best places to visit in Tuscany
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The Best Places to Visit in Tuscany

From vibrant cities to hilltop towns, captivating Chianti to stunning San Gimignano, my travel guide has the best places to visit in Tuscany Italy and where to stay.  

The phrase the journey is the destination always springs to mind when I think of Tuscany. From rolling hills and medieval walled towns, to pretty stone farmhouses surrounded by Cypress trees, there is beauty around every corner. I’ve listed the best places to visit in Tuscany below, but I truly believe that driving through the Tuscan countryside is as much a wonder as marvelling at Florence’s jaw-dropping Duomo.

I visited many Tuscany towns in my twenties and always vowed to return with my family. I finally got a chance to revisit recently and it reminded me why this is one of the most beautiful parts of Italy.

Tuscany

About Tuscany

Tuscany is a region in central Italy that is known for its rolling hills, walled towns, wonderful wines and amazing art. It has 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as beautiful beaches and some of Italy’s most visited cities. 

Tuscany was once home to some of the world’s most famous artists including Leonardo da Vinci, Puccini, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Dante, so it is no surprise that it is now home to one of the world’s most impressive art galleries and extraordinary architecture.

I have listed my top picks of the best places to visit in Tuscany below and linked some excursions and tours to help you make the most of this beautiful region.

 

1. Pisa

Pisa may not be Tuscany’s prettiest city, but it is the city that is most accessible. Most international flights land here and it is the gateway to exploring Tuscany, so it makes sense to stay awhile. 

The Travel Expert visits the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Most people tend to spend a few hours at the Leaning Tower and move on. However, because of this, the city is rarely crowded, which is unusual for any large Italian city. If you opt to stay over, you will find a university city with a lively bar and cafe culture that may suit Gen Z travellers. 

For the rest of us, a few hours spent at the Campo dei Miracoli, where the Leaning Tower, Cathedral, Bapistry and Cemetery are located, is usually what is done to tick Pisa off your bucket list and see one of the best places to visit in Tuscany.

 

The Leaning Tower is only 3km from Pisa airport so it makes sense to visit either when you arrive in Tuscany or when you are leaving. It is about 15 minutes by taxi or you can catch the Pisa Mover (train) from the airport to the centre of Pisa, and hop on a bus or walk to the Leaning Tower. If driving, there are numerous car parks close by that cost just €1.80 per hour to park.

There are many ways to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa – you can simply walk into the Campo dei Miracoli, and take unlimited photographs, all free of charge. 

 

If you want to climb the 297 steps to the top of the tower, you will need to pre-book tickets in advance. Price for entry to all four buildings and the Tower is €27, but you can choose to just access the Cathedral, Bapistry or Cemetery for €7 each. Alternatively this top-rated guided tour offers great value at just €39 per person.

View Tickets Guided Tour
 

Where to Stay in Pisa

All of these top picks are hotels near the Leaning Tower and are recommended on TripAdvisor.

3 Star Hotel di Stefano 

4 Star Villa Tower Inn 

4 Star Rif Boutique Hotel 

 

2. Florence

Florence is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany

Florence is Tuscany’s capital city and when walking around it, you get the feeling that it deserves to be! Most people visit Tuscany to see its rolling hills and hilltop towns, but I firmly believe that in order to fully experience Tuscany, you need to see its extraordinary capital. It is one of the best cities in Tuscany, so don’t miss it!

Top Tip: Visit the Piazzale Michelangelo for the best view of Florence skyline.

best view of Florence

If you are looking for the top things to see in Tuscany, Florence probably has most of them! Florence is the home of the Renaissance and has one of the largest collections of art in the world. From its Uffizi Gallery to the spectacular Duomo, Michelangelo’s David to the iconic Ponte Vecchio, Florence has stunning architecture and is packed with sculptures, paintings and statues. 

However, its popularity has led to a massive influx of tourists and you will probably find Florence extremely busy regardless of the time of year you visit. Nevertheless, the city is compact and most of the top attractions are close by. It is possible to walk from the Ponte Vecchio to the Duomo in 10 minutes and see the replica statue of David on your way – the original statue is located in the Accademia Gallery of Florence.

 

Top Tip: If you want to visit the Uffizi it is imperative that you pre book tickets in advance, as queues can be over two hours long during peak times. This top-rated small group tour of the Uffizi offers great value skip the line tickets:

View tour here
 

It is free to go inside the Duomo, although queues are usually quite long. If you want to visit the dome, baptistery, museum and the bell tower, you should pre book tickets in advance. This skip the line tour with Duomo climb offers great value:

View tour

Note: The Cathedral is closed on religious holidays and Sundays.

 

Florence is not only known for its artistic charm, it is quite romantic too. The Ponte Vecchio, one of the most photographed places in Florence, is lined with jewellery and craft shops hoping the magic of this city will entice the spellbound tourists to purchase something for their loved one.

If you are staying in Florence and want to explore its surrounding countryside, then don’t miss this Vespa tour. It one of the top things to do in Tuscany, and is one of the most top rated tours from Florence.

View Tour

Restaurant recommendation in Florence: Pre book the Trattoria Za Za for a lunch or dinner and thank me later! 

 

Where to stay in Florence

The historic centre is best place to stay in Florence as most of the top attractions are close together. I have selected a selection of central Florence Hotels to suit most budgets below.

3 Star+ Palazzo Ridolfi – Residenza d’Epoca

4 Star Relais Piazza Signoria 

4 Star Apartment Palazzo Alfani – Residenza d’Epoc

5 Star Bernini Palace  

 

3. Siena

Family in Siena, Tuscany

Siena is just over an hour from Florence by train or car and is without a doubt a must see in Tuscany. Siena is one of the best preserved Tuscan towns, you get the feeling that not much has changed here since in the 1300’s.

Unlike Tuscany’s large cities of Florence and Pisa, Siena has a much smaller old-town feel. The historic centre is pedestrianised and a pleasure to explore.

 

Siena has been declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO and after a visit to its main square, Piazza del Campo, you will see why. The Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) stands magnificently beside the Torre del Magnia. I recommend you climb the 400 steps to the top, to see the red roof tops of Siena and the surrounding countryside, it is breathtaking.

The gothic Duomo is equally as impressive and a must visit. This skip the line Duomo and city walking tour offers great value at just €40pp:

View tour
 

Siena is also the famous location for the Il Palio. The Palio horse race takes place twice every summer where ten horses with bareback riders race around Il Campo, each representing their own district, dressed in various colours. Movie buffs may recall this from a scene in the James Bond’s movie, Quantum of Solace.

The streets surrounding the Piazza del Campo are lined with boutiques and high street stores, as well as numerous Trattorias and Osterias, they are a pleasure to explore. 

Top Tip: One of the best Osterias lies in the heart of Siena. Unfortunately the secret is out, so its usually thronged with locals and tourists, but try to visit, you won’t be disappointed – Losteria on via de Rossi.

 

Where to stay in Siena

Siena is one of the best cities to stay in Tuscany. It has everything you need from a big city, yet still feels like a small town. I have picked some of the best places to stay in Siena to suit all tastes and budgets.

3 Star Palazzetto Rosso – Art Hotel 

4 Star Hotel Athena

5 Star Grand Hotel Continental Siena 

 

4. Montepulciano

Montepulciano, Tuscany

I still recall stumbling across Montepulciano over 20 years ago as we were driving through Tuscany. I would not hear of Montepulciano’s famous Vino Nobile red wine until years later, but this beautiful walled town always stuck in my mind.

Perched on top of a hill and surrounded by vineyards, this medieval town has tiny narrow streets that are a pleasure to explore – although maybe not by car! There are ancient churches, pretty piazzas and the most incredible panoramic views over the Tuscan countryside.

 

There are so many beautiful Tuscany towns, but Montepulciano has something special – it is one of the best towns in Tuscany to visit. It is located close to Siena in southern Tuscany, and is the perfect choice for a day trip in Tuscany. And if time allows, this one-hour wine tasting tour looks idyllic:

View tour
 

3 Star Albergo Il Marzocco 

4 Star Dimora del Corso di Montepulciano

4 Star La Locanda Di San Francesco 

4 Star Meublé il Riccio 

 

5. San Gimignano

San Gimignano is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany and also one of my favourite towns. I visited numerous times in my twenties, but returned recently, stayed inside the walled town and fell in love with it all over again!

San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage walled town that sits on a hilltop in Tuscany. It can be seen from afar due to its fourteen towers that dominate the landscape. San Gimignano has retained its medieval character and authenticity due to strict laws that prohibit changes to the 13th century buildings. Like most of Tuscany’s towns it is pedestrianised and a joy to explore, although the streets can get very busy during the day.

San Gimignano is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany

Regardless of the large influx of day trippers, San Gimignano is town you just must visit in Tuscany. If you can, I strongly recommend staying overnight so you can appreciate the quiet nights and peaceful mornings before the crowds arrive.

Most of the joy will come from exploring its narrow streets and taking in the panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside, but I urge you to not overlook the Duomo, and the painted walls behind it. The walls inside are covered in the original frescoes that were painted in the 1300s and remarkably most haven’t needed restoration. Entry fee is just €5.

 

San Gimignano best restaurants:

There are so many amazing restaurants in San Gimignano, every meal we had was superb but my favourites were Le Vecchie Mura and La Mandragola.

best restaurants in Tuscany

La Vecchie Mura has a gorgeous cave-style room inside and a panoramic terrace outside, so it is a great choice regardless of weather. The wild boar pappardelle was delicious and there is a selection of dishes to satisfy any truffle lover!

La Mandragola is an authentic family-run restaurant in the historic centre. It was packed with locals and serves up delicious traditional Tuscan cuisine, grilled meats and fish.

Top Tip: Skip dessert and make for the world famous Gelataria Dondoli – it boasts the best gelato in Tuscany!

 

Where to stay in San Gimignano:

Finding hotels inside the walled town of San Gimignano is not always easy, especially in peak season, however, it is arguably the best area to stay in Tuscany. Its proximity to Siena, Florence and Pisa make it a firm favourite with holidaymakers looking to explore Tuscany.

Where to stay in Tuscany

If you plan on holidaying here, you may wish to consider a hotel outside the centre with a swimming pool, so I have offered a selection of San Gimignano hotels below.

3 Star Hotel Bel Soggiorno 

3 Star Hotel Leon Bianco

3 Star L’Antico Pozzo

4 Star Relais Santa Chiara Hotel 

4 Star Il Casale del Cotone 

The Artists Tower 

If you are looking for a unique stay in San Gimignano, look no further than the Artists Tower. We had the pleasure of staying here recently and were blown away by the location, character and comfort of this apartment, that is at the base of one of San Gimignano’s Towers.

The views of the town centre and surrounding countryside were incredible – you can see a full room tour on my Instagram highlight. Note minimum stay of three-nights usually applies.

 

6. Volterra

Volterra is one of the places to watch the sunset in Tuscany
Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians, Pixabay

Because of the nature of walled towns, they get dark very early, so unless you book a restaurant with a panoramic view, they are not the best place to watch the sunset in Tuscany. Volterra on the other hand, although a walled town, has the most gorgeous panoramic terrace and a must visit for the evening sun.

The town is another pretty town to explore but it also has a Cathedral, bell tower and Museum with a large collection of archaeological artefacts. 

 

Volterra is located a half hour’s drive from San Gimignano. We loved going here in the evening time to enjoy a sundowner and watch the locals meet in the open square to discuss the events of the day. It has an authentic Tuscany feel, without a massive influx of tourists, all while taking in one of the best sunsets in Tuscany.

 

Where to stay in Volterra

3 Star Albergo Etruria 

4 Star La Locanda  

 

7. Chianti

Chianti, Tuscany

Driving the Chianti region, stopping at various towns and sampling the local wines was another highlight of mine. There are many towns in Chianti – Greve, Panzano, Castellina, Radda and Gaiole are probably the most popular, and Radda is arguably the prettiest.

We rented a house in Gaiole in Chianti for a month when I was on maternity leave and I think this was what led me to really fall in love with Italy. 

Gaiole isn’t a particularly impressive town, but the €1.20 coffees each morning certainly were! It is one of the many small towns you will encounter if driving through the region of Chianti.

 

Despite being one of the best places to visit in Tuscany, Chianti is surprisingly less touristy than what you might expect. Drive through the beautiful countryside and marvel at the rolling hills and small villages.

However, no visit to Chianti would be complete without visiting some vineyards and enjoying some delicious Chianti Classico – it is simply a must do in Tuscany!

View tour
 

Where to stay in Chianti

Chianti is often considered one of the best places to stay in Tuscany, however, it is made up of many towns and villages and therefore there are many different hotels in Chianti to choose from. I have chosen a broad selection to suit all tastes and budgets.

4 Star Palazzo Leopoldo Dimora Storica & Spa 

4 Star Belvedere di San Leonino

4 Star Relais Vignale & Spa

5 Star La Fontanelle

5 Star Aldina Relais & Chateaux

2 Bedroom House

 

8. Lucca

Lucca is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany

Lucca is another city we fell in love with many years ago – so much so that we almost bought an apartment there! It is another beautiful walled city with a historic centre and Roman amphitheatre, but its location in north Tuscany, near the Apuan Alps gives it a different vibe to the cities in the south. 

 

Lucca is not located on a hilltop, which makes it easier to explore if you are elderly or infirm, and its access to Pisa and Florence by train as well as its close proximity to the Tuscan coast make it easier to explore if you are visiting Tuscany without a car. 

This 90 minute wine tasting experience should not be missed, it costs just €15!

View tour

Where to stay in Lucca

3 Star Albergo San Martino 

4 Star San Luca Palace Hotel

4 Star Palazzo Alexander

Casa Paolina Apartment

 

9. Elba Island

Elba island is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany
Image by Monika Baechler, Pixabay

It may surprise you to know that Elba is the third largest island of Italy, after Sardinia and Sicily. Together with eight other islands it forms the Tuscan Archipelago and the largest marine park in Europe. It rarely features on the lists of the best places in Tuscany but if you are looking to swap the vineyards for the beach, then Elba is the place to go!

 

Elba is famous for harbouring Napoleon in 1814 and its museums and beautiful residences are a nod back to that era. However, it is its crystal clear waters and beautiful beaches that bring most tourists to Elba today. You can enjoy plenty of water sports including diving here, and it is a Mecca for hill walkers and hikers. Check out the many watersports available, including kayaking and diving here:

View tours
 

Where to stay in Elba

3 Star Hotel Sardi

4 Star Hotel Baia Imperiale

4 Star Hotel Airone – Isola d’Elba

4 Star+ Hotel Plaza 

 

The best time to visit Tuscany

The best time to visit Tuscany if you want to explore its stunning cities are April, May, September and October, where the temperatures are still mild.

The summer months can get very hot and busy, so if you are visiting during this time it is recommended you avoid staying in the cities and stay at the beach resorts or quieter countryside towns instead.

 

How to get to Tuscany

Pisa and Florence are the two international airports in Tuscany. Ryanair fly six times weekly from Dublin to Pisa, and twice weekly form Cork to Pisa. Aer Lingus fly three times weekly from Dublin to Pisa. 

planes at dublin airport

I hope my guide on the best places to visit in Tuscany will help you plan a trip there soon. While every effort was made to ensure accuracy, descriptions, activities and prices are subject to change.

Some of the links in this post contain affiliate links where I receive a small commission if a booking is made, but at no additional cost to you.

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