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Things to Do in Tuscany

Home to architectural gems such as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Renaissance masterpieces including Michelangelo’s “David,” and some of the world’s finest wine, Tuscany is one of the world’s most visited regions—for good reason. The capital of Florence, also known as the Cradle of the Renaissance, boasts two of the world’s most significant (and busiest) art museums: Uffizi Gallery and Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia). You can spend hours lining up outside, but in-the-know travelers get ahead of the crowd with skip-the-line tickets and early-access or after-hour tours. In Pisa, beat the timed-entry system for the Leaning Tower of Pisa with a tour, or see beyond the sights of Piazza dei Miracoli on a guided bike ride. Head to San Gimignano and Siena, both popular stops on day trips from Florence, and lose yourself in the charming historic centers for which they are famed. For a true taste of Tuscany, head for the region’s top gastronomic destinations and enjoy a cooking class in Lucca or Arezzo, paired with wine tasting in Chianti, Montepulciano, or Montalcino. Tuscany wine tours include samples of local vintages and allow you to hop from winery to winery without worrying about transportation or choosing where to go.
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Uffizi Galleries (Gallerie degli Uffizi)
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The Uffizi Gallery houses the world’s most important collection of Florentine art, so unless you have Skip the Line tickets you’ll need to get ready to queue! The collection traces the rich history of Florentine art, from its 11th-century beginnings to Botticelli and the flowering of Renaissance art. At its heart is the private Medici collection, bequeathed to the city in the 18th century.
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Piazzale Michelangelo
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If you want to catch those iconic, sweeping views of Florence you've seen in postcards, head to Piazzale Michelangelo. From an elevated position overlooking the city, the fabulous views take in the city's fortified walls, the River Arno, the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio and, of course, the round red dome of the Duomo.

During the day, drink in the views as you stroll along the Renaissance promenade, overlooked by yet another copy of Michelangelo's David. Return in the evening for magical views of Florence floodlit at night.

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Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta (Duomo di San Gimignano)
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Taking prize place beside the Town Hall on Piazza Duomo, the Collegiate Church of San Gimignano, or the Duomo of 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 Collegiata and other San Gimignano churches, including a Crucifix by Benedetto di Maiano and the ‘Madonna of the Rose’ by Bartolo di Fredi.

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Leaning Tower of Pisa
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The Leaning Tower of Pisa is one of the most famous structures in the world – not because of its gently rising series of arches, but because of its legendary tilt. Constructed as the bell tower to accompany the cathedral, the tower began to shift on its foundations in 1178, before the architect, Bonanno Pisano, had completed the first three tiers. Fortunately, the lean has now been halted, due to tricks with cables and counter-subsidence. The tower now leans on an angle of 4.1 meters (13 feet), rather than the previous 5 meters (16 feet). It’s well worth paying the extra to climb the spiral stairs leading to the top of the Leaning Tower for views across Pisa. Make sure you book ahead as reservations are compulsory and numbers are limited.
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Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori)
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You'll catch glimpses of the red-tiled dome of the Duomo, or Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori, peeping over the rooftops as soon as you arrive in Florence.

The 13th-century Sienese architect Arnolfo di Cambio was responsible for building many landmarks in Florence but this is his showstopper. The beautiful ribbed dome was creatively added by Brunelleschi in the 1420s.

The building took 170 years to complete, and the facade was remodeled to reflect Cambio’s design in the 19th century.

Inside the Duomo, your eyes are inevitably drawn upwards to that soaring painted dome and lovely stained-glass windows by such masters as Donatello. Visit the crypt, where Brunelleschi's tomb lies, or to the top of the enormous dome itself for stupendous views over Florence.

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Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia)
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The Accademia Gallery (Galleria dell'Accademia) is dominated by one artwork in particular - Michelangelo's staggeringly beautiful statue of David. Carved from a single block of marble by the 26-year-old genius, it’s true you can’t really grasp the statue’s size and detail until you see him up-close. The statue originally stood in the Piazza della Signoria, but was moved to this more protected environment in 1873. A copy now stands in the piazza. Also here are Michelangelo's muscular Prisoner statues and Florentine artworks from the 13th to 16th centuries.
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Ponte Vecchio
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The ancient Ponte Vecchio bridge is as much a symbol of Florence as the red dome of the Duomo. Ponte Vecchio means old bridge, and indeed it dates back to the 14th century. The three-arched bridge is picturesquely lined with several stories of jewelry shops and market stalls. It’s one of the most popular places in Florence for taking a stroll or just hanging out, and the decorative central arches are picture-perfect spots for snapping photos of Florence. Running across the top of the Ponte Vecchio is part of the famous Vasari Corridor, built for the ruling Medicis by the Renaissance painter and designer Vasari. The private enclosed walkway leads from the Palazzo Vecchio and Uffizi Museum, across the top of the bridge to the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river.
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San Miniato al Monte
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There are so many churches worth visiting right in the streets of central Florence that you might think it’s no big deal to skip San Miniato al Monte, sitting as it does high above the city in the hills. But couple the fact that it’s an incredibly beautiful church with the fact that you’re rewarded for your uphill efforts with some of the finest views of Florence and you’ll see why it’s such a highly recommended stop. The church of San Miniato al Monte was started in the early 11th century on the site where Saint Miniato is said to have died. The interior of the church features beautiful multi-colored marble and a sparkling 13th century mosaic over the altar. The remains of Saint Miniato are said to be in the church’s crypt, but there is only one tomb in the church itself - that of Cardinal James of Lusitania, who was the Portuguese ambassador in Florence in the 15th century. There is a monastery next to San Miniato al Monte, where the monks produce the sought-after honey and liqueur
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Piazza dei Miracoli
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Some of the finest gems of Western architecture are clustered on Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli, known locally as Piazza del Duomo.

Your first sight of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Duomo and the Baptistery is literally breathtaking, their white marble shining in the sunshine on a bed of emerald green lawn against a summer’s blue sky.

Apart from the glorious architecture – white, red and green marble, Romanesque curves, Tuscan arches and Gothic points – it’s the almost surreal spatial quality of the buildings that creates a sensation.

Come here during the day to see the buildings’ white marble shine in the sunlight, and return again at night when visitors are fewer and the buildings are beautifully floodlit.

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Brunelleschi's Dome (Cupola del Brunelleschi)
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Standing tall over the city of Florence, Brunelleschi’s Dome is an architectural feat, the most prominent part of the Florence Cathedral, and a symbol of Florence itself. Located in the city's historic center, the cathedral complex that holds the dome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The whole area is known to locals as the “Duomo” or dome, after the structure. Designed by Filippo Brunelleschi and completed in 1436, it took sixteen years to build. And at 45 meters wide, it is the single largest masonry dome in the world.

Brunelleschi came to the rescue when, after over 100 years of cathedral construction, there were plans for to add a dome but no idea how to erect one. He went against existing construction norms and resolved to build a dome without wooden scaffolding — one that would support itself as it was built. It was an engineering and design marvel at the time, and the fact that it still stands tall more than 600 years later is a testament to its masterpiece.

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More Things to Do in Tuscany

Piazza della Signoria

Piazza della Signoria

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Florence’s spacious Piazza della Signoria has long been one of the city’s main meeting points. The Palazzo Vecchio, which anchors one side of the square, was once home to the rulers of the Florentine Republic, and today still serves as the city’s town hall. This square, then, was often used by those seeking favor (or protesting) their government.

Today, the Palazzo Vecchio houses a museum along with the town hall, and the Piazza della Signoria is lined with other major attractions. In front of the Palazzo Vecchio you’ll find a copy of Michelangelo’s famous “David” statue (in the place where the original once stood). The open-air gallery that is the Loggia dei Lanzi contains a collection of sculptures. And to one side of the Palazzo Vecchio is a fountain with a huge statue of Neptune.

The Piazza della Signoria was the site of the 14th century “Burning of the Vanities” led by the monk Savonarola, and it’s also where Savonarola was later hanged.

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Pienza

Pienza

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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.

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Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)

Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)

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The Pitti Palace was built by rivals of the powerful Medici family in the mid-1400s. A century later, the Medicis took over the huge Renaissance palace, and it was the home of Florentine rulers until the early 20th century.

Today the massive palace houses a number of picture galleries and museums, and is surrounded by gardens and ornate fortifications. To see the entire collection would take days if not weeks, so choose your favorites and plunge in!

A tour of the royal apartments reveals the Medicis' taste for over-the-top decor. An impressive collection of Renaissance masterpieces is housed in the Palatina Gallery, with works by Raphael, Titian and Rubens.

To see the Medicis family's silverware, head to the Silver Museum, or take a stroll around the Renaissance Boboli Gardens, with its statues and grottoes.

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Val d'Orcia

Val d'Orcia

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The Renaissance period was born in the hills of Italy, and nowhere is this more evident than at Val D’Orcia, an architectural wonderland and UNESCO World Heritage Site in the countryside of Tuscany. Here, the low-lying chalk planes and rolling hills have inspired many an artist to cover canvases with depictions of rural Italian life.

Travelers can explore the quiet tons, like Pienza and Radicofani, and sip incredible wines in the cafes of Montalcino. Whether it’s wandering the hills in search of a true taste of Italy, or traversing the planes with a camera in search of the perfect iconic image of Italy, visitors will find exactly what they’re looking for in Val D’Orcia.

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Piazza della Repubblica

Piazza della Repubblica

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The Piazza della Repubblica is a public square in the center of Florence that sits on some of the city’s most important historic sites. It was once the city’s Roman Forum — then subsequently its market and old ghetto, after the forum was extensively built over in the early Middle Ages. The present square was established in the 19th century Risanamento during the period in which Florence was briefly the capital of a reunited Italy. The expansion of the square meant the demolition of many significant structures.

The square was revitalized after the war, and today is the home to many street performers and artists as well as historic literary cafes and traveling exhibitions. Sitting in the piazza you can see the Colonna dell'Abbondanza (Column of Abundance) and the Arcone, the most prominent remaining structures of the past.

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Piazza Santa Croce

Piazza Santa Croce

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The pretty Piazza Santa Croce is a public square in central Florence located just to the east of the Piazza della Signoria. The square gets its name from the main building facing the piazza, the Santa Croce Basilica.

The Basilica of Santa Croce is a 15th century Franciscan church in which you’ll find the tombs of many famous Florentines. Those buried at Santa Croce include Michelangelo, Maciavelli, Rossini, Ghiberti, and Galileo. The church’s interior also features some noteworthy Giotto frescoes.

Two other buildings of note facing the piazza are the Palazzo dell’Antella and the Palazzo Cocchi-Serristori. The former is a one-time residential palace with a 17th century facade covered in detailed murals, while the latter was a smaller private home built in the 15th century from a 14th century structure. In the Piazza Santa Croce itself there is a statue dedicated to Dante.

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Pisa Cathedral (Duomo)

Pisa Cathedral (Duomo)

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Pisa’s marvelously striped marble cathedral is a textbook example of Pisan Romanesque architecture, dating back to 1064.

Roughly cross-shaped, the duomo features a galleried exterior topped with a small dome and completed with a rounded apse.

Inside, the building’s five naves create a sea of pillars rising to a golden coffered ceiling.

Much medieval detail was lost during a disastrous fire in 1595, but the mosaic by Cimabue surrounding the altar survived intact. Another highlight is the ornately carved pulpit by Giovanni Pisano.

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Palazzo Vecchio

Palazzo Vecchio

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Historic Palazzo Vecchio ('old palace') has been at the political heart of Florence for more than 7 centuries. With its late-medieval crenellated roofline and soaring defensive tower, it dominates the lovely buildings and sculptures of Piazza della Signoria in the heart of Florence.

The striking building was built in the early 1300s, and was redecorated by the ruling Medici family in the 16th century. Inside you can imagine how life at the top was lived in Renaissance Florence by touring the luxuriously decorated chambers.

From the courtyards to the chapel and private rooms, you’ll see elaborately decorated ceilings, frescoes by the celebrated Renaissance painter Vasari, and statues by such luminaries as Donatello and Michelangelo.

Climb to the top of the tower for stupendous views of Florence and the Arno valley.

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Monumental Cemetery of Pisa (Camposanto Monumentale)

Monumental Cemetery of Pisa (Camposanto Monumentale)

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Camposanto Cemetery is a monumental complex of buildings on Piazza dei Miracoli.

Constructed in a cloister design with wings sprouting from a central dome, the massive complex was built on hallowed earth brought to Pisa from Calvary in the Holy Land, during the Fourth Crusade.

According to legend, this soil is reputed to reduce bodies to skeletons within a day of burial.

The cemetery is also famous for its precious frescoes. Most of the artworks were destroyed during WWII, but those that remain are displayed in the Fresco Room. The most famous are the Triumph of Death and Last Judgment.

You’ll also see Roman sarcophagi, reused during the Middle Ages as the final resting place of prominent Pisans.

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Orsanmichele Church and Museum (Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele)

Orsanmichele Church and Museum (Chiesa e Museo di Orsanmichele)

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Built over a former Benedictine monastery garden and grain market in the late 14th century, the wrongly often-overlooked church of Orsanmichele was designed along Gothic lines, with ornate tracery around the doors and windows. Each of the wealthy trade guilds in Florence were commissioned to provide statues of their patron saints to fit the 14 niches in the exterior walls but the project lingered on and was eventually completed with exquisite works from such Renaissance masters as Ghiberti, Della Robbia, and Donatello. Replicas now fill the niches while most of the originals have been restored and are displayed in the two-floor museum above the church, where the original Gothic architecture is exposed, giving views of wooden vaulting and decorative brickwork.

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Florence Central Market (Mercato Centrale)

Florence Central Market (Mercato Centrale)

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Designed by the renowned architect Giovanni Mengoni in the late 19th century, Florence’s Mercato Centrale is a cavernous, two-storey market hall that’sl full of Tuscan foods. The biggest market in the city, on the outside it’s all iron and lots of glass. Enter on the ground floor to see rows and rows of meats and cheeses including mounds of fresh buffalo mozzarella, and food bars where you can stop for a snack or a panini. The northern corner’s where to buy fish and shellfish, while the second floor is given over to vegetable stands.

All kinds of foods can be bought here, from fresh bread to pasta and pizza, gelato and chocolate. There’s also the popular Chianti Classico wine store, which you can arrange to have any wine you buy shipped home. You can also sign up for wine tasting classes or head to the market’s cooking school.

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Arno River

Arno River

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Visitors to Florence will no doubt walk along and cross over the river that runs through the city center; and while it’s possible to see the city these days without paying much attention to the river, that wasn’t always the case. The Arno River was once an incredibly important river to central Italy, serving as a “highway” that brought shipments from the sea and brought warring soldiers from neighboring cities. Today, the River Arno may not be as critical an avenue for shipping or armies, but it’s no less important to the identity of Tuscany. The Arno River runs through Florence, as well as the cities of Pisa, Empoli, and Arezzo. Florence’s famous Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) spans the Arno, and hotel rooms with a river view usually command high prices. Also note that the part of central Florence located on the opposite side of the river from the Duomo and train station is known as the “Oltrarno,” or “other Arno,” meaning the other side of the Arno River.
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