Day Trips Outside Florence

Siena's main Piazza, the Campo

I noticed this article about Florence on the Huffington Post the other day that lists 8 great day trips outside Florence. They are absolutely right that the city can sometimes be a bit overwhelming and crowded and that, luckily, it is easily accessible to many other amazing cities that will feel significantly less crowded and just as picturesque (if not more so). The winners according to the Huffington are:

1. Siena. Couldn’t agree more. A wonderful city with some amazing vistas and killer food, not to mention the most gorgeous Duomo around.

2. Pisa. Worth a visit if you have the time. I wouldn’t put it my top ten though. It took me about two years before I made the trip and I picked a decidedly non-touristy time, but I did really enjoy it. I wouldn’t say it is less crowded than Florence, but it is a smaller city and more manageable to meander around and explore.

3. Viareggio. These local beaches, easy accessible from Florence via train, are really a wonderful place to go if you happen to be in the area during the summer months. You will have to pay to use the beach, but that also grants you a nice beach chair and an umbrella. Make sure and get a granita (frothy ice drink) at one of the bars on the boardwalk.

The view of Val d'Orcia from Pienza

4. Val d’Orcia (Pienza). Pienza, the city at the center of the area known as Val d’Orcia, is a great place to visit if you are like “off the beaten path” traveling. The city itself was planned according to Renaissance concepts of the ideal city and paid for by a wealthy Pope (Pius II…hence its name). It is much smaller than Siena and Pisa but ridiculously quaint. And the countryside around it will blow you away. It really does look just the way it does in the movies.

5. Chianciano Terme. Admittedly, I have never been here but it sounds lovely.

6. San Gimignano. (The author spelled it Gimignao). This is a lovely city near Siena that has some amazing Medieval towers (only 5 or so remain of what may have been as many as 70 towers), some wonderful churches and fresco cycles, some great local wine, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of tourists. It is a tour bus favorite and most of the stores and local businesses cater to it. While I still think it is fun to visit and very picturesque, it feels a little like Italy meets Disneyland.

7. They repeated Siena again. I mean, it is really awesome.

8. Modena. According to the post, it is the best food in Italy. I would go slow on that, but it is the home of the most respectable balsamic vinegar you can buy anywhere. Being so close to Parma and its amazing prosciutto, I would not be surprised if it did very well for itself food-wise, but “best food” is a hard label to win in a country like Italy.

The Neptune fountain in Bologna

Not a bad list. Here are a few of my own:
1. Bologna! Totally accessible for a day trip and I used to go just to eat lunch! This place is a definite contender for “best food,” if you ask me. It also has some amazing art, buildings, medieval towers (climb if you can handle the heights), and wonderful local markets. It is also big enough that you cannot get bored. You may even want to stay on for a second day.

2. Prato. Many people in Prato commute to Florence for work on a daily basis because they are so close. It is wonderfully walkable with some very cute winding street and some very hip stores. It boasts, as most Italian cities do, some gorgeous churches, art, and food. It is also home to a flourishing China Town. If you are getting a little sick of Italian you can always make a quick trip for some very authentic Chinese cuisine.

3. Lucca. Grab a bus to this adorable adorable little town. It is just endlessly quaint. It still has its medieval walls, which encircle the predominantly medieval city. You can rent bikes and ride around the walls or through the city. It is small but you will enjoy window shopping and meandering streets.

4. Arezzo. If you can, GO. The main site is really the church (dedicated to Saint Francis), which it is practically the size of a city. You could spend hours in there. Once your done, climb the city’s winding street to the top where the Rocca (basically a castle) is situated. Great views to be had and of course, great food.

Giambologna's Appennino at Pratolino

5. Ravenna. Due to its proximity on a map, this city should be a day trip, but getting there is not so easy. The trains do not go direct and the buses can sometimes have odd schedules. If you can figure it out though, it is so worth the visit. Whereas many of the other cities are either predominantly medieval or Renaissance, Ravenna is packed full of Roman art. It was the capital of the Roman Empire from 402 – 476 and many of its famous mosaics date from this time. Though much of these amazing works are likely restored versions, just try and keep that in the back of your mind and enjoy the glistening glory.

Now these are all day trips that involve a decent train or bus ride out of Florence and, depending on the type of train or bus needed, can cost a fair amount. There are some wonderful trips, however, that involve just a short ride on a local Florentine bus and won’t cost you more than 3 euro.

1. Pratolino. This is a little park on the last stop of the 25A bus. It is free and perfect for picnicking or just getting out of the city. However, instead of dropping about 60 euro for the eurostar to Bologna, this pace will cost you a cool 2.40 on the bus. The best thing this place has, besides sprawling lawns, is a MASSIVE sculpture known as the Appennino (the little Apennine mountain) by the artist Giambologna. Made to appear as if it is a large man made of rocks, there are actually stairs that give access to the inside of the figure’s head (yes, it is that big). I don’t know why this thing is not more popular. Check out the Florentine’s article on it here.

Poggio a Caino

2. Poggio a Caino . Another easy trip via local bus (ask your driver nicely to drop you at the Villa Medici). This house used to be one of the many Villas owned by the Medici around Florence. It is famous for being the place where the infamous Bianca Capello (a mistress to one of the grand dukes) died. While much of the interior paintings are from a bit later, the structure is still the original 15th c. design and the central court is still frescoed by some of the best artists of the 16th c., most notably Pontormo.

3. Certosa. The Certosa (said Cher-tosa) is this amazing (and huge!) monastery right outside Florence. Again, easily accessible by bus (just mention to the driver that that is where you are heading and ask to let you know where to get off), this building (really a set of buildings) is a wonderful hidden treasure. Not many people go so there is only one custodian who leads you around as you explore. The star of the show is the huge central cloister, the biggest I have ever seen, and some wonderful frescos by the talented artist Pontormo (can you tell he is one of my favorites?).

4. Fiesole. Fiesole is one of the very cute hillside communities around Florence. It is easily accessible by bus and takes you up into the hills for a view, some outdoor relaxing lunch, and site seeing. They have some nice old churches and a gorgeous museum that features some of the amazing Etruscan art found around that area. Sometimes I like to go for a coffee or a gelato just to escape the hustle and bustle in Florence. It is also a great walk if you’re up to it (don’t be surprised if Florentines look at you like you’re crazy.)

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