10 of the best day trips from Florence, at a quick glance, in no particular order:
- Saturnia thermal springs (2h30 by car)
- Pitigliano (2h30 by car)
- Lucca (1h20 by train)
- San Gimignano (1h by car/1h40 by bus)
- Fiesole (25 minutes by bus)
- Chianti (1h by bus, slightly less by car)
- Pisa (1h by train)
- Cinque Terre (2h30 by train)
- Siena (1h30 by train)
- Volterra (1h30 by car)
Florence is a beautiful city with many things to see and do, however, it’s not huge so you only need a few days to tick off the most important things when you visit. Living abroad in Florence has allowed me to explore this city and many of the surrounding ones.
Day trips to other parts of Tuscany and Northern Italy are very popular, and here I will list 10 (although there are many many more!) that I would recommend for the traveller, study abroad student and local alike!
The best times of the year to visit are between March-May and September-October. It’s off-season but still warm enough to enjoy the sunshine - nothing like the 40+ degrees in July and August, with much fewer tourists so you can get a better feel for the city of Florence and its surrounding towns.
Travel time from Florence: 2h30 by car
You may have seen the Saturnia natural thermal springs grace your Instagram explore feed as this is a much admired destination in the Grosseto area of Tuscany. You will need a car to get there (or someone who can drive you!) as there is no direct public transport service to arrive.
The naturally warm water is very soothing (even if it’s a bit stinky!) and there’s even a spa nearby that you can stay at, but the springs pictured here are free to access. If you want to take good photos, arrive very early as it gets really busy during the day.
The terme quietens down in the evening and a clear night would be a romantic time to go, with fewer crowds and only the stars above you.
Beware not to get your hair in the sulphur-infused water though, as it goes really dry!
Travel time from Florence: 2h30 by car
Pitigliano is a picturesque ‘borgo’ or little stony village, also in the province of Grosseto. Again, it is reachable from Florence in around 2 and a half hours by car and makes a nice stop if you’re visiting Saturnia.
Pitigliano is a small and tranquil village known as ‘Little Jerusalem’ due to its historically Jewish population.
You can take beautiful photos of the Etruscan architecture, surrounding countryside and visit the synagogue in the old Jewish ghetto to soak up some small-town Italian culture.
Travel time from Florence: 1h20 by train
The walled city of Lucca is a renaissance cobblestone town that you can travel to by train directly from the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence in just over an hour.
You can hire bikes and circle the city walls, or climb one of the two towers, Guingi or Delle Ore, sight-seeing from above.
September is an excellent month to visit Lucca as they hold several events during Settembre Lucchese, including a religious procession on the 14th, the Holy Cross celebration, starting at the San Frediano basilica and meandering through the candlelit city to the Cathedral of San Martino.
4. San Gimignano
Travel time from Florence: 1h by car, 1h40 by bus
San Gimignano has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, and when you see its ancient towers overlooking the walled town you will understand why. In its glory days, San Gimignano is said to have had around 72 towers, but now only 14 remain.
You can climb up the Torre Grossa and have a breathtaking view for miles around.
Another glorious vista awaits you at ground level, with a visit to the Duomo (cathedral). Experience la vita medievale with the beautiful murals on the church walls dating back to the Middle Ages. These are the original frescoes from the 1300s and their pictures are allegorical in nature, painting the stories of the Old Testament on one side, and the New Testament on the other.
Travel time from Florence: 25 minutes by bus
Fiesole is so close that its protruding clocktower can be seen from the streets of Florence or atop Piazzale Michelangelo, perched between two little hills.
There is a direct bus that stops on a street just next to Santa Maria Novella train station which will take you all the way up, or you can decide to hike or cycle there.
When I visited in October 2020, we did a bike tour around Fiesole and the villages nearby such as Settignano, for my birthday. Fun for all the family! And before you say anything about cycling uphill - they were electric bikes so we barely needed to do any work!
The views are astounding when looking down on Florence from Fiesole on a clear day.
Once you get there, be sure to check out the old church and appreciate the serenity of its courtyards before heading back down the hill.
Travel time from Florence: 1h by bus
You’ve probably seen tons of pictures on Pinterest of boutique weddings in the Chianti region without even realising it. You know those ones with the long tables in the vineyards? Yep! As both a sought-out wedding location and delicious producer of wine, Chianti has a lot to offer.
You can take a Vespa tour through the hills before visiting the grape vines and trying some of the region’s famous liquid produce. Just don’t get too giddy, you’ll have to make it back to your lodgings somehow!
Travel time from Florence: 1h by train
Pisa is famous worldwide mostly for the funny pics of tourists trying (and failing) to align their hands with the lopsided structure of the aptly-named Leaning Tower of Pisa which is often seen as the symbol of Italy.
For this reason, one might expect Pisa to be quite a big city, but it is actually rather small, with the main tourist attractions being the tower, cathedral and baptistery which are all on the same plot.
The river Arno that flows through Florence also flows down to Pisa and then out to sea, so it is possible to get a bus to the beach from Pisa, although it will still take around 40 minutes to get to the coast.
8. Cinque Terre
Travel time from Florence: 2h30 by train
Picture perfect Cinque Terre is not just one place, but 5! Cinque Terre literally means the Five Lands, and the five cute little towns of Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore are painted in vibrant colours, situated on the coast next to each other.
You can hike from one seaside town to another if you’re feeling energetic, or you can get between them more quickly via train.
The beauty of the seaside villages has also earned them the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Enjoy the beach at Monterosso al Mare, climb up the headland for photo opportunities of Vernazza, visit the gothic church of San Pietro in Corniglia, sample the seafood on offer in Manarola, and hire a little boat to explore the coast from Riomaggiore!
Travel time from Florence: 1h30 by train
The beautiful city of Siena with its semi-circular Piazza del Campo is not to be missed.
Every year, the Palio di Siena, a bareback horse race, is held on the 2nd July and 16th August in this piazza. There are 10 horses picked from the 17 neighbourhoods of Siena, so it is a very competitive event for locals and attracts spectators from all over the world.
You can’t not visit Siena’s Duomo (cathedral), a gorgeous specimen of Italian Gothic architecture, with elements of Classical and Romanesque styles, too. Inside you will find the black and white striped marble surrounded by mosaics and statues crafted by Italian renaissance sculptors and artists.
Just walking through this city will inspire the artist within you.
Travel time from Florence: 1h30 by car
Volterra is now infamous for being in the Twilight Saga, but even without sparkly vampires it still holds plenty of charm.
The Tuscan hilltop town encompasses historic artefacts of centuries gone with the Roman theatre and baths, Etruscan museum and medieval architecture. They also have a museum of torture!
I stayed in a beautiful agriturismo not too far away with my family a few years ago. An agriturismo would be called a farm stay in English, a great way to travel sustainably as you’re helping farms to stay in business and get to enjoy the produce of their agriculture in return!
If you want to read more about Florence, Italy then head to my website, Ciao Holly, to see what it's like as an expat here.