I want to preface this post by saying that I’m not a believer in most Florence day trips. Some of my favorite memories of Italy involve road tripping through Tuscany and staying in cities that most people see as day trips. There’s just something magical about those places when the crowds thin and the sky turns blue. That being said, I know that people like to have a home base for exploring, too. If I could challenge you to do one thing, it would be to look at your itinerary and see if you could move a few things around to accommodate a night or two in one of these places, rather than doing a day trip.
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Fiesole is the most logical of the Florence day trips. It’s 15 minutes away by bus. You board the 7 near the city center and ride it to Piazza Mino in Fiesole. The Piazza Mino has a board that shows the next few buses and you can ride it right back into the Florence city center. One of my favorite travel guides recommends making the walk from Florence to Fiesole, but I have not been that brave yet. Maybe if I drink a little Chianti with lunch? Nope, probably not.
What’s in Fiesole, you might ask? First, there are unbeatable views of Florence. It’s like the Piazzale Michelangelo without the crowds. It’s a lot quieter and offers views of the Tuscan countryside without requiring a car. Second, there are very well preserved Etruscan and Roman ruins to see. As mentioned previously, my husband loves himself some Roman ruins, so you can bet we spent a morning visiting the amphitheater and the Roman baths.
The second most logical of the Florence day trips is Pisa. Pisa is an hour away by train (starting from Santa Maria Novella) or an hour and a quarter by bus. Admittedly, I’ve only done Pisa as a stopover or day trip. We stopped over on the trip from Cinque Terre to Florence. On another trip, we came in early for our flight, left our luggage at the airport and headed out to sight-see. And, even still, we made it a day trip from Barga this past winter. It’s really a shame, too, because Pisa is lovely and it’s so much more than the Piazza dei Miracoli.
(I did see the Cathedral when I studied abroad – it’s beautiful.) Spend a full day here and skip Lucca. I recommend walking from Pisa Centrale to the Field of Miracles (stopping for lunch at Quarto D’Oro Italiano). There are beautiful arcades that run through Pisa and the view along the Arno rivals Florence. It’s worth it to slow down and enjoy the view.
Pro Tip: If your goal is to only see the Leaning Tower (and/or the Basilica), book your tickets in advance. We’ve made three day trips to Pisa and we’ve never been able to see any of them.
There are plenty of things to do in Siena, and I think you should spend a least one night there. If you cannot make room in your itinerary for that, I suppose you can do it as a day trip. I know that our Siena walking tour included a small group tour that was hitting up Siena before heading on to San Gimignano. But, Siena is magical in the evenings. We loved it so much on our first trip that we went back the previous year and stayed for two nights. Our hotel overlooked the campo. Siena is an hour and half away by train or an hour and a half by direct bus. You have to watch the train schedules carefully because some involve a change in Empoli. Others are milk run trains with a lot of local stops.
I think the Siena Duomo (and the Piccolomini Library especially) is the best thing to see in Siena. With limited time, head to the Duomo. If you have a little more time, grab gelato from Kopakabana and wander the streets. There are some beautiful views of Tuscany from the most unexpected places in Siena. If you spend a full day, I highly recommend a walking tour that includes a tour of one of the Contrada museums. This is helpful to learn more about the Palio race and understanding the pride of the Sienese people. If you’re really lucky, you’ll stumble upon some musicians practicing with their drums.
Again, I know there are tours that do Siena (and another city) in one day, but I think you should stay at least one night. It is a beautiful place, especially during passeggiata and blue hour.
San Gimignano is the most difficult to reach via train because the train station isn’t convenient to the town. It is better if you take the bus and even better if you have a car. We’ve done San Gimignano as a stopover while driving from Cinque Terre to Montepulciano. We also visited again this past winter as a day trip from Barga or Umbria. I cannot remember which, but it was too far from either one of those locations. Florence would make more sense, as it’s only an hour away by car. The bus takes about an hour and a half.
One of the things I loved about San Gimignano on this last trip was the number of galleries. I had no idea that it was a haven for local artists, but it appears to be so! I enjoyed popping into galleries to see what others had created. The other thing I love about San Gimignano is the wine tasting, olive oil tasting, and balsamic vinegar tasting we were able to do. You can read about our lunch and private tour of one of the local wineries Suffice it to say, we sent a lot of treats home both times we visited this San Gimignano winery. If you enjoy food and art, San Gimignano is the day trip for you!
Just kidding. There’s not a chance I would recommend this as a one day tour from Florence. It’s a Unesco world heritage site. It’s almost 2.5 hours away by train (and that’s just one way). Day trip tourism is significantly impacting the local area and the resources, so if you’re going to Cinque Terre, you really need to stay in Cinque Terre for at least one day.
There are a lot of Florence day trips that I didn’t cover. I tried to focus on what seems to be the most popular day trips, based on blogs and other reviews I’ve read. As I mentioned previously, I am not a huge believer in day trips. Even spending just one night in some of these places is enough to convince me to return. I think there is plenty to do in Florence to occupy your time without needing to take a day trip to occupy you. Visiting Italy is supposed to be about la dolce vita, so make sure you slow down enough to enjoy yourself. Buy gelato, take walks, enjoy leisurely meals. Italy is meant to be savored, not devoured.