Tuscany is perhaps the best region of Italy to visit if you want an introduction to the charms of the country, with the great artistic cities such as Florence and Siena, the famous leaning tower of Pisa, beautiful scenery, lovely villages and hill towns, vineyards and olive groves, and much else...
Tuscany - an introduction
Tuscany is in the north-west part of central Italy and is one of the most popular, and most beautiful, regions of the country. The region contains the renaissance city of Florence as well as several other fascinating cities and towns such as Lucca, Arezzo, Cortona and Siena. The famous leaning tower is of course found at Pisa, to the west of the region.
But it is not just the famous cities that attract visitors to Tuscany, and you will also enjoy exploring the beautiful countryside, visiting the pretty villages and hill towns and enjoying the landscapes of vineyards and olive groves, rolling fields and mountains, and the famous cypress trees of the region.
The main challenge you face when you visit Tuscany is the number of things that you will want to see and the limited amount of time you probably have available!
Note that although Tuscany does have seaside resorts, it would not usually be first choice for a beach holiday in Italy (except perhaps around Elba and the south-west) but the beaches are ideal if you just want to spend a day or two at the coast during your visit.
To help with your planning, below we consider the main attractions by region within Tuscany: the north and Florence; the centre and Siena; and the southern and eastern parts of Tuscany. The most 'famous' sights are generally in the northern half of Tuscany.
Northern Tuscany and Florence: places to visit
Florence itself is of course world famous as the centre of the Italian renaissance, with highlights including the Duomo and the Baptistry; the renaissance artworks in the Uffizi gallery and Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell'Accamedia; the Medici Villas and the Palazzo Vecchio. See our Florence guide for details.
The town of Fiesole, a short distance north of Florence, is a very ancient town with several interesting monuments and is an interesting contrast to the crowded streets of Florence.
To the far north of Tuscany the Garfagnana valley is a lovely fertile valley of steep forested hills and ancient villages perfect for hiking and cycling, with the town and famous quarries of Carrara that provided the marble for many of the Roman and renaissance artistic masterpieces a little to the west.
You can enjoy a stroll around the spa town and tiny villages of Bagni di Lucca and the Apuane Alps mountains west of Garfagnana here are also very popular with outdoor enthusiasts.
Between Florence and the coast to the west the most famous destinations are Pisa with the world famous monuments such as the Leaning Tower in the Piazza di Miracoli; and Lucca, a lovely historic walled town best known for its impressive romanesque churches.
Other notable highlights between Florence and Pisa include the cathedral town of Empoli, the village with a roman church and renaissance villa at Artimino and the chance to visit Vinci, the birthplace of Leonardo da Vinci and now home to a museum explaining his life and works. An excellent place to stop and explore if you are travelling between Florence and Pisa is the small hill town of San Miniato, halfway between the two cities.
Highlights on the coast in this part of Tuscany include Pietrasanta and the seaside resort at Viareggio with its art nouveau architecture is also worthy of a visit while opera lovers will want to visit Torre del Lago Puccini, once the lakeside home of the great opera composer.
In the hills to the east of Florence we suggest you spend a few days touring the quiet Casentino district. There is a lot to enjoy here including the abbey at Vallombrosa, the village of Montemignaio, the castle at the hill town of Poppi, the monastery and hermitage at Camaldoli, the village of Stia (source of the Arno river).
You can also explore the villages of Raggiolo and Bibbiena and also clusters of villages such as those at Pratovecchio, Cetica and Castel San Niccolo. Capolona and Pelago are also interesting destinations within the Casentino.
Central Tuscany and Siena: places to visit
The city of Siena is quite different in character to Florence and one of the most lovely medieval towns in Italy, in particular in the streets around the extraordinary Piazza del Campo in the heart of the old town.
The cathedral and bapistry, the Museo dell'Opera and the gothic style town hall are among the many highlights - see Siena guide for details.
Between Florence and Siena you can explore the ancient villages and vineyards of the renowned Chianti region.
The attractive hilltop towns of Volterra and Colle di Val d'Elsa are among others to visit, and quiter than San Gimignano, and you should also explore the lovely medieval town of Certaldo while you are in the Elsa valley The stunning walled town at Monteriggioni is yet another highlight here.
The region to the east of Siena has numerous highlights, including the lively town of Arezzo with its impressive religious monuments and frescoes such as those in the Church of San Francesco. The very scenic town of Cortona is also in this region, and we also suggest a trip to explore historic Anghiari while enthusiasts of Renaissance art will want to visit Sansepolcro, birthplace of the renowned artist Piero della Francesca.
South and east Tuscany: places to visit
The southern part of Tuscany contains less famous towns and sites than the northern part of the region but has its own particular charm and there are still a good number of interesting places to visit.
Betwen Siena and Cortona you can see the rolling landscapes of the Crete Senesi region, perhaps the exact landscapes you imagine when you think of Tuscany!
In and near the Crete Senesi region the highlights include the historic centre and castle of the quiet hill town of Montalcino and also San Galgano with its impressive abbey ruins. A little further east, you should also take a detour to explore the interesting historic centre of Massa Marittima.
Also in this part of south-east Tuscany you will enjoy visiting the historic town of Montepulciano and also the village of Pienza (a UNESCO listed town in the Val d'Orcia). The collegiale church and Museum of Sacred Art at Chianciano are just a short distance south of Montepulciano, and the ancient town at Chiusi is also interesting, with the etruscan tombs and museum to visit.
In the far south of the region, the Natural Park of Maremma north of Talamone has some beautiful coastal scenery, and the nature reserve of Monte Argentario to the south and the island of Elba to the north. On the peninsula that includes Monte Argentario you can visit the ancient port town and popular seaside resort of Porto Ercole.
Elba is a picturesque island that entered into the history books when Napoleon was sent into exile here. It is now a very popular destination with attractive countryside and mountains, vineyards and olive groves, as well as numerous lovely sandy beaches and impressive coast scenery. See the Elba travel guide.
Inland to the east of here there is a lovely cluster of ancient villages with Pitigliano, Sovana and Sorano which is a pleasure to explore. The natural thermal springs at Saturnia are also very popular, as they have been since the Etruscan period.
Tuscany highlights - a photo gallery
Most Beautiful Villages in Tuscany
The following Italian towns and villages in Tuscany are listed among the 'most beautiful villages in Italy': Anghiari / Barga / Buonconvento / Castelfranco di Sopra / Cetona / Coreglia Antelminelli / Cutigliano / Giglio Castello / Loro Ciuffenna / Montefioralle / Montescudaio / Pitigliano / Poppi / San Casciano dei Bagni / Scarperia / Sovana / Suvereto
Orange Flag Tourism towns in Tuscany
The following Italian towns and villages in Tuscany are listed among the 'Orange flag towns in Italy' (a national tourist award): , Anghiari / Barberino Val d'Elsa / Barga / Casale Marittimo / Casole d'Elsa / Castelnuovo Berardenga / Castiglion Fiorentino / Certaldo / Cetona / Collodi / Cutigliano / Lari / Lucignano / Massa Marittima / Montalcino / Montecarlo / Montefollonico / Montepulciano / Monteriggioni / Murlo / Peccioli / Pienza / Pitigliano / Radda in Chianti / Radicofani / San Casciano dei Bagni / San Gimignano / Sorano / Suvereto / Trequanda / Vinci / Volterra