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A travel editor’s guide to the best places to visit in Tuscany

tuscany valleys at sunset

Tuscany is my happy place. Sipping a glass of red wine while breathing in the rolling olive grove views and listening to the hum of the bees floating lazily in and out of the lavender… bliss, right? I’ve been going to Tuscany every other year or so for as long as I can remember, which means I’ve come to know the best places to eat, cook and chill in this stunning region of Italy. 

Here, I’ve rounded up 16 of the best places to visit in Tuscany, with all the lesser-known spots and hidden finds along the way. So, you can plan your unforgettable Tuscan trip faster than it takes to eat two scoops of pistachio gelato…

Beautiful cities

16. Lucca

With imposing Renaissance buildings and a medieval center, Lucca is one of the most beautiful Tuscan cities. It’s also home to a first-century Roman amphitheater that once hosted gladiator games! In the centre you’ll also find the Duomo with an immense bell tower, plenty of beautiful churches, museums and gardens (my fave is Palazzo Pfanner). Take a stroll and soak up the sounds of cafe chatter and chiming church bells.

Insider tip:

Take a stroll along the historic city walls of Lucca for the best views of this iconic Italian city.

Lucca

Image source:Guillaume Meurice / Pexels

15. Pistoia

Love adventure? This city is the birthplace of the pistol firearm (random, yes) and is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range, Monte Cimone. If you love walking, stroll the museums or venture further to uncover the mountain towns of Montecatini Terme or Montecatini Alto.

Insider tip:

Visit the lesser-known church of San Giovanni Fuoricivitas and capture its stunning geometric tiles for yourself. 

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14. Florence

You can’t visit Tuscany without feasting your eyes (and taste buds) on Florence. It’s undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Tuscany. History? This city has tons of it – think Renaissance treasures like Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia Gallery and Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ at the Uffizi Galleries – no big deal. Walk along Ponte Vecchio, where merchants used to sell their wares, or pay €18 to climb to the top of Filippo Brunelleschi’s Duomo. 

Insider tip:

Head to Todo Modo. It’s just a few steps from the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella and happens to be the coolest bookstore in Florence (stocking English and Italian titles). The literary cafe also serves up tasty lunches and wine. 

 

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13. Arezzo

Arezzo is older than Alexandria in Egypt, as was once a key city for the Roman Empire. This ancient and atmospheric place is home to a fortress built by the Medici family and the Duomo di Arezzo – a Gothic church housing plenty of colourful art. Check out the annual food festivals which celebrate everything from pizza to snails!

Insider tip:

Eat at Vineria Ciao. This restaurant warns all guests not to expect to be in and out quickly (there’s even a sign on the door telling you so). Dishes like succulent porchetta and ‘melanzane alla parmigiana’ (baked eggplant with cheese and tomato) are to die for here.

12. Siena

Siena has plenty of old-school beauty and the university gives this city a buzzy feel, head to the Piazza del Campo area for student vibes. Look out for the striking dark and light stripes of Siena’s Gothic Duomo (are you sensing a theme here?), or visit around 16 August for the medieval horse racing tradition, known as Il Palio.

Insider tip:

Climb to the top of Torre del Mangia – the city’s 14th-century tower with 400-plus steps! It offers sweeping views from its distinctive white crown.

Siena

Image source:Alberto Bianchini / Unsplash

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11. Grosseto

Grosseto is famed for its coastal vibes, sitting close to the coast and waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. Under the Medici family in the 1500s, the city was transformed into a fortress with defensive walls, so you can basically breathe in the history here. Or, head out to explore the nearby nature reserves.

Insider tip:

Visit the nearby Therme di Saturnia to see the waterfalls of Saturnia and take a dip in the warm thermal pools that rise from the ground at around 37.5°C.

 

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10. Pisa

It’s practically law to visit Pisa while in Tuscany to see the famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. Did you know you can even climb the tower’s 294 steps to take in the city panoramas? But there’s also a lot more to do here making it one of the best places to visit in Tuscany for fun and food – visit the Romanesque Pisa Cathedral or go in search of some of the best pasta dishes served in Italy. 

Insider tip:

Eat at La Grotta. It’s not just the food here but the atmosphere with its exposed brick cave-like interior. The menu’s small but simple, so go for their Pici – a hand-rolled thick pasta that looks like fat spaghetti!

A man is standing in front of the leaning tower of pisa.

Image source:@tomstrickland

Historic towns

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9. Montepulciano

Calling all red wine lovers – do NOT skip Montepulciano while exploring Tuscany. The clay hills surrounding the town make for the best grape-growing conditions and ultimately, the best-tasting vino. Wine is such a big deal here, that different areas of the town compete in an uphill barrel-rolling competition every August. The town even has its own thermal baths if you fancy a drip.

Insider tip:

This is maybe one of the most iconic places in Europe for wine, so do the right thing and take a tour of the family-owned, 1,000-year-old Contucci winery

8. San Gimignano

My favourite spot in the whole of Tuscany, ‘San Gimignano delle belle Torri’ (town of the beautiful towers) is a typically gorgeous Tuscan town. Of the 65 towers originally built, 13 towers remain and they create a beautiful dinner backdrop – probs why experts named the town a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Piazza della Cisterna and the 12-century Duomo, then just wander in and out of the shops selling leather bags, local wine and delish cured hams.

Insider tip:

Eat at Le Vecchie Mura – this place has an enormous terrace with views across the rolling Tuscan hills. Order the mouthwatering Tuscan stew, unforgivably cheesy carbonara with truffle or the fresh tagliatelle pasta with wild boar. You can’t go wrong.

San Gimignano

Image source:Zotx / Pixabay

7. Pienza

It doesn’t get more quaint than Pieza (another UNESCO World Heritage Site). This place has a really romantic feel with flower boxes and stunning countryside vistas. Head to the central Piazza Pio II to soak up the atmosphere, or explore the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, or the many Renaissance palaces.

Insider tip:

Pienza is famous for its delicious Pecorino cheese so definitely visit a cheese farm. I loved Podere Il Casale, it’s a mecca for salty cheese lovers. 

6. Barga

Nestled in the Garfagnana Valley, this medieval town is surrounded by chestnut woods and olive groves. The area is famous for wild boar, prosciutto and honey (can you think of more delicious food?). You may also hear a lot of Scottish accents here – the Barga/Scotland connection goes all the way back to World War II, when many Barga residents emigrated to Scotland. Over the years, their children and grandchildren have returned and now a huge 40% of Barga citizens have Scottish relatives! 

Insider tip:

Tuck into the local products: chestnuts and mushrooms. Rich, earthy and delicious, Barga serves up some really unique dishes, I’d recommend Caffe Capretz for the most divine lunch.

 

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5. Montalcino

Perched on a hilltop, this town is another destination famed for its amazing local wines. There’s an amazing number of ‘enoteca’ (wine shops and bars) as well as picturesque vineyards, so make sure to get sipping. Or just wander around in awe of the well-preserved medieval buildings.

Insider tip:

Take in the wonders of Bibbiano Castle. Built in the 9th century, it still stands strong and impressive today, and was formerly owned by two fo the most prestigious families in the Siena region.

Stunning countryside

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4. Palaia

This verdant region is a collection of little villages and mainly a peaceful, agricultural zone. Visit here for a taste of true Tuscan culture (as well as local wine, olive oil and white truffle, yum). Visit the village of Palaia for bustling food markets and try a walking tour to tick off the picturesque churches.

Insider tip:

When visiting Palaia, stay at Villa Lena Agriturismo – a pretty Tuscan villa surrounded by gorgeous gardens. You can stay here on Contiki’s Italian Espresso trip.

 

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3. Val D’Orcia

The Val D’Orcia region is the ultimate representation of the classic rolling Tuscan hills we’re all so used to seeing on postcards and our screensaver photos. A road trip here is a MUST, following the dusty winding roads dotted with beautiful Tuscan farmhouses. I’d recommend heading to the village of San Quirico d’Orcia – look for the road with endless cypress trees, it’s one of the most snapped panoramas and best places to visit in Tuscany.

Insider tip:

Visit the Cappella di Vitaleta – this is one of the most photographed chapels in the country and it’s a truly iconic spot.

Val D'Orcia

Image source:Kristof Van Rentergem / Unsplash

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2. Chianti wine region

Including towns like Radda and Castellina, plus sweeping countryside, Chianti is a must-visit. Known for its Chianti Classico variety of wines, you could just visit a couple of vineyards and go home happy. But there’s also the Chianti Sculpture Park, Greve’s Saturday food market and Gaiole’s Meleto Castle to explore. This is also the place for a scenic bike ride if you want to get your sweat on.

Insider tip:

Try a cooking class with Chianti Cooking Experience and you’ll learn how to cook like a true Tuscan. They also run pizza and barbecue masterclasses. Ask for a taste of their deep-fried sage leaves. They might sound strange, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them since…

1. Elba Island

This is the biggest of the seven Tuscan Archipelago islands and Elba is just jaw-droppingly beautiful. With small hidden beaches and hiking trails, it’s the perfect place to unwind. The easiest way to get here is to take a ferry from Piombino to Portoferraio, the main port of the island. Hike the Capanne Mount, visit Villa San Martino or go snorkeling off Pomonte Beach beach to find the wreck of ‘Elviscot’ – a grand ship that sank back in the 70s.

Insider tip:

Hate pebbly beaches? Head to Fetovaia Beach, not far from the village of Marina di Campo. This natural cove is all golden sands and watercolour-worthy waters.  

 

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If you’ve got this far through our list of the best places to visit in Tuscany, you’ve probably realised that you just can’t go wrong with a trip here. Whether you’re looking for delicious pasta dishes and amazing red wine, chilled countryside vibes and olive grove walks or storied cities packed with culture, this is THE region in Italy to visit. Buon viaggio!

 

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