We’ve written this article to help you make a more informed choice of where to visit in Tuscany, and where to stay. We have covered all of the best cities in Tuscany, and also included Tuscany’s main seaside resort, smaller towns including the famous Tuscan hill towns, and the lovely Chianti wine region to the south of Florence. For each potential base we have weighed up the pros and cons so that you have a good idea of what you’ll be able to see from there. So here is our guide to the best places in Tuscany to base yourself and explore the region.
- One of the three most popular cities in Italy, along with Venice and Rome
- Outstanding city for art lovers, with some of the finest galleries in the world
- Most Florence attractions are quite close to each other, on the north bank of the river Arno
- There are enough things to do in Florence to keep you there for a week
- A mixture of luxury Florence hotels and cheaper options spread across the centre
- Great base for day trips to the other main cities in Tuscany
- Do not attempt to drive in central Florence – much of it is off limits to traffic
Florence – Firenze in Italian – is the largest city in Tuscany, the cradle of the Renaissance and home to some of the greatest art you could hope to see. It’s a relatively small city, the core of which hasn’t changed in 600 years, but it’s one of the richest cities, artistically and culturally, in the world.
The Uffizi is one of the great galleries on the planet, and the Accademia in the north of the city houses the original of Michelangelo’s David, one of the most iconic, recognisable statues in the world. The David in the Piazza della Signoria is a replica. Nearby, the Bargello Museum has a collection of Michelangelo marbles and a room full of works by Donatello.
The Duomo (cathedral) which dominates the city is a work of art in itself, its exterior of white, green and pink marble gleaming in the bright Tuscan sun. Its campanile was designed by Giotto da Bondone, a Tuscan son credited by some as the first artist of the Renaissance. Other outstanding churches in central Florence include the basilicas of Santa Maria Novella and Santa Croce.
It’s also worth spending plenty of time across the river Arno in the Oltrarno district. From the Uffizi, walk the short distance to the lovely Ponte Vecchio – the Old Bridge – and begin the walk that takes you to the famous viewpoint over the city, Piazzale Michelangelo, is near the top of the hill, and the panorama is unforgettable, especially when you look down on the city around dusk and the buildings are lit up. Higher up, the church of San Miniato al Monte is one of the oldest in the city, and is worth the climb just to see its gorgeous marble façade. At the other end of Oltrarno, the church of Santa Maria del Carmine houses the stunning Cappella Brancacci, housing a fresco cycle by Masaccio and his mentor Masolino da Panicale, some of which were finished later in the 15th century by Filippino Lippi.
Back across the river, honourable mention must also go to Florence’s Central Market (Mercato Centrale), one of the best we’ve ever seen for food shopping, and a pleasure to visit. It’s very close to the church of San Lorenzo and the lavish Medici chapels which are among the most impressive monuments of the Renaissance period.
There is a huge array of places to stay in Florence, with many hotels in central Florence near the Duomo and the main sights. If you’re on the lookout for a boutique hotel Florence is a great place to stay. There is also plenty of other Florence accommodation to consider, from Florence apartments and Airbnb, and it’s worth looking beyond the centre of the city, considering Oltrarno hotels across the river Arno as well.
There isn’t any one area where you’ll just find upmarket or cheap hotels in Florence – they’re all mixed together, often across the street from each other.
When choosing where to stay in Florence, it’s worth spending some time checking hotel reviews in depth. One problem I encountered many years ago was street noise – stallholders pulling their carts along a cobbled street at 3 am to one of the main city markets is not at all conducive to a good night’s rest. Some friends have also mentioned noise from nightlife and traffic elsewhere in the city. So it’s worth scouring the negative reviews of places for noise.
Many people could happily stay in Florence for a week without venturing beyond the city as there is so much to see. I’ve stayed there for longer, using it as a base to visit other cities and towns across Tuscany on public transport. Florence is an ideal base if this is what you’re looking to do. Pisa and Lucca are easy train trips. Siena is barely an hour by bus. It’s undoubtedly on e of the best places to stay in Tuscany without a car.
It starts to get more difficult when you want to visit the hill towns by bus. One of the closest to Florence is San Gimignano, and even there you have to catch two buses, changing at Poggibonsi. If you’re lucky with connections, it’s fairly painless, but if you’re not, it can turn into quite a lengthy expedition. All of which points towards hiring a car.
If you’re contemplating car rental Florence has a wide range of options outside the city centre and the airport, but not so easy to negotiate your way around the city in one.
Florence is full of zone di traffic limitata – usually referred to as ZTLs, where traffic access is limited or not possible. This includes most of the historic centre of the city. The only way you can drive there is if you’ve booked accommodation with parking, which entitles you to a permit to drive in the restricted area, but even then you have to get your accommodation provider to notify the local traffic police so that you don’t get a heavy fine. Otherwise, you’re restricted to street parking or paid parking garages. Parking costs can stack up quite quickly – anything between €20 and €40 per day – so if you’re using Florence as a base and intend to hire a car to explore Tuscany, try to limit your car rental in Florence to the number of days you expect to need it, possibly staying in the city for a day or two before you pick up your vehicle.
- The Chianti wine region is one of the best-known in Italy, with some of the best vineyards in Tuscany in the area
- It covers much of the area between Florence (to the north) and Siena (to the south)
- The Chianti hills are one of the most famous landscapes in Italy
- If you have a car, possibly the best area to stay in Tuscany
- Great central location for exploring Tuscany
- The best area to look for Tuscany winery hotels
Chianti is the region between Florence and Siena, very rural and hilly, dotted with villages and vineyards. If you don’t want to stay in the city but would like to be close by for day trips, Chianti has many of the best places to stay near Florence.
There are so many Chianti accommodation options. You could stay in a Tuscan farmhouse, in an agriturismo, or in Tuscany vineyard hotels. In this area you’ll also find Tuscan villas out in the beautiful countryside to hotels in the larger Chianti towns, such as Castellina in Chianti and Greve in Chianti.
Having a rural base has advantages over staying in towns, especially as you’re not affected by access or parking restrictions in old towns and cities – you can park right outside your accommodation.
Chianti is within easy reach of both Florence and Siena by car. However, we’d advise against driving in Florence because much of the centre is off-limits to traffic, and parking can be a nightmare. There are direct buses from Greve in Chianti to Florence, or it’s possible to drive to the suburb of Scandicci and take a tram from there to the centre. Likewise, it’s best to park somewhere outside the centre of Siena and make your way in from there.
Chianti is also within reach of most the Tuscan hill towns – San Gimignano is very close to the south of the region and Castellina in Chianti. The furthest you’d probably travel is probably Montepulciano, an hour beyond Siena. Chianti is also ideal for a day trip to Arezzo, an hour’s drive away to the south-east of Florence.
Away from the Florence to Siena motorway, a lot of the Chianti roads are long, slow, meandering and very scenic. There are so many beautiful villages and landscapes in Chianti, the best advice we can give is to wander – and while you’re at it, you’ll find some great Chianti wine tours.
- One of the most beautiful cities in Italy, Europe and the world
- Siena sights include the magnificent Duomo (Cathedral) and the fine Piazza del Campo square
- Among the best places to stay in Tuscany with a car
- Ideal for exploring the beautiful hill towns and villages of southern Tuscany
- Also a great base for seeing the classic Tuscany landscapes with rolling hills, olive groves and cypress trees
- Siena easy to reach by public transport by bus and rail, with limited onward bus connections to the hill towns
- For car rental Siena has plenty of options, especially around the train stations
Siena is one of the best places to stay in Italy, never mind Tuscany.
It is possibly the most complete medieval cityscape in Europe, a small city of quite staggering beauty. The sloping shell-shaped square Piazza del Campo is an obvious starting point, beneath the imposing Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia tower which dominates the city’s skyline.
The other outstanding landmark in Siena is its Duomo, or cathedral, black-and-white-striped both outside and within. It’s beautiful enough from outside, especially from the north side around the church of San Domenico, rising above the medieval red-brick houses below. Inside, it’s incredibly ornate with its striped arches, blue vaulted roof with gold stars and an amazing series of floor panels decorated with Biblical scenes.
Although these sights are outstanding, one of the most enjoyable things to do in Siena is to wander and explore the narrow backstreets and steep staircases you have to negotiate to get around. If you’re using Siena as a base to explore Tuscany, it’s a wonderful place to dip back into at the end of each day and walk around in the evening and at night.
As for Siena accommodation, there is a wide choice of mid-range hotels in Siena city centre and the more modern outskirts, with a few in the higher end bracket including the Relais degli Angeli in a medieval house within the city, and the boutique Il Battistero.
Siena is home to a large university, so there are plenty of restaurants to choose from. The Piazza del Campo is a very atmospheric place to dine, but it’ll cost you considerably more than a backstreet trattoria or osteria that serves up better food.
Siena is such a good base to explore Tuscany because of its proximity to the many Tuscan hill towns and classic Tuscan countryside. If you want to get around several of the hill towns, the best way to do so is to base yourself in Siena, and drive from there. It is possible to visit some of the hill towns – including San Gimignano, Monteriggioni and Montalcino – as day trips by bus, but with hours between each service at times the best you can hope for is to see one hill town per day.
Driving opens up a lot more possibilities. By car you can reach Montepulciano to the south-east, the nearby Val d’Orcia, the abbeys of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Sant’Antimo, and drive through the Crete Senesi hills to the south, especially the area around the village of Buonconvento. Massa Marittima, to the south-west, is also an easy day trip from Siena. The eastern Tuscan towns of Arezzo and Cortona are also within reach.
If you’re using Siena as a base and planning to drive, it’s worth looking up parking options well in advance. The historic centre is a Zona Traffica Limitata, which essentially means you can’t come in, you need to park somewhere first. Parking can cost up to €35 per day, though there are some cheaper options. If you’re staying in the historic centre, it’s worth checking with your hotel in Siena before you make your booking. Alternatively, most Siena hotels outside the medieval centre have parking available.
Tuscan Hill Towns
- Worth considering if you prefer somewhere smaller, rather than the big cities
- Some of the best places to stay in the Tuscan countryside
- San Gimignano, Montepulciano and Pienza among the best-known Tuscany destinations
- You’ll almost certainly need a car to stay out in the countryside
- Other options include Massa Marittima and Volterra, both in the south-west of the region
- Worth considering if you’d like a holiday cycling in Tuscany, with many scenic routes
- San Quirico d’Orcia and around a photographer’s paradise
It’s also worth bearing in mind the possibility of staying in a Tuscan hill town and using it as a base to explore the region.
As I’ve mentioned in the sections on Florence and Siena, bus services to some of these can be pretty sparse, so if you’re coming without a vehicle, your mobility is going to be rather limited. If you’re going to have a car, it’s a totally different story. Many of the hill towns have limited access to vehicles, so sometimes you have to park outside the town and walk in (or be shuttled in).
If you’re thinking about where to stay in the Tuscan countryside, the many small towns in Tuscany offer a huge choice of places to stay, from Volterra hotels close to Roman ruins to villas overlooking vineyards in Montepulciano.
The rolling hills of southern Tuscany are an ideal landscape for cycling, and you could devise hundreds of routes around the likes of the Crete Senesi hills and the stunning Val d’Orcia.
So if you want to immerse yourself in rural Tuscany for a while, this is a great way to do it.
- An ideal base for visiting Tuscany, with all parts within fairly easy reach
- One of the the best towns in Tuscany to stay in if you intend to do a lot of travelling around
- One of the biggest spa towns in Italy
- Some gorgeous Montecatini Terme spa architecture from the Art Nouveau period
- Barely half an hour from Florence in one direction by train and Pisa in the other
- It’s not somewhere you’d spend a great deal of time, but its location means it’s one of the prime places to stay in Tuscany
Montecatini Terme is a lovely, elegant spa town in an ideal location to explore much of Tuscany. It’s on the Pisa to Florence rail line, roughly half way between the two, and it’s close to the motorway, making exploration by both public transport and car a possibility.
I stopped by in Montecatini Terme a few years ago out of curiosity, having heard that some distant relatives had stayed there on a coach holiday, and got to see a lot of Tuscany from there on day trips. Intrigued, I spent a few hours looking around, and was hugely impressed by the Art Nouveau architecture, which reminded me very much of Nancy in eastern France.
Many come to Montecatini Terme for a cure to their ailments, which involves imbibing the thermal waters and taking things very slowly. There are also a huge range of spa treatments available. But there’s a lot more to the town than that. Montecatini Terme is actually the lower town – Montecatini Alto, the medieval upper town, overlooks it from the summit of the hill dominating the town, and you can reach this on the 19th century funicular railway that links the two.
If you’re considering Montecatini Terme as a base for exploring Tuscany, there are lots of Montecatini Terme hotels to choose from. These vary from stylish grand Art Nouveau hotels like the Hotel Ercolini e Savi to simple one and two star alberghi. There are many mid-range options, with many Montecatini hotels rated 3-star and 4-star. If you’re travelling in the off-season, prices drop significantly and you can get some great bargains.
Montecatini Terme’s other advantage is its central location in the region and proximity to so many of the main Tuscany points of interest. If you’re driving, Siena and some of the hill towns nearby are within much easier reach than if you are staying in Lucca or Pisa. But the coast and the far north are also within easy striking distance. Florence and Pisa are half an hour away in either direction on the train. And Vinci, birthplace of a certain Leonardo, is only a short drive to the south. For many, Montecatini Terme is an ideal base for exploring the many Tuscany highlights.
And if you ever need your colon irrigated, I can think of no more pleasant a place in which to do it.
- A beautiful city in northern Tuscany, close to Pisa and the coast
- Most Lucca hotels – and sights – are inside the city walls
- Some stunning Pisan Romanesque churches, especially San Michele in Foro
- The home town of composer Giacomo Puccini, with a museum devoted to him
- The oval-shaped Piazza Anfiteatro is one of the loveliest squares in Italy
- Ideal starting point for trips to the remote valleys and villages of the Garfagnana and Lunigiana
- Florence an easy day trip, but most of the hill towns are close to three hours away
- A possible base for part, if not all, of a Tuscany trip
Lucca, Tuscany is a gorgeous city in the west of the region, and it makes an ideal base for exploring west and north-west Tuscany.
Lucca is a walled city, and the Renaissance-era fortifications have been turned into a lovely shaded park which you can walk all the way around.
It’s one of the best places in Tuscany to visit and linger a while. It doesn’t have a world-famous calling card like its neighbour Pisa, rather it’s a beautiful, quirky Italian town with all the good things you’d expect. For things to see in Lucca, Piazza Anfiteatro, a classic Italian piazza built to the shape of the Roman amphitheatre, is a great place to start. The similar Romanesque facades of the churches of San Michele in Foro and the Cattedrale di San Martino are must-sees. The Torre Guinigi is another famous city landmark, a medieval tower with a tree growing out of the top.
Lucca is also a wonderful place to base yourself, to dip in and out of while making day trips around the region. Lucca is the best place to stay if you want to see the relatively untouched north-west of Tuscany and the coast, while also seeing the sights of Florence and Pisa by train. Pisa is only half an hour away, while Florence (Santa Maria Novella) takes around an hour and twenty minutes on the slower regionale service.
Viareggio is another short train ride away on the Costa Versilia, and the stunning villages of Cinque Terre in Liguria are also within striking distance, especially by car. Otherwise, the north west and far north of Tuscany are full of fascinating places, which see a trickle of tourists in comparison with the famous hill towns to the south and east. The Garfagnana is a lovely green valley surrounded by the Apuan Alps to one side and the Apennines to the other. The Lunigiana, to the west, is equally remote and undiscovered, with the fortified hill towns of Pontremoli and Virgoletta worth the detour to seek out.
The one disadvantage with Lucca is that it’s not well-placed if you want to explore the Tuscan hill towns. The closest is Volterra, an hour and a half away by car. This can also be reached by bus or train, and in both cases you probably deserve a medal for your dogged determination. Siena is around two hours from Lucca by autostrada (motorway) and most of the hill towns are a similar distance to this. You could probably make it to San Gimignano in less than two hours, but if you want to get as far down as Montalcino or Montepulciano, you’re looking at closer to three hours each way. So it may also be worth considering Lucca if you prefer two bases for your Tuscany vacation.
There is an abundance of places to stay in Lucca, Italy. To make the most of it, your best bet would be to seek out hotels in Lucca old town, which is far more interesting than the area outside. You can also find some great Lucca apartments both inside and outside the city walls, and villa rentals further afield.
- Pisa airport is the main gateway to Tuscany from overseas
- The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous tourist attractions in the world
- Plenty of other things to see in Pisa
- Most visitors stay in Pisa for a night or two
- Ideal base for visiting the coast, Lucca and Florence
- Siena around two hours away and within reach – not ideal if you plan to visit lots of Tuscany’s hilltowns
- Wide choice of hotels near the Leaning Tower of Pisa, including some with fantastic rooftop views
I’ve always been very fond of Pisa, and it’s one of the best places to visit in Tuscany, somewhere I’d love to see and explore again. The reason it’s on most people’s itineraries is, of course, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is tucked away with the Duomo (Cathedral), Baptistery and monumental cemetery in a corner of the city known as the Campo dei Miracoli, the Field of Miracles. Many come, have the photo of themselves pretending to hold it up, eat some overpriced pizza and are gone within a few hours.
Pisa is so much more than that, and deserves much more time. After all, this was one of the four great maritime republics of medieval Italy, and there are enough things to do in Pisa to keep you there for two days or more. Another benefit of staying in Pisa is that you get to see the Leaning Tower and Campo dei Miracoli at night, long after the crowds have moved on.
Along with Florence, it’s the one Tuscan city most visitors to the region get to see.
You can’t blame people for heading straight for the Campo dei Miracoli – it is one of the outstanding architectural ensembles of the Middle Ages, and would be worth making the effort to see even if the campanile – the Leaning Tower – hadn’t happened to have been built on soft, unstable ground, causing it to lean to one side. Disregard the souvenir shops, the overpriced restaurants and the crowds, the Campo dei Miracoli – also known as the Piazza del Duomo – is one of the most amazing sights in Europe.
It’s possible to climb the tower, but you need to reserve your slot in advance online – it costs €18 per person. A combined ticket to the Baptistery, Camposanto cemetery and the Museo delle Sinopie, which houses restored frescoes from the Camposanto, costs just €8. And either ticket entitles you to free entry to the sumptuous interior of the Duomo, as essential a sight as the Leaning Tower in our opinion.
Away from the Campo dei Miracoli, you’re in a different world – a fine medieval city, albeit with very few tourists stopping to look around. In any other Italian city, the grand Piazza dei Cavalieri – Knights Square in English – would be an essential stop. It’s surrounded by palazzi (palaces) dating back to the early Middle Ages, and largely rebuilt during the Renaissance by Giorgio Vasari, architect of the mighty Medici. The Palazzo della Carovana, with its sgraffito decoration, is the most striking building on the square. It’s now home to the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa, an elite institution founded by Napoleon Bonaparte.
The University of Pisa has long been one of the Italy’s leading universities, and the student population means there are lots of great places to eat in Pisa, not to mention bars and nightlife.
Pisa airport is Tuscany’s main gateway to visitors from overseas, conveniently located only 2 miles (3km) from the city centre. It’s only a few minutes’ journey from there to Pisa Centrale station. For car hire Pisa airport is the place to go, with convenient access to the motorway to Florence and the SS1 / E80 route along the coast.
The beauty of Pisa is that you can use the city as a base to see some of the other cities – Lucca, Florence and Viareggio – for a few days, before making the short hop back to the Pisa airport car rental desks to pick up your vehicle and start exploring places beyond the reach of public transport, or even moving on to another base elsewhere in Tuscany.
Most Pisa hotels are in the centre, to the north of the river Arno, and parking is restricted to a mixture of free and paid lots outside the medieval city walls. The main Pisa hostel is a short walk from the Campo dei Miracoli, to the north-west of Pisa city centre. Another advantage of staying in Pisa is that you get to see the Leaning Tower and Campo dei Miracoli at night, long after the crowds have moved on.
Pisa is a great base for exploring the Tuscan coast, with day trips to the island of Elba (via Piombino) and, further south, Monte Argentario, both within reach.
As with Lucca, Pisa isn’t the place to base yourself if your main interest is exploring the Tuscan hill towns. Volterra is over an hour’s drive, San Gimignano around an hour and a half, and Siena is closer to two hours away. But it’s one of the better options for getting to stunning Massa Marittima, in the Maremma coastal region, one of the finest of all Tuscan hill towns.
- Best for exploring the coast, and close to both Lucca and Pisa
- Ideal if you want a classic Italian beach holiday with a few day trips thrown in
- The most beautiful of the Tuscan coastal towns
- Huge range of Viareggio hotels to choose from
- Fine for day trips to Pisa and Lucca
- Florence also within easy reach for a day trip
- The stunning coastal villages of Cinque Terre are only a short hop up the coast on the train
- Not so good if you want to explore some of Tuscany’s wine country and hill towns – it’s too far away from these
We haven’t stayed in Viareggio, but included it in this feature because it offers something completely different: a holiday at the beach, with the many sights of western Tuscany right on the doorstep.
Viareggio is a traditional Italian beach resort on the Costa Versilia, half an hour north-west of Lucca and Pisa. Many of its hotels were built during its heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, and some still retain their old grandeur. There is an enormous choice of Viareggio accommodation, especially hotels and B&Bs. If you’re looking for seaside luxury, Viareggio has some great options, including the Art Nouveau Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte and the Grand Hotel Royal Viareggio which are up there with the best of all Tuscany coast hotels.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, an Italian beach resort consists of a small public stretch of sand, with the rest divided into small lots where you can hire cabins, parasols, loungers and a few square metres of sand for yourselves. Viareggio beach is beautiful, and in season is packed with parasols and people relaxing on their plots.
All this is fine for a while, maybe even a couple of days, but we like to keep exploring. Viareggio is close to both Lucca and Pisa by train, and both are absolutely worth a day trip or two, even if you’ve visited before. Florence is around two hours away by train, towards the outer limit of day trip possibilities, and again, it’s always worth the journey, even for a few hours’ exploration.
Beyond this, Viareggio is ideal for a trip up the coast into Liguria, to the gorgeous villages of Cinque Terre, and beyond, to Portofino and Portovenere. The stunning marble quarries a few miles up the coast at Carrara are also within easy reach.
Arezzo and Eastern Tuscany
Relatively few visitors make it beyond the vast number of sights to the west of Florence to eastern Tuscany.
We stayed in one of the most beautiful Tuscany villas we’ve ever seen in the Mugello region to the east of Florence. And in a week we hardly saw another tourist. We found it fascinating, following in the footsteps of Giotto, Michelangelo and even St Francis of Assisi in these remote hills.
Arezzo, the provincial capital, has the region’s greatest treasure, the Legend of the True Cross fresco cycle by Piero della Francesca in the Basilica di San Francesco, one of the great art treasures of Italy. The city sustained heavy damage during World War II, but what has survived is beautiful, especially the enchanting main square, the sloping Piazza Grande. Arezzo is around an hour from Florence by train.
Arezzo is the obvious place to stay, and there is a good range of Arezzo hotels and accommodation to choose from. The other main town in the region, Cortona, is sometimes called ‘the mother of Troy and grandmother of Rome’, in a nod to its ancient Etruscan origins. I’d include it on a list of must see places in Tuscany as it’s one of the most beautiful of all the hill towns. Its Etruscan Academy Museum has a host of artefacts of this ancient civilisation, as well as a varied collection from Roman bronzes to paintings by the Futurist and Cortona native Gino Severini.
Both Cortona and Arezzo make great bases to explore the hill towns of Tuscany and the Tuscany countryside. Both are around an hour’s drive from Siena, but the slightly longer run from Cortona through Montepulciano, Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia is worth the extra time.
Cortona and Arezzo also make great bases for venturing into Le Marche and Umbria. Cortona is ideal for Lake Trasimeno, Perugia, Gubbio and Assisi, while Arezzo to the north is well-placed for day trips to Urbino and its Palazzo Ducale, as well as the amazing castle at San Leo and the independent state of San Marino.
David Angel is a British writer and photographer who has been travelling and photographing the world for over 25 years. His work is regularly featured in worldwide media including the BBC, the Guardian, the Times and the Sunday Times. His images are frequently used throughout the world by tourism bodies such as Visit Britain and Visit Wales.