Unforgettable Day Trips from Florence, Italy

Posted on October 7, 2011

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Lucca, Pisa and Siena are three great Tuscan towns to see on a day trip excursion from Florence. Here’s an outline of how to get there, what to see, what to eat, and what to expect from three cities that offer different sights, smells and tastes — but plenty of Tuscan charm.

Florence has a lifetime of landmarks, history and beauty to offer any visitor, but if you’re staying in Florence don’t overlook the possibility of a day trip into the Tuscan countryside.

Fall in Love with Lucca

This Etruscan city is surrounded by large Renaissance walls with paths and gardens atop them, allowing one to walk around the entire historical city. Lucca’s small streets, shops and family atmosphere offer the quintessential Tuscan charm.
How to Get There: Located just before Pisa, for those pressed for time it makes a perfect morning stop on your way to see the leaning tower. About an hour and a half train ride, roundtrip tickets cost €10.40 on trenitalia.com.
What to See: Lucca is flat compared to other Tuscan cities, making it a perfect place to rent bikes for the day. Bike the 2.5 miles on the wall or explore the cafes and landmarks of the city. Bike rentals can be as low as €3 an hour. Beautiful churches are scattered throughout the city, such as the historic church of San Frediano. Of course, no Tuscan city would be complete without a tower, so you can climb the 207 stairs of the Torre di Ore, a 13th-century clock tower.

What to Eat: Foodies rejoice. The New York Times Travel section wrote that Lucca’s  “food is among Italy’s most compelling — almost certainly the best in Tuscany.” Wherever you eat, you must try Lucca’s signature pasta, tortelli lucchese: a golden yellow pasta topped with plenty of meat and a heavy red sauce. If you’re in the mood for something more local, try farro soup (a barleylike grain) with beans; a rabbit dish; or baccalà (salt cod).

Picture Yourself in Pisa

Pisa, known for it’s iconic architectural mishap, the Leaning Tower, is a must-see for anyone in Tuscany. A small but beautiful town, it hides many historical and artistic gems, as well as a long tradition as a vibrant college town and the birthplace of Galileo.

How to Get There: About a one hour train ride, roundtrip tickets cost €11.60. Busses from the train station will take you to the Piazza dei Miracoli or it is about a 25-minute walk.

What to See: The Piazza dei Miracoli, or Piazza of Miracles, houses the Leaning Tower of Pisa a beautiful and intriguing leaning tower, perfect for photo-ops, as well as the Duomo and the Baptistery. Closed for many years, the tower is now open to the public. For around 15 Euro one can climb up the 300 steps to the top of the tower and view the piazza, the river and distant mountains in all their splendor. Afterwards, visit the university, Galileo’s house or take a stroll along the Arno River.

What to Eat: Didn’t get enough salted fish in Lucca? Unique Pisan fare includes brachette alla renaiaola an antique Pisan dish consisting of large pasta squares in a purée of turnip greens and smoked fish. Or, for something hearty, look for a dish with garbanzo beans (ceci).

Stop by Siena

Siena, former rival of Florence, is a classic medieval town in the center of Tuscany. Siena was the first European city to ban motor traffic, making it a perfect town to explore and relax. Spend the day wandering the small, gothic streets and enjoying the rustic atmosphere.

How to get there: About an hour and a half train ride from Florence, roundtrip tickets with Trenitalia cost €12.60. Busses run from the train station into the heart of the city, near Il Campo.  

What to See: In the center and you’ll find La Piazza del Campo, a beautiful shell-shaped piazza and UNESCO World Heritage Site. At the base of the piazza is thePalazzo Comunale, from which soars the Torre del Mangia 102 meters high. Pay a nominal fee to climb it and view the city from above. Other sights include the beautiful black and white striped Duomo, the Baptistery of Saint Giovanni or the Crypt, whose walls are covered with Biblical paintings.

Siena is also famous for the Palio, a traditional event from the Middle Ages. It is an annual horse race around the Piazza del Campo held July 2 and August 16. Each jockey dresses in the brightly colored silk of the different neighborhoods, riding bareback around the Piazza as hundreds of fans cheer them on. It has grown so popular, however, that plans should be made far in advance to secure a hotel and seating.

What to Eat: Siena’s food will mirror Florence’s. Instead of Fiorentina bisteca, go for a wild boar dish; they also have a specialty cheese, cacio pecorino. After wandering the Piazza del Campo, pop in La Taverna di San Giuseppe which boasts a location dating back to 1100 and boasts a pretty unique atmosphere. Try the mint-and-tarragon flavored green gnocchi.

Other Day Trips

There are many other beautiful cities outside of Florence that one can visit in a day, not least of which are Fiesole, San Gimignano, Volterra, Montalcino, Viarreggio and more! Don’t let your time in the city pass without an excursion or two to these towns that hold so much of the essence of Tuscany.

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