Which are the best towns in Tuscany to stay in? It all depends on your interests, if you’re travelling by car or public transport, and how many days you have. There’s no one answer to this of course, but here are our tips and suggestions on where to base yourself during your holiday in Tuscany.
Best towns in Tuscany to stay in – why choose Florence?
Easy answer. If you’re in Tuscany to enjoy the world-famous art, then Florence is the place to be. One of the biggest and busiest cities in Tuscany, Florence boasts some of the best Italian museums for Medieval and Renaissance Art. Not to mention the top architecture. You could easily fill two whole weeks with art viewing.
The same is true if you’re after some nightlife, or want to experience the aperitivo culture. Florence is constantly improving its nightlife options, and despite not being a very big city, it has an interesting scene, especially in the Oltrarno neighbourhoods. Shopping is another big draw to the city. You’ll find plenty of options here and in the nearby outlets that can be reached from the city centre by public transport.
If you’re travelling without a car, Florence is one of your top choices. From here you can easily travel by bus to Siena and by train to Pisa, Lucca, Pistoia or Arezzo. You can use public transport to get to the smaller centres in the Chianti region or northern Mugello. If you choose to stay relatively near the Santa Maria Novella train station, you’ll be able to organise day trips from Florence without stress.
Is Siena a good town to base yourself in?
Siena is small and you can see the main sights in a day. But to really appreciate the main museums and all the city’s details you should stay longer. This is especially true if you’re interested in Medieval art. You’ll find plenty of that here, from Gothic paintings to amazing frescoes.
If you’re based in Siena you can explore the surroundings, the regions of Chianti and Val d’Orcia that are hands down the most spectacular in Tuscany. Bear in mind that Siena gets pretty crowded in high season, so you might consider being based not in the town but in the countryside. In this case you’d definitely need a car. In winter Siena is quieter and arguably more atmospheric. You can easily travel by public transport between Siena and Florence and Pisa airport. The train station in Siena is further out from the city centre than the bus stops.
What are the benefits of staying in Lucca?
Lucca might be one of the best towns in Tuscany to stay in if you’re travelling with children. It’s small enough, and far less busy than Florence and Siena even in high season. As a plus, the city’s walls provide a green space to ride a bike or walk, and it’s always a pleasure to take a rest from sightseeing. Lucca is a very pleasant and friendly town that despite being discovered more and more by tourists, retains an authentically Tuscan feel.
Lucca is also relatively close to the coast (30 km) and from here you easily reach the lively coastal towns of the Versilia, like Viareggio or Forte dei Marmi. Alternatively, if you have a bit of patience, you can travel to the small towns of the verdant Garfagnana even if you don’t have a car.
Should you choose Pisa as a base?
For many, Pisa isn’t the first choice of town to use as a base. This said, if you want to enjoy the Square of Miracles and its Leaning Tower at your leisure, staying the night would allow you to do so, as it gets more atmospheric once the crowds have gone. If you’re spending a night in Pisa you’ll have the chance to appreciate this amazing sight after dark.
Pisa is a university student town, with a few good restaurants and bars and a relaxed pace of life. Apart from the Piazza dei Miracoli that attracts legions of tourists, the rest of the city is laid back, and some areas are a little run down. It’s less elegant than Florence and Sienna, but it has its own charm and some interesting attractions. Pisa is also very close to the coast and well connected to other main cities, and most importantly it’s very close to Pisa airport.
Stay in a small town to experience authentic Tuscany
Staying in a small town for a few days will give you a better idea of the real Tuscany. With the slower pace of life and the bustling markets, you might enjoy feeling more like a local. If you choose a small town off the main tourist trail you can really escape the crowds and see something more authentic. What you lose in sights, you will gain in atmosphere. The choice is endless. Consider San Casciano Val di Pesa near enough to Florence to allow you daily excursions via the frequent buses, or Certaldo, a gem of a hilltop town. Just consider that here the train station is in the lower part of the town so you’d have to do some walking. Pietrasanta is a lovely artistic town near the Versilia coast.
You could also choose Pistoia, a lesser known town with an authentic feel. It’s on the train line between Florence and Lucca, halfway between the two. Or Barga, in the verdant Garfagnana, with fewer choices in term of accommodation but plenty of opportunity to enjoy nature. In the Maremma there are plenty of charming small towns, like Massa Marittima or Capalbio, or you could choose one of the scenic small towns in the countryside around Siena.
Travelling with or without a car
If you’ve got a car then the choice is limitless. Choosing an agriturismo or country house stay, might be the ideal solution to enjoy some real relaxation, as you’ll have complete freedom to explore the area and the cities nearby at your leisure and go back to your little haven in the evening. If you’re staying any length of time in a city or town centre, ask your hotel about parking options. Bigger cities can be quite costly. In smaller cities it’s usually easier but don’t always expect free parking.
If you don’t have a car, check the public transport situation when choosing a smaller destination. If you’re planning to do a lot of sightseeing it’s definitely better to choose one of the bigger cities as a base. This will allow you to move around more comfortably by public transport.
If you’ve got two weeks or more
If you have one week or less it’s better to choose an area and see it in detail, take things slowly and really appreciate it. You could easily base yourself in one place and make day trips from there. But if you have two weeks or more, you’ll have the chance to see different parts of Tuscany and appreciate its variety.
You could divide your time between Florence and another destination in a different part of Tuscany. For example the southern coast in Maremma, or the mountains in the north make the perfect spot if you want to get out in to nature. Alternatively you could explore the picturesque small towns in Eastern Tuscany, the vineyards of the Chianti region or the breathtaking beauty of the Val d’Orcia landscapes.