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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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Piazza del Campo
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Every Italian city has its central piazza where the city's political, social and cultural business took place, and Siena's is pretty magnificent. The Piazza del Campo was developed in the mid-14th century by the ruling Council of Nine who, naturally, divided the space into nine sectors, each representing one of them. Never be in any doubt that a lot of self-aggrandizement existed during this period.

At one end of the square is the magnificent Palazzo Pubblico, or town hall (now also housing the Museo Civico) and from here the shell-shaped space radiates out. The bell tower of 1297, Torre del Mangia, rises from the palazzo and from up here there are great views. Enclosing the remainder of the square are the Late Gothic palaces of the grand medieval families of Siena. The Fonte Gaia, or fountain of life, is a white marble focal point and meeting place at the top end of the piazza. Twice a year, in July and August, the madness of the traditional bareback horse race.

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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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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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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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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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Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
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Siena's magnificent Tuscan Gothic cathedral is not to be missed. And if you're in Siena you can't miss it because it dominates the place. Rising high with its magnificent white and greenish black stripes, it has a bit of red thrown in on the front facade and lots of detailing - including scrolls, biblical scenes and gargoyles. In the centre is the huge rose window designed by Duccio di Buoninsegna in 1288. Statues of prophets and philosophers by Giovanni Pisano which used to adorn the facade are now housed indoors at the nearby Museo Dell'Opera.

Inside the place is equally impressive with art by Donatello, Bernini and early Michelangelo. Some of the best pieces such as Duccio di Buoninsegni's Maesta have been moved next door to the Museo Dell'Opera. Unlike other cathedrals where you are craning your neck to see magnificent ceilings and frescoes, here you need to look down at the mosaic floor. The whole floor is tiled and is one of the most impressive in Italy.

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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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Siena Historic Center (Siena Centro Storico)
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With its lively piazzas, striking Gothic monuments and remarkably preserved city walls, the historic centre of Siena is one of Italy’s most impressive medieval sites and it remains the nucleus of the modern-day city. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1995, the old town is a veritable open-air museum, crammed with architectural gems, historic buildings and museums, as well as one of Europe’s oldest universities.

The historic centre of Siena is best explored on foot and the obvious starting point is the enormous Piazza del Campo. Located at the heart of the city, the piazza hosts Siena’s famous Palio horse races, as well as being home to landmarks like the medieval Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall), the Fontana Gaia fountain and the 90-meter high Torre del Mangia. Nearby, the marble-fronted Duomo cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and one of Siena’s most impressive sights.

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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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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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More Things to Do in Tuscany

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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Ponte Vecchio

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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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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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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Florence Duomo (Cattedrale di Santa Maria dei Fiori)

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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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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Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)

Florence Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)

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One of the oldest buildings in Florence, it's thought that the octagonal Baptistery stands on the site of an ancient Roman temple. It may even have been built as early as the 5th century. The striking Romanesque cladding of white and green marble was added in the early 12th century.

Inside, the Baptistery features gold mosaics, marble columns and tombs. Look up to catch the best views of the gilded mosaics covering the cupola.

Perhaps the Baptistery's most famous attraction is its trio of gilded bronze doors, decorated with panels. Examine the panels up close to admire their incredible details.

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Basilica of San Lorenzo (Basilica di San Lorenzo)

Basilica of San Lorenzo (Basilica di San Lorenzo)

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A visit to the enormous Basilica of San Lorenzo leads to things you may not expect from a church. What ties the church to its unexpected turns, however, is something very Florentine - Michelangelo.

In the 15th century Basilica of San Lorenzo are the tombs of the Medici, located in the New Sacristy (also designed by Michelangelo), which are adorned by Michelangelo sculptures. The two main tombs in the chapel are those of Lorenzo and Giuliano Medici. Lorenzo’s tomb has figures representing Dusk and Dawn, while Giuliano’s features figures representing Day and Night.

The unexpected sight is the Laurentian Library, designed by Michelangelo. The incredible curved stone staircase leads into a great reading room where even the desks were designed by Michelangelo. Other works of art inside the Basilica of San Lorenzo include some bronze works by Donatello and an altarpiece by Fra Filippo Lippi. You can get a combined ticket to visit both the church and the library.

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Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano)

Vasari Corridor (Corridoio Vasariano)

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Built in 1564, the Vasari Corridor was designed to enable the Grand Duke Cosimo I de Medici to move between the Pitti Palace where he lived, the Uffizi where he had his offices, and on to the Palazzo Vecchio, the seat of Florentine government. Almost one kilometer (two-thirds of a mile) long, the elevated corridor passes overhead from the Uffizi, across the Arno River over the top of the shops lining the Ponte Vecchio, through the church of Santa Felicita until it reaches the Palazzo Pitti.

Built in just five months, Vasari Corridor was a major feat of both architecture and civic power.

The Vasari Corridor is lined with self-portraits by artists, nearly 1,000 paintings, dating from the 16th century. Access to the corridor is only by guided tour.

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Siena Civic Museum (Museo Civico di Siena)

Siena Civic Museum (Museo Civico di Siena)

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The Palazzo Pubblico is hard to miss. A magnificent stone and red brick building begun in 1297, with excellent towers and crenellations, it is everything one could hope for from a Gothic town hall. Situated on the lower side of the Piazza Campo, the building is shaped to fit the design of the civic square and has a subtle curve to it.

These days it retains its government functions and also houses the city museum, Museo Civico, which is well worth a visit for its frescoes, paintings and sculptures. The Sienese school was artistically significant and the late medieval frescoes were some of the first to depict non-religious themes. Instead they made statements about government, justice and patriotic devotion. The most significant is the huge fresco cycle of 1337 by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, entitled Allegory of Good and Bad Government; it’s not difficult to get the painting’s message.

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Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain)

Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain)

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The heart of Siena is the Piazza del Campo and the beating heart of the piazza has to be Fonte Gaia, the ‘fountain of joy’. Dating from the 15th century, it is surrounded on three sides by bas-relief panels made by Jacopo della Quercia who is considered a precursor to Michelangelo.

These days the original panels are housed in the Ospedale di St Maria della Scala in Piazza Duomo, and the fountain’s waters splash around 19th century copies (minus two female nude sculptures considered too risqué back then).

The white marble fountain is a magnet for those looking to rest their weary feet and be lulled by the sound of running water. Hopefully, despite being thoroughly fenced off, it continues to deliver the promised happiness.

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Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo)

Opera del Duomo Museum (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo)

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Despite the name, Florence’s Museo dell’Opera del Duomo has nothing to do with opera music - “opera” also being the Italian word for creative works, in this case the artwork that was once inside the cathedral.

The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is located conveniently right behind the Duomo, for which most of its collection was originally created. Inside you’ll see an unfinished Michelangelo pieta that he had apparently started as a piece to decorate his own tomb. He was later so unhappy with it that he broke it, but it was later put back together by a new owner. The face of Nicodemus is said to be a self-portrait of the sculptor.

Other highlights of the museum collection are Ghiberti’s original bronze panels from Florence’s Baptistery. The doors you see on the Baptistery today are excellent reproductions, but the originals are kept in air-tight containers to prevent further damage.

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Brunelleschi's Dome (Cupola del Brunelleschi)

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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Florence Santa Croce Basilica (Basilica di Santa Croce)

Florence Santa Croce Basilica (Basilica di Santa Croce)

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Work on this beautiful basilica began in 1294, though the facade and bell tower are 19th-century additions. The world's largest Franciscan church, it houses 16 chapels and famous frescoes by Giotto.

On the inside, the church is a classic example of Tuscan Gothic. Take a walk around the immense and lofty interior to spot Michelangelo’s tomb by Vasari, the Giotto frescoes in the Peruzzi Chapel, the Gaddi frescoes, porcelain details by della Robbia, and work by Donatello.

Along with Michelangelo, other famous names buried or commemorated in Santa Croce include the Renaissance architect Alberti, Galileo, Ghiberti, Machiavelli, Marconi, and Dante.

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