Things to Do in Tuscany
Taking prize place beside the Town Hall on Piazza Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di San Gimignano) ranks among most impressive monuments of San Gimignano’s UNESCO-listed historic center.
Behind its comparatively reserved façade, the church’s main claim to fame is its exquisite frescos, which date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, and remain remarkably unrestored. The bold colors and painstaking detail bring to life iconic biblical scenes including Cain and Abel, Noah’s Ark, the Garden of Eden and dramatic depictions of Heaven and Hell, with highlights including works by Bartolo di Fredi, Lippo Memmi, Benozzo Gozzoli and Taddeo di Bartolo.
Adjoining the church, the small Museum of Sacred Art includes more works taken from the Duomo and other San Gimignano churches, including a Crucifix by Benedetto di Maiano and the ‘Madonna of the Rose’ by Bartolo di Fredi.
Perhaps one of the world's most beloved architectural mistakes, the Leaning Tower of Pisa's imitable tilt has made the UNESCO World Heritage site an icon of Tuscany and all of Italy. Travelers flock to take the must-have photo in which they pose as if holding up the famous leaning tower, which was originally intended as a bell tower for Pisa Cathedral. If you're up to the challenge of ascending the leaning tower's 294-step spiral staircase, you'll be rewarded with stunning views over Pisa. And you won't have to worry about toppling over—thanks to expert engineering using cables and counterweights, the tower is completely stable.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of the Tuscan countryside—softly rolling hills, towering cypress trees, winding country roads, and quaint hill towns—chances are that you were looking at the Val d'Orcia. This unique landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is considered among the loveliest in Italy, and the wines produced here are among Italy’s best.
Florence’s Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell’Accademia) is home to one of the world’s most impressive works of art: Michelangelo’s “David.” At 17 feet (5.2 meters) tall, the famous statue of the biblical hero is an overwhelming sight and a masterpiece of Renaissance art. Other works on display include 15th- and 16th-century paintings by the likes of Botticelli and Lippi, unfinished Michelangelo sculptures, and a museum of musical instruments. The Accademia was once Europe’s oldest drawing school; today it is Florence’s second-most visited museum, after the Uffizi Gallery.
Just outside the old city wall of Montepulciano, on a Tuscan hill surrounded by trees, is the stately Temple of San Biagio (Tempio di San Biagio), a 16th-century Renaissance church. Admired for its beauty, the church's picturesque, cream-colored travertine exterior gives way to an elegant and airy interior, with pastel-colored walls and a legendary, 14th-century fresco, said to have been the site of a miracle when the Madonna in the painting was witnessed moving her eyes in the 16th century. The church was then rebuilt in Renaissance Greek style.
For many, the main appeal of the Temple of San Biagio is the view of the church from afar, when its marble facade catches the sunlight, setting the church aglow amid the surrounding forests and fields. For others, the view is even better with wine. Visit the church on a full-day, wine country tour from Florence, to pair your cultural experience with included wine-tastings and lunch.
Siena’s central Piazza del Campo is one of the most beautiful and famous squares in Tuscany. This sweeping, shell-shaped space is anchored by the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico (home to the Museo Civico) and soaring Torre del Mangia tower, and hosts the historic Palio di Siena festival each July and August.
The Uffizi Galleries (Gallerie degli Uffizi) houses one of the world’s most significant collections of art, drawing in more than a million annual visitors who wish to cast eyes upon its many masterpieces. Set in the heart of Florence, the museum contains the works of artists such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, Botticelli, and Giotto, among others. It is the premier place to view Italian Renaissance art and is the most-visited museum in Italy.
The main church in Lucca is its cathedral, the Duomo di Lucca, built in the 11th century. The structure stands at one side of the Piazza San Martino, and inside, visitors will find the most revered relic in town: the Holy Face of Lucca (Volto Santo). This wooden cross is said to have been carved by Nicodemus, and although the one on display is a 13th-century copy, it's no less important to the church or town. There are two times each year when the Volto Santo is celebrated, dressed in special vestments in the cathedral. The church was rebuilt in the 14th century, although the campanile (bell tower) from the original structure remains, which is why one arch is quite a bit smaller than the other.
Other points of interest inside the Duomo are paintings by Ghirlandaio and Tintoretto, as well as the 15th-century tomb of Ilaria del Carretto of the Guinigi family. There is a museum in the cathedral as well.
With its lively piazzas, Gothic monuments, and well-preserved city walls, the Siena Historic Center (Siena Centro Storico) is one of Italy’s most impressive medieval cityscapes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, the old town is an open-air museum of striking historical architecture, including the Piazza del Campo and the Gothic cathedral.
The Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena) is one Tuscany’s most beautiful churches, second perhaps only to Florence's Santa Maria del Fiore. The magnificent Gothic and Romanesque structure is hard to miss thanks to its tall spires, bold white-and-green stripes, and ornate facade. Inside, the cathedral is equally impressive with works of art by Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo.
More Things to Do in Tuscany
No matter where you walk in Florence, chances are you will spot its famous Duomo—a defining element of the city’s history, geography, and identity—towering above. Beneath its red-tiled dome lies Florence’s largest church, officially known as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori. Together with the Museum of the Duomo, an opera museum, the baptistery of San Giovanni, and Giotto's Bell Tower, the Duomo complex has become the city’s most famous landmark.
Visitors flock to Pisa’s famous leaning tower, which is part of a magnificent cathedral complex centered around the 17th-century Duomo and adjacent baptistery. A splendid example of Pisan Romanesque architecture, the Duomo’s original and renovated elements include a splendid apse mosaic, ornate pulpit, golden coffered ceiling, and more.
Home to the imposing Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria is the most important public square in Florence. The political heart of the city for centuries, today the square is also a vibrant social hub, where locals and tourists gather at the Loggia dei Lanzi and Neptune fountain to soak up the elegant atmosphere.
The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is a large square in the center of historic Lucca. As the name suggests, it was once the site of a Roman amphitheatre, one that was built in the first century and could hold up to 10,000 people. The remains of that structure now lie more than nine feet underground, but the oval shape of the piazza is a direct result of the outline of the amphitheatre.
The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro was built in 1830 by demolishing some buildings that had been constructed in the space. It became the site of the town's market, and is the heart of the old city today.
The historic Ponte Vecchio, or Old Bridge, is perhaps the most recognized symbol of Florence after Brunelleschi’s soaring red dome topping the Duomo. The three lower arches of this 14th-century bridge span the Arno River at its narrowest point between the Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti Palace, and a stretch of the famous Vasari Corridor runs along its top. Situated on street level, the Ponte Vecchio is lined with pocket-sized jewelry shops and packed with locals and tourists taking a stroll or snapping photos of the colorful palazzi lining the river bank.
The oldest square in the Tuscan city of Arezzo has the appropriate name of Piazza Grande. Dating back to the Medieval era, the piazza was once the site of the city's main market. Today, it plays host to the monthly antiques market that is one of the largest in Italy. It's also where the annual Joust of the Saracen is held.
Notable buildings surrounding the Piazza Grande include the 14th-century Fraternita dei Laici palazzo, a loggia designed by Giogio Vasari, a 13th-century Episcopal Palace, and part of the 13th-century Romanesque Apse of Santa Maria della Pieve.
Perched high above Chianti wine country, Brolio Castle (Castello di Brolio) is one of the most impressive defensive castles that once guarded Gaiole in Chianti, a sleepy hilltown with an important medieval past. The castle has been owned since the 12th century by the Ricasoli family, which has a long and prestigious history of winemaking.
The pure white marble from Carrara’s quarries has been used since Roman times for everything from landmarks like the Pantheon to Renaissance sculptures like Michelangelo’sDavid. Take a guided tour through the massive underground caverns and open-air quarries and see where this stone has been mined for centuries.
The red-brick Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi) pierces the sky above Lucca’s medieval center, and is particularly notable for its impressive rooftop garden shaded by several ancient holm oaks that date from the early 17th century. Climb the 230 steps inside the tower for views across the historic rooftops of Lucca.
The Church of San Michele in Foro (Chiesa di San Michele in Foro) takes its name from its location – the basilica was built over the site of Lucca's ancient Roman forum. The original church dates back to the eighth century, although the one seen today was built in the 11th century. The 13th-century facade is one of the highlights of the basilica, with its graceful arches and intricate carvings. It's noted as one of the best examples of the Pisan Romanesque style, and – as a bonus – visitors can see an open staircase on the backside that climbs over the roof of the church.
By contrast, the church's interior is more sedate and not very well-lit, although there is a painting by 15th-century master Filippino Lippi of Saints Helen, Jerome, Sebastian, and Roch. There is also a statue of the Madonna at the back of the church that was once on the facade.
UNESCO-listed Pienza was little more than a sleepy hamlet until the reign of Pope Pius II in the first half of the fifteenth century. Pienza, then called Corsignano, was the pope’s home town, and he enlisted the help of architect Bernardo Rossellino to transform the village into an ideal Renaissance town. The reconstruction began in 1459 and only lasted four years, but the result has put Pienza on the radar of many a traveler to Tuscany.
The town’s historic center offers excellent examples of Renaissance architecture, particularly the cathedral, Palazzo Piccolomimi and Palazzo Borgia, all flanking charming Piazza Pio II. While it’s easy to breeze through the tiny town — it only takes five minutes to walk from one side to the other — it’s also an inviting place to savor a local specialty, sheep’s milk pecorino cheese with a bit of honey drizzled over the top.
One of the most famous sights in all of Tuscany—perhaps all of Italy—stands in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa. This grassy expanse is home to the city’s cathedral complex, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that includes the Duomo, Monumental Cemetery, and Opera del Duomo Museum. The headliner, however, is the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
Livorno, one of Italy’s most important seaports, is also home to an excellent aquarium. Kids and adults can enjoy watching marine creatures like zebra and blacktip sharks, Napoleon and angel fish, rays, seahorses, tortoises, and other species of marine wildlife in tanks, tunnels, and touch pools.
The most famous scenic overlook in Florence, Piazzale Michelangelo is beloved for its breathtaking views over the city’s rooftops. From this 19th-century square set on a hillside in the Oltrarno neighborhood, panoramic views stretch over the Rose Garden, Ponte Vecchio spanning the river Arno, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's iconic Duomo and bell tower, and the Tuscan hills beyond.
- Things to do in Siena
- Things to do in Florence
- Things to do in Pisa
- Things to do in San Gimignano
- Things to do in Chianti
- Things to do in Livorno
- Things to do in Umbria
- Things to do in Emilia-Romagna
- Things to do in Piedmont & Liguria
- Things to do in Perugia
- Things to do in Bologna
- Things to do in Lake Bolsena
- Things to do in Lazio
- Things to do in Veneto
- Things to do in Lombardy