A guide to Tuscany
Tuscany can be a bit overwhelming at first – there are so many things to do and the whole area has such a reputation that you can be scared of missing out. Well, take a deep breath, the good news is that you really can’t go wrong here.
The best way to see Tuscany if you’ve got limited time is to get a mix of the famous cities and the gorgeous countryside. Everywhere you go you’ll be amazed by the deliciously cheap wine, the tasty pizza and the variety of pastas. But, most of all, it’s the architecture and the natural beauty that will take your breath away.
Here are a few suggestions of the best places to go and the best things to do in Tuscany. It’s certainly not an exhaustive list but it’s a great guide if this is your first visit to the region.
You can’t go to Tuscany and not visit Florence. Walking through the streets is like being in one giant museum where every corner reveals another statue or world-famous building. A lot of the city is closed to traffic so it’s easy to get everywhere you want by foot. The central part of the city is very compact and there are lots of hotels in the centre, so you should have a good chance of finding a reasonable one there (which is also walking distance from the train station).
I would recommend spending two or three days at least in Florence. There’s lots to see so you don’t want to feel like you’re missing out on anything. You also want to give yourself time just to relax and have an icecream or a coffee and watch the people go by. You can see more here about what it’s like visiting Florence.
While you’re in Florence you have to visit the Uffizi – there’s no two ways about it. This is one of the greatest art galleries in the world and you’ll see a collection of paintings and sculptures that could never be in the one place anywhere else. It is very popular and getting in is not easy if you’re not prepared. The best thing is to prebook a ticket for a particular time (although it costs a little bit extra). Otherwise, it’s best to get there and line up very early (even before it opens) and still be prepared to wait in the queue for at least an hour. Have a look here and you’ll see why it’s worth visiting the Uffizi in Florence.
To be fair, the bridge’s reputation will probably make you expect more – but this is still worth the visit. The views down the river are beautiful from the Ponte Vecchio and, if you like jewellery, the window shopping on the bridge will get you excited. The best thing? It’s free – and that’s quite rare in Florence where everything has a tourist price attached to it. Make sure you read up on the interesting history of the Ponte Vecchio first.
With all the museums in Florence, it’s sometimes hard to know which ones to visit. There’s absolutely no way you could see them all in any trip. After the most obvious ones, I would recommend checking out the Gucci museum in the main square near the Uffizi. It has unique exhibitions that you won’t see anywhere else and adds a touch of glamour to the trip. The original designs trace the history of Gucci and it’s hard not to be impressed when you see how much work goes into each piece. You can read more here about visiting the Gucci Museum in Florence.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The good news is that the Leaning Tower of Pisa really is worth the visit and one of the best things to do in Tuscany. The even better news is that Pisa is a lovely little town and has more to offer than just the famous off-centre landmark. If you want to climb the tower (which I highly recommend, despite the cost), you’ll need to buy a ticket for a particular time from one of the shops in the square. If the day isn’t too busy, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting in fairly quickly. But if you know it’s a busy tourist period, try to buy your ticket earlier in the day (or the night before) so you have some flexibility. When you’re there, ask the locals if they think the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a scam 🙂
If it’s possible, the streets of Siena have even more Italian charm than those of Florence. Again, most of the streets are free from cars and it’s a pleasure to explore and get lost in the winding alleyways. The Duomo is absolutely stunning and the churches on castles on the hilltops make for great photographs. In the main square of Siena, you can stop and imagine what Il Palio (the great horse race) would be like. Or you could arrange your trip to be there for it! Read more about visiting Siena here.
Away from the big cities of Tuscany, are the smaller towns. They are just as rich in history, though, and are well worth visiting. One of the best is San Gimignano, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s best known for its towers which were built by the ruling families hundreds of years ago to protect the town (and show off to each other about who could build the tallest one). Only a dozen or so have survived but the rest of the town around them still has the historic heritage, even if it’s now filled with tourists and tourist shops. There’s no train station here but buses will link to the closest ones. Here are some photos of the towers of San Gimignano.
Small Tuscan villages
And, finally, a general suggestion: Get out of the cities and towns and see the countryside and the small villages of Tuscany. The views are beautiful and the food and wine is cheaper and better in some of the tiny little restaurants you’ll find by the roadside. It’s only really possible to do this by renting a car so consider doing that for a couple of days and stopping as many places as you can. There’s not much point having the car in the cities, so try not to waste your money by renting it during that period. If you want to spend a bit longer in the countryside and are on a budget, you might want to read this guide to doing Tuscany on the cheap.
As I mentioned earlier, there are heaps of other things to do in Tuscany – too many to list here. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve got any more suggestions for people.