Tuscany: from Pisa to Chiantishire and everything in between

View of Siena rooftops in Italy from a garden with a well

Tuscany in Central Italy is a popular destination for both Italians and foreigners who travel here to visit its famous Italian cities like Florence, Pisa and Siena to name just a few and to explore the countryside, with its rolling hills and the beaches facing the blue Tyrrhenian Sea. Pisa has an international airport with a number of low-cost airlines flying here from all over Europe so, it is probably a good option to start a visit to Tuscany from here.

People walking in Pisa city centre in Italy

Famous all over the world for The Leaning Tower, visitors to Pisa will find a compact city, with pedestrianized streets, bridges and churches including the beautiful Santa Maria della Spina on the banks of the river Arno.

View of the river Arno in Pisa in Italy
View of Santa Maria della Spina church in Pisa in Italy

It is a short and pleasant walk from Pisa railway station to Piazza dei Miracoli, where the Tower and other imposing monuments are located.

Panoramic view of Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa in Italy
View of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy
People on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy

Before climbing to the top of The Leaning Tower or take the customary photograph for Instagram “supporting” it, it is worth visiting the other buildings on the square: the huge medieval cathedral, the Baptistery and the Camposanto, a walled cemetery considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world. When you are ready to climb to the top of the tower, join the queue to start the ascent through a narrow spiral staircase and admire the spectacular view of the square below and Pisa rooftops from the top.

View of Pisa Cathedral in Italy
View of the Baptistery in Pisa in Italy
View of Pisa Camposanto Monumentale in Italy

In recent years the city walls have been restored and opened to the public for a small fee; built to defend the city from aggression a walk along the walls provides a different view of this beautiful city.

View of the map of Pisa City Walls walk
View of a walkway of Pisa City Walls
Pisa Baptistery seen from the City Walls walk

Pisa main sights can be visited in one day, either as a day trip from Florence, about an hour away by train or, at the beginning or at the end of a holiday to Tuscany.

View of Lucca City Walls in Italy

City walls are a prominent features of many Italian cities and another example of how they have been integrated in the fabric of the city can be found in Lucca. Here the imposing bastions that were once defending the city have been transformed into a public park shared by walkers and cyclists and providing a focal point for socialising and enjoy the views.

View of the promenade of Lucca city walls in Italy

The heart of Lucca is the spectacular Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a public square where buildings are built around an elliptical shape on the site of the former amphitheatre with shops and restaurants enjoyed by both locals and tourists.

View of Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca in Italy
View of one of the archway entrances to Piazza Anfiteatro in Lucca in Italy

The narrow streets of Lucca are lined with old independent shops selling everything from delicious food to expensive jewellery.

View of a colourful narrow street in Lucca in Italy
View of an old jewellery shop in Lucca in Italy

Celebrated composer Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca and his house has now become the Puccini Museum, here there is the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the maestro and view the music scores of his famous operas like La Boheme, Tosca and Madame Butterfly.

Giacomo Puccini statue in Lucca in Italy
View of the building housing the Puccini Museum in Lucca in Italy

Like any other Italian city Lucca has a beautiful Cathedral (Cattedrale di San Martino) and although the city towers might not be as famous as the one in Pisa, for a bird’s eye view of the city it is worth climbing to the top of both the Clock Tower and the peculiar Guinigi Tower where the viewing terrace is adorned with beautiful trees which provide a respite from the summer heat and makes this Lucca’s landmark so unique.

View of Lucca Cathedral in Italy
View of Lucca Clock Tower in Italy
Looking up at Guinigi Tower in Lucca in Italy
View from the top of Lucca Guinigi Tower in Italy
Aerial view of Lucca rooftops and Piazza Anfiteatro

Next stop on any itinerary to Tuscany should of course include the city of Florence. Set across the river Arno, with many bridges connecting both sides of the city, the most famous being Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge) a medieval bridge with shops on it, as it was once common. To British visitors it will remind them of Pulteney Bridge in the city of Bath built in a similar style.

View of the river Arno in Florence in Italy
View of Ponte Vecchio in Florence in Italy
View of Pulteney Bridge in Bath in England.

The areas around the bridge can get extremely crowded at times, so to escape from it all it is a short walk to Palazzo Pitti, a Renaissance palace once residence of the Medici family and the Boboli Gardens. Located at the back of the palace dotted with statues, fountains and grottos, it is one of the most famous and beautiful gardens in Italy.

View of people and shops on Ponte Vecchio in Florence in Italy
Panoramic view of Palazzo Pitti in Florence in Italy
Palazzo Pitti seen from the Boboli Gardens in Florence in Italy
View of Neptune Fountain in the Boboli Gardens in Florence in Italy
View of manicured edges in the Boboli Gardens in Florence in Italy
View of a beautiful pavilion in the Boboli Gardens in Florence in Italy

Back in the city centre, many sights are concentrated in a small area centred around Piazza della Signoria. Starting from Santa Maria in Fiore, Florence Cathedral: a visit inside the church can be combined with the climb to the top of its dome; offering fantastic views of the city is an experience not to be missed.

View of Florence Cathedral in Italy
View of the dome of Florence Cathedral in Italy

The adjacent Giotto Campanile is a Florentine Gothic style marble tower, designed by Giotto and richly decorated with sculptures.

View of Giotto Campanile in Florence in Italy

And next to it is the Baptistery of St.John; a Florentine Romanesque octagonal baptistery. Here, famous people like the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and most members of the Medici family, where baptized. Architecturally, the baptistery is famous for its three doors, decorated with bronze panels with relief sculptures on them.

View of the Baptistery in Florence in Italy
View of door panels of Florence Baptistery in Italy

Other buildings worth having a look at in the area are the town hall, Palazzo Vecchio on Piazza della Signoria. On this vast square a copy of Michelangelo’s David statue can be seen (the original can be viewed in the Accademia Gallery nearby).

View of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence in Italy
View of a copy of Michelangelo David statue in Florence in Italy

On the corner of the square is the Loggia dei Lanzi a three arches building with a number of statues and nearby is Palazzo del Bargello, the site of the National Museum.

View of the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence in Italy

A short walk away the world’s famous Uffizi Museum housing a large number of priceless paintings and sculptures it is a must on a visit to Florence; like any other major museum in the world, it would take days to see everything on display here so some careful planning is needed.

View of the building housing the Uffizi Museum in Florence

Florence is a city of churches, too many to mention all but, firmly on the tourist map and not to be missed, are Santa Maria Novella near the railway station, Santa Croce, the burial site of Michelangelo, Rossini, Machiavelli and Galileo Galilei, and the Medici Chapels, this is the mausoleum of the Medici family.

View of Santa Maria Novella church in Florence in Italy at night
View of Santa Croce church in Florence in Italy
Steps to Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence in Italy

The church of San Miniato al Monte is reachable from Piazzale Michelangelo, a square overlooking Florence, offering probably the best views of the city.

View of San Miniato al Monte church in Florence in Italy
View of Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence in Italy
Panoramic view of Piazzale Michelangelo in Florence in Italy
View of Palazzo Vecchio, the cathedral and Giotto Campanile in Florence in Italy
Florence panoramic view from Piazzale Michelangelo

A short bus ride away from Florence, the town of Fiesole provides even more views of the city and a welcome respite from the crowds, even if it can get quite busy in the summer months when, both locals and visitors, flock to the hills to escape the heat.

Panoramic view of the town of Fiesole in Italy

Fiesole was an Etruscan settlement later conquered by the Romans and the beautifully preserved Roman Theatre and Roman Baths can be seen here.

View of the Archaeological Museum in the town of Fiesole in Italy
View of the Roman Amphitheatre in the town of Fiesole in Italy
View of the ruins of the Roman Baths in the town of Fiesole in Italy

Other notable sites in the town are Fiesole Cathedral, the Town Hall and a short but steep walk away the Monastery of San Francis with some of the cells where the monks used to live visible here. From up here on a clear day there are also beautiful views of Florence.

View of Fiesole Cathedral in Italy
View of a steep street in the town of Fiesole in Italy
View of Saint Francis Convent in the town of Fiesole in Italy
View of the cloister at Saint Francis Convent in Fiesole in Italy
View of a monk cell at Saint Francis Convent in Fiesole in Italy
Panoramic view of Florence from the town of Fiesole in Italy

Spending a few days in Florence can be combined with a day trip to one of the most beautiful towns in Italy: Siena. Reached from Florence by coach, it is a scenic one and half hour trip through the Tuscany countryside and its famous hills. Siena is a car-free city with a medieval landscape of towers, squares and churches so be prepared to get lost in its alleys and cobbled streets lined with small independent shops.

A panoramic view of the city of Siena in Italy
View of a colourful display outside a fruit and veg shop in Siena in Italy
View of a colourful display outside a ceramics shop in Siena in Italy
View of a narrow cobbled street in Siena in Italy

Most first time visitors to Siena will want to get to the heart of the city, the famous Piazza del Campo. A shell-shaped square, it is the location of the Palio di Siena; held twice a year in the summer it is a controversial horse race pitting the city Contrade (neighbourhoods) against each other to win The Palio, a banner painted with an image of the Virgin Mary; it will stay in the winning neighbourhood for a year until the next race.

View of people on Piazza del Campo in the city of Siena in Italy
View of flags of Siena contrade in Italy
Siena contrada Aquila street sign

Given the brutality of the competition, with many people calling for it to be scrapped, measures have been put in place to protect both the horses and the jockeys, with cushions placed at the most dangerous corners of the square, after complaints where raised about the welfare of the animals and, the danger to the riders and the spectators who fill the square to capacity during the race. Houses with windows facing the square are renting “front row seats” at exorbitant prices, offering the best view of the race in a safe environment.

View of Siena Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia in Italy

The huge building on the square, Palazzo Pubblico, houses a museum. A trip up the Torre del Mangia next to it, offers beautiful views of Siena and the square below; another notable feature of the square it is the Fonte Gaia, a monumental fountain adorned with statues and marble panels.

View of sculptures on the Fonte Gaia in the town of Siena in Italy

For a different perspective, a nice view of the city can also be enjoyed from The Facciatone, a panoramic lookout next to the Cathedral.

View of the Facciatone lookout in Siena in Italy
A panoramic view of Piazza del Campo in Siena in Italy from the Facciatone lookout

Siena Cathedral its a magnificent building, decorated with alternate black and white marble stripes, mosaic floors, a bell tower and the adjacent Piccolomini Library with its decorated ceilings.

View of Siena Cathedral in Italy
A view from inside Siena Cathedral in Tuscany in Italy
View of the ceiling of the Piccolomini Library in Siena in Italy

A visit to Siena, would not be complete without tasting Panforte, Ricciarelli and Cavallucci: spiced biscuits typical of the city, they can be bought in most bakeries and make a nice gift or a tasty souvenir from a visit to Siena. With many other destinations nearby, like San Gimignano, nicknamed Medieval Manhattan for its towers, (of the original 76 only 13 remain today) or the village of Pienza, where scenes of the Oscar winning movie “The English Patient” were filmed, Tuscany offers endless possibilities for art lovers and walkers. People looking for an active holiday, will find horse riding on offer in the Maremma area, sun seekers will love the beaches, (Versilia being the most popular). and for people that just want to relax and unwind, enjoying the surrounding while sipping a glass of Chianti (with or without fava beans!), there are plenty of opportunities to do so on a holiday to Tuscany; it might not come as a surprise that a number of visitors have holiday homes in the region including many British citizens who purchased beautiful country homes earning the area the nickname “Chiantishire”. 

A misty view of the Tuscany Hills from Siena in Italy

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