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Things to Do in Tuscany - page 3

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Florence Santa Croce Basilica (Basilica di Santa Croce)
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130 Tours and Activities

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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Palazzo Strozzi
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Palazzo Strozzi may not be one of Florence's most popular museums, but those in the know say this fine example of Renaissance architecture is a must-see spot in Italy for art, history and Italian culture. What was constructed during the late 1400s as a residence for the Strozzi family, later became one of the largest temporary exhibition spaces in the city, drawing private collections from across the globe to the halls of this Florence destination.

In addition to galleries and halls jam-packed with ancient art, frescos and contemporary design, Palazzo Strozzi offers travelers and locals new and unique ways to engage with art. The scenic courtyard hosts free concerts, movie nights and cultural activities in warmer months, while permanent touch-screen installations showcase the history of the museum for those interested in learning more.

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Oltrarno
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Central Florence is split by the Arno River. The main sights - the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Accademia - are on one side of the river, while the neighborhood known as the Oltrarno is on the other. “Oltrarno” actually means “beyond the Arno,” or “the other side of the Arno.”

Among the attractions in the Oltrarno are the massive Pitti Palace, to which the ruling Medici family moved after leaving their residence in the Palazzo Vecchio, and the sprawling Boboli Gardens behind the Pitti. You can also visit the Santo Spirito Basilica (designed by Brunelleschi, who designed the cathedral’s famous dome) and the church of Santa Maria del Carmine (with the fantastic Brancacci Chapel and its Filippino Lippi frescoes). Keep going through the flatter part of the Oltrarno and you’ll eventually head up staircases and narrow streets into the hills overlooking the city. You know that postcard view you keep seeing all over town? You can see it for yourself from the Piazzale Michelangelo.

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Arno River
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Visitors to Florence will no doubt walk along and cross over the river that runs through the city center; and while it’s possible to see the city these days without paying much attention to the river, that wasn’t always the case. The Arno River was once an incredibly important river to central Italy, serving as a “highway” that brought shipments from the sea and brought warring soldiers from neighboring cities. Today, the River Arno may not be as critical an avenue for shipping or armies, but it’s no less important to the identity of Tuscany. The Arno River runs through Florence, as well as the cities of Pisa, Empoli, and Arezzo. Florence’s famous Ponte Vecchio (“Old Bridge”) spans the Arno, and hotel rooms with a river view usually command high prices. Also note that the part of central Florence located on the opposite side of the river from the Duomo and train station is known as the “Oltrarno,” or “other Arno,” meaning the other side of the Arno River.
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Pharmacy of Santa Maria Novella
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This 13th century pharmacy opened by Dominican friars now operates as a soap and perfume shop that resembles a museum, detailing the history of scent and fragrance. It is housed in the original building crafted in ornate detail. With an impressive array of herbal elixirs, perfumes, and soaps made with ancient techniques, a stroll through the pharmacy grants a historical perspective on smelling good. Friars first opened the pharmacy in 1221 to make and store concoctions for use in their monastery. Still in operation, it is one of the oldest known pharmacies in the world. The pharmacy is attributed with creating the first “eau de cologne” for Catherine de Medici, created in the 16th century and known as the “water of the queen.” Visitors can still purchase the scent in its original formulation; it is known simply as “Acqua di Santa Marina Novella.” It is also famous for its potpourri, which uses a blend of local plants and natural products and is still handcrafted on site.

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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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Church of Santa Maria della Spina (Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina)
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The exquisite church of Santa Maria della Spina is one of the prettiest fairy-tale churches in the world.

Designed in classic Pisan Gothic style, the tiny striped marble church was built to house a thorn from the Crown of Thorns.

The building dates back to 1230, with Gothic enlargements in the 1350s. Originally, the building sat much closer to the river, and it was moved to its present site on the riverside walkway in 1871.

The interior is less ornate than the fanciful exterior, with many statues and details being lost during the relocation. However, a magnificent Madonna and Child remains, sculpted by Andrea and Nino Pisano in the mid-14th century.

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Baptistery of San Giovanni (Battistero di San Giovanni)
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The Baptistry of St John is located near the Duomo in the center of Siena. Built in the same Tuscan Gothic style, although less externally ornamented – the facade is unfinished. But it’s inside that is really worth seeing.

The baptismal font is hexagonal, decorated with panels depicting scenes from the life of John the Baptist, by leading artists of the 15th century: Donatello, Ghiberti, Giovanni di Turino and Jacopo della Quercia. Six sculptures represent Faith, Hope, Fortitude, Justice, Charity and Providence. There are bronze angels by Donatello and prophets by della Quercia. And completing the intense decorative motif, the walls and ceiling are frescoed.

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Lucca Cathedral (Duomo di Lucca)
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The main church in Lucca is its cathedral, the Duomo di Lucca, built in the 11th century. The structure stands at one side of the Piazza San Martino, and inside, visitors will find the most revered relic in town: the Holy Face of Lucca (Volto Santo). This wooden cross is said to have been carved by Nicodemus, and although the one on display is a 13th-century copy, it's no less important to the church or town. There are two times each year when the Volto Santo is celebrated, dressed in special vestments in the cathedral. The church was rebuilt in the 14th century, although the campanile (bell tower) from the original structure remains, which is why one arch is quite a bit smaller than the other.

Other points of interest inside the Duomo are paintings by Ghirlandaio and Tintoretto, as well as the 15th-century tomb of Ilaria del Carretto of the Guinigi family. There is a museum in the cathedral as well.

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More Things to Do in Tuscany

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

Piazza dell'Anfiteatro

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The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro is a large square in the center of historic Lucca. As the name suggests, it was once the site of a Roman amphitheatre, one that was built in the first century and could hold up to 10,000 people. The remains of that structure now lie more than nine feet underground, but the oval shape of the piazza is a direct result of the outline of the amphitheatre. The Piazza dell'Anfiteatro was built in 1830 by demolishing some buildings that had been constructed in the space. It became the site of the town's market, and is the heart of the old city today.

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Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

Piazza di Santa Maria Novella

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At first just a busy square and basilica in the middle of Florence, at a closer glance the church and museum reveals much about the city. It was decreed to the Dominicans in 1287 by the Florentine Republic, to decorate as the new church was being built on site. The piazza quickly became a popular public gathering place, home to artists, theater, festivals, tournaments, and more. It later became the sight of the carriage race, or Giambologna show, which took place between the basilica and the Hospital of San Paulo.

Today the piazza remains central to Florentine life. It faces the intricately designed green and white marble facade of the basilica, which was built in the 13th and 15th centuries and is considered a masterpiece of Renaissance art. As it was recently renovated and surrounded with hotels and restaurants, it is popular with visitors as well — particularly at night when the square is spectacularly lit up.

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Pitti Palace Palatine Gallery

Pitti Palace Palatine Gallery

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One of the grandest sweeps of architecture in Florence, the Pitti Palace was built in the 15th century. Its gallery includes a huge collection of paintings dating from the 15th to 17th century, and occupying the whole left wing of the first floor, one of the most significant groups of works is by Titian and Raphael. You’ll also see important works by Rubens, including the Four Philosophers and the Allegory of War, and pieces by Caravaggio and Velazquez. In fact, there are over 500 works on show in all.

And it’s not just canvases that you’ll see; the Palatine Gallery is also known for its frescoes. Laid out according to the personal tastes of its collectors from the House of Medici, rather than by painting school or by chronological order, the gallery has been open to visitors since the day Leopold I of Lorraine opened it back in 1828. There is also a cafe in the courtyard of the Pitti Palace.

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Palio of Siena (Palio di Siena)

Palio of Siena (Palio di Siena)

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You could describe Siena’s famous Palio as a horse race, but it’s so much more than that. Il Palio di Siena is a throwback to medieval times, a good-natured rivalry between neighborhoods, and an excuse to hold big block parties twice each summer.

Il Palio of Siena dates back to the 16th century when locals wanted a sporting event to replace the recently-outlawed bullfighting. The first races used buffalos rather than horses, with the Palio as we know it today starting in the mid-1600s. Of Siena’s 17 old neighborhoods - called “contrade” - 10 are represented by a horse and rider in each event, and the winner gets bragging rights until the next Palio.

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Loggia dei Lanzi

Loggia dei Lanzi

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In a corner square of Florence, Loggia dei Lanzi is an open-air museum containing some of the world’s greatest works of art. Known most for its collection of Renaissance art statues, which many consider to be masterpieces, it contains works such as Cellini’s Perseus, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, and an ancient Roman statue of Menelaus that used to be part of the Ponte Vecchio.

Originally intended to be a space for public ceremonies, construction on the area began in 1376. It was designed in a late Gothic style, a predecessor to the emerging Renaissance style. It is named for the Swiss personal guards (‘lanzi’) of emperor Cosimo I, who were once encamped here. The loggia opens to the street under three wide arches, seamlessly integrating with the rest of the city. The arches are supported by Corinthian capital, creating a canopy over the sculptures. It remains completely free and open to the public.

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Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi)

Guinigi Tower (Torre Guinigi)

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There are a few historic towers inside Lucca's city walls, but the most famous is the Guinigi Tower, which was built in the late 14th century as the place where a family of silk merchants lived and worked. At one time, Lucca had more than 200 such tower homes, but today there are only nine left. The Guinigi family once ruled Lucca, and the family's modern descendants bequeathed the tower to the city. The Guinigi Tower is particularly notable for its impressive rooftop garden. The garden dates from at least the early 17th century, and today has several ancient Holm oak trees growing there. The rooftop garden was renovated in the 1980s and is open to the public.

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Palazzo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati

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This ancient home grants a peek into history going back to the Middle Ages, and is a way to experience the wealthy merchant homes of the Renaissance era. It was built by the Davizzi family in the mid-14th century and later purchased by the Davanzatis in the 16th century. With three towers and five stories, it is decorated from floor to ceiling — complete with period furniture and frescoed walls. There are both medieval and Renaissance architectural elements, allowing for a comparison of the two styles and the history of the transition.

The traditional layout of the home makes it a magnificent example of a medieval Florentine home. Some of its highlights include a central courtyard, stone and wood staircase, and underground gallery. Historic art, lace, furnishings and even coats-of-arms throughout the palace demonstrate the trends and styles as they have progressed through the ages.

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Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

Piazza della Santissima Annunziata

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Florence is a city filled with quaint squares, picturesque landscapes and plenty of old-world architecture that’s ripe with European charm. This is particularly true amid its famous squares, and travelers agree that few are as beautiful as Piazza della Santissima Annunziata.

A massive bronze statue of Ferdinando I de’Medici on horseback stands at the center of the square, with two notably strange fountains on either side. Visitors can relax in the sun and lounge as locals wind through the square on a busy afternoon, or duck into the Santissima Annunziata church, which was built in the 15th century and gave the square its name. Ospedale deli Innocenti—the oldest orphanage on the continent—also flanks the square and offers travelers a unique opportunity to explore the city’s past. Ceramic glazed reliefs of swaddled newborns line the façade and visitors can check out the circular stone where women could leave their unwanted newborns without fear of repercussion.

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Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

Leonardo Da Vinci Museum

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Via Fillungo

Via Fillungo

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Bardini Gardens (Giardino Bardini)

Bardini Gardens (Giardino Bardini)

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