Florence

7 Places to See in Tuscany

Tuscany. One of the largest and most-visited regions in Italy. It is no wonder that it tops many people's bucket lists with land comprising of vast plains, gorgeous green rolling hills, hundreds of vineyards and lots of quaint, medieval hillside towns. It is such a beautiful place words cannot describe and that photos don't do justice topped off with some of the most delicious food and wine around. If this dreamy destination is not on your list, it should be. And for a decent chunk of time. There is so much to see and do in Tuscany that you really should plan to spend at least a week to get a taste of the wonderful culture. And then you should go back and do more. Better yet, you should just move there like Diane Lane does in Under the Tuscan Sun. But if that cannot happen well then here is a list of 7 places to see on your next trip to Tuscany that will have you longing for more.

A street in Florence

A street in Florence

PISA

Home of the Leaning Tower and pretty much nothing else. A half day is more than enough in this touristy city and trains run regularly here every day from Florence (about a 30 min ride). The Leaning Tower can be found in Piazza dei Miracoli. It is free to wander the grounds but you have to buy a ticket to climb it. I've never felt the need to do that. There are tons of tourists here so you will probably just want to get your picture and turn right around. Avoid eating or drinking near the Leaning Tower because those places tend to rip off tourists. Instead stop at Il Crudo in nearby Piazza Cairoli (Piazza Cairoli 8) for a delicious panino.

An obligatory picture with the Leaning Tower

An obligatory picture with the Leaning Tower

FIESOLE

Another great day trip from Florence, this charming little town is located up on the hills slightly north of the city so has a spectacular view and also has a cute little piazza with trattorias and gelaterias. Make sure you wander the side streets up the hill because there are spectacular views once you reach the top. If you are staying in Florence and unable to spend time exploring the Tuscan countryside but want a taste for it, this is the place to go. It is a quick 20 minutes on ATAF bus number 7 from Piazza San Marco. Purchase your tickets inside the tabaccheria. Make sure to validate (stamp) your ticket in the machine as soon as you board the bus.

Views from Fiesole

Views from Fiesole

SIENA

Another major city of Tuscany but smaller than Florence and a little over an hour south. You will want at least a full day to explore this city. Piazza del Campo is the main square full of places to eat and bustling with people. Definitely fun to wander around. For an amazing Tuscan meal off the beaten path in a super cute tiny square with a great outside patio, visit Enoteca I Terzi (Via dei Termini 7). Also, the Duomo (Piazza del Duomo 8) is supposedly one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Tuscany, especially the interior. Other than that have fun and get lost wandering the streets, my most favorite activity.

Lunch al fresco at Enoteca I Terzi

Lunch al fresco at Enoteca I Terzi

CERTALDO ALTO

Definitely a lesser known town in Tuscany, my husband and I stumbled upon this place when we were searching for a town with a city hall to get married. This one definitely fit the bill-- old and medieval, perched up high on a hill with gorgeous views of the rolling Tuscan countryside, quaint, and filled with cobblestone streets for strolling. Cars need a special permit to drive up here so visitors must park at the town below (Certaldo proper) and take the funiculare up the hill, which just adds to the charm. It is a really small town that you don't need a full day for but is a great place to relax outside with some wine and bruschetta at a cute little cafe like Enoteca Boccaccio (Via Boccaccio 37) taking in the scenery. It's about 45 min to an hour south of Florence.

The quaint town of Certaldo Alto

The quaint town of Certaldo Alto

SAN GIMIGNANO

Another quaint medieval town great for wandering around located about an hour south of Florence. A few hours are perfect for exploring the many cute streets lined with shops and places to grab a bite or drink. This town produces one of the few white wines in Tuscany, Vernaccia, and it's pretty good so make sure to have a glass! The views on the drive to town are so amazing and exactly how you would picture Tuscany. This town can get pretty crowded but escape the masses and have a delicious panino and glass of wine for lunch at dal Bertelli (Via Capassi 30), a cute little spot off the main tourist drag that offers local ingredients.

The towers of San Gimignano

The towers of San Gimignano

MONTERIGGIONI

This small, fortified medieval town still has its walls intact. Walk along the walls for amazing views of Tuscany and relax in its piazza with an espresso or prosecco. You don't need more than 2 hours here because it is so small. It's about an hour south of Florence and on the way to Siena.

The view from the walls of Monteriggioni 

The view from the walls of Monteriggioni 

Not mentioned in the list above but something everyone should include in their trip is a visit to a winery. There are literally hundreds in Tuscany to choose from whether it be a huge, well-established brand or a small, family-owned name. On my last trip, I visited the new Antinori Winery (Via Cassia per Siena 133, Bargino) which was down the street from where we were staying. Antinori is a huge production (some bottles can be found in the States) and the facilities were nothing short of spectacular. On my next trip, however, I plan to make it to some of the smaller, independently-owned wineries for a more intimate experience. Here is a helpful site that lists all the wineries in the Chianti region of Tuscany and here is another helpful resource that includes some other Tuscan wine regions as well. Be sure to check the winery's own website to make sure they are still in business and for more details on their hours.

The crew at Antinori Winery

The crew at Antinori Winery

Curious about where to stay? You could choose to stay in Florence which serves as a good home base and has plenty of hotels. For a splurge, stay at the Westin or St. Regis which are centrally-located, on the river Arno and housed in buildings with beautiful architecture that make you think for second you're in a museum. OR, you could opt to stay in the countryside in an agriturismo which is an excellent and affordable option (you will just need a car). What is an agriturismo you ask? Well, my next post will be all about it and the agriturismo that I stayed at, so check back soon or follow me to receive a notification.

Wondering about Florence? Read my post on that here.

Not on this list but a top priority for my next trip to Tuscany are the towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano for their exceptional wine-- Vino Nobile and Brunello. If you've been to either of these places, I'd love to hear all about it including any wineries you visited. Leave me a comment below, per favore!

And as always, if you have any specific questions about Tuscany I encourage you to ask away! Happy traveling :)

Mangia! Mangia! Eating in Florence and Tuscany

Ahh, Tuscany. I can almost taste the earthy Chianti Classico and the bowl of al dente pici in a light pecorino "sauce" as I type. We all can't help but associate good food and plentiful wine when we think of Tuscany. And that's for good reason. Tuscany is home to hundreds of wineries and serves up some of the most simple yet delicious food around. And Florence, being the capital of Tuscany, is full of amazing dining experiences. I love the Italian approach to eating--whatever's in season and whatever's nearby. Here in the States it's become trendy to "eat local" but in Italy it's just what you do. And I also love that in this region in particular, the dishes are quite simple but so incredibly delicious thanks to the fresh, quality ingredients used. That pici that I mentioned above, I recall having for lunch in a casual trattoria one day and being blown away only by 4 ingredients-- pasta (homemade of course), olive oil, pecorino cheese, and black pepper. My husband ordered penne alla pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce, yup that's all) and he still talks about it.

With good food must come good wine and luckily there is plenty of that available. Tuscany is known for its reds thanks to the sangiovese grape that grows on its vines. There are some whites available (Vernaccia di San Gimignano being a good one) but reds definitely dominate this region--Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano to name a few. And we can't forget about the lovely dessert wine--Vin Santo. The local thing to do is to sip that with cantucci (what biscotti are known as in this region) for dipping.

Italy takes their wine very seriously (no new info there) and has a rating system which can help consumers distinguish the quality. Top quality wines are labeled DOCG, followed by DOC, and lastly IGT. You will see this on menus and on a label on the bottleneck. Now, let me say that IGT doesn't mean the wine is bad, it just means that it hasn't met the strict regulations (certain percentage of grape variety, location in which it's produced, etc.) that DOCG and DOC wines must meet to wear the label. Unless you're a sommelier or wine connoisseur, chances are the house chianti you order with dinner that is labeled IGT will be fantastic and only about 8 euro a bottle.

Tip: When ordering wine, do yourself a favor and choose something from Tuscany. Just like eating local the Italians like to drink local as well. And when else are you going to be in the middle of wine country able to sip a red made by Giovanni down the street? It doesn't get any better than that. 

So it's pretty much a no-brainer that your visit to this region will involve lots and lots of great eating and drinking (better pack elastic-waisted pants...) so here's a list of my favorite places to dine in Florence:

- Il Santo Bevitore - My absolute favorite place for dinner but reservations are a must. They also have a tiny little wine bar next door to the restaurant that was super quaint and great for a glass. It's located in a great neighborhood--Oltrarno--which (as the word translates) is on the other side of the river, away from the touristy crowd and with some great boutique shopping nearby. (Via di Santo Spirito, 66r)

- Ristorante Parione - Another great place for dinner. At first I was nervous when I was being led to my table in the basement, until I saw that the basement was actually a wine cellar. Such a cool atmosphere! Food was delicious and the owner makes you feel like you're at home. Reservations recommended. (Via di Parione, 74/76r)

- Il Pizzaiuolo - Pizzeria with the best pizza I've ever had outside of Naples. Very casual but buzzing atmosphere and pretty inexpensive meal for a lot of food. Reservations are recommended because this place is always busy. Closed on Sundays. (Via de Macci, 113)

- Il Borgo Antico - Outdoor seating in a really cute piazza. Yummy food. They don't take reservations but I've been told if you have to wait they give you a glass of prosecco! I went for an early dinner so I didn't have to wait but by the time I left the place was hopping. This is also in the Oltrarno neighborhood I mentioned above, away from the touristy crowd. (Piazza Santo Spirito)

- Il Latini - They seat you family style here at either 7:30pm or 9pm. You can make reservations but it didn't seem to matter. I showed up for the first seating at 7 and people were already lined up. I just hopped in line and they opened the doors at 7:30. Really good tuscan food including the locally-famous Florentine Steaks. Closed on Mondays. (Via del Pachetti, 6R)

- Trattoria ZaZa - Great for pasta. Casual place. The truffle fettuccine was ridic. (Piazza del Mercato Centrale, 26r)

- Alla Vecchia Bettola - Slightly outside the old walls of the city, but a nice walk on the other side of the river. Definitely off the beaten path and so totally worth the walk. Had an awesome traditional tuscan lunch with checkered tablecloths, wooden stools, and 4 euro all you can drink house chianti. (Via Pratolini, 3)

- Gelateria La Carraia - There are literally gelaterias on every street corner of this city but this one had the yummiest flavors. Latte di mandorla? Si, per favore! (Piazza Nazario Sauro, 25r)

The only thing I've failed to mention is coffee or caffé as it's known in Italy. Stay tuned for Caffé Cultura:101 in which I will fill you in on what you need to know about ordering coffee in Italy. In the meantime, buon appetito! And sorry if I made you hungry.

Tuscan style lunch in Florence
Tuscan style lunch in Florence
Pizza in Florence
Pizza in Florence
Vin Santo e cantucci in Florence

Vin Santo e cantucci in Florence

Family Style at Il Latini
Family Style at Il Latini

What to See in Florence, Italy

Out of all the major Italian cities--Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan-- I'd have to say Florence, or Firenze as the Italians say, is my absolute favorite. Not only does it have a special place in my heart (thanks to my recent wedding in Tuscany) but it has amazing Italian charm and some of the best food and wine in the entire boot. Oh and of course the Renaissance art and history! Even if you're not a history buff it's mesmerizing. Getting to Florence is pretty easy. There are two airports that serve the city--one in Pisa (PSA) and one in Florence (FLR). Pisa is a much larger airport with many more flights but is about an hour and a half outside the city. Florence airport is tiny (think 2 runways) but only about 20 min from the city center. There are currently no direct flights from the States to either airport so you will have to connect somewhere in Europe depending on the airline you fly. Note: I would recommend against flying into Pisa unless it offers extremely discounted prices. After traveling for 8+ hours, on a red-eye nonetheless, the last thing you want to do is have another hour and a half train or drive. We had a good experience flying Alitalia to Florence airport. Our layover was in Rome, which was great because we got most of the flying over with in the first leg and the second flight was a quick jump. Plus I got to have gelato while waiting for the next flight, benissimo!

Florence is a pretty compact city, so most hotels will put you within walking distance of where you'll be spending your time. The city itself is mostly located on the north bank of the River Arno so aim for staying there. The river is beautiful, especially at night when locals sit along the bank with a glass of wine watching the sun set so you can't go wrong being near the river. Note: Don't stay near the train station--it's a little gritty and always busy with tourists dragging their suitcases (this is a general rule of thumb for most European cities). 

There is so much to see and do in Florence, but here are my top picks that I think will give you a good mix of sightseeing and experiencing the wonderful Florentine culture:

Piazzale Michelangelo - located on the south side of the river and perched up on a hill, this is where you will find the BEST views of the city. It's an absolute must-do.

Il Duomo - the main church of Florence and an architectural marvel, this is a must-see. It's free to go inside the church but you have to buy tickets if you want to climb the dome or the bell tower. Honestly, you will get a better view from Piazzale Michelangelo but you must go inside to see the detail of the artwork on the inside of the dome and to just stare at how huge it is. In high season, be prepared to wait in a crazy long line but you can buy tickets on Viator that let you cut the line (SO worth it). 

Piazza della Repubblica - a beautiful square for people watching. The Savoy hotel has a wonderful terrace overlooking the piazza and a fabulous cocktail list. Fun to go for aperitivo (happy hour) or a night cap.

Piazza della Signoria and Palazzo Vecchio - another square hopping with city life and the Palazzo is actually Florence's town hall. It is a really cool medieval building to see and the piazza is a great place for people watching, grabbing a gelato or coffee and wandering around.

Mercato Centrale - lovely market full of stalls of fresh fruit, veggies, meat, fish, pasta, olives, you name it. Puts any farmer's market I've seen in the States to shame! TIP: knowing a little Italian will go a long way here.

Boboli Gardens - beautiful, peaceful gardens located behind the Palazzo Pitti, this is a great place to escape from the craziness of the city.

Statue of David - even I couldn't miss this one. Located at Galleria dell'Accademia. You can purchase tickets online in advance so you don't have to wait in line as long (totally recommend that).

And if art museums are you're thing, check out the Uffizi Gallery. It's apparently one of the oldest and most famous art galleries in the world with tons and tons of Renaissance art.

Last but absolutely not least, you cannot experience Florence without eating and drinking the Italian way. Stay tuned for my next post which will be all about what draws many of us to visit Tuscany--the food and the drink!

Ciao for now!

River Arno, Florence Italy
River Arno, Florence Italy
Il Duomo di Firenze
Il Duomo di Firenze
The amazing view of Firenze from the Piazzale Michelangelo
The amazing view of Firenze from the Piazzale Michelangelo
Colorful produce at Mercato Centrale
Colorful produce at Mercato Centrale