Tuscany offers endless possibilities to its visitors. Its varied landscape ranges from mountains to hills, from small fortified towns and villages to large cities, from seaside towns to natural reserves. There’s no wonder that Tuscany has been chosen to be the set of many movies! Whether you are a culture buff or a lover of the great outdoors, a food and wine connoisseur or a fashion victim, Tuscany is the place for you: read our list of the best towns to visit in Tuscany!
The Three (or Four) Unmissables
Travellers to the region usually visit the cities of Florence, Pisa and Siena. All three are rich in history and famous throughout the world. They were once city states and big rivals, constantly waging wars against one another. One can notice how architecturally different each one is from the other.
Florence, the Art Capital of Tuscany
Florence is the Art Capital of Tuscany. Heart of the Renaissance movement, Florence has many fascinating museums to explore. You will find Michelangelo’s David at the Academia and Botticelli’s Venus at the Uffizi, to name just two of the most famous art pieces in the world. Florence was also the capital of the Medici family, great patrons of the arts and architecture. Visit their famous Boboli garden and Pitti palace. It you want a majestic view of the whole city, head to piazzale Michelangelo.
Great for:all the art lovers
Main Attractions: Duomo square, Piazza della Signoria, Uffizi Museum, Boboli Gardens, Accademia Museum and a lot more.
Pisa and Lucca, the Other Side of Tuscany
Most travellers have heard of the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa but less people know about Pisa’s arch rival Lucca. The two cities are less than 20 kilometers away from each other and perfect for a day trip . Go for a stroll or a bike ride around Lucca’s fortified walls. Get a magical surprise when you pass under yet another archway and realize you have entered a roman amphitheater aptly called piazza dell’Anfiteatro. Then only a short drive away, discover Pisa’s famous piazza dei Miracoli with its incredible white stone architecture surrounded by lush lawns. It is on the Unesco list of world heritage sites. Take a walk by the river Arno and admire the buildings on both river banks. And of course don’t forget to get lost in the meandering streets and little boutiques of both cities.
Lucca Main Attractions: Roman amphitheater, San Martino Cathedral (duomo), city walls, Guinigi tower
Pisa Main Attractions: piazza dei Miracoli with the leaning tower of Pisa, piazza delle Vettovaglie, Arno banks
Great for: an other side of Tuscan heritage and culture.
Siena, the City of the Palio
Siena is the epitome of a Tuscan hill town. The city with its red tiles and bricks is extremely well preserved. Enjoy going up and down its narrow streets, there is always something magical to discover hidden just beyond sight. Stand in the breathtaking piazza del Campo, the only square in a shell shape and imagine horses galloping at neck breaking speeds around it. If you want the true Palio di Siena experience (the horse race dating back to the Middle Ages), book a room with a balcony in one of the many buildings around the square and save yourself a long crowded wait under the sun. And while you are in the Chianti area, why not stop to enjoy a wine tasting near town?
Main attractions: Piazza del Campo, Palio of Siena, Siena cathedral, San Domenico basilica.
Great for: a Medieval town experience.
A True Italian Experience: the best towns to visit in Tuscany when you’ve already visited the others
If you want to avoid the biggest crowds of tourists, or spend less on accommodation and food, there are many other towns around Tuscany that will offer you a completely different experience. Immerse yourself in the real Italian vibe and find out how Tuscans spend their time in less famous cities like Pistoia, Prato or Pitigliano.
Prato, the Industrial Capital of Tuscany
Due to its location near Florence (easily reachable by train or bus), it makes it the perfect city to commute to and from the art capital Florence. It’s beautiful historic center is often glossed over since Prato is famous mostly for being the industrial capital of Tuscany. Most of its industry is focused on textile production and garment making. Prato also hosts one of the 10 most renowned contemporary museums in Italy.
Main attractions: Duomo square, Castle of the Emperor, Tissue Museum, Pecci museum of contemporary art
Great for: a crossover between modern and historical
Pistoia, the Tuscan Everyday Life
Come to Pistoia to experience the beauty of Italian architecture and everyday life at a human scale. Go fruit and vegetable shopping at the open air market in piazza della Sala, first thing in the morning. Have a cappuccino on a terrace in piazza del Duomo, surrounded by the varied architecture of the town hall, cathedral, baptistry and court house buildings. If you want a cultural experience, visit the museum dedicated to famous local artist Marini and have lunch in the inner courtyard of the museum. At night, you will find endless options for restaurants and bars all over town.
Pistoia main attractions: piazza del Duomo, Pistoia underground tunnels (dating back to the Middle Ages), Marini museum, piazza della Sala, San Andrea’s pulpit
Great for: a true Italian experience
Off the Beaten Track
Some of the best towns to visit in Tuscany are not on the main routes. In order to truly know Tuscany, you must leave the capital and explore the countryside and smaller towns. There are so many charming places off the tourist beaten track. Let’s have a look at three different cities that impress not only for their architectural flair but also for their surrounding natural beauty.
Pitigliano, the Little Jerusalem
Pitigliano, located at the southernmost tip of Tuscany, is one of last inhabited Etruscan cities. Also called the Little Jerusalem for its big Jewish community which managed to live peacefully alongside its Christian neighbours. Built on the edge of a precipice, the city, made of volcanic tuff, almost seems to blend into the rock face. If you happen to be in Pitigliano on the 19th of March, you can join the celebrations for the passage from winter to spring. A medieval parade will pass through the center and a big bonfire will be lit to burn the wooden effigy of Winter.
Pitigliano Main Attractions: Pitigliano cathedral, synagogue, city walls, numerous Etruscan archeological sites dotted around the city.
Great for: lovers of ancient history.
Volterra, the Etruscan Jewel
Though the city is of Etruscan origin, Volterra stands out as a perfect medieval town, surrounded by fortified walls. Move from one historical period to the next by visiting the Guarnacci Etruscan museum, then the Roman theatre remains and finally the medieval center. If you are a fan of medieval pageantry, check out the festival held in Volterra every August called Volterra AD 1398.
On the southeastern side of town, discover incredible cliffs and coves resulting from centuries of landslides and soil erosion.
Main Attractions: city walls, Roman theatre, Etruscan museum, piazza dei Priori
Great for: fans of history
Pienza, the Ideal City
The little town of Pienza became famous when Pope Pius II, decided to transform it in the ideal city. Built in Renaissance style, Pienza has been awarded the World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1996. In piazza Pio II, you will find the cathedral, Palazzo Piccolomini and the old papal residence. The Palazzo Piccolomini with its secret rooms and garden is definitely worth a visit. Enjoy the bucolic countryside around the town and the many natural spa areas nearby. Pienza can be visited with a day trip from Florence: here are 5 things you can do in Pienza.
Main Attractions: piazza Pio II, Palazzo Piccolomini, Sant’Anna in Camprena monastery, natural reserve Lucciola Bella.
Great for: a wander in the Tuscan countryside.
Vinci, Leonardo’s Birthplace
This little town perched on a hill is the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci, the author of the Monna Lisa. Find out everything there is to know about the inventor and artist in the museum Leonardiano. Enjoy the beautiful views of vineyards and forest from every side of town. Vinci is a perfect starting point for nature lovers. There are many hiking trails that start near town such as the Valle dei Mulini. This charming trail through the forest leads you by abandoned water mills, remnants of ancient industrial activities.
Main Attractions: Leonardiano museum, Museo Ideale Leonardo da Vinci, Conti Guidi castle, hiking trails around town.
Great for: hikers and inventors.