Amazing Tuscan Day Trips From Florence By Train
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
Beloved Florence is one of Italy's most beautiful and popular cities. But if you can tear yourself away from the beloved "Cradle of the Renaissance," Florence makes a splendid long term base for day trips to other must see destinations in Tuscany. That way, you can escape Florence's adoring (and sometimes maddening) crowds during the day and you don't have to switch accommodations every day to see a new place in Tuscany.
Florence's Santa Maria Novella train station is located smack in the city center. It quickly connects you to other charming Tuscan towns and villages just crammed with beautiful art, architecture, palazzos, and piazzas. Not to mention some of the best pasta and chianti in Italy.
I usually like to road trip in Europe. It gives you maximum flexibility and is faster, especially for out of the way destinations without good connections.
But it makes little sense to have a car if you're basing yourself in Florence. Train travel is easy, relatively cheap, and the online timetables are easy to understand. With the advent of high speed trains, it's never been easier or faster to travel in Tuscany. I have loads of tips on Italian train travel at the end of this article.
Best Day Trips in Tuscany From Florence
Here are my recommendations for the 14 best day trip destinations from Florence by train. I've generally focused on beautiful Tuscan towns you can reach in 2 hours or less. I've excluded Venice and Rome from my list because, well, those amazing cities deserve multi-day stays. To my mind, they're not really suitable for day trips from Florence.
I've noted train travel times as well. That way, you can decide how far off you want to venture on any given day.
1. Bologna: Pasta and Porticos
Nicknamed La Grassa, or the Big Fat, for its delicious food, Bologna just oozes medieval charm. Bologna is a bit of a hidden gem in Italy, a regular Italian city catering to locals and not just tourists. But it shouldn't be. Bologna is an amazing historic city filled with striking architecture, terra cotta arcades, beautiful piazzas, a swathe of palaces and towers, and gourmet restaurants.
Bologna's must see sites are found in the city's main square, Piazza Maggiore. You'll be greeted by a huge statue of Neptune atop a fountain. It was created by one of the great late Renaissance sculptors, Giambologna, who was second only to Michelangelo in skill.
Bologna's most famous site and most beautiful church is the Santo Stefano Church. It's a complex of seven interconnected churches, founded by Petronio atop a Roman temple. Legend holds that, when Dante was expelled from Florence for his politics, he wiled away time in the church's Romanesque cloisters. The complex, boasting 1000 year frescos, can be visited for free.
When you've seen Bologna's main sites, head to the Piazza della Mercanzia. There, you'll find Bologna's defining landmark -- Le Due Torri. The duo are Bologna's two leaning towers, Torre Garisenda and Torre Asinelli (the tallest).
To enjoy panoramic views over Bologna, you can climb 498 steep and narrow wooden steps to the top of Asinelli Tower. Be sure to make a reservation in advance online or at the tourist office. Before leaving, have a gelato or meal in the pretty piazza, which is a popular meeting place.
Then, head to Bologna's medieval Quadrilatero neighborhood and meander through the medieval lanes filled with shops. Be sure to walk under the famous 666 Portico. It's the world's longest continuous portico, starting at Porta Saragozza and leading up to the lovely Basilica of San Luca.
Time to get there on high speed train: 35-37 minutes
2. Prato: Romanesque Duomo
Prato is one of Tuscany’s most underrated and off the beaten track towns. Prato is essentially a suburb of Florence. But it’s also Tuscany’s second largest city after Florence, girded by mostly intact city walls.
You'll fall in love with Prato's charming and pedestrianized historic center, boasting Medieval and Renaissance buildings and monuments. You'll find a textile museum, the Palazzo Pretorio (a well-curated museum showcasing Tuscan artists), and a stunning Duomo.
Founded in the 11 century, the Romanesque Duomo di Prato holds some of the most stunning 15th century frescos and relief carvings you’ll ever find in a cathedral. Donatello decorated the exterior pulpit, while Fra Fillipi Lippi and Agnoli Gaddi painted fresco cycles. Lippi's beautiful frescos are in the choir.
The town’s most important historical figure is Francesco Datini. He's a late medieval textile merchant. A statue of Datini stands outside his palazzo in Prato's town center.
Time to get there on high speed train: 30 minutes
3. Montelupo: Beautiful Ceramics
The underrated medieval town of Montelupo is another town that's very tourist free. It's only a half hour train ride from Florence. In the 13th century, Montelupo was a fledgling producer of intricate majolica, or tin-glazed ceramics, for the Medici dynasty. Certain patterns typical of Montelupo are still created today.
If you’re interested, I highly recommend a visit to the newly renovated Museo della Ceramica in Montelupo to get the full scoop.
In Montelupo’s colorful centro historico, you can find scads of tony shops with hand made artisan pieces. You won't go home empty handed. The ceramics are too beautiful to resist. Just make sure there’s an artist painting in the shop to ensure you’re getting a 100% local piece.
Time to get there on high speed train: 20 minutes
4. Lucca: Medieval Charmer
Beautifuly preserved Lucca is like a mini-Florence. It's still entirely contained within its stout Renaissance walls. Happily, Lucca never tore them down, like many Italian towns did to make way for modernity. Now, the walls are like a circular park for pedestrians and bikers, with beautiful views over the region. (Walking the entire wall takes about 1 hour.)
Lucca doesn't really have any must see sites, which means its under the radar for most tourists. Lucca's appeal lies in its relaxed old world Medieval charm. It's perfect for aimless strolling along the pretty streets and piazzas.
Romanesque churches are around every corner. The main pedestrian drag and shopping street is Via Fillungo. It's a long twisting road loaded with fashionable shops, cafes, and bars. Lucca is know for its glass making and jewelry, which make great souvenirs.
Lucca's central square, Piazza Anfiteatro, is an enclosed piazza built around an ancient Roman arena. There's no remnants of the arena. But the handsome oval curve -- ringed with yellow medieval buildings -- still sits pretty and is full of cafes to grab a bite to eat.
In Piazza San Michele, you'll find the lovely Church of San Michele, with a Romanesque facade. In Piazza San Martino, you'll find the ancient Cathedral of San Martino, A Gothic church built to house one of Christendome's most famous relics, the Volto Santo. It was reputedly carved by Nicodemus, the man who helped depose Christ from the cross. The relic is kept in the freestanding Tempietto.
In its heyday, Lucca had over 100 towers, reminding me of Regensburg Germany. They were the homes of wealthy merchants families. The tallest surviving tower, the Torre Guinigi, is fetchingly capped with a bushy forest. You can climb the tower's 230 steps for views over Lucca.
Time to get there on high speed train: 1:15
5. Pisa: UNESCO-Listed Field of Miracles
Most travelers in Tuscany descend in droves on tiny Pisa. They come for Pisa’s famously Leaning Tower on the spectacular UNESCO-listed Field of Miracles.
I think the tower is incredibly overrated. It leans because it’s a product of poor engineering and soft soil, nothing else. But you can take the requisite cheesy selfie with it. If you want, climb the spiral staircase for magnificent views. But you have to book in advance to ensure a spot.
The real gem of the Field of Miracles is Pisa’s exuberant Duomo. It’s the most ancient cathedral in Italy, older than the cathedral complexes in Siena and Florence. This Romanesque edifice was founded in 1118. The exterior is decorated with alternating black and white stripes.
Inside, there’s a central nave and two flanking aisles on each side, with intricate Corinthian columns and arches. In the apse, you’ll find mosaics attributed (perhaps erroneously) to the greatest 13th century Italian artist, Cimabue. There’s also an elaborate pulpit carved by Giovani Pisano in the early 14th century and works by Ghirlandaio and Giambologna. The Duomo is free to visit, though you'll need to pick up a timed entry ticket.
The other great monument in Pisa is the circular monument in front of the Duomo, the Baptistery. Begun in 1153, there's still a full immersion baptismal font inside. From the Women's Gallery above, you have views of the font. There's also a beautifully carved pulpit, created by Giovani's father Nicolo Pisano. It's considered one of the first works of Renaissance art.
The dome covering the Baptistery is actually two domes, which produces an odd acoustical effect. For a tip, the guards will sing and you can hear the melodic reverberations. Like the Leaning Tower, the Baptistery is on unstable soil and leans slightly toward the Duomo.
When you're done on the stunning Field of Miracles, visit the historic town itself, strolling along the Arno River. There are museums, palazzos, and piazzas to check out.
The best museum in Pisa is undoubtedly the Palazzo Blu. Every year, the iconic blue building holds exhibitions of important modern artists (Chagall, Dali, Miro, and Toulouse- Lautrec were recently featured). You can also gaze at the last mural ever painted by Keith Haring, Tuttomondo.
Time to get there on high speed train: 50 minutes
6. Viareggio: Tuscany's Beach Town
If you yearn to see the Mediterranean sea, Viareggio is your best bet. It's the largest beach town in Tuscany. In summer, sunny Viareggio is popular and crowded. But there are plenty of shops, restaurants, and cafes to keep you busy.
A direct local train takes you straight to the seaside town. The train station is less than half a mile from the beach. The beaches in Viareggio are, like most beaches in Tuscany, private. You have to pay a fee to enter and rent an umbrella and chairs.
In the off season, take the time to explore and photograph the city’s beautiful "Liberty" (Art Nouveau) architecture. In February, Viareggio becomes animated with its famous Carnevale festival and parade. If you want to attend (weekends only), you must book tickets online.
Time to get there on high speed train: 1:20
7. Siena: Medieval Charm & Stunning Renaissance Art
Siena is one of the best cities to visit in Tuscany for its rustic medieval beauty, tasty food, and luscious chianti. If you want to bask in medieval times, there's no better place. Spend at least one day in Siena. I guarantee you'll fall in love.
You'll want to spend ample time strolling through the pedestrianized historic center. It's a well-preserved burnt orange dream littered with cute cafes and shops.
Siena's most famous site is its Duomo, Siena Cathedral. It's one of Europe's most beautiful churches, especially for lovers of all things Gothic. It's the symbol of Siena, clad all over in Siena's trademark white and dark green marble. Consistent with the Gothic ethos that "more is always better,” every inch is decorated with marble, mosaics, sculptures, and frescos.
To visit the Siena Duomo complex properly, you need to pre-purchase the Opa Si Pass. The Duomo complex isn't just Siena Cathedral. It also includes the Baptistry, the Crypt, the Piccolomini Library, the Facciatone viewing terrace, and the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo Museum. The Facciatone offers stunning views.
Don't forget to tour Siena's town hall, the Palazzo Pubblico. It was built in 1297-1308 for the Council of Nine, the governing body of Siena. The palazzo is one of the seminal civic structures in Europe It's a harmonious example of early Renaissance architecture, with a curved brick facade and beautiful triforate arched windows.
Inside, you'll find the Allegory of Good and Bad Government, one of the most famous fresco cycles in Italy. Beside the palazzo soars the slender Tower of Mangia, which you can climb for panoramic views.
Time to get there on high speed train: 1.5 hours
8. Arezzo: Underrated Art Spot
If you’re in Florence because you love Renaissance art, head straight to nearby Arezzo. It's quiet, but stuffed with delicious things to see and do. In particular, you need to visit the high chapel in the town's Basilica of San Francesco. There, Piero della Francesca, whose (other unflattering) portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Urbino are in the Uffizi Gallery, painted his greatest masterpiece, still in situ.
The complex fresco cycle represents the Story of the True Cross. It's considered one of the great and most influential frescos of the early 15th century. The artist demonstrated his single point perspective innovation, populating the frescos with serene figures with his trademark perfectly oval heads.
The fresco tells the story of the cross on which Christ was crucified -- beginning when the tree was planted (a seed put in the mouth of the dying Adam) and continuing to when it was buried by King Solomon. The story carries on from Constantine to Emperor Heraclitus, who recovers the True Cross after it was captured by the Persian King.
The rest of Arezzo offers plenty of things to do for a half day visit, with many churches and museums. Arezzo Cathedral is a late 13th century Gothic church, with a rather austere exterior, on Piazza Grande. But inside, you'll find a luminous Mary Magdalene portrait by della Francesca and some beautiful terra cotta ceramics by della Robbia.
Art lovers should visit the House of Giorgio Vasari, the famed Florentine architect and artist. He became the world's first true art historian, after publishing his treatise Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.
You can buy a combination ticket to the house museum along with the Basilica of San Francesco. If you admired Vasari's frescos in Florence's Palazzo Vecchio, you should definitely admire his frescoed house. You'll also find Vasari paintings and his correspondence with Michelangelo and Cosimo I de Medici.
If you enjoy crowds, come on the first Sunday of the month. The entire city center becomes a gigantic (and rather expensive) antique market with hundred of stalls.
Time to get there on high speed train: 30 minutes
9. Fiesole: Roman Ruins and Views
Located high above Florence in the Tuscan countryside, Fiesole is the quickest and easiest day trip from Florence. You can actually walk there in an hour. If you don’t want to hoof it, there’s a bus that leaves from town as well. You could easily wile away a half day in Fiesole.
If you're a ruin luster or history buff, Fiesole is perfect. Fiesole pre-dates Florence, with Etruscan roots from the 8th to 9th century B.C. Be sure to visit the Etruscan-Roman Archaeological site, including a Roman aphitheater, Roman baths, and remains of Etruscan walls.
Also check out the the Monastery of San Francesco. This is the town's highest point, with a wonderful panoramic view of the town. Fiesole’s beautiful cathedral, the Cathedral of San Romolo, is ancient, almost a thousand years old.
And don't forget the Bandini Museum, housed in a local church. It has a surprisingly good collection of art curated by local 18th century cleric Angelo Bandini. There are some beautiful late Gothic pieces and ceramics by Della Robbia.
Time to get there on high speed train: 12 minutes. Or take bus #7 from Piazza Saint Marcos in Florence.
10. Verona: Roman Ruins
This pretty Italian town is full of red and peach colored medieval buildings and Roman ruins. It was made famous by Shakespeare's plays Romeo and Juliet and The Two Men of Verona. And it's a fitting site for a high octane infusion of romance.
Juliet's House, or Casa de Giulietta, is a gorgeous 14th Gothic building in Verona. But, like the fictional love story, Juliet's House is itself a fiction. It wasn't owned by the Capulets.
Once you've made the obligatory Juliet pilgrimmage, you'll also want to tour the doughty Roman Arena, the Arena di Verona, in the Piazza Bra. It's the third largest classical arena in Italy, after Rome's Colosseum and Capua's Colosseum.
You should also stroll through Verona's picturesque piazzas, the Piazza dei Signori (with a statue of Dante) and the Piazza dell Erbe (with a statue of another poet, Barbarani). Visit the Church San Zeno Maggiore, where Romeo and Juliet were fictionally married. And cross the absolutely stunning Ponte Pietra stone bridge.
Time to get there on high speed train: 1.5 hours
11. San Gimignano: UNESCO Town
Surrounded by cypress groves, San Gimignano is the perfect stop between Siena and Florence. It's one of the most popular day trips from Florence, though it's not as easy to get to as other towns.
Nicknamed the "Medieval Manhattan," San Gimignano is a walled town with a startling cityscape with 13 spiky towers poking the sky. The most famous tower is the Torre Grossa. Climbing to the top is a must do for panoramic views.
San Gimignano dates back to the ancient Etruscans, a civilization that preceded ancient Rome. The town flourished in the middle ages, amassing wealth from its saffron trade.
Sam Gimignano's historic center is a UNESCO site. Park outside the city walls and walk into the town. The central square is the Piazza del Duomo. In the piazza, you'll find the Collegiate Church of Santa Mary of the Assumption. Consecrated in 1148, it's a beautiful (mostly) Romanesque church, austere on the outside with a feast of frescos on the inside.
In the Chapel of Saint Fina, there are paintings by early Renaissance master Ghirlandaio. There's also a violent fresco cycle of Black Death paintings, possibly by the mysterious artist Barna Da Siena, who allegedly fell to his death from scaffolding while painting the frescos.
After taking in the frescos, stop for a glass of wine or gelato in the Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano's other main square. There are plenty of shops stocked with delicious specialty products like saffron and truffles. Be forewarned, Gelateria Dondoli is a very popular spot.
Time to get there: San Gimignano isn't terribly easy to get to, but is well worth the extra effort. The nearest train (or bus) goes to the town of Poggibonsi. From there, you catch bus #130. Or, if you have a car, it's a 1:05 drive.
12. Volterra: Ruins & Churches
Known for its 4th century B.C. Etruscan origins, this charming little town is located on a towering coastal bluff between Florence, Pisa, Siena and the coast. You’ll see the town in a vista long before you arrive.
Start your visit in Volterra at the Porta all’Arco, the city’s ancient gateway. It’s Volterra’s main landmark, built by Etruscans in the 3rd century B.C. The road leads you upward, zigzagging to the heart of Volterra, the medieval Piazza dei Priori. There you’ll find the Palazzo di Priori, said to be the model for Florence’s own magnificent Palazzo Vecchio.
You’ll also want to visit the Church of San Francesco, with frescos by Cenni di Francesco telling the Legend of the True Cross. You should also visit Volterra’s Roman ruins, which include an impressive Roman Theater from the 1st century B.C. If museums are on your agenda, try the Pinacoteca (for Renaissance art), the Etruscan Museum (Etruscan artifacts), or the Torture Museum (ancient torture instruments)
Volterra gained fame as a filming location for the teen vampire Twilight series. Volterra served as the home base of the Volturi vampire coven. There aren't any actual filming locations in Volterra though. Montepulciano doubled as Volterra in the films.
Time to get there on high speed train: 1.5 hours
13. Cortona: Spectacular Hilltop Town
If you want to get off the beaten path in Italy, you can go "Under the Tuscan Sun" in hilly Cortona in eastern Tuscany. A former Etruscan town, Cortona was featured in the famous movie and book by Frances Mayes. It's a quiet charmer, seated on a commanding hill with great views in every direction.
Cortona's main street is Via Nazionale, the only flat place in town. There, you'll find a great wine bar called Enoteria. At one end of the street is Cortona's most famous piazza, the Piazza dell Repubblica, perfect for people watching. At the other lies the splendid Piazza Garibaldi.
As you walk the small streets, you'll bump into one small church after another. Most of the buildings are made of pietra serena, a type of limestone that famed Italian architect Brunelleschi liked to build with. If you continue on Via Berrettini, you'll reach Fortezza Medicea di Girifalco, which offer splendid views over the countryside.
Cortona has a wonderful little museum, the Museo Diocesano, located in Chiesa del Buon Gesù in the Piazza del Duomo. The museum has some absolutely superb paintings -- works by such Renaissance luminaries as Far Angelico and Luca Signorelli. It also houses the famed Cortona Altarpiece.
Signorelli and his workshop originally painted the Cortona Altarpiece for the Church of St. Margaret in 1502. Giorgio Vasari described the 8 scenes as a "beautiful thing," full of expressive pathos. In 1515, they were admired by Pope Leo X. The Lamentation of Christ was executed by Signorelli alone.
Time to get there on regional train: 1:20
If you want to escape the adoring Tuscan crowds, head to the off the radar medieval hilltop town of Barga. Barga is charming and very underrated as far as Tuscan villages go. Barga has a beautifully restored castle, an 11th century Duomo, and the beautiful Church of San Francesco.
You can wander around the cobbled old town in peace and quiet, without having to battle hordes of tourists. Along the way, you'll discover secret passageways, tony boutiques, staircases, and pretty pastel homes. The homes are decked out with painted shutters and hanging flowers.
Barga's Duomo is called the Collegiate di San Cristoforo, perched at the town's highest point. The Duomo is free to enter, though you'll have to pay a couple euros to light up the paintings. When you're hungry, grab a bit at L'Osteria or Ristorante L’Altana.
Time to get there on high speed train: Take the train to Lucca and then take a 40 minute train to Barga
Practical Tips For Train Travel in Tuscany
Italy's train system is super easy to use and fairly cheap, especially if you purchase tickets well in advance. The best way to check timetables and purchase tickets online is on Trenitalia. You need to create an account to buy online.
In Italy, there are two types of trains: flexibly priced fast trains and price fixed regional trains. When taking a fast train (which is ideal), book well in advance. Prices rise as your travel day approaches. Naturally, these tickets are more expensive than regional tickets.
Regional trains are cheaper, with set fares. They stop more along the route, and are thus slower. Regional tickets purchased online must be printed out. So don’t purchase online unless you have access to a printer.
You can also buy regional tickets from designated ticket machines, ticket booths, and newspaper shops. Regional tickets are valid to use at any time up to four months from the purchase date.
You must validate/stamp your train ticket in the machines on the tracks before boarding the train. If you forget to validate your ticket, it's possible you'll get a hefty fine.
If you forget, write the time and date on your ticket with a pen. When the inspector comes, try to explain to him what happened. If you're lucky, you may get off without a fine.
Italy is rather well known for its train strikes. If you find out there's a strike the day you’re traveling on a regional train, skip traveling. If you get on the shortly before a strike begins, the train may stop at the strike start time without any notice. And, unfortunately, this likely won't be your intended destination.
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