Tuscany Tours and Travel Guide
Tuscany Attractions & Landmarks Guide
If you're looking for the quintessential Italian travel experience, there's not better place to start than Tuscany. The region houses everything, from classic wine regions, villas dotting hillsides, the historic centers of Florence, Pisa, and Siena, among others. It's the perfect place for a week long trip, or if you have more time, spread out for two weeks enjoying a leisurely picnic one day and museum exploration the next.
Along with Venice and Rome, Florence – the capital of Tuscany – forms the third part of a rough triangle that connects Italy’s three most famous cities. Florence should be a must-see on everyone’s list – and many visitors don’t want to leave -- but there’s much more to Tuscany than its capital, great as it is.
Watch for Italy tours that make time for other medieval and Renaissance cities such as Siena, Pisa, and Lucca, explore the backroads and vineyards of Chianti country, and visit some of the most photogenic hill towns in the world – little villages that cling to the hilltops and seem lost in time.
Don’t let Florence’s traffic and crowds deter you – this is an amazing city, replete with some of the world’s greatest artworks. It enjoys a beautiful location in a valley along the Arno River, and was the heart of the Italian Renaissance, nurturing artistic geniuses such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and Raphael.
Start with Michelangelo’s David, the world’s most famous sculpture, which now resides in the Accademia Gallery; get there early to beat the longest lines. (You can view a replica in the square while you’re waiting.) You’ll also find Michelangelo sculptures at the Bargello Museum and the Medici Chapels, among other sites in the city.
The Uffizi Gallery contains the world’s greatest collection of Renaissance paintings – along with works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael, and Giotto, don’t miss Botticelli’s masterpieces, Birth of Venus and Primavera.
Other stops include the ornate 14th-century Palazzo Vecchio – where the Medicis once ruled and which remains the seat of government – and, across the river, the Pitti Palace, which displays Renaissance paintings in a palatial setting.
A number of Florentine churches also contain notable artworks, and the Duomo – the city’s cathedral and its major landmark – is an unforgettable sight with its red dome and white, green, and pink marble exterior. The immense Gothic structure dominates the city skyline and you can climb winding stairs to the top of the dome’s interior – not for the faint of heart.
Florence is also a shopping mecca, especially for leather goods. The open-air market stalls near the Duomo and the shops along the Ponte Vecchio (old bridge) over the Arno are fun places to browse.
A Trip to the Leaning Tower of Pisa
Ever since it was completed in the 13th century, the Leaning Tower has leaned. Built on soft soil next to Pisa’s cathedral – it’s actually the church’s bell tower – The Leaning Tower’s 5.5-degree tilt made it one of Italy’s most renowned historical landmarks.
But, in danger of eventually toppling to the ground and bringing the Pisa economy crashing down with it, it was anchored in the 1990s with its lean reduced to 4 degrees – thus (presumably) saving it for the foreseeable future. Seven stories high, it contains some 300 climbable steps. The adjacent cathedral and baptistery are worth a look as well. Pisa is just 50 miles west of Florence.
Lucca is much less known than Pisa – it lacks a leaning tower – but many visitors consider it a more interesting destination. Like most Tuscan cities, it has the requisite medieval winding streets, a cathedral, a thriving flea market where you can find just about anything, and excellent food.
But Lucca’s top attractions are its historic walls, wide and flat enough to walk or even bike along for nice views looking down at the city. Just 40 miles northwest of Florence, Lucca also makes a possible stopover en route to Pisa.
Barga, about an hour by car or bus from Lucca, is one of those impossibly beautiful hill towns that you often see in Tuscany – but Barga is more equipped than most to accommodate visitors.
The roads leading up the hillside through town are too narrow to accommodate automobile traffic, so you park your car at the base of the hill and walk up, passing trattorias, bars, and little shops selling enticing edibles along the way. A church crowns the top of the hill, as is typical of Tuscan hill towns, and views sweep over the countryside below.
Siena, located south of Florence, is an ideal base for exploring the nearby hill towns and vineyards of that region. All streets lead off of fan-shaped Piazza del Campo, one of Italy’s largest and most attractive central plazas, and the site of the Palio, a biennial horse race drawing competitors from the city’s 17 districts – one of the most colorful, exciting pageants in all of Italy. Siena’s heart is mostly medieval, with steep, narrow streets snaking up the hills from the Piazza del Campo.
Tuscany’s wine country is known for its food and wine, of course, but also for its rustic atmosphere and authentic feel, made more so by its centuries-old -- and sometimes crumbling -- villas and farmhouses. Along with its sun-kissed cuisine and wines served on trellised terraces, its rolling hills, picturesque villages and pastoral landscapes dotted with vineyards and olive groves make for an irresistible combination.
Tuscany’s – and Italy’s -- most renowned wine is the soft red Chianti; Sangiovese and Montepulciano are other varietals to try. Castelo Banfi and Biondi Santi in the Siena region are two of Tuscany’s largest wineries, but that little vineyard down the dusty path miles from nowhere may be the ideal Tuscan setting you’ve pictured in your imagination.
Hill towns in the Tuscan wine country include Montepulciano, Volterra, Montalcino, and San Gimignano, which, between them, feature a sufficient number of castles, fortresses, walls, medieval streets, and vistas to satisfy anyone’ fantasies of how he truly authentic Italy should look and feel.
Things to Know Before You Go
How Big is Tuscany?
Italy is made up of 20 different regions. Tuscany is the fifth largest region at around 8,900 sq. miles and is just a little larger than the state of New Jersey. While Tuscany is large, you can easily get around with local trains or buses.
Many Tuscany tour packages include day trips from the major cities of Florence and Siena to the top Tuscan sites since these cities are centrally located.
Where is Tuscany?
Tuscany is located on the northwestern coast of Italy between Genoa and Rome. The region shares its borders with the Ligurian Sea and five other Italian regions, including the ones home to Rome, Milan, and Bologna.
What is the Weather Like in Tuscany?
With its central location in Italy, Tuscany sees all four seasons. Temperatures can range from over 100 degrees during the summer to below freezing during the winter.
Tuscany during the summer can be extremely warm. The warmest months are July and August with days full of sunshine and few clouds. These two months can be very stifuling since there is very little rain during July and August.
The fall is similar to that of fall in the Midwest in the United States. Days are still warm without being unbearable, but you will see rainy days in the late-fall.
Winter in Tuscany varies depending on where you visit. The days are mild, but the nights get colder. On the plateaus and in the cities of Tuscany the days stay cool, but if you are visiting the mountains you will have to face snow and freezing temperatures.
Spring is full of flowers, rain, and sun. March is one of the rainiest months in Tuscany so make sure you take an umbrella, but as you get closer to May the days get sunnier and drier.
Wine Tasting Etiquette in Italy
If you’ve ever done a wine tasting in California or another part of the U.S., you may be in for a little surprise when doing a wine tasting in Italy.
Generally, you have to pre-book a wine tasting in Tuscany, whereas in California you can usually just pop in and try some wine. If you make an appointment with a winery, it is extremely important that you keep your appointment. Also, many of the wineries don’t keep normal business hours, so booking a tasting is ideal.
Drinking wine is a relaxing, longer process in Italy than other countries. Many Italy wine tours only include a couple of wineries so you can get to know more about the wine and the local businesses.
If you are traveling to Italy for the first time, visiting Tuscany on a tour is a good alternative if you’re not sure where or which wineries you want to see as tour companies have hand selected wineries for you.
Best Time to Visit Tuscany
It is said you can visit Tuscany at any time of the year. However, there are a few months when you can see and fully enjoy this flavorful region.
May is considered to be the best time to visit Tuscany. The weather is warm, the days are sunny, and May is right before the beginning of the tourist season. Many small group tours to Tuscany plan their tours for May so you are able to visit all of the major sights before the large crowds arrive. Additionally, going in September is also ideal since it’s cooler out and the tourist season is winding down.
If you visit Tuscany on a tour during July and August be prepared for a large amount of people, extremely warm weather, and some closings. Like many other cities in Italy during the late summer, Tuscan cities are empty of locals as they head for the coasts to get away from the heat. This means that many stores and shops may be closed during these two months. Also, this is high season for Tuscany and the streets and attractions will be very crowded.
Don’t forget about winter! Not many can say they spent Christmas in the Tuscan hills. The Tuscan villages are a wonder to see during the holidays and if you are an avid skier or snowboarder, you will have an amazing time in the resorts scattered across the mountains in Tuscany.
All Tuscany tours, river cruises, expedition cruises, and adventure trips. Find the best guided trips and expert planned vacation and holiday packages. Average rating of 4.8 for all Tuscany trips.