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Things to Do in Tuscany - page 5

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Buontalenti Grotto (Grotta del Buontalenti)
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Built in the 16th century in Florence’s Boboli Gardens, Buontalenti Grotto is the largest grotto in the city. Named after the architect who oversaw its construction in the late 16th century, it was commissioned by Grand Duke of Tuscany and has since featured Dan Brown’s bestselling novel.

A curious-looking place indeed, on both the outside and inside the grotto’s covered in man-made stalagmites and mythical mosaic creatures including sea goats. Buontalenti Grotto is divided into three rooms with the first, and biggest, styled in the most natural way as a cave full of stalactites and stalagmites. There are also a few anthropomorphic creatures created out of stones and shells thrown in there for good measure. The next room is similarly decorated to the first, and includes frescoes depicting Minerva and Giunone. The third room is also known for its impressive frescoes, but here you’ll also see a green marble fountain and a ceiling painted to resemble a sky full of birds.

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Monteriggioni
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The perfectly preserved village of Monteriggioni is almost a Tuscan cliché –it’s medieval, it’s walled and it stands on a hill coated by olive groves and vines. The fortified village was constructed in 1213 and formed the northernmost bastion of the Republic of Siena’s territory, often finding itself in the front line in the battle for power between Siena and its arch rival, the city of Florence. Its early 13th-century walls incorporate 14 towers and are all but intact; they are a joy to walk around and neatly enclose a couple of little cobbled piazzas, a delightful collection of higgledy-piggledy churches and Renaissance townhouses. Originally Monteriggioni served as a garrison for Siena’s soldiers and the main Piazza Roma was the vegetable garden that kept them fed in times of siege; today there is a scattering of bars, restaurants and souvenir stores to keep 21st-century invaders happy.

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San Lorenzo Market (Mercato di San Lorenzo)
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When you hear people talk about shopping in the San Lorenzo Market, there are actually two markets they may be referring to. One is the popular-with-tourists outdoor market full of leather goods as well as Tuscan and Florentine souvenirs. The other is right next to the street market, but it's indoors with food vendors selling everything from meat and fish to vegetables and bread. Both are worth visiting. The indoor San Lorenzo Market - more commonly known as the Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo - has two floors of food stalls, and it's an excellent place to stroll through if you're wondering what ingredients are fresh and seasonal (and therefore what you should look for on menus) or picking up supplies for a picnic or the kitchen in your rented apartment. Some of the deliciousness can be brought home as souvenirs, too, although be sure you know your country's laws regarding bringing meats and cheeses back home before you spend the money on something that may get confiscated.

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Basilica of Santa Maria Novella (Basilica di Santa Maria Novella)
2 Tours and Activities

Travelers who want to experience iconic Italian religious architecture and art will find exactly what they're looking for at the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella. This striking green and white chapel, complete with quiet, picturesque cloisters, is home to incredible frescos, like Masacchio's Holy Trinity, that date back to the early 1400s. A painted crucifix painted by Giotto hangs above the church's nave and can be traced back to the 1200s.

Visitors can admire the stunning altar and wander the peaceful chapels, all of which are decorated with colorful homages to religious icons such as the Virgin Mary and St John the Evangelist; the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is as much as church as it is a museum dedicated to the holy works of some of Italy's most famous artists.

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Carrara Marble Quarry
11 Tours and Activities

Famous for its white and blue-grey marble, the Carrara Marble Quarry has contributed to iconic structures such as the Pantheon and Trajan's Column in Rome, as well as a variety of Renaissance sculptures including Michelangelo's David. Sitting on the Carrione River, the quarry is about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from Florence and was named for the nearby city of Carrara in Italy's Tuscany region. More than 600 other mine sites sit in the Alpuan Alps above the city, about half of which are either abandoned or emptied of marble, given that they have produced more marble than any other place in the world. A 4x4 jeep tour can take travelers up to the highest mines in the quarry, with the first stop being in Colonnata, an ancient village at 1,700 feet (532 meters) that is home to some of the most impressive marble quarries and magnificent views of the surrounding area.

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More Things to Do in Tuscany

Brolio Castle (Castello di Brolio)

Brolio Castle (Castello di Brolio)

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Right in the heart of Chianti wine country, Gaiole in Chianti is a sleepy village these days but as it was an important town in the Middle Ages, it is surrounded by great defence castles including Vertine, Barbischio and Meleto. The most impressive of them all is Castello di Brolio, which commands the surrounding countryside from its perch nearly 1,804 ft (550 m) above swathes of olive groves and vineyards. Unbelievably it has been owned by the Ricasoli family since the 12th century and has long been associated with wine making.

The castle gained its present appearance in the mid 19th century, when it was remodeled into Gothic style with turrets and towers of pink stone by Barone Bettino Ricasoli, the man responsible for introducing Chianti wine to the world. One of the foremost attractions on Chianti wine estates itineraries, today the castle, its private chapel and the family treasures in the Ricasoli Museum can be explored by guided tour.

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Livorno Cruise Port (Livorno Terminal Crociere)

Livorno Cruise Port (Livorno Terminal Crociere)

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Livorno is the ugly sister of the beautiful Tuscan city of Florence. Many tour itineraries will actually list Florence as the port of call because Livorno itself is a busy, modern container terminal with little to recommend it aside from its location. Within relatively easy reach of Livorno are Florence, the jewel of Renaissance Italy; Pisa, home of the famous Leaning Tower; Lucca, a smaller medieval walled city; the elite beach resort of Forte dei Marmi; and some fabulous discount shopping including the revered Prada Outlet not far from Florence. Visiting Florence is definitely a lifetime experience. The city is jam-packed with history, architectural and art treasures. And once you are there, you can walk the historic center easily, covering many of the highlights in a few hours. Make sure you eat gelati on the Ponte Vecchio crossing the Arno River, and visit either the Uffizi or Accademia Galleries to see the best of Renaissance art, especially Michelangelo.

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Barberino Designer Outlet

Barberino Designer Outlet

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Italy is known for a number of expensive and high quality designers. As a result, shopping is a popular activity with locals and tourists alike. Just 30 minutes from Florence, you can go shopping at the Barberino Designer Outlet and find designer clothing for up to 70% off the regular prices. There are more than 100 boutiques located here selling Italian and international brands including the big fashion names like Dolce & Gabana, Prada, and Polo Ralph Lauren. You can also find brands like Guess, Tommy Hilfiger, and Calvin Klein. For more sporty purchases, you can shop at Puma, Adidas, Nike, and more.

Aside from clothing, you can also shop for home goods and accessories. When you get hungry after all that shopping, take a break at one of the restaurants where you can find coffee, Tuscan cuisine, and desserts. If you're a non-EU citizen, ask for a tax refund form at the shops, which can be redeemed at the airport on your way home.

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Prada Outlet

Prada Outlet

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For high-fashion shopping on the cheap, head to the Prada Outlets (called Lo Spaccio, or Space) just outside Florence.

Along with cut-price Prada clothing, cosmetics, shoes, and bags, you'll also find accessories and outfits by Miu Miu and Jil Sander.

While you're here, also drop into The Mall for discount gear from just about every designer imaginable. Get ready to try on everything from Armani jeans and Gucci shoes to Pucci scarves, Fendi bags, Burberry coats, and La Perla lingerie.

Choose carefully and you could pay up to 50% less for top designer fashion that will have your friends green with envy.

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Giglio Island (Isola del Giglio)

Giglio Island (Isola del Giglio)

3 Tours and Activities

Located at the southern end of the Tuscan Islands archipelago, Isola del Giglio (Giglio Island) has long attracted visitors — mainly Romans — to its beaches, coves and hiking trails. The 9-square-mile (24-square-kilometer) granite island, the second largest in the archipelago, boasts only three towns. Ferries coming from the mainland arrive at Giglio Porto, while the walled village of Giglio Castello sits at the island’s highest point. On the far western end of the island, Giglio Campese is the most modern of the three.

Much of Giglio Island’s appeal comes from its rusticity and sense of isolation. A dozen hiking trails wind through the island’s sun-drenched hills, where you’re as likely to see goats munching on the parched greenery as other tourists. Along the coastline lie several inlets and small beaches, many only reachable by boat or on foot. Just off the southwestern coast of the island, Tuscan Islands National Park protects some beautiful dive sites.

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Santa Margherita Basilica (Basilica di Santa Margherita)

Santa Margherita Basilica (Basilica di Santa Margherita)

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Saint Margaret – Margherita in Italian – was a 13th century Franciscan penitent who died in Cortona, where they erected a church dedicated to her. The church was completed only seven years after Santa Margherita died.

The Basilica di Santa Margherita, also known as the Sanctuary of Santa Margherita, was rebuilt in the 19th century after having undergone some serious modifications in the 18th century. The church we see today bears no resemblance to the original 14th century structure, though some features on the interior were preserved.

The remains of Saint Margaret herself are kept in the basilica, as they have been since it was first built. She lies in a chapel in the left transept, and a wooden cross to which she prayed during her lift is in the altar at the back of the nave.

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Leonardo da Vinci Museum (Museo Leonardiano di Vinci)

Leonardo da Vinci Museum (Museo Leonardiano di Vinci)

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Dedicated to one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance, the Leonardo Museum is found in Vinci, a delightful hilltop town about 40 minutes west of Florence. It is made up of several attractions that take in a route around Vinci, including his birthplace (Casa Natale di Leonardo) and museums at Palazzina Uzielli and the imposing medieval Castello Conti Guido. Dedicated to showcasing the genius of the original Renaissance Man, the museum first opened in the castle in 1953 and since then it has been extended several times to incorporate new displays. Exhibitions in both venues feature scale models of Leonardo’s designs for weaponry, clocks and flying machines as well as his architectural designs, engineering feats and work on mathematical theories.

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Hard Rock Cafe Florence

Hard Rock Cafe Florence

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A rock music temple if there ever was one, the Hard Rock brand doesn’t require an introduction; not with 170 establishments worldwide! Both a restaurant, a bar and a museum, this peculiar Florence attraction draws in rock music aficionados thanks to an impressive collection of authentic memorabilia and mouth-watering American-themed menu (something seldom found in all of Italy). Loud rock music, a relaxed atmosphere, original cocktails and humongous quantities of food await at Florence’s most American institution.

Golden records, guitars, costumes and other iconic memorabilia can be found at the restaurant’s two-floor museum. The brand’s most loyal fans will certainly want to stop at the restaurant’s gift shop, where they will be able to extend their pin collection—a popular tradition for Hard Rock fans is to get a guitar-shaped pin every time they visit a new location—with one from Florence.

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Castle of Meleto (Castello di Meleto)

Castle of Meleto (Castello di Meleto)

1 Tour and Activity

Located at the heart of Tuscan wine country, Gaiole in Chianti is a tranquil Tuscan village these days but in medieval times it had great strategic importance, a fact borne out by the string of defence castles nearby, including Brolio, Vertine and Barbischio. The turreted, stone-built Castle of Meleto was first mentioned in 1256, when it was the property of the powerful Florentine Ricasoli family, and it has long been associated with wine making. One of the leading attractions on tours of the Chianti wineries, the interior of the Castle of Meleto can be toured three times a day, with attractions including fabulously frescoed rooms, an 18th-century theater and the old wine cellars. Its vineyards are open for tours and the vinoteca for tasting sessions of award-wining red Chianti Classico as well as a sparkling rosé. Other gourmet specialties produced on the estate are also for sale, include grappas, olive oils and prosciutto from the castle’s rare Cinta Senese pigs.

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Forte dei Marmi

Forte dei Marmi

Sitting seaside off the coast of Tuscany, the village of Forte dei Marmi has been a popular coastal holiday spot for hundreds of years. Tourism began here in the 18th century when wealthy families would travel from inland Tuscany for the cooler air of the beach here. Some built villas by the sea that still remain today. Translated the name means ‘fort of marbles,’ after the large fort built to protect from coastal attacks, which rises up above the middle of town.

There are wide expanses of sandy beach alongside forests of pinewood and the Apuane Alps. Though the number of visitors triples in the summer season, Forte dei Marmi is thought to be a well-kept secret and maintains its peaceful, tranquil air year-round. There is a wide waterfront promenade that is great for walking or biking by the sea. It remains a holiday destination for many wealthy Italians.

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