Introduction – Best Places to Stay in Tuscany
Deciding on where the best places to stay in Tuscany are is ultimately down to you. When choosing where to base yourself in Tuscany, you’ll decide based on what you want to see, what your particular interests are, how much time you have, your budget and whether you’re driving or using public transport. Even so, choosing your Tuscany accommodation can be bewildering: if you stay in the south or east you’ll see the hill towns and vineyards, but won’t get so much time in the west or on the coast.
We’ve written this article to help you make a more informed choice of Tuscany where to stay. We have covered all of the main cities, 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 to stay in Tuscany.
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. 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
There is a bewildering array of places to stay in Florence that we won’t attempt to describe in any detail here. There are hundreds of Florence hotels around the centre catering to most budgets, with many in the four- and five-star bracket. 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 Florence as well.
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 using 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 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.
It’s easy enough to hire a car in Florence, 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.
Chianti is the region between Florence and Siena, very rural and hilly, dotted with villages and vineyards. If you’re wondering about the best places to stay in Tuscany countryside, you should strongly consider the Chianti region.
There are so many Tuscany where to stay options in Chianti. You could stay in a Tuscan farmhouse, in an agriturismo, or in Tuscany vineyard hotels. Chianti accommodation also includes everything from Tuscany Italy 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 and winding, 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, look out for some of the best wine tours in Tuscany.
Siena is one of the best places to stay in Tuscany. Absolutely, unequivocally.
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 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, and 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 many Siena 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 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 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. Alternatively, hotels outside the medieval centre have parking available.
Tuscan Hill Towns
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 Tuscan hill towns offer a huge choice of places to stay, from Volterra hotels close to Roman ruins to villas overlooking vineyards in Montepulciano.
So if you want to immerse yourself in rural Tuscany for a while, this is a great way to do it.
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 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 Tuscany. If you’re driving, Siena and some of the hill towns nearby are within 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 Tuscany.
And if you ever need your colon irrigated, I can think of no more pleasant a place in which to do it.
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 most enchanting cities in Tuscany. 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.
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 Lucca hotels inside the walls, where you’re in the heart of the old city. You can also find some great Lucca apartments in the historic centre, and plenty of Lucca villa rental options further afield.
I’ve always been very fond of Pisa, and it’s a must-see I’d love to see and explore over 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 them pretending to hold it up, eat an overpriced pizza and are gone within a couple of hours or so.
Pisa is so much more than that, and deserves much more time. After all, this is one of the four great maritime republics of medieval Italy, and has a great history and a wealth of sights 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 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 around 2 miles (3km) from the city centre. It’s only a few minutes’ journey 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 car rental Pisa airport desks to pick up your vehicle and start exploring places beyond the reach of public transport. Most Pisa hotels and Pisa accommodation 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. 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 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.
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 Viareggio hotels and Viareggio B&B. If you’re looking for seaside luxury hotels Viareggio has some great options, including the Art Nouveau Grand Hotel Principe di Piemonte and the Grand Hotel Royal Viareggio.
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.
Arezzo and Eastern Tuscany
Relatively few visitors make it beyond the vast number of sights to the west to eastern Tuscany. We stayed in the Mugello region to the east of Florence for a week and didn’t see another tourist. That said, 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 accommodation and hotels 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, and 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 Tuscan countryside. Both are around an hour’s drive from Siena, but the slightly longer run from Cortona through Montepiulciano, 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.