While birds, blue skies and longer days are the typical indications of spring, Meg and I find the first signs of the season in our inboxes. Friends, family, distance acquaintances and even some of you come to us for tips as they plan their summer trips to Italy. One of the most common questions that we receive is, “What is your favorite day trip from Florence?” Florence’s central position in Italy makes it nearly impossible to not be tempted by the sights and cities only a short train ride away. And although we hate to see time stolen from our favorite Italian city, we certainly understand the lure.
So what is the conclusive FFF list of day trip recommendations? Unfortunately, the answer is that you will never be able to make us choose definitively between Pisa and Padua, Siena and San Gimignano, or Venice and Verona. Due to our indecisive, all-inclusive love for Italy, today we are simply exploring five of our favorite day trips that we took together. There are certainly day trips for all types, and we hope that this list helps you begin your search at finding the gita that’s just right for you.
Cinque Terre: For the “Outdoorsy” Type
Consisting of five fishing villages carved into the cliffs along the Tyrrhenian Sea, the Cinque Terre is storybook-beautiful. The only thing brighter than the pinks, yellows, purples and greens of the homes clinging to the cliffs is the electric blue water below. We consider the Cinque Terre the “outdoorsy” adventure, as hiking between the towns is the most popular way to explore the coastline. While a few paths are paved and easy, others may get to those glutes, guiding you up extremely steep and narrow paths. Before you arrive in the Cinque Terre, study the trails and decide which towns you will traverse to on foot, and which may be better to opt for the 2-minute train ride. And don’t forget your swim suit! Nothing in the world is more rewarding after a rigorous hike than a swim in the sea.
Directions: Take a morning train from Florence to La Spezia (typically connecting through Pisa). When you arrive in La Spezia, find the Cinque Terre office and purchase a day pass for the park. With around 10 euro you can freely ride the train between La Spezia and the 5 villages, as well as gain access to the paths. Total transport time from Florence to La Spezia takes about 2.5 hours.
Lucca: For the Dreamy Hipsters
The lure of Lucca is its bike culture. Rather than perching high on a hill, this Tuscan town sits between them. Due to intruders’ easy-access, the town was fortified with dominant, Medici-made walls in the 16th century. With the imminent threat of invaders gone, the walls now serve as delightful bike paths and offer lovely lawns for picnic pit stops. No bike? No worries! Bike rental shops can be found at every entrance to the city and rates run from about 2 to 5 euro for the day. After you’ve had your fill of posing for the perfect vintage-filtered instagrams (you’re biking in Tuscany, how could you not ‘gram it?), return the bike and discover the center. The San Martino cathedral is one of my favorites in Tuscany.
Directions: The train from Florence to Lucca is easy and direct. When you arrive at the station, head straight out the front, cross a busy street and head toward the large walls to enter the center and old town.
Montepulciano: For the Romantic (or the Twi-Hard)
Montepulciano is every romantic fantasy you’ve ever had about Tuscany. Perched high on a hill, Montepulciano features steep, narrow streets, misty views over rolling vineyards and cobblestone everything. If you are a divorcee looking to rediscover the meaning of life and ready to pull an Under the Tuscan Sun, this is where you go to do it. My favorite part of this hill town is the church that sits just at its base–San Biago. Designed by Florentine Antonia da Sangallo, the freestanding, austere, symmetrical and very Roman-inspired church is a masterpiece that looks particularly dashing in the mist of dawn. Montepulciano is the home to pici pasta, Vino Nobile and, oh yes, Twilight. Don’t be surprised to see paraphernalia commemorating New Moon, the Twilight movie starring Montepulciano as Volterra…don’t ask. But do be on the lookout for vamps and Twi-hards.
Directions: Getting to Montepulciano involves a couple more steps and a bit more prior planning than our other destinations. However, we absolutely believe this gem is worth the effort. There are a couple of ways to get to Montepulciano. Do note that bus schedules are infrequent coming and going from the hill town, so make sure you know where you need to be and when you need to be there for a smooth trip (although getting stranded here doesn’t sound terrible). Getting to Montepulciano, you will probably want to take a train to Chiusi and then buy a SITA bus ticket from Chiusi to Montepulciano. Total travel time is about 3-4 hours depending on your layover time in Chiusi. Another option is to take a bus to Siena, where you will change busses and take another onto Montepulciano. For more details on transportation click here. No matter your preferred method of transportation, just make sure not to fall prey to purchasing a train ticket from Florence to the train stop “Montepulciano.” Meg and I may or may not have found out the hard way, after getting dropped off at a boarded-up train station, that this was not actually Montepulciano.
Arezzo: For the Old Soul
Arezzo is steeped in culture, history, art and antiques! Over the centuries, Arezzo has transitioned from an important Etruscan settlement to a booming Roman metropolis. It kept up with the Joneses (a.k.a. the Florentines) during the Renaissance, rearing such artists as Piero della Francesca and Giorgio Vasari. In the 20th century, Arezzo witnessed the worst of World War II, making the city the obvious choice for the setting of Roberto Benigni’s Life is Beautiful. For the nostalgic soul longing for connections with the art and culture of the past, Arezzo is the place for you. To bring you even closer to the treasures and trinkets of yesterday, antiques take over the town the first Sunday of each month for the most impressive antiques market you have ever seen.
Directions: Arezzo is an easy hour to hour and a half train ride from Florence. Frequent departures between the cities make this destination an easy day trip from Florence.
Parma: For the Food Lover
…and by food lover I don’t mean the “foodie” looking to try eclectic and new things. I mean our kindred spirits who are game for eating past the point of comfort at any given moment. The region of Emilia-Romagna is the heart of food production in Italy, and Parma is at the heart of Emilia-Romana. The stars of Parma’s gastronomic heritage are, of course, Prosciutto di Parma and Parmigiano Reggiano. No matter what meal you indulge in in Parma, these two items are sure to find their way onto your plate. Aside from tantalizing the tastebuds, Parma is also not bad on the eyes. In fact, one of our favorite Mannerist masters, Parmigianino, decorated the churches and palazzi of Parma with the elegant and bizarre twisting figures with elongated limbs that he was known for. Finally, as home to one of the oldest universities in the world, Parma maintains a vibrant life despite its ancient roots.
Directions: The train ride between Parma and Florence is direct and relatively easy! The commute takes about two hours, and we would recommend being in Parma for as many meals as possible. Plan accordingly!
So there you have it, Hannah and Meg’s inconclusive list of favorite day trips from Florence. Sorry, you just can’t make these Italophiles choose! We hope we set you on the right path for planning your perfect day trip from Florence. Still unsure about a destination? Ask us your questions in the comments, or leave a tip or two about your favorite gita from Firenze. Happy traveling!