Florence is one of those compact, walkable, and packed-with-tourist-sights cities that makes it easy to overlook the idea of taking a day out of your stay to venture anywhere else. Not only that, there are so many idyllic Tuscan hilltowns around Florence where you might want to actually stay a few days, a quick day-trip to any of them (or all of them, for that matter) might not interest you.
Still, if you’re trying to limit the number of times you transfer to a new hotel, staying in Florence long enough that you’ve got time for a day trip or two, or are just tired of Florence and want a change of scenery, you’re in luck – the options for day trips from Florence are plentiful.
As mentioned, many of the most popular day trips out of Florence are Tuscan hill towns. Depending on your opinion of towns like this, you may want to just pick one (the smaller ones especially can lead to a serious case of deja vu) or you might enjoy discovering the sometimes slight differences between them (at least they’re slight to visitors!). But even if you’re tired of small-town Italy, there are other options for day-trips from Florence that’ll give you a chance to see something a little more different.
One thing to keep in mind with these Florence day trips is transportation. There are some truly lovely places around Florence (all over Italy, really) which aren’t easily accessible without a car. So if you’re limited to getting around via public transportation, the first thing you’ll want to figure out is whether a town has a train station (makes for the easiest day trip) or bus service (a very close second to trains in terms of ease). If you’ve found a spot without train or bus service that you absolutely must visit, then renting a car for a day is always an option.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of day trips from Florence, and if I’m missing your favorite please let me know in the comments!
Day Trips from Florence
- Siena – This is probably the most popular day-trip from Florence, although more and more people are choosing to stay in Siena for a couple days, too. There’s a beautiful cathedral, a sloping main square, and a seemingly endless maze of hilly cobbled streets in Siena, all contained within the old city walls. The city changes complexion at night and early in the morning (when the day trippers aren’t there), but even when it’s crowded it’s still charming. Find out how to get to Siena from Florence.
- Fiesole – In terms of easy day trips, you can’t beat Fiesole. This hilltop town overlooks Florence, and the bus trip is quick. You probably won’t even need a full day in Fiesole, unless you bring a book and a picnic lunch and spend half the day lounging in a park somewhere. Otherwise, it’s a nice spot for a half day away from the crowds of Florence.
- Pisa – Although Pisa is home to one of the most famous sights in Italy, the leaning tower, it’s a city where most tourists only spend a couple of hours on their way from one place to another. What this means is that Pisa’s an ideal spot to spend a day if you want to visit a real Italian city that’s not overrun by tourists (provided that you limit your time around the tower).
- San Gimignano – This famous hilltop town is, like Siena, often full of day-trippers by day and quiet overnight. But because there’s no train station in San Gimignano and many tourists aren’t interested in taking a bus in Italy, the crowds are far smaller than you’d find in Siena. With a car or by bus, it’s an easy day trip and a great way to escape the busy city.
- Cortona – Another hill town in Tuscany with even more name recognition is Cortona, which many visitors know as the town where the “Under the Tuscan Sun” author bought and refurbished a farmhouse. Life hasn’t been the same since fans of the books started visiting and searching for said farmhouse, but it can still be a nice day trip option.
- Lucca – There are many towns throughout Italy where you’ll find pieces of ancient Roman walls, but very few are as well-preserved as the walls surrounding Lucca. Not only are they well-preserved, however, Lucca’s walls are also an interactive attraction – there’s a pathway along the top of the walls upon which you can bike or walk.
- Chianti Wine Tour – Unless you sign up for an organized tour of the region’s wineries, your best bet for visiting the Chianti wine region is to have a car at your disposal and just drive. The easiest thing to do is rent a car (for the day, if you don’t have one for your whole trip) and get an upgrade to one with a GPS system so that you can take any road that looks interesting and then just plug in your hotel address when you’re ready to go back, but you can also do well with a good regional map (the more detailed, the better). Towns to visit include Radda in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, and don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it Panzano, where you’ll find the man who’s easily the most famous butcher in Italy.
- National Parks – Tired of cities and even charming small towns? Tuscany has five national parks which might be just what you’re looking for. The Archipelago National Park of Tuscany covers some of Tuscany’s coast and islands and is Europe’s biggest marine park. Further down the coast is the Regional Park of Maremma, which has both coastal terrain and more inland terrain. The National Park of the Casentinesi Forest is in the hills of eastern Tuscany on the border with Romagna. Getting to these parks requires that you have a car, but if you’re an avid hiker or just want some fresh air away from the city, then certainly check with the tourist office in Florence to find out more about each of the region’s parks and how to reach them.
- Viareggio – So many people concentrate on Tuscany’s hill towns that they forget the region has a fairly sizeable coastline (and islands, too). One of the coastal resort towns you might have on your day-trip list is Viareggio, which has nice, big beaches and is home to a well-known Carnevale celebration in the Spring.
- Forte dei Marmi – Another beach resort town worth a day-trip (if not more) is Forte dei Marmi, which is where parts of “The English Patient” were filmed. This is a more upscale town than Viareggio, and tends to be busier on weekends.
- Arezzo – Arezzo is another Tuscan city with a movie connection, in that the Oscar-winning film “Life is Beautiful” was filmed there. The city has a rich Etruscan past that pre-dates the Roman era and several churches worth visiting.
- Volterra – For more Etruscan history, you might also look at a trip to Volterra. The town is surrounded in part by its Etruscan walls, and also has a Roman theatre dating from the 1st century B.C.E.
- Mugello Valley – North of Florence is the green Mugello Valley, which was a region the famous Medici family liked enough to build several villas. With a car and no schedule, you can enjoy a leisurely drive between the regions towns, stopping to visit the aforementioned villas as well as the many museums and churches, and maybe even to do a little hiking.
- Montepulciano – Wine lovers will recognize the name Montepulciano, but even if you’re not into wine this is a lovely hilltop town to visit. More recently, Montepulciano was in the news as the setting for some of the filming for the second movie in the “Twilight” series, but it remains to be seen whether that will impact tourism much. Not far away is the similarly-named town of Montalcino, which is also famous for wine and slightly less highly-visited than Montepulciano.
- Pienza – Italy is littered with UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the whole town of Pienza. The town sits between Montepulciano and Montalcino (so the trio, taken together, make a great day out). Pienza was redesigned during the Renaissance by Pope Pius II (who was born there), and represents the first example of urban planning.
- Pitigliano – This hilltop town’s nickname is “Little Jerusalem,” and its collection of Jewish sights definitely make it stand out in oh-so-Catholic Italy. It’s west of Orvieto in southern Tuscany.
- Assisi – The pilgrimage town of Assisi in Umbria is increasingly popular as a day-trip destination, although most people start from a place that’s closer than Florence. But the train trip from Florence to Assisi is roughly 2 hours one way, so although it’s a long day trip it’s still do-able. The town is beautiful, and whether you’re religious or not a visit to the Basilica of St. Francis (who was born in Assisi) is a must.
- Cinque Terre – This is a less-than-ideal day-trip from Florence, as the train trip one-way is going to be 2.5-3 hours, but if you’re determined to see the Cinque Terre and you’re not going to get there any other way, then read more about getting to the Cinque Terre from Florence.
Photo by: giotòn off for a while