A road trip is the best way to explore Tuscany. It means you can include smaller towns that are difficult to reach by public transport. And it means you can take your time to appreciate the landscape at your leisure.
If you’re wondering how to plan a road trip to Tuscany here are a few practical tips and things to consider before starting your journey.
How to plan a road trip to Tuscany. Where do I start?
The obvious place to rent a car is at the airport. You’ll find lots of options for car hire at Pisa airport and Florence, so you can hop in and get going immediately. If you arrive in Florence and spending a few days here before getting out into the Tuscan countryside, it’s worth remembering that you won’t need a car in the city, so it’s best to leave off renting one until the day you leave. What’s more bigger towns like Siena , Pisa or Lucca are easily reached by bus or train.
Maps or Satnav?
We’re all tied to Satnav now, and it’s worth including one in your car hire. But personally we like to have a road map in the car with us. Tuscany is made up of a lot of narrow winding roads that afford some beautiful views of the landscape. We find it easier to plan your whole route via the most scenic drives using a road map. Also if you’re based in a specific town it also allows you to visually plot a circular route before leaving.
If you’re allergic to analog, and only ever use Google Maps, you might find that there are some places in the more remote stretches of countryside where the signal drops off. In short, pack a map now and thank us later.
What are the roads like?
Although the views in Tuscany are second-to-none in Europe, driving can be a little challenging. The country roads are narrow and winding, so take into consideration that short distances can take longer to drive than you might imagine. The speed limit on these roads is between 50 and 70km/h.
The state roads or superstrade have two lanes, no hard shoulder and are indicated by blue signs and the acronym SS. If you’re using the Firenze-Pisa-Livorno road (FI-PI-LI) , it’s the same as a superstrada but has the acronym SGC. The speed limit on the superstrade are 90km/h unless otherwise indicated. No tolls.
There are speed cameras on the major roads. Drivers often slow down suddenly when one is coming up. Make sure you keep under the speed limit as fines can be steep.
The motorways or autostrade are marked in green. The A1 (Bologna – Firenze – Arezzo – Roma), the A11 (Firenze – Prato – Pistoia – Lucca) and the A12 that runs along the coast (Genova – Viareggio – Pisa – Livorno). The speed limit is 130km/h. Toll tickets are issues at the entrance to the motorways, and paid upon exit. It’s better to have cash on you, so your Euros handy. By way of example a trip from Florence to Livorno will cost you €7.50, while Florence to Rome will cost €19.
What’s it like to drive there?
Italians are good drivers, but they are impatient. If you are driving at a leisurely pace on the country roads, or anywhere else, you can expect them to flash their lights at you, to allow them to overtake.
Driving in cities is made more difficult by the presence of scooters that continually buzz around you while you are trying to find your way. Having said this, the driving itself is wonderful. The winding roads in Tuscany lead you past a constantly changing backdrop of beauty, and allow you to slowly meander your way from one small hill town to another.
Do I need a driving permit?
European driving licences are valid in Italy. Anyone else is encouraged to have an international driving permit along with their licence.
Is it easy to find parking?
When visiting small towns in Tuscany, they usually have parking outside the city walls, or on the fringes of the historic centres, so look out for the blue P sign indicating parking. These parking lots are safe and all of them have pre-pay machines that give you a small ticket that you should leave inside the car in a visible place.
If you are entering the historic centre of a town, remember that there are ZTL areas which can only be entered by residents.
If you’re parking in Florence, avoid the white bays which are for residents, and park instead in the blue spaces (look for the pre-pay machines). Finding parking in Florence can be really challenging so you might want to head for one of the closed car parks. Amongst others you’ll find them in Porta Romana, Piazza Libertá and at Santa Maria Novella Train Station.
If you have accommodation in the centre, contact the hotel beforehand to ask if you need a permit and if they can provide it for you.
⇒ Here’s a few Tuscany itineraries made for your interests!
How do petrol stations work?
Bigger petrol stations sometimes have attendants who can do your fill-up and take payment without you leaving the car. However it’s more likely you’ll need to use the self-service machines. Before you fill up go to the console, which will ask for your credit card to be inserted. Then you select the number of the pump you want to use. And then you fill up to the amount you need. The console will issue you a receipt once you’ve finished.
Glossary: Pompa = Pump. il pieno = Fill it up. Senza piombo = unleaded.
Tuscany is about slow travel, and we always recommend that people don’t try to squeeze too much in to each day. Areas like the Chianti and the Val d’Orcia need more than a day’s worth of exploration. If you have a limited amount of time choose a smaller area to see and see more of it. This will allow you to get a real feeling for the area.
As an example you can drive from Siena to Montepulciano in 1 hour and 20 minutes. But along the way you’ll pass through Buonconvento and Pienza, both of which you could easily spend a day exploring. So when you are planning your route, it’s best to look at the whole trip, rather than individual distances.
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