Feeling the warm glow of the Tuscan sun setting across the olive-coated rolling hills, you’d be forgiven for pinching yourself just to make sure you hadn’t drifted off.
The region has lured visitors from afar for millennia. Drawn initially for its vibrant agricultural scope, its inhabitants slowly pieced together a world-renowned culture of art, food, and lifestyle that now pulls almost 50 million visitors a year.
Don’t be too put off by the crowds. For every crowded piazza, there’s a secluded farmhouse with a bottle of wine on the terrace, waiting to reward you for a day’s exploration.
Benvenuti in Toscana
5 things you can’t miss in Tuscany
Take in a masterpiece in the world’s premier art destination
Cities like New York have developed a reputation as major art hubs. Florence, the Tuscan capital, was the prototype and is still regarded as one of the world’s greatest artistic centers – if not the greatest.
It’s easy to see why. Tuscany was home to Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Dante, and a range of other artistic titans – all household names even for those with no interest in art. That’s why, no matter your interest levels, it’s worth stopping by some of the region’s world-class museums and art galleries.
If you only visit one, make it Tuscany’s heavy-hitter, the Uffizi Galleries. Built in the 1500s as government buildings before being gifted to the Medici family in the 1700s, the gallery houses some of the most important Italian renaissance paintings. Early Da Vincis and a collection of Botticelli’s masterpieces are the signature headliners, but the grandeur of the entire site is enough to stir some interest in anyone. You can even grab a multi-pass for the Uffizi, the Palazzo Pitti, Giardino di Boboli, and Museo Archeologico. All worth a look too.
The Accadaemia Galleria is another impressive entry on the list, housing Michelangelo’s “David” and more stunning renaissance work from the rest of the Ninja Mutant Turtles’ namesakes and beyond.
On arrival, keep an eye out for any temporary exhibitions that might be passing through. A city with a reputation like Florence hosts an array of exciting events for art lovers.
Hop on a wine and gastronomic tour
Considering Tuscany’s reputation as an art Mecca, the fact that it’s almost even more known for its culinary chops should be telling. No trip to the region is complete without a deep dive into the wine and food produced across its rolling landscapes.
At the top of the list should be a high-quality wine tour. There are hundreds of options in this category, so take your time and find the one that fits your interests. Read reviews, check itineraries, and be skeptical of the cheaper ones. A good tour should take you to multiple wineries, offer tastings, educate you on the history of the region’s wine, and maybe even pair it with other local delicacies. The right experience can transform your understanding of food.
Almost as important as the wine is the food. If you’ve never ventured to Italy, your understanding of the country’s food is probably wildly off-base. If you’ve visited Italy but not Tuscany, you’re probably wide of the mark too. The region’s unique culinary traditions are mesmerizing, and enlisting an expert to lead you to gastronomic enlightenment is more than worth it.
If you find yourself in Tuscany in Fall, jump on an olive harvest experience. While you might enjoy olives and olive oil, it’s unlikely you’ve experienced the complexities of how it’s made and the wildly varied types available. If nothing else, you’ll just eat yourself into a stupor. Worse things have happened.
Go beyond the leaning Tower of Pisa
Tuscany is packed with iconic architecture, not least the leaning Tower of Pisa. One of the ultimate tourist shots is, of course, holding the tower up. But don’t skip on its history or the buildings surrounding it. The tower was completed in 1372, so it’s insanely old and is the bell tower for the Pisa Cathedral, which sits just in front. It’s more than worth a visit too.
Back in Florence, the Duomo looms over the city in dramatic fashion. The rest of the red-tiled city seems to grow outwards from the intimidating central point. Still, its comparatively barren interior can throw visitors off, with most of its artwork removed over the centuries. It’s still worth visiting, although be careful if you’re claustrophobic – the climb into the dome is steep and narrow.
Out front, you’ll find the Piazza Duomo. Architectural masterpieces dwarf visitors from all sides in the beating heart of the historic old town. Enjoying the atmosphere is part of the joy, but try and go early in the morning to grab it in a rare moment of serenity.
The city of Siena is another must-visit site for architecture buffs. Easily one of the finest examples of medieval Italy, the postcard-perfect town is adorned with beautiful red-brick buildings spiraling outwards from its stunning piazza. More than worth a day trip from Florence or elsewhere in Tuscany.
Indulge in Tuscan cuisine
Where are we supposed to start? Tuscan food is simple, big on flavor, and places a lot of emphasis on local sourcing. You’ll try types of pasta you’ve never heard of before, sample the best steak in Italy, indulge in the decadence of truffle, gorge on bowls of olive oil drizzled salad, crunch through the finest bread, dive into Italian cheese, and satisfy your sweet tooth by living la dolce vita.
Don’t be scared to ask for local advice. It’ll only lead to happiness.
Way off the traditional tourist path, this Florence staple has been around since the beginning of the 20th century. Trattoria de Burde Started life as a grocery store but has kept true to its roots and focuses on affordable, high-quality local fares.
Don’t expect flashy. Expect a taste of what the locals flock to on a daily basis. Order the bistecca and a glass of wine, and relax.
Rent a vespa and explore
As we’ve said, Tuscany is a lot bigger than you might think. There are a ton of cities, towns, and villages, all with their unique personalities and accompanying attractions.
Venturing beyond Florence and Pisa also allows you to escape the tourist prices you’ll likely be subjected to – think small mom and pop restaurants, quiet vineyards, and delightful cobblestone streets.
San Gimignano is a stunning alternative to Florence, while Pienza and Pitigliano are picture perfect little towns.