If there is a famous province in Italy, one that is equivalent to the province of Sichuan in China or the region of Catalonia in Spain, then it is Tuscany. This beautiful, romantic, and fertile land, where people recognized its potential and settled masses hundreds of years ago, is one of the most popular regions for a trip in Italy. For many, when they talk about a vacation in Italy they actually imagine Tuscany. Ancient villages are nestled between verdant hills, vineyards as far as the eye can see, isolated churches with a bell tower piercing the sky, Italian rolling on the tongue, and of course, red and sensual Italian wine.
Indeed, Tuscany deserves this much attention. It was for many years a commercial, economic and cultural center of the entire European continent. It produced intellectuals who shaped thinking and art all over the Western world, and not only. Its buildings were renowned all over the world, and its internationality combines with local authenticity in a way that is hard to find elsewhere.
A trip to Tuscany is like a trip to a country in itself. You can spend days, weeks, and months in each of the main cities of Tuscany, so it is not easy to condense the recommended places into one page, you will not just meet many UNESCO World Heritage Sites here, and each place will sound like it is a must-see. However, the list below It is definitely a good place to start, and on our guide page, you will find a lot more information about places, travel suggestions, special events, and many other things to see and experience in Tuscany. Let’s go on a journey.
Historical Sites and Heritage Sites in Tuscany
The history of Tuscany is so rich that it could fill many volumes of thick history books (and it does). The giants of the spirit who grew up here, such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, worked and created in Tuscany and from here their message went out to the world. Poets and writers described the battles, and great statesmen fought for control of it or parts of it. Big names such as the Medici dynasty, Napoleon Bonaparte, Dante Alighieri, Sandro Botticelli, and many more, are all bound together in the history of this beautiful and busy land – this heritage.
This list is mostly made up of important Tuscan cities, as these constitute the main mass of the province’s heritage. Florence, the capital, Siena, its long-standing rival, and more, all of which took place in the events, battles, and discussions that made Tuscany what it is.
The capital of the province of Tuscany was and still is, for centuries and thousands of years, one of the most important centers in the world in terms of trade, art and spirit. The great artists of the Renaissance lived and worked there, including Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Donatello, and many others. Its architecture is known all over the world for its diversity and beauty. Its hundreds of museums and galleries curate the best masterpieces of all time. Its old town was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and it was even the capital of the Italian Republic for a few short years in the mid-nineteenth century.
Florence alone can provide you with enough sights and attractions for an entire trip, but even one day can give you a taste of this city, which was once the beating heart of all of Europe. The variety of sites in it is huge, but there are some must-see sites that everyone who comes to it must visit. Among these are the Duomo of the Church of Maria del Fiore and next to it the Gates of Paradise (Porta del Paradiso) and Giotto’s Bell Tower (Campanile Giotto), the Signoria Square on the portico of statues (Loggia dei Lanzi), the fountain of Neptune and the old palace (Palazzo Vecchio) which includes Piazzale Michelangelo (Piazzale Michelangelo) with its amazing panoramic view of the city and of course the large and impressive synagogue (Tempio Maggiore Israelitico).
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In terms of its importance during the Renaissance, Pisa is only behind Florence, and it is definitely a place of honor. Although it is best known for its 12th-century leaning bell tower (Torre Pendente di Pisa), which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right, Pisa has a lot more to offer beyond that. Only in Duomo square where it stands alone (Piazza del Duomo / Piazza dei Miracoli) there are at least three or four other fascinating tourist sites that are centuries old.
Pisa was a very important port city in the Middle Ages, which led to its economic and commercial flourishing and the founding of one of the oldest universities in Italy (and the world), the University of Pisa. The famous scientist Galileo Galilei was born there (in the middle of the 16th century, another famous Renaissance man who came from Tuscany), and the city’s airport is named after him.
Today you can stroll through the piazza of the Duomo and the magnificent botanical gardens of the city, admire the fascinating museums and stroll through the delicacies along the beautiful banks of the Arno River which flows near the Tyrrhenian Sea. You cannot miss a visit to the Leaning Tower, but there is no doubt that you will see a lot more beyond it.
The city of Livorno, located at the western end of Tuscany south of Pisa, has a rich and varied history and is one of the most important economic cities in Italy. In addition to that, the Jewish community of Livorno is one of the most important of the Spanish communities, and the text of the prayer that came out of Livorno was accepted by many of the Eastern communities.
Although the center of activity of the city is its port, which is one of the largest in Italy (and when we are talking about a country that is all peninsula and small islands, this is no small thing), it is also a destination for tourists from all over the world. Many come to it on cruise ships sailing around the Mediterranean, and the influence of the foreign communities that came to it over the centuries under the influence of the Medici dynasty that ruled the city for about three hundred years, beginning in the late Renaissance, is evident in every corner of it.
When you get here, it is highly recommended to visit the seafront Terrazza Mascagni (recommended especially at sunset), the colorful and lively Mercato Centrale, and the early 17th century Monumento dei Quattro Mori, which was so important that it received Special protection from the Allied bombing of the city in World War II.
If the name sounds familiar to you, then you must have listened well in history lessons. The Tuscan island of Elba (today) is the place where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled at the beginning of the 19th century. The island, the third largest in Italy, is west of the shores of Livorno and east of the French island of Corsica.
Being a rising tourist destination, the island of Elba has a lot to offer its visitors. First, the very visit to the island is an experience in itself. Its beautiful golden beaches are among the best in Italy, and the sun you catch there will give you back the tan you lost in the darkness of the museums and Tuscan farmhouses. In addition to the sunbathing and belly gazing that you can do here, you will also find quite a few fascinating tourist sites on the island where you can learn about the history of this strategic place, which many powers have fought for control over the years.
Among other sites, we can recommend Napoleon’s modest palace in the town of Portoferraio, called the “Palace of the Windmills” (Palazzina dei Mulini), the walls of that town itself, the access to which and the stunning view from which you will have to earn by climbing the steep alleys of The town (they even have a special name – Salite), and the western part of the island, which is more isolated and wild.
The rivalry between Siena and Florence is difficult to describe in ordinary words, especially if we refer to the relationship between the two in the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the Renaissance. The wars between the two most central cities in Tuscany led to much bloodshed, and even today the residents of the two cities treat each other with great suspicion.
Siena has a rich and glorious history in its own right, and its residents are proud of it with a level of patriotism that is usually seen in relation to the country. Although the number of visitors is significantly lower than in Florence, it also has a lot to offer. Its ancient city center has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and the variety of museums, galleries, architecture, art, and festivals held in the city will provide you with material for weeks of travel.
It is recommended to start with some highlights of the city. The first is the famous Piazza del Campo, which is considered one of the most beautiful piazzas in Tuscany in particular and in Europe in general. The colorful Palazzo Publico, with its very tall bell tower towering over it, is a must-see, and wandering the narrow alleys of the old center will allow you to experience the essence of the city in a way that no other place can. And finally, if you happen to be in town on July 2nd or August 16th, get ready for the madness of the Palio di Siena, a horse festival that drives the Sienese crazy and is characterized by non-stop festivities. Just book a place in advance.
The Spa of Montecatini Terme
This town is of great importance in the history of Tuscany, among other things due to being the place where many battles took place between the cities of the country adjacent to it, namely Florence, Pisa, and Lucca. The settlement there is very old, and the place was the target of takeovers and conquests by big names such as the Medici dynasty and Hannibal of Carthage. It became a spa town during the second half of the eighteenth century, as part of the Duke’s efforts to establish peace in the province.
Today the city is mainly known for its spa baths, but visitors can also find a wide variety of palaces and other historical sites that characterize the whole of Tuscany. For those who want to enjoy the developed spa infrastructure of the place, it is possible to do so for example in the baths of Tetuccio (Terme Tetuccio). In order to understand why the rulers of the region fought precisely here and internalize the strategic location of the city (or just to be mesmerized by the view), you can take the cable car to the high Montecatini neighborhood (Montecatini Alto) and watch from there the spectacular view and the nearby cities.
Attractions and Points of Interest in Tuscany
Besides the rich historical aspect of the province, Tuscany boasts a wide variety of activities, attractions, and covetable hideaways that you can enjoy without thinking about the deep meanings and heritage of the place. That doesn’t mean these places don’t have that aspect, but you don’t have to focus on it to enjoy them.
The Wines of the Chianti Region
The Chianti region stretches south of Florence and north of Siena, and the wines produced from its vineyards have an international reputation. Not every winery can get the confirmation that the wine it produces is indeed a Chianti wine, and it must meet a series of strict requirements for that.
Whether you are a wine lover or not, this is an amazingly beautiful region that is worth a trip of at least one day. The old farmhouses, the vineyards that cover the land to the edge of the horizon, the boutique and family wineries that are found on every corner, all these will bring you Tuscany as you really imagined it. There are quite a few places that offer tours throughout the Chianti region, including wine tastings and good restaurants. In addition, you can spend a night or more in an authentic farmhouse, in order to experience the experience to the end.
Among the many wineries, one of the most recommended is the Terra di Seta winery near Siena. There you will find a deep-rooted Italian family that lives on the farm for generations and produces quality Chianti wine from organically grown vineyards. The excellent restaurant of the place and the guest rooms will complete the experience.
Most of the important places in Tuscany are proud of their Renaissance heritage and architecture, meaning from the 15th century onwards. Montepulciano is not firmly on this scale. It is a medieval Tuscan town, which seems to be frozen in time. Its size, the houses, the gate, the palace, and the tower, all look like they were taken from a movie about the 11th century. It’s so real, it looks fake.
This town rests peacefully on a hill about 600 meters above sea level in the southern part of the province, which guarantees its visitors an amazing vantage point over the surrounding Tuscan valleys. Besides the views, you can admire the Cervini Palace (Palazzo Cervini), the clock tower of Puncinella (Torre di Puncinella) with its unclear Neapolitan roots, and the massive gate of the city, the Gate of the Meadow (Porta al Prato). In the end, it’s about jumping in time to an era where we don’t meet too much, certainly not in the form of an entire city.
It is recommended to combine the visit to Montepulciano with a trip to the Orcea Valley.
Thermal Springs in Saturnia
This is another point in southern Tuscany, and this time it’s really close to the border with the province of Lazio (Lazio, the province of the capital Rome). These natural hot springs are a true wonder, and the fact that they are free makes them extremely popular. However, arriving early will ensure relative quiet, at least until the crowds arrive.
Saturnia itself is an ancient and impressive town, which is recommended to spend some time there to soak up its atmosphere. You can still see the medieval sea walls of the city, its ancient holy baths (Bagno Santo), visit its archeological museum, and be impressed from the outside by the Aldobrandeschi battery, and it is certainly impressive from the outside as well.
Next, proceed to the hot springs themselves. The springs, also called “Cascate di Mulino”, are actually a series of natural pools filled with a waterfall of volcanic water coming from Mount Amiata and located about six kilometers from the town of Saturnia itself. Their constant temperature is around 37.5 degrees Celsius, and healing properties are attributed to them. Another free site is the Cascate di Gorello. For those interested in a more luxurious experience, there are paid spa centers in Saturniawhere the pools are built and ancillary services are offered.
Accommodation at a Farm in Tuscany (Agriturismo)
Even though it is probably more convenient to sleep in an organized hotel in one of the cities with the developed tourist infrastructure around Tuscany, these places to stay will have a hard time competing with the experience that will give you one or two nights in an authentic Tuscan farmhouse, sometimes in the very house of a rooted family that has lived in the province for hundreds of years. This experience, called Agriturismo in Italian (literally – agricultural tourism), can wrap you in the full experience of Tuscany and allow you to really absorb it into your heart.
There are a large number of farms that offer this service, and you can also find luxury hotels that are designed in the style of farmhouses and provide an authentic experience. In this case, you probably won’t be sitting down to dinner with a Tuscan family, but the experience is probably close enough. In addition, in many of the farmhouses that offer to lodge (and meals), you can also ask for recommendations on additional services such as horseback riding, participation in the grape harvest, Tuscan cooking classes, and more.
If you, like many others, came to travel in Tuscany following Frances Mayes’ book “Under Tuscan Sun” and the film based on it starring Diane Lane, then you will probably want to do a location hunt in the places where it was filmed. Lucky for you, there is one place where you will find most of the locations, including the house itself (Bramasole). This place is the Tuscan town of Cortona, which is south of the city of Arezzo. This is the perfect place to hang out, if you want to experience an authentic Tuscan town where the residents sit with their neighbors in narrow alleys, outside centuries-old two or three-story houses, carrying on a conversation in a romantic Tuscan dialect.
If you have no particular interest in the film, then there are other places where you can get that experience. But if you are also part of the thousands of viewers who were moved, cried, and fell in love with the people and the Tuscan landscapes together with the heroine of the film, then this is the place for you.
Hot Air Balloon Flight Over Tuscany
Although this is not a unique pastime for Tuscany, there is no doubt that it is one of the special experiences you will have on your trip if you have the budget for it, especially if you are traveling with children. There are many companies that offer the experience, at a price that usually starts at 250 euros and can even reach 1500 euros, depending on the package you take.
There is no doubt that this is a very special way to experience Tuscany, with its landscapes, Karmia, and winding roads. There are flights that focus on a specific city such as Florence, San Gimignano, and Siena, and there are those that will simply take you over different parts of the province, such as the Chianti region (see above). It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and if you’re going to do it then Tuscany is definitely the place.
The Tarot Garden (Il Giardino dei Tarocchi)
This is one of the unique attractions that exist in Tuscany and is especially suitable for lovers of modern art and unusual experiences. The garden, as its name suggests, presents various characters from the tarot cards that are sometimes used by astrologers and card readers of various kinds. However, these cards were in public use in Europe as playing cards since the middle of the 15th century, and it was only about three hundred years later that these and other spiritual meanings began to be attributed to them.
The garden is right in the southwest corner of Tuscany, on the coast road between Rome and Siena, and can be an interesting stop for those traveling along the Tyrrhenian coast between Lazio and Tuscany. It includes 22 impressively sized sculptures of tarot card figures, interpreted by sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle, and was opened to the public in 1998. The sculptures are made of concrete, ceramics, and glass, as befits modern art sculptures, and some are so large that you can walk inside them.
Picking Truffle Mushrooms in San Miniato
San Miniato is a Tuscan city, located on the main road between Florence and Livorno. It is a city with a long history, mainly due to its strategic location dominating the Arno river valley, and the proof of this is the fortress built here by the German Emperor (or “Holy Roman Empire”) Frederick II in the 13th century (the current fortress is restored). However, today The city is famous mainly for the fact that it is one of the undisputed beers of the white truffle mushroom, famous for its traditional picking method, its special taste, and its high price. If you want to feel the land of Tuscany and take part in one of the oldest traditions of the province, this is the place for you.
The truffle mushrooms grow in the lands near San Miniato mainly between September and December, so this is the best time to come to pick them and this is also the time when the annual truffle festival is held in the city (in November), which attracts food lovers from all over the world. However, mushrooms can be picked throughout the year, with varying chances of success.
Several farms offer picking tours (called “hunting”) and note that you cannot do it alone. You must go out with a training dog for this purpose, and with a professional truffle hunter approved by the government. You will get a kind of small hoe, called in Italian Vanghetto, with which you will dig the mushrooms from the ground. Longer tours will also combine cooking lessons with truffles, in order to fully experience the experience.
Additional Guides on the Tuscany Region:
Recommendations for day trips around Tuscany and beyond
Festivals and cultural events in Tuscany
Nature trips and landscapes in Tuscany
Offers for a romantic vacation in Tuscany
Cities worth visiting in Tuscany
A trip to Florence – the capital of Tuscany