Tuscany is arguably Italy's best-known region. Home to Florence, Siena, and a host of smaller—though no less enthralling—cities and towns, Tuscany is rich in ancient, Medieval, and Renaissance history. It's a center for wine tourism, and produces a large share of Italy's produce and food animals. Its terrain ranges from mountains to plains to sea, meaning there's a landscape in Tuscany for almost every taste.
You could spend weeks, or even months, in Tuscany and still not see everything there is to see. But to help you narrow it down, here's our list of the 15 best things to do in this Italian region.
As the administrative and cultural capital of Tuscany, Florence is very much the heart of the region. And the city's storied past makes it worth at least a few days of your time. From historic monuments like the Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza Della Signoria, to world-class museums like the Ufizzi and Bargello, to one of the world's most recognized cathedral domes, everywhere you turn in Florence, the Renaissance is omnipresent. Read our complete guide to Florence for everything to see, do, and eat in this gem of a city.
Siena may be Tuscany's "second city" after Florence, but it should by no means be skipped. Better known for its Medieval-era treasures than its Renaissance ones, Siena is famous for its vast Piazza del Campo, site of the famous Palio horse race. But there's more to Siena than this raucous summertime event. Siena's Duomo, one of Europe's great cathedrals; winding roads and alleys for wandering; and fine food and drink are all great reasons to visit.
The Chianti wine region is among the most-visited of Tuscany's wine areas for a number of reasons. Not only is it replete with high-quality wineries concentrated in a relatively small area, it's dotted with lovely hill towns suitable for a sleepover. Plus, it's close proximity to both Florence and Siena make Chianti country a great day trip from either city, or a lovely multi-day stopover on a tour through Tuscany.
Go Wild in the Maremma
One of Tuscany's lesser-visited corners, the Maremma has a wild, untamed feel about it—and that's much of its appeal. Home to some of Tuscany's best beaches and blanketed with marshes, scrublands, forests, and agricultural fields, the Maremma is a destination for those who want to see an uncrowded, authentic slice of the region. Top towns are Pitigliano, Grosseto, and Porto Santo Stefano on the Argentario promontory. The Etruscans were all over the place here; the best places to see their archaeological remains are Sovana, Sorano, and Pitigliano.
Go Island Hopping in the Tuscan Archipelago
The Tuscan Archipelago is a chain of seven islands in the Tyrrhenian Sea off the coast of Tuscany. The most easily visited of these—and the only ones with any real tourism infrastructure—are Elba and Giglio, as there's regular ferry service from the mainland. Elba is lined with dozens of beaches and lively seaside towns, plus it has a rugged interior suitable for hiking and mountain biking. Tiny Giglio, meanwhile, has just three small towns and a handful of beaches. Both islands are ringed by spectacularly clear, clean seawater and are destinations for divers and snorkelers.
As a region, Tuscany really does seem to have it all, including some of Italy's best beaches. In the north, Forte dei Marmi and Viareggio are stylish seaside resorts for the monied crowd, while further south, Follonica and Castiglione della Pescaia attract families. The Maremma coast, from Grosseto down to the Argentario, offers a mix of popular and more remote, wild beaches. The port at Piombino is the departure point for ferries to Elba and its many beaches, while the Argentario is the gateway to Giglio.
Chill Out in a Thermal Pool
Tuscany is chock-full of luxury spa hotels built up around natural thermal waters that bubble up from deep underground. A lesser-known secret is that near almost all of these swanky hotels are places where you can soak in open-air thermal waters free of charge. (It's often as easy as parking the car and wading into the steaming mineral water.) Popular spots include Saturnia, Bagno Vignoni, Bagno San Filippo, Chianciano Terme, and Petriolo.
Located in northwest Tuscany, Lucca is just far enough off the Florence-Siena circuit that it doesn't receive the same amount of visitors. Yet it's a splendid Renaissance city and worthy of a few days' detour. Best among its sights are the 2.5 miles of well-preserved city walls, which are now topped with a garden path suitable for walking or biking. Medieval churches, Roman ruins, pretty piazzas, and excellent shopping round out the offerings in this lovely, low-key city.
Roll Through the Val d'Orcia
If you picture Tuscany as a place of rolling green and golden fields dotted with tall, pointy cypress trees, that's probably because you've seen images of the Val d'Orcia. This glorious terrain south of Siena is iconic Tuscany—complete with poetically pretty hill towns, lone farmhouses amid fields of sunflowers, spa towns, and wineries. Montepulciano and Montalcino are the centers for the namesake red wines; Pienza is famous for cheese; and Bagno Vignoni's main piazza is actually an ancient, steaming thermal pool. This is great country in which to get lost on a country road.
Explore Etruscan Tombs at Populonia
The archaeological site at Populonia is part of the larger Val di Cornia Park, in what was once a vast Etruscan settlement. These pre-Roman people left behind at Populonia two exquisite necropolises, or cemeteries of rock-cut tombs. An imposing Medieval fortress looms over the sea nearby. An archaeological museum at Piombino, just south of here, houses finds from the Val di Cornia.
Storm the Gates at Monteriggioni
If any place in Tuscany epitomizes medieval perfection, it's the postcard-worthy town of Monteriggioni. The petite walled city was built by the Sienese in the 1200s as a defensive outpost to ward off or forestall rival armies from Florence. Today, it's perfectly preserved with thick 33-foot walls, which are punctuated with 14 watchtowers. Walking through the main gate here really does feel like crossing into another era. Monteriggioni is also globally known for its medieval festival, celebrated every year in July.
Bike or Hike in the Tuscan Countryside
Even if you're not an outdoorsy type, there's something about the Tuscan landscape that might just beckon you to walk or pedal, even if for a short jaunt. The rolling landscape is mostly easy for bikers and hikers, who can quickly find themselves very much in the heart of the bucolic countryside. Walking trails criss-cross the region, and in many cases pass right through the center of those idyllic hill towns.
Stop and Smell the Sunflowers
You'll probably rent a car to tour Tuscany, and if you visit in June or July, be prepared to pull over at least a few times to snap photos of those vast fields of yellow sunflowers. Admittedly, they may not have much aroma, but it's hard not to ooh and ahh when you pass over a hill and behold these cheerful beauties. Farmers rotate their crops year to year, but the areas around San Gimignano and Cortona are usually reliable for sunflower spotting. Just be sure to pull safely off the road before you jump out of the car and run through the fields!
Breathe the Mountain Air at Abetone
In mountainous northern Tuscany, near the border with Emilia-Romagna, Abetone is a year-round destination for those seeking lush forests and fresh mountain air. The woods around Abetone offer leafy hiking trails, biking trails, and picnic areas, and come winter, there's a major ski installation. Nearby, the 722-foot-long Ponte Sospeso suspension bridge looms 131 feet over a streambed. At the Abetone ski resort, there are plenty of cozy hotels in all prices ranges.
Appreciate Art in Arezzo
If you visit the eastern Tuscany town of Arezzo for only one reason, it should be to see Piero della Francesca's marvelous fresco cycle, La Leggenda della Vera Croce ("The Legend of the True Cross"), housed in the otherwise plain Basilica of San Francesco. Fortunately, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Arezzo, including its well-preserved old town, Romanesque and Gothic churches, and pleasant piazzas. Because it's off the main drag from Rome to Florence, Arezzo is often overlooked by tourists, meaning it offers many of the same charms of other historic Tuscan cities, but without the crowds.