5 Daytrips From Florence
By: Cassandra Luca, Editor-in-Chief of Let's Go
Spring in Italy can be hot and crowded. Between spring-breaking college students aching for some much-needed sun and throngs of people led by fast-talking and fast-walking tour guides, the main cities-Rome, Florence, and Venice-can become overwhelming. For a change of pace, rent a car or take the train to one of these five Tuscan cities, just outside of Florence; each is charming enough to spend an entire day or more.
Located just 90-minutes outside Florence, Lucca is one of few remaining walled-cities in Italy. The stone and brick walls, designed to fortify the city in times of ward, is now a 5-kilometer long hotspot for avid runners and dog-walkers. Entirely pedestrian, the winding streets of Lucca are best navigated on foot. Enjoy exploring the charming city filled with shops for bibliophiles, fashion-conscious trendsetters, and Italian culture-lovers. Torre Guinigi provides tourists who don't have a fear of heights with some of the best views of the city and the mountainous landscape. The well-preserved Duomo di San Martino contains sculpture and gold filigree work from centuries ago. During your daytrip, don't forget to walk through Via Fillungo, a shopping mecca for those seeking quality leather goods and delicious matcha-flavored gelato.
While most stay in Piazza del Campo to people-watch and sip a cappuccino, Siena's real charm lies in the hilly streets on higher ground. Brave the cobblestone paths to find yourself at the Duomo di Siena, the city's black-and-white striped medieval church. Part of it remains unfinished (the town ran out of funding for it in an attempt to make the church Italy's largest). The streets can get hot, however, so taking refuge in a boutique or gelateria is highly advised. But, for the brave adventure-seekers, climb higher in search of more shade while passing by other beautifully aging cathedrals. Though the sun burns at the bottom of the piazza, the views of the surrounding countryside are not-to-miss.
Only an hour south of Florence, San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its 14 surviving towers, most of which can be seen from afar. Tourists have flocked to see the towers, which remain relatively intact, since the nineteenth-century to admire their beauty and structural integrity. A select few are off the main square and open to the public. The streets of San Gimignano are lined with tradesmen selling traditional Tuscan pottery and leather goods, as well as herbs and spices. Some restaurants offer cinghiale, a signature Tuscan pasta dish with ground wild boar meat. Pro-tip: take a walk on one of the streets closest to the wall to look out over the valley for the classic views of Tuscany you ventured out of Florence for.
Just as colorful as Cinque Terre but not nearly as crowded, Portofino is roughly 2.5 hours northwest of Florence. At first blush, the distance might seem off-putting, but the drive itself is part of the undeniable charm. Take the winding road along the coast (small cars recommended) to smell the ocean and pass through small towns that have retained their cute personalities despite growing tourism. While parking is difficult and requires tight turns in an underground garage, the trip up a steep path will take you to a cliff-top cafe with views of a cerulean ocean. Once you've had your fill of climbing and walking, travel back the way you came and take a detour from the main street to pop into one of many small boutiques.
Though famous for its white leaning tower, Pisa has much more to offer. The nearby Piazza del Duomo houses not only a cathedral, but also a baptistery, cemetery, hospital, and palaces. The city has more than 20 churches to visit, but don't miss Santa Maria della Spina, a small Gothic church constructed with white marble. History lives on at the Palazzo Reale, where Galileo Galilei presented his discovery of the solar system to Tuscany's nobility. Today, the palace is a museum open to all. For those interested in learning more about Galileo's work, the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti per il Calcolo showcases scientific instruments, while those interested in Renaissance art can find refuge at Museo Nazionale di San Matteo. Oh yeah, and climb the Leaning Tower.