If you’re in Florence for more than a couple of days, you will probably want to spend some time outside the busy tourist city. Happily, Florence is surrounded by the attractive scenery of Tuscany, and whether you want to visit another art city, relax in the green countryside, wander through medieval lanes or visit villas and vineyards, you’ll be spoilt for choice.
The most independent way to get about is by rental car. But you won’t have much use for a car in Florence itself, so for a day trip it will probably work out cheaper (and still fairly easy) to use the Tuscan public transport. Buses run all over the region from a Florentine bus station (Autostazione), on Via Santa Caterina da Siena, close to Santa Maria Novella station. You can check timetables (orari) at the website of Autolinee Toscane. Tickets are cheap, and can be bought in the bus station – remember to stamp them in the machines onboard. Trains are good for longer distances, although some of the local services can be slow.
Siena is a beautiful Tuscan hill-town with an illustrious past. Famous for the twice-yearly Palio contest, when horses race around the sloping Campo, Siena also has plenty to offer tourists at other times of the year: art; churches; museums; narrow picturesque lanes; views. There are express buses from Florence to Siena, departing from the bus station (approximately hourly). The journey takes an hour and fifteen minutes. Trains are not such a good option: the journey takes nearly two hours (although a new railway initiative, the ES link, provides alternative coach travel to Siena). If you take the train you will need to catch a local bus from the railway station into the heart of Siena.
The colourful Medici family ruled Florence for many years (on and off). They appreciated life’s comforts, and had a number of fine villas built for themselves in and around Florence, complete with splendid gardens. Several, including the lovely Renaissance villa at Poggio a Caiano, can be visited by the public, and make a pleasant excursions for tourists with an interest in history or architecture. The Florence Tourist Information office supplies an English-language leaflet with descriptions and useful information for getting to the villas.
Fiesole was once more important than Florence. Long since conquered and dominated by the newer city on the plain, Fiesole has subsided into a peaceful, attractive place with famous views over Florence. The small town is a good destination for escaping the heat and crowds of the city – you’ll see from the grand villas how many of Florence’s wealthier residents have escaped here in the past. Fiesole is a short trip from Florence on an urban ATAF bus. Bring a snack to eat in a panoramic little park. You don’t need more than half a day to see Fiesole, but your outing can be extended by walking around the lanes – or even back into Florence.
San Gimignano is famous for its medieval skyscrapers – fortified towers which were built by the hill-town’s competing families. Today San Gimignano is a tourist honey-pot, but is still charming enough to win over the sceptical visitor. To get to San Gimignano from Florence, take a bus or train to Poggibonsi, then change to another bus for the short journey onwards to San Gimignano.
Pisa and its famous Leaning Tower are just a train trip away from Florence. Few tourists in Tuscany will want to return home without a photograph of one of Italy’s most celebrated landmarks, and there are plenty of other sights to interest the daytripper. Trains run to Pisa from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella station, and travel time is just over an hour.
There is some beautiful countryside very close to Florence: rolling green slopes capped by fortified villas; vineyards and crumbling villages. If you have a car, you could spend a day just exploring Tuscany, stopping off to visit vineyards and other sights. It’s more tricky to roam using public transport, but not impossible: for example, we took the slow bus to Poggibonsi and were very impressed by the countryside and villages we passed through. An intrepid traveller (ideally armed with a bus pass) would enjoy taking in the view from bus windows, and hopping off on a whim at interesting locations.
Arezzo is a dignified historic town on a hill topped by a large park and ruined fortress, easily reachable by train (a range of types; the fastest is Intercity which takes just 37 minutes). Cortona is one of the most admired hill-towns of Tuscany, with superb views over Tuscany and Umbria, and is an hour and twenty minutes by train from Florence (followed by a local bus from the station up to the town). Lucca, the walled town so popular with overseas visitors, is approximately an hour and twenty minutes away by train.
I wouldn’t recommend visiting Rome as a day trip. But if this is your only opportunity to see Italy’s capital, then be bold and take the fast Eurostar train service from Florence for a busy day’s sightseeing. Be warned, though, you will only be able to get a tantalising taste of this fascinating city’s charms.
- Florence: an intro
- Get to Florence
- Urban transport
- Tourist attractions
- Museum booking
- Food & drink
- Day trips
- Books & films