Things to do in Tuscany

From the famous historic cities to the smaller local towns, there are so many things to do in Tuscany.

Written by Michael Turtle

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle. A journalist for more than 20 years, he's been travelling the world since 2011.

Michael Turtle is the founder of Time Travel Turtle and has been travelling full time for a decade.

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The best things to do in Tuscany

This iconic region is the most popular in Italy for good reason, with its charm and beauty found not just in the cities and towns, but also in the food and the nature.

As a destination in itself, it's worth planning what to do in Tuscany so you can make the most of your time - which is why I've put together this list to help with your planning.

There’s probably no region of Italy that conjures up more romantic images of the country than Tuscany. So much of what travellers love can be found here, and there are certainly enough things to do in Tuscany to make it a destination in itself.

I’ve visited Tuscany many times over the years. Sometimes I’ve come to do something specific here, like a cooking school. Other times I’ve just been passing through but stopped for a couple of nights to see some museums in Florence.

The best things to do in Tuscany

A weekend at a villa for a wedding of friends; a deep exploration of the World Heritage Site at San Gimignano; a hiking trip through the Val d’Orcia. I’ve done some incredible (and varied) activities in Florence over the years – and that’s another part of the appeal.

For some people, it’s the historic cities that are the main attraction, with so many important landmarks and galleries in places like Florence and Siena.

The best things to do in Tuscany

There’s still lots of heritage in the smaller towns like Pienza and Monteriggioni – some of the best places to visit in Tuscany, where part of the charm here is getting a bit closer to local life amongst the beautiful landscapes.

And, speaking of landscapes, the natural scenery of Tuscany is an attraction in itself, and it’s easy to spend days using it as a backdrop for walks, scenic drives, or leisurely meals and wine tastings.

Driving will give you more flexibility to explore some of the smaller parts of Tuscany. In Italy, I recommending using Discover Cars for car rentals.

Like much of Italy, the food here is exquisite, with a focus on local produce and traditional recipes. You will have some of your best meals during your stay and I think just eating the local cuisine is one of the best things to do in Tuscany.

So, now that I’ve whet your appetite, let’s dive in and have a look in more detail at my top tips for what to do in Tuscany.

Main cities

The famous cities of Tuscany are popular for a reason. Full of fascinating history, world-class restaurants, and luxury accommodation, it’s easy to spend days exploring them.

If you’ve never visited Tuscany before, then put the historic centre of at least one of these cities on your itinerary, and prepare to be amazed by how many artistic and architectural wonders can fit into such a small area.

Florence

Florence is more than just the capital – it’s also Tuscany’s most famous city for tourists. Its compact historic centre offers seemingly endless architectural treasures and culturally significant spots – so much so that it’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This city is considered the cradle of the Italian Renaissance because of the number of distinguished artists who lived and worked in Florence. Everywhere you turn, you will see masterpieces of Michelangelo, Raphael, and Brunelleschi.

Exploring Florence and the Museums, Italy

In some ways, just walking through the streets of Florence feels like you’re in a gallery – but, of course, there are lots of actual museums in Florence to visit, including the Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’Accademia (with the world-famous David statue).

Other highlights in Florence include the Duomo and Boboli Gardens. And with so much to see, you might want to get your bearings with this guided tour of the city or consider one of these other options:

Siena

The medieval charm of Siena is likely to capture your imagination as soon as you step into its warren of streets. But, amongst all the heritage, there’s also a youthful energy in the city because of its large university, making it a fun place to spend a few nights.

Just an hour from Florence, Siena has a long history. It was first settled by Etruscan tribes and later became an important centre during the Roman Empire. However, the town flourished in the Middle Ages, when Siena gained its gorgeous UNESCO-listed architecture.

Il Palio, Siena horse race, siena, tuscany, italy

You can spend hours sitting in one of the caf├ęs and restaurants around the beautiful Piazza del Campo, the town’s main square, admiring the Palazzo Pubblico and the locals passing by. Or use your time to explore as much as possible with this guided tour, or one of these other options:

Among the top things to see in Siena are the mesmerising Gothic cathedral and the legendary Palio horse race – by far one of the most interesting things to do in Tuscany.

Lucca

Popular for its incredible city walls and the proximity to the more famous Pisa, Lucca is nicknamed ‘the city of a hundred churches for the overwhelming number of historic religious buildings.

Of Etruscan foundation, Lucca saw its heyday during the Middle Ages and Renaissance period. The city’s top attractions are the city walls encircling the old town. The walls’ bastions are connected by a 4-kilometre footpath lined with trees and I would definitely recommend walking its length.

A trip to Lucca isn’t complete without exploring as many of its religious buildings as possible. The highlights are the Basilica di San Michele in Foro and Lucca’s Duomo – which is included in this excellent guided tour.

There are some other great activities to consider in Lucca here:

Or it’s also just a lovely city to wander the cobbled streets or sit and have a drink in one of the busy piazzas.

Pisa

There’s one main attraction that has made Pisa one of the most famous Italian cities. You guessed it – the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It’s certainly an impressive site to see (and take tacky photos with), but there’s much more to Pisa than just the tower.

Pisa grew rich from the 11th century when it became one of the major Italian maritime republics. During that period, its centre was embellished by beautiful buildings, including over 20 historic churches, with the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta being a true masterpiece.

This church is located in the Squares of Miracles, where you will also find the Leaning Tower, the immense Baptistery, and the monumental cemetery of Campo Santo – all of which together make up Pisa’s World Heritage Site, which can be explored with this great-value tour.

Why does Pisa Tower lean? Why is it the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Italy

Beyond these central sights, there’s enough to fill a couple of days in Pisa, from walking along the River Arno for some sightseeing to admiring the small but stunning Church of Santa Maria della Spina.

Smaller towns

I think the smaller towns of Tuscany are some of the region’s true treasures, often with artworks and architecture that are just as significant as those in the cities, but without all the traffic and hassle.

Even though the most popular towns can still be full of tourists during the day, you’ll get a window into a more local way of life, and many of them become delightfully peaceful when the tour groups leave, so you may want to consider staying overnight.

San Gimignano

This hilltop town is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany and is famous for its enormous honey-coloured towers that you’ll be able to see well before you arrive. Only 14 are still standing, but during the 12th and 13th centuries, San Gimignano had more than 70 towers.

These architectural eccentricities were the houses of aristocratic families: the small square footage of the town had no room for great palaces, so they decided to build tower houses to show everyone their wealth. The higher the tower was, the richer the family!

Torre Grossa, San Gimignano

The charm of San Gimignano goes beyond its striking architecture, and you can feel it by visiting the town’s churches, strolling around its winding streets, and tasting the local food products and wines.

There are enough things to do in San Gimignano to justify staying overnight and you’ll notice the difference in the quiet streets in the evening when the other tourists have left.

Monteriggioni

Surrounded by a perfect ring of fortifications, Monteriggioni is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Tuscany, full of history and with the bonus of some amazing views across the landscapes.

To get inside, walk through one of the grand entrances in the city walls, Porta Franca and Porta San Giovanni, then climb to the top of the castle. The castle was built in the 13th century to watch over the land towards Florence, and you can do exactly the same thing today, admiring the breathtaking landscape of the surrounding hills.

A picture-postcard town, Monteriggioni boasts charming narrow streets that you can explore, soaking up the magical atmosphere by slowing down and visiting the diverse sights like the Church of Santa Maria Assunta.

Oh, and of course there’s delicious local food and wine to try!

Volterra

Volterra is a gorgeous town sitting atop a hill in the province of Pisa. This town is among the best places to visit in Tuscany to learn about the Etruscan civilisation, where the story of these ancient people is well presented through a rich collection of artefacts at the town’s Etruscan Museum.

You will also find a fabulously preserved Roman theatre in Volterra – and, in fact, everywhere throughout the town there are interesting remnants of its Roman past through the many mosaics and cisterns.

Tracing its complex history, Volterra also has impressive medieval ramparts. But something that sets it apart from other similar towns is a special characteristic: its hills contain alabaster, which the Etruscans and Romans used to mine.

You can discover all about the ancient craft in the Ecomuseo dell’Alabastro. And while you’re here, why not visit an alabaster store for some shopping!

Volterra makes for an excellent day trip, and there are some good ones here that combine it with some other local highlights:

Pienza

Located in the heart of the Val d’Orcia, Pienza boasts a rich Catholic heritage due to its main benefactor, Pope Pius II. He was born in the town, and when he became Pope in the 15th century, he pursued the mission of turning Pienza into an ideal humanist town.

Because of his patronage, Pienza has beautiful religious buildings and Renaissance art, with the best example of these being the town’s cathedral. Another must-see building in Pienza is Palazzo Piccolomini, Italy’s first example of Renaissance architecture.

Pienza, Tuscany, Italy

But the unmissable attractions of Pienza are not solely connected to Renaissance times. The final scene of Ridley Scott’s epic movie Gladiator (2000) is shot in the fields right outside Pienza. And there are some incredible wineries here too – which you can visit with this wine tour from Florence.

Nature

Tuscany isn’t just about culture, art, and history. It’s also popular for its natural wonders and, although the hills lined with vineyards are a star attraction, Tuscany also boasts stunning beaches, hot springs, and fantastic mountains for hiking.

Val d’Orcia

Think about the classic Tuscan countryside and it’s likely the image in your head looks a lot like the Val d’Orcia.

With green rolling hills expanding as far as the eye can see, breathtaking viewpoints, stunning cypress-lined roads, and beautiful villas, the Val d’Orcia is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany to experience the region’s gorgeous natural landscapes.

Walking in the Val d'Orcia, Tuscany, Italy

The valley is filled with local farms, with wine one of the main products. That means lots of wineries offering tastings and, if you don’t know where to start, there are some good options here:

Although the Renaissance landscape paints an overall picture of the district, there are also lots of things to see along the way, including castles and villages. It’s the perfect area for a road trip or, if you’re feeling active, there are also some wonderful trails for walking in the Val d’Orcia.

Hiking

Speaking of walking, Tuscany is an amazing region to visit if you love a good hike. Its natural landscapes span from hills to mountains, and you will find awesome trails everywhere. There are a couple of particularly famous paths.

The first is the Via Francigena, the pilgrimage route connecting Canterbury to Rome. The Via Francigena runs through Tuscany for about 350 kilometres, and hiking this medieval road will let you experience the sublime Tuscan countryside, including the Val d’Orcia.

Thoughts from the Way of St Francis, Italy

The other must-do trail is the Path of the Gods, which runs for about 130 kilometres through the Apennines mountain chain to connect Florence to Bologna. The path follows the ancient route that linked the two cities in Roman times, and it offers several eateries and overnight options.

Hot springs

Tuscany’s nature is truly surprising. Across the region are hot springs that make for relaxing moments in gorgeous panoramas. And there are actually so many hot springs and spas in Tuscany that you will be spoilt for choice!

The most famous hot springs in the region are the Terme di Saturnia. Open all year round and free to visit, the Terme di Saturnia’s unique look is made by the flowing waters that create a series of degrading pools cascading towards a small river.

Another gorgeous and free natural hot spring is the Bagni San Filippo. Located in the Val d’Orcia, its hot water flows as a river through wood with plenty of tall trees. The hot waters of Bagni San Filippo also create a magical effect as they leave behind white sediments that, over time, have created formations that make the area appear as if it is covered in snow.

Elba

Tuscany is also a fabulous beach destination and among the special spots to visit is Elba. This is the largest island of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, boasting crystal clear waters and breathtaking panoramas.

The island of Elba has over a hundred beaches, with the most famous ones being Fetovaia, Cavoli, and Biodola. If you prefer to visit less crowded spots, there are plenty of options on the island. The enchanting cove La Crocetta is ideal for relaxing in total tranquillity.

For a swim like no other, head to Sansone Beach. Overlooked by the limestone cliff, the calm waters of this cove reach incomparable shades of blue. Elba Island is also famous for its snorkel and diving spots, with the best ones being Patresi and Buzzancone.

Heritage

Tuscany has plenty of World Heritage Sites and I’ve already mentioned a few of the best known. But there are also a few less famous places in Tuscany that are on the World Heritage List, plus some other important historical sites that I think are worth highlighting.

Medici Villas

The Tuscan landscape is made extra beautiful by the Medici Villas. These twelve elegant buildings were built between the 15th and 17th centuries by the influential Medici family, who ran Florence during the Renaissance period.

Visiting the Medici Villas introduced you to perfect examples of the Renaissance style, which was based on harmony between the architecture and the surrounding landscape. For their gorgeous features that masterfully blend with the hilly panorama, the Medici villas have been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

medici villas and gardens in tuscany

The Medici family had these countryside villas built for leisurely moments. Among the many villas, the most beautiful are Villa del Trebbio and Villa di Cafaggiolo, the oldest ones. More special are Villa di Careggi, Villa Medici in Fiesole, and Villa di Castello, which feature landscaped courtyards and gardens.

Cortona

Cortona is not a popular destination among tourists, but it surely merits a visit. This gorgeous town was the location for the movie Under the Tuscan Sun, a true love letter to Tuscany and its incredible landscapes and culture.

The novel and movie tell the story of a San Francisco writer who vacations in Tuscany after her divorce. When visiting Cortona with her travel group, she notices a villa up for sale, and she decides to buy it and move there.

If you are a fan of this movie, you will adore spending time in Cortona, and there are some fun ways to experience it here:

Unmissable is a stop at Villa Bramasole, where the real writer of the novel on which the movie is based lived her idyllic Tuscan dream life. To reach the villa, there is a wonderful walk amidst olive groves and vineyards.

La Verna

In an idyllic location on top of the isolated Mount Penna, La Verna is a wonderful place to learn a bit more about the region’s religious history.

The small village of La Verna is particularly special as one of the places where St Francis of Assisi is venerated. The saint arrived here and met with the local count who, impressed by his preaching, gifted La Verna to him. St Francis ended up staying here for prolonged periods of withdrawal.

Thoughts from the Way of St Francis, Italy

In La Verna, you can still visit all the religious buildings built over time, from the main Basilica to the smaller chapels. However, the must-see is the so-called Chapel of the Stigmata which lies over the spot where St Francis is said to have received the Stigmata.

This is also the starting point for the Way of St Francis, a 550-kilometre pilgrimage trail that finishes in Rome.

Montecatini Terme

Montecatini Terme is one of the famous thermal spa spots in Tuscany. Already the Romans were aware of the beneficial properties of the town’s hot springs. But Montecatini became a popular spa location in the 18th century, during the so-called ‘European spa phenomenon’ when physicians began prescribing hot springs baths to those with various pathologies.

The area has eleven natural mineral springs, which is why Montecatini Terme is listed by UNESCO as part of a World Heritage Site called the Great Spa Towns of Europe.

Even though it’s perhaps not the first thing people think of, relaxing in a Montecatini Terme spa is one of the top things to do in Tuscany. Among the best you can visit are the monumental complex of the Montecatini Thermal Baths SPA and the Terme del Tettuccio, one of the oldest in the area.

Food & drink

Tuscan cuisine is famous around the world and for good reason. Besides eating out at local restaurants, there are several other ways to enjoy the region’s mouthwatering food and wine.

Food tours

One of the best things to do in Tuscany is to join a food tour to explore the regional cuisine. All the bigger towns offer food tours where an expert local will lead you to all the best spots to sample delicious dishes, from the simple but rich-in-flavour ‘pappa al pomodoro’ to the queen of all the meats cut, the Fiorentina.

For example, I think this food tour in Florence is one of the best, and this food tour in Lucca is also great.

Or you can see some other tasty tours here:

You can also opt to do a DIY food tour. In Italy, there are local festivals called ‘sagre di paese’ dedicated to the traditional foods of the area. During the sagre, local farmers and restaurant owners propose their finest products or dishes for everyone to taste.

At these events, you can do tastings, buy products, and watch demonstrations and competitions, all in a vibrant and almost familiar atmosphere.

Cooking classes  

When looking at what to do in Tuscany, taking a cooking class will probably come to mind. Since the region is famous for its cuisine, there is no better way than to try your hand at making some delicious Italian food!

Cooking classes are incredibly popular throughout Tuscany, so you won’t have a problem finding the one that best suits your budget needs and location desires.

Italian cooking school Tuscany

Whether in the very centre of Florence or immersed in the hilly countryside inside a wonderful villa, you will love every step of learning how to make pasta from scratch or authentic desserts.

Once the cooking is done, you will taste what you have prepared. I think this farmhouse cooking class just outside Florence is one of the best ones you take in Tuscany.

Chianti wine tasting

Tuscany is famous worldwide for its Chianti wine production, with the region extending to the provinces of Florence, Siena, and Arezzo.

If you are wondering what to do in Tuscany during your holiday, a wine-tasting tour is one of the best ideas you can have! There are countless tours you can join, lasting from a couple of hours to full-day with a local lunch included:

Imagine strolling around spectacular vineyards, learning more about the ancient grape harvesting and winemaking tradition. After these informative moments, it’ll be time to taste the Chianti wine alongside local food for an excellent pairing that will make your taste buds explode.

For most people, this Chianti wine-tasting tour will be a great choice for spending a half-day in a perfect Tuscan fashion.

Truffle hunting

Another awesome food-related activity to do in Tuscany is truffle hunting. The region is well-known for this delicious product, and besides eating it with your pasta or meat, why not join a guided hunt?

You can’t venture by yourself into forests to try and find truffles because truffle hunting is severely regulated; plus, finding truffles is a real feat!

Among the top spots to go truffle hunting in Tuscany are San Gimignano and San Miniato, where you might find big black truffles or, if you’re really lucky, the precious white truffle. You can join this truffle hunting trip for an authentic local experience.

Tours

Tuscany’s cities and towns are straightforward to explore on foot, but when venturing into the region’s countryside, you’ll get a lot more out of a tour.

Long gone are the days when the only option is a boring group in a mini bus. When it comes to tours in Tuscany, there are some pretty cool operators, offering everything from an e-bike to a vintage car.

Vespa countryside ride

In Tuscany, you can experience a classic Italian experience: a Vespa ride around breathtaking landscapes.

Scooter through narrow medieval streets to admire grand castles and churches before heading to the green countryside made of vineyards, olive groves, and magnificent villas.

A great way to experience Tuscany on a Vespa is by joining a guided tour. The expert local guide will lead you along tree-lined avenues and country streets to reach breathtaking viewpoints. And no Italian Vespa ride is complete without a stop to taste local dishes and sip on great Tuscan wines.

If this sounds like your kind of thing, this Vintage Vespa Tour has it all: amazing views, great company, and wine tasting.

Fiat 500 ride

If you don’t feel comfortable with scooters, there is another very Italian way to explore Tuscany: driving a vintage Fiat 500 car. This car model is quintessentially Italian and will give you “dolce vita” vibes as soon as you get in one.

The best way to enjoy Tuscany’s spectacular panoramas and pretty streets while driving a Fiat 500 is by joining a guided tour.

Visiting Gubbio, Umbria, Italy

With this 4-hour tour through Florence and rural Tuscany, you will cruise along winding country roads and stop by a local vineyard for a light lunch accompanied by wine and olive oil tastings. 

Another great tour is this one, where your guide will introduce you to the secrets of driving a Fiat 500 car from the 1960s before leading you to the scenic countryside outside Florence for a wonderful drive with a stop for Chianti wine tasting.

Bike tours

Tuscany’s mesmerizing landscapes are wonderful to explore by bike as the region has cycling itineraries for all levels. The best way to make the most of your cycling exploration of the region’s countryside is by taking a tour.

By doing this, your only concern will be to pedal calmly and enjoy the incredible panorama around you.

There is this fantastic guided e-bike tour, which starts inside Lucca’s city walls and then move to the surrounding countryside. After peddling among charming villages and family farms, stop in a local vineyard for a well-deserved wine tasting with snacks. 

Or you can join this other guided e-bike tour to marvel at the beauty of the Val d’Orcia. Ride past green valleys, wildflower fields, and charming roads while learning about the area’s rich history and culture from an expert guide.

Hot air balloon

If you have never flown on a hot air balloon, Tuscany is the perfect spot to try it!

Wait for the professional pilot to inflate the colourful balloon before climbing into the basket and beginning to float up to 2,000 feet. Slowly, the green hills with tailored vineyards will unfold before your eyes.

What’s great about hot air balloon flights is that each one offers a unique experience, as the balloons are directed by the breeze.

If you want to try this experience while in Tuscany, this hot air balloon flight is a wonderful idea, as it will let you explore the very heart of the Chianti Valley. And once the flight is over, toast the experience with a glass of sparkling wine to seal your memory of the experience.

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