Tuscany Holiday Planning Guide
Known for its landscapes, traditions, and history, Tuscany possesses an unparalleled artistic legacy that continues to influence world culture. Regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, the region boasts a lengthy list of attractions, including world-class museums, art galleries, and archeological sites. With a distinct culture and a very strong linguistic identity, this region is sometimes referred to as a nation within a nation. A land of picture-postcard areas, Tuscany contains plenty of places to visit on your holiday, with seven World Heritage Sites, including the historic town centers of Florence and Siena. With more than 120 protected nature preserves, Tuscany is not only a land of culture and historic monuments, but also a great place to discover and enjoy the Italian outdoors. Take it slowly during your Tuscany holiday, and give yourself plenty of time to get to know the local culture and cuisine of the region's medieval towns and ancient villages.
Places to Visit in TuscanyFlorence
: The birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, this city serves Europe as a major center of culture, politics, and finance, drawing millions of tourists with its outstanding architecture and world-class museums.Siena
: A great place to start sightseeing in Tuscany, this World Heritage-listed medieval city features numerous attractions, including a historic town center filled with atmospheric alleyways and well-preserved buildings.Lucca
: Famed for its intact Renaissance-era city walls and boasting a history that dates to Etruscan times, Lucca features an Old Town packed with narrow streets and small piazzas, virtually unchanged since the medieval period.Pisa
: Known to most by its iconic leaning tower, this old university city features a unique mixture of Romanesque buildings, Gothic churches, and Renaissance plazas.San Gimignano
: Located in the heart of Tuscany's picturesque countryside, this architectural gems of a city features an impressive selection of Romanesque and Gothic buildings in its historic center, a World Heritage Site.Elba Island
: The location of Napoleon Bonaparte's short-lived exile in 1814, this small island remains one of Italy's finest weekend getaways, offering lush green terrain, scenic villages, and outstanding beaches.Montepulciano
: Popular with visitors interested in relaxing Tuscany holidays, Montepulciano remains best known for its red wines, medieval charm, and a lengthy list of fine dining options.Cortona
: A place of rich history and steep streets, this hilltop town received international attention when it served as the setting for the film "Under the Tuscan Sun."Montalcino
: Ranked among the most popular places to visit in Tuscany, Montalcino sits in the middle of the region's picture-perfect wine country and contains a medieval city center known for its winding stone alleyways flanked by fine stores and traditional bistros.Livorno
: Drawing visitors with its unassuming personality and exceptional seafood-based cuisine, this busy port city serves as one of the region's low-key destinations, known for its web of canals and historic walkways.
Things to Do in Tuscany
Popular Tuscany Tourist AttractionsGalleria dell'Accademia
: This gallery houses the masterpiece of Renaissance art and a major Tuscany tourist attraction - the Statue of David. This exquisite marble statue by Michelangelo once symbolized the defense of civil liberties embodied in the Florentine Republic.Uffizi Gallery
: Located on the top floor of a 16th-century building, this gallery houses a vast collection of Renaissance artworks created by Botticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, and many other notable artists.Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore
: One of Florence's main symbols, this Gothic cathedral features a huge dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the most celebrated architects of the Italian Renaissance.Piazzale Michelangelo
: A frequent stop on many Tuscany tours, this famous square offers panoramic views of Florence and features several bronze replicas of some of Michelangelo's finest sculptures.Torre di Pisa
: Known globally for its unintentional tilt, this freestanding bell tower remains one of the world's most frequently photographed structures, as it continues to lean precariously (despite several restoration efforts).Piazza della Signoria
: The beating life of Florence's political scene since medieval times, this photogenic piazza offers quick access to a string of modern cafes and features a fateful copy of Michelangelo's famous sculpture of David.Piazza del Duomo
: A lively square in the heart of Florence, this Tuscany attraction boasts a Gothic tower designed by architect Giotto di Bondone along with an art museum filled with masterpieces by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello. Piazza del Campo
: Located on the site of an ancient Roman marketplace, this public space represents one of Europe's finest medieval squares, known for its striking pavement and elegant palaces.Siena Cathedral
: Consecrated in 1215, this medieval church combines elements of Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical building styles, featuring a striking dome partially designed by architect Gianlorenzo Bernini.Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence
: The world's largest Franciscan church, this 14th-century structure serves as the final resting place of many illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, and Rossini.
Planning a Tuscany Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Tuscany with Kids
One of the most popular tourist destinations in a country that itself serves one of the world's favorite places to visit, Tuscany is an ideal region for art-filled family vacations. Perhaps the best way to enjoy your Tuscany tour is to start in one of the bigger cities, like Florence
. Both of these cities feature World Heritage-listed town centers, loaded with outstanding museums and galleries. To get away from big crowds, explore smaller cultural centers. Little Vinci
contains one of Tuscany's biggest attractions, a museum holding an extensive collection of Leonardo da Vinci's famous inventions, sure to keep the kids entertained for hours. Medieval Poppi
not only provides a chance to soak up local atmosphere and culture, but also features a park dedicated to preserving and displaying native European plants and animals.
Things to Do in Tuscany with Kids
Tuscany's lively urban centers and picturesque countryside offer plenty of amusing and educational attractions ideal for family vacations, which means that you'll have little trouble finding sites suited to your kids' interests. If you're looking for some outdoorsy things to do in Tuscany, explore one of the region's national parks. You can start at Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano
, a protected area of diverse land and sea habitats. The kids can also learn about Italy's marine life at Acquario di Livorno
, which houses both scary predators and docile sea creatures. To get some exercise, stop by Parco Avventura Il Gigante
, where the family can spend a day climbing trees and traversing ropes courses. Tuscany also boasts some of Italy's best beaches, so be sure to spend some time swimming and building sand castles at places like Cala Violina
Tips for a Family Vacation in Tuscany
To create a fulfilling family-oriented Tuscany itinerary, remember there's much more to this region than museums and churches. You can't see everything in just a week or two, so schedule your activities with the family's main interests in mind. You'll find plenty of historical sites to visit here, but if you want to keep the kids from getting bored and restless, try to mix visits to famous indoor sites with some outdoor fun. You can choose from a range of kid-friendly walks, sandy beaches, vast nature preserves, and archaeological ruins. Plan your Tuscany holiday around local festivals, which offer an ideal opportunity to meet the natives and learn about their culture. Travel by buses and trains to avoid the stress of driving and looking for parking in big cities. To sightsee around the countryside, rent a car or take cycling day trips from a base in one of the region's quaint little towns.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Tuscany
Cuisine of Tuscany
Though this region features some of Europe's finest historical sites, many visitors come expressly for Tuscany's outstanding cuisine, centered on fresh vegetables, mushrooms, olive oil, and fruit. Chianti remains the area's best-known wine, and the family-run Montefioralle Winery
provides an idyllic setting for lessons about Tuscany's traditional winemaking methods. If you wish to find out what kinds of food go well with award-winning local wines, enrich your Tuscany vacation with a foodie-oriented tour around Florence
. While exploring this historic city, you can try the famous "bistecca alla Fiorentina," the Florentine-style beefsteak. A favorite of Tuscan cuisine, this grilled steak is usually served very rare and garnished simply with a few lemon wedges. Other local favorites include gelato and pizza, widely available everywhere in the region.
Shopping in Tuscany
Known for its stunning landscapes, Tuscany is also renowned for its leather goods, terra cotta, and lace. If you wish to explore the region's centuries-old pottery trade, visit the town of Montelupo Fiorentino
, the center of homemade Tuscan ceramics since medieval times. For a modern shopping experience on your Tuscany trip, head to Florence
, one of Europe's leading centers of fashion. The city's Via de' Tornabuoni
contains some of the world's most luxurious clothing and jewelry establishments, including Cartier, Gucci, Versace, and Bulgari. To purchase top-notch crystal and glassware, include Colle di Val d'Elsa
on your itinerary. Home to a thriving glassware industry since the 14th century, this medieval town contains a number of renowned glass-blowing workshops and crystal boutiques. If you prefer informal buying adventures, hunt for bargains at one of Tuscany's flea markets, like the one held in Arezzo
the first weekend of every month.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Tuscany
History of Tuscany
Tuscany's first major civilization was Etruscan, created by people who not only implemented mining and agriculture, but also produced vibrant art. Settled between the Arno and Tiber rivers, this civilization reached its peak in the 7th century BCE. Though they lost territory to both Celts and Carthaginians during their existence, the Etruscans only succumbed to the mighty Roman Empire. You can learn more about the region's Etruscan roots at Museo Archeologico/Spezieria di Santa Fina
, a great place to begin your Tuscany trip.
Soon after taking over the area, Romans established the cities of Lucca, Pisa, Siena, and Florence. They also constructed a network of roads, introduced aqueducts and sewers, and erected a number of public and private buildings. For a sense of what Tuscany looked like during Roman times, explore the ruins and exhibits of Museo Civico e Area Archeologica
The period following the fall of the Roman Empire brought a succession of foreign rulers to Tuscany. Despite this, by the 12th century Tuscan cities gained a great deal of independence, with Florence emerging as a wealthy and influential center of culture, manufacturing, trade, banking, and agriculture. Members of Florence's powerful Medici family became major patrons of the arts, helping spark the Italian Renaissance. Add Cappelle Medicee
to your Tuscany itinerary to see statues hewn by Michelangelo in honor of this family's mightiest members.
The Medicis left the world stage in the 18th century, when the last male member of their dynasty died without an heir. A century of unrest and uncertainty followed, ending only after the Second Italian War of Independence and a subsequent plebiscite decided Tuscany's future fate. The region became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and Florence the country's new capital city. Stop by Palazzo Vecchio
to discover a building that symbolized the civic power of Florence for over 700 years.
The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of Benito Mussolini, with Tuscany gradually falling under the influence of local Fascist leaders. After Mussolini's demise, the region became part of the Nazi-controlled Italian Social Republic. Anglo-American troops liberated the area in the summer of 1944, and the country made its final transition to the modern Italian republic. Today, Tuscany flourishes as the nation's cultural center, its cities steeped in history and loaded with popular tourist attractions. To discover why so many people consider this region an ideal sightseeing destination, visit places like Ponte Vecchio
and Piazza dei Miracoli
, two of the most popular places to visit in Tuscany.
Landscape of Tuscany
A land of two distinct faces, Tuscany boasts large cities filled with modern attractions, as well as a tranquil countryside dotted by sleepy villages, old castles, and sun-drenched vineyards. Roughly triangular in shape, the region features a long coastline along the Tyrrhenian Sea. This coastal section offers visitors a string of sandy beaches to enjoy, as well as quick access to Elba Island
, a popular weekend getaway for both Italian and foreign tourists. Farther away from the sea, Tuscan countryside consists of rolling hills covered with lush orchards, wineries, and olive groves. Crossed and surrounded by major mountain chains, the area is also ideal for hiking, bird watching, and winter sports. Add Pania della Croce
to your Tuscany itinerary if you wish to conquer one of the region's tallest peaks. For less arduous activities, travel along Arno
, or explore the World Heritage-listed slopes of Val d'Orcia
Holidays & Festivals in Tuscany
Like the rest of the country, Tuscany observes a number major public holidays. The most important ones include New Year's Day, Easter, Liberation Day (April 25), Labor Day (May 1), Republic Day (June 2), Christmas, and Boxing Day (December 26). In addition to these, many towns and villages celebrate their own local holidays and festivals. Time your Tuscany tour with one of these vibrant local events, like the summertime Palio, a hugely popular horse race held in Siena
. Other options include Scoppio del Carro, an Easter folk festival in Florence
, and the February carnival of Viareggio
, a colorful parade of floats and costumed performers.
Tuscany Travel Tips
Climate of Tuscany
Coastal Tuscany enjoys a relatively mild climate throughout the year, which makes it an enormously popular tourist destination. The interior experiences harsher and wetter winters, with considerable shifts between daytime and evening temperatures. Perhaps the best time for a Tuscany vacation is April, considered the region's shoulder season. If you visit during that month, you can take advantage of pleasant temperatures, lower prices, and crowd-free major sites. May and June also offer great weather for sightseeing or relaxing by the seashore, though the region gets extremely crowded and fairly expensive during this peak of the tourist season.
Transportation in Tuscany
Many visitors to Tuscany take advantage of the region's network of high-speed trains, offering a convenient and stress-free method of getting around this part of Italy. The central train station in Florence links to most places within the region, including popular tour stops Pisa, Siena, Livorno, Lucca, and Arezzo. Look for trains carrying a bicycle logo if you wish to carry your own short-range mode of transport wherever you go. Tuscany also features an extensive regional bus service, providing another option for affordable sightseeing around the area. If you prefer to travel on your own terms, rent a car for your Tuscany vacation. Having a private vehicle at your disposal allows you to explore the region's idyllic countryside and small villages on your own schedule. Keep in mind that many Tuscan towns feature limited-traffic zones within their historic centers. Attempting to park or drive within these areas can lead to hefty fines, so pay close attention to posted traffic signs.
Language of Tuscany
Apart from the standard Italian, expect to hear a fair amount of the slightly different Tuscan dialect during your trip. Composed of several variants and spoken by some 3 million people, Tuscan differs from standard Italian in a phonetic feature commonly known as "Gorgia Toscana" (Tuscan throat), which affects the pronunciation of certain consonants.