Italy

Tuscany Travel Guide: Everything You Need to Know

Tuscany, Italy, is a magical realm that unfurls myriad surprises. For the romantics, it manifests as golden hills domed under the azure sky, laced with a labyrinth of fairy-tale castle villages. They make their way like Vespa snakes, basking in the rustic charm from one winery to the next. Tuscany is a symphony of experiences that can be best savoured under its full sails. Donned in a straw hat, a silk scarf fluttering to the rhythm of the wind, sipping on the nectar of red wine as the sun dips into the sea—Tuscany is a dream etched in reality.

Top Attractions

Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, affectionately known as “Duomo di Firenze,” is more than just a cathedral – it is an iconic symbol of the city of Florence. Standing tall and proud, its majestic dome dominates the city’s skyline, offering a visual feast to all who behold it from afar. This historic edifice, with its intricate detailing and architectural grandeur, is a testament to Florence’s rich cultural and artistic heritage.

The construction of the cathedral was nothing short of a late triumph. At a time when cities like Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia, Prato, and Siena were already basking in the glory of their magnificent cathedrals, Florence had yet to establish its own. The decision to build a new cathedral came in 1296 when the city government commissioned Arnolfo di Cambio to construct a monument that would reflect Florence’s burgeoning prosperity and influence. Completed in 1368, the cathedral was a masterpiece of its time, but there was one element missing – its mighty dome.

The construction of the dome was a design challenge that puzzled many architects. With a planned diameter that was unprecedented in its scale, it required an innovative solution. It was not until Filippo Brunelleschi entered the scene that the cathedral was finally bestowed with its iconic dome. Between 1420-34, Brunelleschi managed to engineer and execute an ingenious plan to construct the dome without any supportive framework. The result was an architectural marvel that stunned the world, marking a turning point in architectural history.

Today, the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is an architectural masterpiece and a symbol of human ingenuity and determination. It stands as a reminder to all that even the seemingly impossible can be achieved with creativity and perseverance. Its colossal presence continues to inspire awe among its countless visitors each year, making it one of the most cherished landmarks of Florence. The cathedral’s breathtaking beauty and astounding history echo throughout the city, serving as an enduring emblem of Florence’s artistic and architectural prowess.

Uffizi Gallery (Galleria degli Uffizi)

The Uffizi Gallery is a marvel of art and architecture in the heart of Florence. The structure itself, built by order of Cosimo I de Medici between 1559 and 1581, reflects the Medici family’s grandeur and opulence. Designed by Giorgio Vasari, it was originally intended to house the offices of the Florentine magistrates – hence the name ‘Uffizi’, which translates to ‘offices’. However, over time, it evolved into something far more significant and precious. Today, it is renowned as one of the world’s most prestigious art museums.

The Uffizi Gallery houses one of the world’s richest and most famous collections of art. As you wander through its expansive corridors, you are greeted by an impressive array of masterpieces from history’s most significant artistic minds. It is a treasure trove of creativity, housing over 150,000 drawings and prints in the Gabinetto dei Disegni e delle Stampe on the first floor alone.

As you ascend to the upper floors, you are met with a stunning collection of over 330 masterpieces that have been meticulously preserved in the gallery’s depots for decades. These artworks, spanning across more than 3000 square meters of newly developed exhibition space, tell a compelling story of human creativity and ingenuity.

The Uffizi Gallery has undergone significant modernization in recent years. A new exhibition concept, modern lighting systems and extensive restoration work has breathed new life into centuries-old masterpieces. The new exhibition halls, each dedicated to different periods or themes, guide visitors on an immersive journey through art history. The modern lighting illuminates every brushstroke and detail, bringing the artwork to life in a way that has never been seen before.

Yet, despite these modern enhancements, the Uffizi Gallery retains its historic charm. The echoes of the past resonate within its walls – in the grand corridors designed by Vasari, in the masterpieces that adorn its halls, and in the legacy of Cosimo I de Medici. The Uffizi Gallery is not just an art museum; it is a testament to human creativity, a monument to our shared cultural heritage and a symbol of Florence’s enduring love for art.

Visiting the Uffizi Gallery is like stepping into a time machine. It takes you on a journey through centuries of artistic evolution right up to the present day. Whether you’re an art enthusiast or simply curious about history and culture, there’s no doubt that this gallery will leave you awe-inspired and enriched with knowledge and appreciation for art and its profound impact on society over the centuries.

Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence

The Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence, a grandiose monument of faith and art, is a testament to the Franciscan Order’s deep-rooted history and profound spiritual legacy. This expansive hall church, commissioned by the Franciscans in 1295, is not merely a place of worship but a vibrant canvas showcasing the life and teachings of St. Francis, the founder of the Order. Among the many artistic maestros commissioned to adorn its walls, Giotto – the herald of the Renaissance – stands out. Breaking away from the Byzantine tradition of gilded art, Giotto chose an earthy palette dominated by blues. His frescoes were revolutionary; his figures were no longer static but imbued with a physicality and emotional depth that exuded laughter and tears. Giotto’s work was a pivotal move towards an art form that mirrored nature in its raw, unadulterated beauty. Today, as the primary Franciscan church in Florence, Santa Croce continues to be a beacon of this naturalistic artistic tradition even after centuries since St. Francis’s death in 1226.

Brunelleschi’s dome

The view of Florence from Brunelleschi’s Dome.

Standing tall and proud in the heart of the city, the cathedral crowned by Brunelleschi’s dome is an architectural marvel that has become synonymous with the city skyline. This majestic structure, a testament to the genius of its creator Brunelleschi, boasts a majestic cupola that stretches 45 meters in diameter. A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, it’s a symbol of power and beauty that has withstood the test of time.

The dome’s 463 steps, each steeped in centuries-old history, lead to a breathtaking panorama of the city. As you ascend these ancient steps, you can almost hear the echoes of the past – a symphony of stories from an era long gone. The final step reveals an awe-inspiring view stretching as far as the eye can see, a sight well worth the climb. 

This mighty dome is not just a structure of bricks and mortar but a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance. It stands as an enduring symbol of man’s quest for beauty, innovation, and perfection. Every inch of Brunelleschi’s dome speaks volumes about its creator’s architectural prowess and vision, making it an inimitable icon in an ever-evolving cityscape.

Giotto’s Bell Tower

Giotto’s Bell Tower, or Campanile di Giotto, is a soaring testament to the grandeur of Italian Renaissance architecture. Constructed between 1334 and 1359, it proudly stands adjacent to the Duomo, as if in a silent and eternal conversation with the grand cathedral. The tower’s harmonious proportions and vibrant colour palette lend it an unparalleled air of majesty, earning it the reputation of being one of Italy’s most beautiful bell towers.

Yet, the true beauty of Giotto’s Bell Tower lies not merely in its external appearance but also in the journey it offers to those who dare to ascend it. A steady climb of 414 steps may seem daunting at first, but each step taken is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment and a rising anticipation of the spectacle that awaits at the top. Upon reaching the flat roof, one is greeted by an ornate fence that acts as the final barrier between the climber and a breathtaking panorama. The view from the top is nothing short of mesmerizing, presenting a sweeping vista of the city below, its skyline punctuated by rolling hills and punctuated by the snaking river. It’s not just a bell tower; it’s a journey into history, an exploration of art and architecture, and an encounter with unsurpassed beauty.

Volterra

Nestled in a peculiar hilly terrain on porous tuff, Volterra is a city that whispers tales of antiquity and grandeur. Even during the times of the Etruscans, the town held a position of significance, a testament to which is the sole surviving city gate, a proud relic of an era long past but cherished nonetheless. A treasure trove of valuable finds from the Etruscan period can be witnessed at the Guarnacci Museum, each artefact narrating silent stories of a civilization that once thrived here.

Volterra is not just about ancient history and rustic charm; it is a city where beauty unfurls at every corner. The Romanesque cathedral stands as an epitome of architectural finesse, its majestic structure leaving visitors spellbound. The Pinakothek, an art museum home to numerous works of significance, adds a touch of artistic elegance to the city. Then there’s the palazzo of the alabaster dealer Viti, a splendid edifice that speaks volumes of the city’s rich past.

In Volterra, every brick, every stone and every corner has a tale to tell, echoing the whispers of history and culture. It’s not just a city; it’s a living, breathing museum that takes you on a journey back in time whilst keeping you firmly grounded in its present-day enchantment.

San Gimignano

A city that whispers the stories of a bygone era stands majestically amidst the rolling hills of Tuscany, maintaining its medieval charm. The city unfolds like a beautiful canvas painted with the hues of history, culture, and architectural splendour. Its iconic landmarks, the towering family houses, which reach up to 54 meters high, punctuate the skyline in an awe-inspiring silhouette. Fifteen of these grand towers continue to hold their place, preserved throughout centuries, standing as silent witnesses to the passage of time.

The Piazza Duomo is another marvel that adds to the city’s charm. This square is a public space and a treasure trove of medieval jewels. It is here that one can truly experience the city’s pulse. The echo of footsteps on cobblestone streets, the laughter emanating from bustling cafes, and the mesmerizing sight of historic structures transport you back in time. Each corner of this piazza has a tale to tell; each stone is etched with the imprints of time. The artistic splendour and architectural grandeur reflect the glory of medieval times, making San Gimignano a city frozen in time yet vibrantly alive.

Villa San Martino

Tucked away on the tranquil island of Elba, Villa San Martino stands as a testament to the grandeur of a bygone era. This villa was once the summer residence of none other than Napoleon Bonaparte himself, yet it owes its current splendour not to the famed Emperor but to one of his most devoted admirers. It was Prince Anatolio Demidoff who, more than three decades after Napoleon’s demise, adorned the villa with a magnificently long avenue, a stunning wrought-iron grille, and a neoclassical portico that perfectly encapsulates the luxury of the period. 

However, not everything in Villa San Martino is a reflection of Demidoff’s admiration for Napoleon. The Egyptian Hall, an exquisite space adorned with hieroglyphics and ancient motifs, remains as Napoleon left it. This room, untouched by time or the hands of admirers, offers visitors a glimpse into the life and tastes of one of history’s most influential figures. In this way, Villa San Martino symbolizes a perfect marriage between respect for the past and a desire to glorify it, creating a truly unique historical monument that continues to enchant visitors from around the world.

Lucca

Drenched in history and culture, the charming city of Lucca nestles on the left bank of the Serchio. A former city republic, Lucca held onto its independence until 1847, carving out a reputation for comfort and quality of life that still resonates today. The city’s beauty is undeniable; brick-red palaces and white marble churches dot the landscape, offering visual delight at every turn. A stroll through the traffic-calmed old town is like a melodious symphony to the ears, with its narrow, winding streets and tranquil squares offering a peaceful respite from the hustle and bustle of modern life. The gastronomes will find themselves in paradise; Lucca’s quaint restaurants and delicatessen shops serve culinary wonders that will satiate even the most discerning palate. The city’s fashion scene is equally impressive, with elegant boutiques catering to every aesthetic sensibility. The medieval town, gracefully transitioning into a Renaissance jewel, has a storied past as a trading hub for fine cloth. This tradition continues, cementing Lucca’s status as a beacon of quality and sophistication.

Basilica di San Miniato

The Basilica di San Miniato, an architectural masterpiece, stands majestically on a hill south of the Arno, acting as a silent sentinel over the city of Florence. Its commanding position allows it to be seen from afar, beckoning travellers and devotees alike. The forecourt of this magnificent church unfurls a panoramic view of Florence that appears like a dream spun from the loom of the Italian Renaissance. Its roots stretch back to the time of Charlemagne, where it was said to have been constructed over the tomb of Saint Minias, a martyr who breathed his last in 250 AD. The saint’s mortal remains are housed in a sacred shrine within the crypt of the basilica. The current basilica, standing tall from 1018 to 1207, is an epitome of grandeur. Its facade, adorned with white Carrara marble and green serpentine, is a sight to behold, while the floor, choir screens and pulpit are graced with precious marble inlays. The apse mosaic depicting Christ enthroned dates back to 129 and adds to the solemn beauty of this place. Visiting here is like stepping into an era long gone, yet alive in this masterpiece only an hour’s drive from Lucca.

Ponte Vecchio

The Ponte Vecchio, or the “Old Bridge,” is a venerable emblem of Florence, Italy. It whispers tales of times gone by, Etruscan footsteps echoing as they crossed the river, and Roman traders ushering their goods along the Via Cassia. This ancient trade route pierced through the heart of Rome and stretched all the way north, connecting with cities like Lucca. However, it was not until 1345 that the bridge as we know it came into existence. Neri di Fioravanti or Taddeo Gaddi, the architects of that era, designed it to span the river at its most slender point. Their creation was anything but ordinary; the unique overhanging shutters offer a glimpse into architectural genius. For many years, the bridge was a bustling hub for butchers. Yet, when the Grand Ducal family claimed the Pitti Palace as their residence, they found the scent of raw meat in the air to be distasteful. Ferdinand I, thus proclaimed that only goldsmiths could ply their trade on this historic bridge. The Ponte Vecchio thus transformed into a dazzling gallery of precious metals and gems, adding another layer to its rich tapestry of history.

Forte Falcone

Forte Falcone stands as a majestic testament to the past, a fortress built in 1548 to fend off pirate attacks. Its battlements and bastions, once the first line of defence, were transformed into comfortable walking paths in 1994, stretching over a length of more than 500 meters. Today, they serve as a tranquil promenade for visitors, offering a journey back in time and spectacular panoramic views. 

The fortress is not just about war and defence but also about fun and relaxation. Amidst the historical surroundings, there is a delightful children’s playground and a bar that serve as refreshing enclaves for families. The architecture of Forte Falcone is breathtakingly overwhelming, with its imposing structures commanding awe and respect. 

But the true charm of Fort Falcone lies in its strategically important points, which provide the best views of the port, the city, and the surrounding area. From these vantage points, one can see the port’s bustling activity, the city’s vibrant life, and the stunning beauty of the landscape beyond. Visiting Forte Falcone is not just about revisiting history; it’s about experiencing a unique blend of past and present and appreciating the beautiful tapestry that they weave together.

Fiesole

Tucked away in the verdant Tuscan hills, Fiesole represents a historical tapestry woven with the threads of Etruscan, Roman, and Renaissance influences. This mesmerizing town was not always merely a villa suburb for affluent Florentines looking to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. It has a rich history that predates the rise of Florence, tracing its roots back to the Etruscan settlement of Faesulae, which was already prospering long before Florence took centre stage.

The town of Fiesole is a treasure trove of architectural and historical gems. Among its noteworthy attractions is the Monastery of San Francesco, built in 1399, standing as a testament to the town’s spiritual heritage. The San Romolo Cathedral, another impressive structure, narrates tales of faith and devotion from centuries past.

However, it is perhaps the archaeological park that truly encapsulates Fiesole’s ancient grandeur. This site is studded with remnants of a Roman theatre, thermal baths, and temples – physical imprints left by the mighty Roman Empire. Each stone whispers stories from a bygone era, offering visitors an immersive journey through time. Fiesole is not merely a footnote in Florence’s history; it is an evocative chronicle of civilizations that have risen, flourished, and faded away, leaving behind an indelible legacy etched in stone and memory.

How to get from the United Kingdom to Tuscany

Embarking on a journey from the UK to Tuscany can be an exciting adventure filled with a variety of travel options. The destination, Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is renowned for its stunning landscapes, rich history, and artistic legacy, making it a must-visit for any travel enthusiast.

One convenient way to travel from the UK to Tuscany is by air. Several airlines provide direct flights to Florence and Pisa, the main airports in Tuscany. A typical flight from London to Florence costs about £100 – £200 and takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes. If you’re flying into Pisa, prices are slightly lower, ranging from £50 – £150, with a similar journey time.

Taking a train could be the ideal choice for those who prefer a slower pace and the opportunity to enjoy Europe’s landscape. Eurostar operates from London to Paris in just 2 hours 20 minutes, starting at £50 one-way. You can take a TGV train to Turin (about 5 hours 30 minutes, starting at £29 one-way), then a local train to Florence (about 3 hours, starting at £15 one-way). So the total train journey can take approximately 11 hours, excluding transfer times.

Another option is driving. It’s about a 14-hour drive from Calais in France (after taking the Eurotunnel from Folkestone) through the scenic routes of France and into Italy. The Eurotunnel will cost about £90 each way for a car, and the fuel costs will vary depending on your vehicle’s consumption.

Finally, for those who love the sea, you can sail from the UK to Tuscany. However, it’s not as direct as flying or driving. You’d have to take a ferry from the UK to France or Spain and then drive to Italy. Ferry prices start at about £50 for a one-way ticket and can take anywhere between 6 – 24 hours, depending on your departure point.

So whether you choose to fly, ride, drive or sail, your journey from the UK to Tuscany is guaranteed to be filled with memorable experiences.

Tuscany Travel Cost

Here are some estimated travel budgets for a trip to Tuscany from the UK, including options for the economy, mid-range, and luxury travel. Please note that these approximate figures and costs may vary depending on travel dates, accommodation choices, activities, and personal preferences.

Economy Travel Budget

  • Flights: £150-£300 per person (round trip, economy class)
  • Accommodation: £50-£100 per night (budget hotels, guesthouses, or hostels)
  • Transportation: £50-£100 (local buses and trains for getting around within Tuscany)
  • Meals: £20-£30 per day (eating at inexpensive local restaurants and cafes)
  • Activities: £10-£20 per day (visiting museums, attractions, or exploring the countryside)
  • Total: £500-£800 per person for a week-long trip (excluding shopping and souvenirs)

Mid-Range Travel Budget

  • Flights: £300-£600 per person (round trip, economy or premium economy class)
  • Accommodation: £100-£200 per night (3 or 4-star hotels, agriturismos, or vacation rentals)
  • Transportation: £100-£200 (renting a car for more flexibility or a combination of trains and buses)
  • Meals: £30-£50 per day (enjoying a mix of local restaurants and mid-range dining options)
  • Activities: £20-£40 per day (including entrance fees to attractions, wine tastings, or guided tours)
  • Total: £1,000-£2,000 per person for a week-long trip (excluding shopping and souvenirs)

Luxury Travel Budget

  • Flights: £600-£1,200 per person (round trip, premium or business class)
  • Accommodation: £200-£500+ per night (luxury hotels, resorts, or villas)
  • Transportation: £200-£400 (private car hire, chauffeur services, or first-class train travel)
  • Meals: £50-£100+ per day (fine dining experiences, gourmet restaurants, and wine tasting)
  • Activities: £50-£100+ per day (private tours, exclusive experiences, hot air balloon rides)
  • Total: £3,000-£6,000+ per person for a week-long trip (excluding shopping and souvenirs)

Remember to consider additional expenses such as travel insurance, shopping, and any specific activities or events you plan to attend. Researching and comparing prices and tailoring the budget to your preferences and requirements is always a good idea.

Recommended hotels in Tuscany

Tuscany, a region in central Italy, is a dreamland that will enchant you with its picturesque landscapes, world-class art, and culinary delights. It is also home to some of the best hotels in Tuscany, ranging from budget-friendly to luxurious accommodations. Here is a curated list of three- to five-star hotels catering to various travel budgets and preferences.

First on the list is the three-star Hotel La Scaletta, located in the heart of Florence. It provides a charming and comfortable stay with stunning views of Ponte Vecchio, one of the city’s iconic landmarks. The hotel exudes an ambience of old-world charm mixed with modern amenities. The average price for two people for a night’s stay is around 100 Euros, making it an affordable option for those travelling on a budget.

Next up is the four-star Art Hotel Villa Agape, situated away from the hustle and bustle of Florence’s city centre amidst a vast park. This hotel offers a tranquil escape with its period furnishings, beautiful garden views, and warm hospitality. The average price per night for two people is approximately 150 Euros.

Another four-star gem in Tuscany is the Hotel Borgo San Felice set amidst vineyards in Chianti. This converted medieval village hotel offers a unique experience with its rustic stone buildings, olive groves, and wine cellars. Expect to pay around 300 Euros per night for two people here.

Luxury seekers might want to consider the five-star Castello di Casole – A Belmond Hotel. Nestled among rolling hills and vineyards, this historic castle-turned-hotel offers sumptuous suites, fine dining, and outstanding wellness facilities. The average price for two people can be around 1000 Euros per night.

Finally, for those seeking ultimate luxury, there’s the five-star Il Salviatino in Fiesole. This 15th-century villa is perched on a hilltop offering panoramic views of Florence. The hotel boasts luxe interiors, world-class service, gourmet dining options, and a spa. Average prices for two people hover around 1200 Euros per night.

Each of these best hotels in Tuscany offers something unique – be it location, history, or luxury – ensuring every traveller finds their perfect Tuscan retreat. So whether you’re touring vineyards, exploring art galleries or simply soaking up the Tuscan sun, rest assured that these accommodations will elevate your experience.

Thank you for reading

I am eager to hear from you! Have you had the pleasure of experiencing the rustic charm of Tuscany? I’m sure the breathtaking landscapes, vineyards, and historical architecture left you awestruck. If you’ve been there, I would love to hear about your adventures. Were there any unique hotels or B&Bs that made you feel at home? Any small trattorias or wineries that served unforgettable meals and wines? Your experiences could be a beacon for future travellers. Please share your Tuscan tales and recommendations with us.

2 Comments

  1. Your description paints such a vivid picture of this enchanting region. I can already imagine myself exploring those golden hills, hopping from one charming castle village to another on a Vespa, and indulging in the finest wines.

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