Some beautiful cities and towns lie near the Tuscan region and if you are staying in Florence for a couple of days you can make the most of your Italian holiday by visiting a few of these gorgeous places struck by beauty, history and character.
Even though there are a number of places I can suggest I am going to narrow it down for you depending on the accessibility, attractions and popularity. Making Florence as your base city is a smart move as it’s one of the major city and there are many fast train options from here along with an airport.
Pisa – Slightly over an hour drive from Florence is Pisa. This trip is highly recommended as the memories made here will be treasured for a lifetime. I went here as a child with my family and still remember the first time I saw The leaning tower of Pisa and was absolutely flabbergasted. A day trip to Pisa was just about perfect to see the famous attractions and the nearby surroundings.
First and foremost head to the Campo dei Miracoli which has some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites like the Leaning Tower, Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, Baptistery and Campo Santo. There is also a lively street in Pisa which is flooded with restaurants and shops, so surely check out Via Maffin up until Borgo Stretto.
Apart from the usual sights, you should even visit the Palazzo dei Cavalieri (palace), Basilica Romanica di San Pieroba Grado which is believed to be the place where St. Peter arrived in Italy. You can later head to River Arno which is surrounded by some lovely restaurants and with the sunset view, this place is an ideal way to spend your evening. Recently the city walls are also be opened to the public so you can wander around and admire the city views from the top.
Pisa is a truly wonderful place especially for the history buff and for individuals who love to admire the various architecture.
Bologna – Around an hour and a half drive from Florence will take you to the famous Bologna, and apart from its delicious food there is a lot to see and do. I am always excited to explore a new city and seeing Bologna was one of my bucket list moments as I have heard a lot about it from a few of my chef friends. You might be wondering surrounded by Venice, Florence and Rome, why should you spend a day here? Well, it is an underrated destination which still has plenty of things to offer.
Start your tour from Piazza Maggiore which is the centre of the old town, you can find the unfinished Basilica di San Petronio here, Palazzo d’Accursio (town hall) and the Neptune fountain, this square is just minutes away from major attractions. Later on, you can make your way towards Piazza Santo Stefano which is just a few minutes walk from Piazza Maggiore. There are a group of seven churches named after the same Saint and alongside there are also some buildings like Casa Berti (senator palaces), Palazzo Isolani (18th-century townhouse used for various events), and Palazzo Bolognini (Renaissance Palace).
Did you know Bologna also has leaning towers, and they are pretty tilted so you should have a look at the Asinelli tower here. If you like to take a break from the tourist attractions you can enjoy some time at Via dell’Indipendenza and Via Galleria for shopping and eating. For the sake of history lovers, they have an exceptional Archaeological museum which is quite intriguing. Another thing Bologna is known for apart from its food is the arcades, it is fascinating to walk under these famous porticos. These are of course some of the best things to see but if you do have some more time in hand check out the San Luca Sanctuary (church), Museum of History, Saint Dominic Church, and Quadrilatero where you find some great eats.
Siena and San Gimignano – Just an hour away from Florence this town is easily reachable by train or by car. There are around 16 trains departing Florence to Siena as it’s one of the most popular places to visit from Florence. It doesn’t come as a surprise but did you know Siena’s old town is declared a UNESCO World Heritage. This city is also known for the horse race which happens twice in a year called Palio, it attracts a lot of visitors. Some of the things not to be missed in Siena is the 13th-century gothic Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, the interiors are simply stunning and within the cathedral is the famed Piccolomini Library known for its extraordinary frescoes which showcase brief moments from Pope Pius II life. Just a few steps away from here is the Baptistery of St Giovanni, which houses artworks from the Renaissance era.
After witnessing this beautiful piece of history make your way towards the Piazza del Campo where there are cafes, restaurants, and important buildings. Visit the Torre del Mangia which is the 102-metre tower, making it the third tallest tower in Italy and the Palace (Palazzo Pubblico) which was initially build to seat the government of Siena but today it serves as a museum and only part of it is used by the government. The frescoes in the museum are the highlight here, must-visit.
These do make some of the most important attractions in Siena but if you do have some more time do check out Santa Maria della Scala which used to be one of the first hospitals in Europe back in the days but now hosts three museums within, it is quite intriguing to visit and hear the stories about this place.
After spending half a day in Siena you can later make your way towards San Gimignano. This place is known for its medieval towers dominating the skyline and from the 72 towers only seven remain today and the one you can visit is Torre Grossa which boasts one of the most scenic views of the countryside. Entry to this tower is through the town hall also known as the Palazzo Comunale which now serves as a museum. Once you visit the town hall take a look at the Cathedral of San Gimignano next to it, the frescoes depict stories from the Old Testament and the New Testament.
Even though these are just a few of the main attractions here, you can still take your time strolling around town and if you wish you can even check out a few more churches, and museums which are a part of the history of San Gimignano.
Cortona and Arezzo – An hour and a half away from Florence is the quaint town of Cortona is perched on a hill and has this tranquil aura around it. The two main square of this place is the Piazza della Repubblica and Piazza Signorelli, and surrounding it are cafes and shops. Most of the attractions are located quite close to each other and you can easily access them on foot. Visit the town hall, Museo Diocesano (art museum), and Museo dell’Accademia (Archaeology Museum). Lastly, take a walk up the hill to appreciate the city view and to the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita, it contains intricate stonework and is in Neo-Byzantine style.
There are a couple of more churches and cathedrals to visit here and if you intend to visit it they are not too far away from the city like Church of Santa Maria Nuova, 15th century Renaissance Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Fortress of Girifalco.
After spending half a day in Cortona you can head to Arezzo which is less than 40mins away and an hour away from Florence. It’s a good idea to combine a trip with Arezzo and Cortona due to the location proximity, it not only saves time but also another day of travelling. Start your journey of Arezzo in the Piazza Grande square, encircling the square is plenty of restaurants, cafes, shops and a few historical buildings like Palazzo delle Logge, and the clock tower. Just a few minutes by foot from here is the gothic Arezzo Cathedral, get stunned by its frescoes and stained glass.
From the cathedral the Fortress of Medici is not too far, it provides a good view of the city. There is nothing much to see here except for the ruins but I would suggest this place partially because of the picturesque view. Some more things to see here based on your preference would be the Roman Amphitheater, Archaeological Museum, Vasari’s house (architect) and the 13th century Church of San Domenico.
Livorno – Slightly over an hour from Florence is this seaside town of Livorno. This place is known for its delicious seafood, seaport, museums and an old fortress. The old town of Livorno is quite pleasing and Quartiere Venezia is a place you should consider taking a boat ride, sometimes it’s also tag as the New Venice due to its canals. To savour over its scrumptious seafood head to the delightful Terrazza Mascagni which is a waterfront promenade lined with a couple of restaurants, shops and cafes. It’s a decent place to even enjoy the sunset.
The Mercato Centrale (central market) is enclosed in a 19th-century building and has over 200 stalls, you can try some mouthwatering dishes here or even buy some delicacies for later. Very close to the port is the old fortress (Fortress Vecchia) which encompasses a little church too, you can take a tour inside as it has a fascinating history attached to it. Some more engrossing sites in the city are the Livorno Cathedral, Four Moors statue, Livorno Aquarium and Piazza della Repubblica which gives a wondrous view of the fortress and the canal.
Florence is blessed to be surrounded by some beautiful landscapes, towns and cities which dominate the Tuscan region. Being one of the major cities of the region, travelling from Florence is pretty easy due to the fast trains and easy options to drive, you won’t regret staying here and making this as your base city to discover some more enchanting parts of Tuscany.