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Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany
By Rick Steves
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- Trade Paperback $23.99 $29.99 CAD
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- Fully updated, comprehensive coverage for spending a week or more exploring Florence and Tuscany
- Rick's strategic advice on how to get the most out of your time and money, with rankings of his must-see favorites
- Top sights and hidden gems, from the Uffizi Gallery and the Duomo to a 600-year-old perfumery
- How to connect with local culture: Listen to a street musician's serenade on the Ponte Vecchio, stroll through a morning market sampling freshly-made pasta, and sip full-bodied wines with Montalcino locals at a corner enoteca
- Beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps with Rick's candid, humorous insight
- The best places to eat, sleep, and relax with a glass of Chianti
- Self-guided walking tours of lively neighborhoods and incredible museums
- Detailed maps for exploring on the go, including driving tours through the heart of Tuscany and Brunello wine country
- Complete, up-to-date information on Florence, Siena, Pisa, Lucca, Volterra, San Gimignano, Montepulciano, Pienza, Montalcino, Cortona, and more
- Covid-related travel info and resources for a smooth trip
Make the most of every day and every dollar with Rick Steves Florence & Tuscany.
Spending less than a week exploring Florence? Try Rick Steves Pocket Florence.
Welcome to Rick Steves’ Europe
Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure. Travel is freedom. It’s recess, and we need it.
I discovered a passion for European travel as a teen and have been sharing it ever since—through my tours, public television and radio shows, and travel guidebooks. Over the years, I’ve taught millions of travelers how to best enjoy Europe’s blockbuster sights—and experience “Back Door” discoveries that most tourists miss.
Written with my talented co-author, Gene Openshaw, this book offers you a balanced mix of Florence’s rich cultural heritage and the romantic charm of Tuscany’s time-passed villages. It’s selective: Rather than listing dozens of hill towns, we recommend only the best ones. And it’s in-depth: Our self-guided museum tours and city walks provide insight into the region’s vibrant history and today’s living, breathing culture.
We advocate traveling simply and smartly. Take advantage of our money- and time-saving tips on sightseeing, transportation, and more. Try local, characteristic alternatives to expensive hotels and restaurants. In many ways, spending more money only builds a thicker wall between you and what you traveled so far to see.
We visit Tuscany to experience it—to become temporary locals. Thoughtful travel engages us with the world, as we learn to appreciate other cultures and new ways to measure quality of life.
Judging by the positive feedback we receive from our readers, this book will help you enjoy a fun, affordable, and rewarding vacation—whether it’s your first trip or your tenth.
Buon viaggio! Happy travels!
FLORENCE & TUSCANY
Experiencing Italy’s Renaissance
Tuscany’s Top Destinations
Map: PLACES COVERED IN THIS BOOK
Planning Your Trip
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
Tuscany’s Best 12 Days
Trip Costs Per Person
BEFORE YOU GO
Rick’s Free Video Clips and Audio Tours
Florence’s Top Spots
Florence is Europe’s cultural capital. As the home of the Renaissance and the birthplace of the modern world, Florence practiced the art of civilized living back when the rest of Europe was rural and crude. The proud and energetic Florentines of the 1400s championed democracy, science, and literature as well as painting, sculpture, and architecture.
When the Florentine poet Dante first saw the teenaged Beatrice, her beauty so inspired him that he spent the rest of his life writing poems to her. In the same way, the Renaissance opened people’s eyes to the physical beauty of the world around them, inspiring them to write, paint, sculpt, and build.
Florence offers you a brimming bucket list of art, topped by Michelangelo’s David and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. As for architecture, nothing tops the Duomo’s heavenly dome, designed by Brunelleschi. Gilding the lily, Ghiberti created the glorious Gates of Paradise for the church’s Baptistery.
Blessed with a wealth of riches, Florence has historic churches (like Santa Croce), masterpiece chapels (Michelangelo’s Medici and Masaccio’s Brancacci), palaces large and small (Pitti and Vecchio), and a surprising range of museums (from Fra Angelico’s San Marco monastery, to Ferragamo fashion, to the Galileo Science Museum).
The city has so many sights and tourists that at times it feels like a Renaissance theme park. Sure, Florence is touristy. But where else can you stroll the same pedestrian streets walked by Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Botticelli while savoring Italy’s best gelato?
Look beyond the sights to experience the city, too, with its lively squares and bustling markets, such as Mercato Centrale, a produce and foodie hall all in one. Head across the historic, shop-lined Ponte Vecchio bridge spanning the Arno River to explore the bohemian Oltrarno neighborhood and glimpse artisans at work. Above it all is Piazzale Michelangelo, awarding visitors with a stunning view of the city’s tiled rooftops, elegant bridges, and sublime dome.
Florence is a different city at night—it feels smaller, quieter, and more romantic. For dinner, stroll the back streets to find that perfect wine bar or restaurant. Try hearty Tuscan specialties: bean soup (ribollita), wild boar (cinghiale), and T-bone steak (bistecca alla fiorentina).
The city’s compact urban center, short on open spaces, can easily exhaust travelers who feel obligated to see as many museums as possible. Sightsee selectively. And to round out your trip, leave the city behind and explore the green, serene Tuscan countryside. Breathe...slow down...enjoy.
Tuscany is our romantic image of Italy, with manicured fields, rustic farms, cypress-lined driveways, and towns clinging to nearly every hill. This is one part of Italy where I recommend traveling by car—it’s the best way to lace together the views, villages, and vineyards.
The region’s sunny, wine-soaked villages each have their own appeal and claim to fame: Volterra (Etruscan ruins), San Gimignano (towers), Montepulciano (artisans), Pienza (tidy Renaissance-planned streets), and Montalcino (wine). Connoisseurs visit Tuscany to sample the great local wines at classy wineries elegantly tucked into rolling hills.
Italy’s best gelato; Piazzale Michel-angelo awards visitors with a stunning panorama
Tuscany’s tranquil countryside, Siena’s thrilling Palio race
Tuscany’s cities are equally engaging. Sprawling Siena, huddling around one of Italy’s coziest squares and finest cathedrals, hosts the flag-twirling, no-holds-barred Palio horse race that shows off its medieval roots. Pisa boasts the Field of Miracles, famous for its Leaning Tower, an icon of all Italy. Lucca is graced with churches, towers, and a delightful city wall-turned-city park that’s ideal for a stroll or pedal.
To connect with Tuscany’s rural charm, stay on a farm—an agriturismo. These rural guesthouses provide a good home base for relaxing and exploring as much or as little as you want. Your hosts may even offer you a “zero kilometer” meal, serving food produced right on the farm.
The small island of Elba in the Tuscan archipelago is worth a visit for its beaches, fresh fish dinners, and a trio of 16th-century fortresses.
You’ll discover that peaceful Tuscan villages and bustling Florence—with its rough-stone beauty, art-packed museums, children chasing pigeons, students riding Vespas, artisans sipping Chianti, and supermodels wearing Gucci—offer many of the very things you came to Italy to see.
Tuscany’s Top Destinations
Salute! Let’s toast to Tuscany, which offers a heady mix of experiences. To help you focus your time, this overview breaks the top destinations into must-see sights (for everyone) and worth-it sights (for those with extra time or special interests). I’ve also suggested a minimum number of days to allow per destination.
Botticelli’s Birth of Venus
Tuscany’s two major cities—Florence and Siena—are the perfect introduction to medieval and Renaissance Italy. From there, escape to the heart of Tuscany for a sampler of rural delights.
▲▲▲Florence (allow 3 days)
This compact, bustling, and culturally rich city stars Michelangelo’s David, Brunelleschi’s dome, and a treasure trove of Renaissance artworks. The historic city, bisected by the Arno River and spanned by the irresistible Ponte Vecchio, is loaded with marvelous sights, churches, markets, and squares.
▲▲▲Siena (2 days)
This hilltop city is known for its medieval pageantry, Palio horse race, and stunning traffic-free main square—great anytime but best after dark. This is the ultimate hill town, with red-brick lanes cascading every which way and a proud spirit any visitor can enjoy. It’s also a fine jumping-off point for exploring the Tuscan countryside with a driving tour of the Crete Senesi region.
▲▲▲Heart of Tuscany (2-3 days)
Several picturesque villages cluster like grapes on a stem: medieval Montepulciano (a good home base for drivers); pint-sized Pienza with Renaissance architecture; and Brunello-fueled Montalcino (a good home base for nondrivers). Enjoy the region’s serene scenery by following one of my self-guided driving tours (Heart of Tuscany or Brunello Wine Country) or by joining a minibus wine tour.
Florence’s Duomo, practicing for Siena’s Palio, peaceful Pienza, wine tasting in Montalcino
Pisa’s Leaning Tower, Lucca’s wall promenade, alabaster workshop in Volterra, tower-topped San Gimignano
You can weave any of these destinations—rated ▲ or ▲▲—into your itinerary. It’s easy to add some destinations based on proximity (if you’re going to Florence, Pisa is next door), but other out-of-the-way places can merit the journey, depending on your time and interests.
Pisa is famous for its iconic Leaning Tower, but it has other equally impressive monuments on its gleaming Field of Miracles. Those must-see sights are reminders of Pisa’s long-ago sea-trading wealth (which evaporated when its port silted up). Today’s arcaded old town is fun to wander and delightfully tourist-free.
▲▲Lucca (1 day)
This charming town has a lively (and flat) town center, ringed by Europe’s mightiest Renaissance wall. That still-intact wall makes a rampart wide enough for biking and strolling. Without major monuments or museums, Lucca is pleasant for just hanging out, with cafés and shops for whiling away your time.
Off the beaten path, this authentic, walled hill town has a long Etruscan history and established alabaster workshops—a heritage that makes for unusually interesting sightseeing for a small town.
▲San Gimignano (half-day)
San Gimignano is the epitome of a hill town, spiked with 14 medieval towers. By day it’s packed with tourists who crowd the narrow, shop-lined lanes, but a stroll through its core in the shadow of those towers is worth it. At night, it’s an evocative, traffic-free delight.
Basking under the Tuscan sun, enjoyable Cortona is home to grand churches, museums of Etruscan artifacts and Renaissance art, and an archaeological park. Nestled in hills on the fringe of Tuscany, it’s an easy stop for drivers heading to or from neighboring Umbria.
▲Elba (2 nights/1 full day)
This small island—a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland—combines a rugged and mountainous landscape, twisty drives to charming beach towns, and echoes of Napoleon’s famous 10-month exile here, adding up to an inviting seaside “vacation from your vacation.”
Steak in Tuscany, Cortona’s City Hall, charming Portoferraio harbor on the island of Elba
Planning Your Trip
To plan your trip, you’ll need to design your itinerary—choosing where and when to go. For my best general advice on sightseeing, accommodations, restaurants, and more, see the Practicalities chapter.
DESIGNING AN ITINERARY
As you read this book and learn your options...
Choose your top destinations.
My recommended itinerary (on here) gives you an idea of how much you can reasonably see in 12 days, but you can adapt it to fit your own interests and time frame. If you like Renaissance art and enjoy museums, linger longer in Florence. If you’ve always wanted to ascend Pisa’s Leaning Tower, now’s the time for the climb (and relaxing, low-pressure Lucca awaits nearby).
Stay overnight in at least one hill town. While most of the towns are undeniably touristy by day, in the evening they become the domain of locals, who polish the cobbled streets with convivial promenades. For medieval pageantry and pride, nothing beats Siena. Wine lovers savor Montalcino. Remote Volterra (with Etruscan sights) is the least touristy of the towns I recommend.
Exploring Tuscany’s hill towns could easily take up to two weeks, especially if you relax into an agriturismo guesthouse. With its scenery, abbeys, and wineries, Tuscany is a fine place to slow down—what’s the rush?
Decide when to go.
Tuscany’s best travel months (also its busiest and most expensive) are April, May, June, September, and October. These months combine the conveniences of peak season with pleasant weather.
The most grueling thing about travel in Tuscany is the summer heat in July and August, when temperatures hit the high 80s and 90s. Most midrange hotels come with air-conditioning—a worthwhile splurge in the summer—but it’s often available only from June through September. August is vacation time for Italians, with cities emptying out for a week before and two weeks after the August 15 Ferragosto holiday (marking the Assumption of Mary). City hotels consider this period low season.
In April and October, you’ll generally need a sweater or light jacket in the evening. In winter the temperatures can drop to the 40s or 50s. Off-season has none of the sweat and stress of the tourist season, but sights may have shorter hours, lunchtime breaks, and fewer activities. Confirm your sightseeing plans locally, especially when traveling off-season. For weather specifics, see the climate chart in the appendix.
Connect the dots.
Link your destinations into a logical route. Determine which cities you’ll fly into and out of. Begin your search for transatlantic flights at Kayak.com.
Staying in an agriturismo (farmhouse B&B), traveling through Tuscany by car or train
Decide if you’ll travel by car or public transportation, or a combination. A car is particularly helpful for exploring the villages of Tuscany, where public transportation can be sparse and time-consuming. But a car is useless in Florence and Siena—rent one before or after you visit these bigger cities.
Florence, Pisa, Lucca, and Siena are readily linked by public transportation. The smaller hill towns are more of a challenge. Plan on using a mix of trains and buses, as not all hill towns have rail service. And allow more time in your itinerary—bus service is spotty on weekends. For efficiency, consider taking regional minibus tours to the countryside from Florence or Siena.
To determine approximate transportation times between your destinations, study the driving map in the Practicalities chapter or check Google Maps. For train schedules, see Trenitalia.it. For any long train ride in Europe, compare the cost with a budget flight; check Skyscanner.com for intra-European flights.
Write out a day-by-day itinerary.
Figure out how many destinations you can comfortably fit in your time frame. Don’t overdo it—few travelers wish they’d hurried more. Allow enough time per stop (see my suggestions in “Tuscany’s Top Destinations,” earlier). Minimize one-night stands. It can be worth taking a late-afternoon drive or train ride to settle into a town for two consecutive nights—and gain a full day for sightseeing. Include sufficient time for transportation; whether you travel by train, bus, or car, it’ll take you a half-day to get between most destinations.
To get over jet lag, consider starting your trip in a smaller town (like Lucca or Siena) before tackling Florence.
Staying in a home base (or two) and making day trips can be more time-efficient than changing locations and hotels every few days. The relative compactness of Tuscany is a plus for day-tripping.
Take sight closures into account. Avoid visiting a town on the one day a week its must-see sights are closed. Check if any holidays or festivals fall during your trip—these attract crowds and can close sights (for the latest, visit Florence’s tourist website, www.firenzeturismo.it).
Give yourself some slack. Every trip, and every traveler, needs downtime for doing laundry, picnic shopping, people-watching, and so on. Pace yourself. Assume you will return.
Siena’s Campo, Galileo Science Museum in Florence, pasta-making class, hanging out in Lucca
Reserve tickets for the Uffizi Gallery, join a walking tour in Florence, enjoy local food
BEFORE YOU GO
- "The country's foremost expert in European travel for Americans."—Forbes
- "Steves is an absolute master at unlocking the hidden gems of the world's greatest cities, towns, and monuments."—USA Today
- “Every country-specific travel guidebook from the Rick Steves publishing empire can be counted upon for clear organization, specificity and timeliness."—Society of American Travel Writers
- "Pick the best accommodations and restaurants from Rick Steves…and a traveler searching for good values will seldom go wrong or be blindsided."—NBC News
- "His guidebooks are approachable, silly, and even subtly provocative in their insistence that Americans show respect for the people and places they are visiting and not the other way around."—The New Yorker
- "Travel, to Steves, is not some frivolous luxury—it is an engine for improving humankind, for connecting people and removing their prejudices, for knocking distant cultures together to make unlikely sparks of joy and insight. Given that millions of people have encountered the work of Steves over the last 40 years, on TV or online or in his guidebooks, and that they have carried those lessons to untold other millions of people, it is fair to say that his life’s work has had a real effect on the collective life of our planet."—The New York Times Magazine
- "[Rick Steves] laces his guides with short and vivid histories and a scholar's appreciation for Renaissance art yet knows the best place to start an early tapas crawl in Madrid if you have kids. His clear, hand-drawn maps are Pentagon-worthy; his hints about how to go directly to the best stuff at the Uffizi, avoid the crowds at Versailles and save money everywhere are guilt-free."—TIME Magazine
- "Steves is a walking, talking European encyclopedia who yearns to inspire Americans to venture 'beyond Orlando.'"—Forbes
- “…he’s become the unofficial guide for entire generations of North American travelers, beloved for his earnest attitude and dad jeans."—Outside Magazine
- "His books offer the equivalent of a bus tour without the bus, with boiled-down itineraries and step-by-step instructions on where to go and how to get there, but adding a dash of humor and an element of choice that his travelers find empowering."—The New York Times
- "His penchant for creating meaningful experiences for travelers to Europe is as passionate as his inclination for making ethical choices his guiding light."—Forbes
- "[Rick Steves'] neighborhood walks are always fun and informative. His museum guides, complete with commentary about historic sculpture and storied artworks are wonderful and add another dimension to sometimes stodgy, hard-to-comprehend museums."—NBC News
- On Sale
- Nov 1, 2022
- Page Count
- 728 pages
- Rick Steves