uphill or take the local bus service from the station which leaves every 30 minutes.
4 - Siena
This historic arch rival to Florence, is spectacularly diverse and captivating. The monumental architecture, museums, the Duomo, unforgettable landscape and even the culinary specialties are worth dedicating a full day of exploration...better yet: an overnight stay.
Siena does not have a train station but can be reached by bus in a little over an hour, leaving from the SITA bus station on Via della Scala to the left of the main entrance to the Santa Maria train station in Florence . This is a great way to travel because you pass through beautiful countryside and the bus drops you off right in the center of Siena in Piazza S. Domenico so all you have to do is walk 5 minutes to arrive in the main square, Piazza del Campo. They are very frequent though, at least one an hour, allowing for flexibility in your day. Buy your tickets from either the SITA bus station or one of the tabaccaio stores around the area and be sure to stamp your ticket when you get on the bus to validate it.
5 - San Gimignano
San Gimignano is a must see while in Tuscany and best discovered by taking the bus or by driving because there is no train station close to the city center. You can catch one of the many buses that leave at least once an hour from the Santa Maria Novella bus stop, located just to the side of the train station, from the BusItalia Nord company. Buy tickets at the bus station or from a tabaccaio for around €7.00.
The bus will drop you off in Poggibonsi (50 minutes away), where you will need to change buses to arrive in Piazzale dei Martiri where you can enter the city through the main door Porta San Giovanni. Unfortunately, you will have to change in Poggibonsi because there are no direct buses. This being said, they are well organized and your layover time shouldn’t be much longer than 15 minutes. Simply check the board when you get off the bus and see which bus will take you to San Gimignano - it should be clearly marked and will take another 25 minutes.
6 - Chianti
Chianti, and more precisly Chianti Classico, is one of the most popular areas in Tuscany. The reasons are many: its vast selection of wines, the fabulous landscapes, small towns and delicious culinary menus. A car is strongly recommended ... however, it is possible to do a limited exploration without a car by taking the bus, read here for more information on the small towns of Chianti and how to get to them with public transport.
It could be well worth renting a car just for one day, or hiring a NCC (Driver with car) and tour the wonderful back roads, where every curve opens a new vista. Driving in Chianti is fairly simple and easily navigated. I suggest taking the Chiantigiana Road, known as the SR222 and the Chianti wine road because it gives you the most beautiful views, takes you through quaint windy roads, typically of Chianti and takes you directly to many of the wineries.
7 - Mugello
Mugello is also one of the areas in Tuscany best discovered with a car. Although you can take buses to specific towns such as Borgo San Lorenzo or Scarperia, if you wish to see the lush countryside and leisurely poke around, have maximum flexibility, all the while discovering its delicious food and breathtaking views, it is best to drive.
Make sure you have a map or a GPS handy because if you want to venture off the main roads, you will want to be sure that you are well prepared. When I travel, I like to take the SS 302, known as Faentina because it is the most beautiful. Similarly, the SS 65, or the Bolognese, is also stunning. If you are looking for a more direct route, you will want to get onto the A1 highway and exit at Barberino di Mugello.
8 - Casentino
This magical land evokes images of knights in armor, damsels in medieval dress, genuine hospitality and genuine Tuscan recipes. It will encourage you to slow down just a bit, immerse yourself in a new landscape, long hikes and a lazy afternoon at the cafe in the shadow of the Poppi Castle.
The road SS67 exits Florence passing by Pontassieve before arriving at the foot of the mountains that divide Casentino from the Renaissance City. The picturesque mountain pass starts with the vineyards of Nippizano and Frescobaldi, before reaching the lofty heights of the Passo della Consuma (1060 meters above sea level) to then descend in the valley that gives birth to the Arno River. If you don’t feel up to driving, you can catch the bus, which will take you all the way to Poppi.
EXTRA - Cinque Terre
It’s true - Cinque Terre is not located in the region of Tuscany, but it is also true that it is one of the more popular day trips, and Florence is just the right distance to make it worthwhile. Though it is possible to drive to Cinque Terre, it seems such a waste since the small towns are better visited with the use of the local train, boat or simply by hiking the many trails. Florence has regular train service to La Spezia where you will change to the local train (or boat) and move up and down the coast.