Getting Around Tuscany

Tuscany is perhaps the most famous region of Italy—its Renaissance cities, rolling fields of grapevines and sunflowers, and picturesque hilltop cities are engrained in the psyche of many a traveler.

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It's the third-largest region of mainland Italy, and that means that getting around Tuscany requires a gameplan. Taking trains or renting a car are the most practical ways to see the region, but you can also travel by bus, ferry, bike, or on foot.

Tuscany by Train

Train travel within Tuscany is useful for transitting between the region's larger cities and towns. Trains ply the main rail lines between Rome in the south and Bologna in the north—many continue to Venice or Milan. Trenitalia's high-speed, or Frecce trains, stop only in Florence, from which point you can take regional trains to Pisa, Lucca, Siena, and other secondary Tuscan cities. Italo high-speed trains also connect Rome to Florence and points north. Slower, cheaper regionale or intercity Trenitalia trains may stop at Chiusi, Cortona, Arezzo, and other mid-sized towns in addition to Florence. 

Intercity (IC) trains and a few frecce trains also travel along the coastal route, connecting the Tuscan cities of Massa, Viareggio, Pisa, Livorno, and Grosseto.

Train travel in Italy is generally affordable and efficient. The biggest downside of seeing Tuscany by train is that many small towns don't have train stations, or their stations are located a kilometer or more outside of town. Even in Siena, one of the region's larger tourist towns, the train station is 2 kilometers outside the city center, and you have to walk or take a taxi or bus into town. The Montepulciano train station is just over 8 km from the famous hilltop town, so a secondary form of transportation is required. 

Smaller destinations like Volterra, Pienza, and San Gimignano are similarly impractical or impossible to reach by train.

Pros and Cons of Seeing Tuscany by Train

Pros:

  • An efficient way to reach Florence and other larger cities
  • No stress of driving or navigating Italian highways and secondary roads
  • Reasonably priced, especially Intercity and Regionale trains

Cons:

  • Many smaller towns, especially hilltowns, do not have nearby train stations
  • No flexibility to explore the Tuscany countryside and make unscheduled stops
  • A delayed or canceled train can throw off a travel schedule

Seeing Tuscany by train is a great option if you want to stick to larger cities and towns, but if your objectives when visiting Tuscany include winery tours and tastings, exploring tiny hilltowns, and stopping to photograph those famous fields of sunflowers, then you're better off renting a car.

Tuscany by Car

For a leisurely tour of Tuscany where you set your own pace, pull off the side of the road to take photos, and stop for impromptu lunches or wine tastings, a rental car is your best option. Many travelers pick up rental cars when they land at Rome's Fiumicino Airport and head straight to Tuscany. Others take the train to Florence, visit the city for several days, then pick up a rental car for their tour of the Tuscany countryside and smaller towns.

While you can conceivably stick to secondary roads, getting out of Rome or Florence will likely require that you drive at least part of the way on Italy's autostrade, or toll highways. If you're confident driving on interstate highways in the US, you won't find much difference driving on Italy's equivalent, other than the toll booths when you enter and exit. If you're a nervous driver, it may be best to stick to secondary roads or take trains. Also, keep in mind that most rental cars in Italy have manual transmissions—those with automatic transmissions are more expensive to rent, and there are generally fewer available cars.

With some exceptions, such as the coastal highway and the highways connecting Florence to Siena, Pisa, Livorno, and Lucca, the secondary roads of Tuscany are mostly two-lane country roads, most of which pass through the region's famous rural landscapes and climb—sometimes with sharp switchback turns—up to hill towns. If you're comfortable driving on country roads—which might mean getting stuck behind the occasional tractor, navigating narrow streets in old historic town centers, and occasionally getting lost, then driving through Tuscany is a great way to explore the region.

Pros and Cons of Seeing Tuscany by Car

Pros:

  • Flexibility to make impromptu stops to take photos, have lunch or visit wineries
  • Create your own itinerary that includes stops or overnights in small towns or country inns not reachable by train
  • No rushing to catch trains or waiting on delayed ones

Cons:

  • Some find it stressful to drive in Italy, especially on autostrade or in cramped historical centers with narrow roads
  • Parking in small towns is often scarce or difficult to find; some town centers are closed to traffic
  • Roads are not often well-marked and it's easy to get lost or take an unintended detour

Tuscany by Bus

Public buses in Tuscany connect cities to smaller towns and rural areas. In combination with trains, buses are a reliable means of touring the region. In cities and towns served by trains, the bus station is usually at or adjacent to the train station, making transfers reasonably simple. The biggest complaint about regional bus services is the frequency with which schedules can change, and the difficulty finding current, reliable bus schedules. SITABUS is an umbrella company under which several regional bus companies operate, and its website is fairly reliable and is available in English. TuscanyBus is a private company offering service between Livorno, Pisa, Lucca, Florence, and La Spezia.

With bus travel through Tuscany, you have the chance to see more of the countryside from the bus window and reach smaller towns you can't reach by train. Buses are comfortable and modern and in some cases, nicer than regional trains. But be aware that bus travel can be slow compared to traveling by car since the buses make more frequent stops and detours to small towns.

Tuscany by Ferry

If you plan to visit the Tuscany islands of Elba or Giglio, you'll reach them by ferry. Ferries to Elba depart several times a day from Piombino. The trips take 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the arrival port at Elba. Torremar and Moby both serve the Elba ports of Portoferraio, Rio Marina, and Cavo. Most of their ferries allow cars, and a rental car is handy on Elba.

Toremar and Maregiglio ferries to Giglio depart Porto Santo Stefano on the mainland. The trip takes about an hour, and ferries run much more frequently in the summer months. A car is not necessary on Giglio, and during high season, non-residents are not allowed to bring cars onto the island.

Tuscany by Bike or Foot

Hiking or biking through Tuscany is, for many travelers, a bucket-list experience. Intrepid travelers can plan their own itineraries on two wheels or two feet and hike or pedal along backroads, biking/hiking trails, and up steep hills to scenic towns and overlooks. If you prefer to let someone else do the trip planning, maintain the bikes, haul luggage and plan meals and overnights, dozens of companies offer hiking and biking tours in Tuscany. Some of our favorites for guided biking tours include Ciclismo Classico, Anima Toscana, and CicloPosse. For multi-day walking tours in Tuscany, including along the Via Francigena, or Way of St. Francis, try Hike and Bike Italy or Camino Ways, both of which offer guided or self-guided hiking tours through the region.

Tuscany by Plane

You can reach Tuscany by plane by flying into Florence-Peretola or Pisa International airport. Beyond that, commercial air travel within the region is nonexistent since there are no flights between the two airports. The lone exception is Elba, with its tiny Marina di Campo Airport. The island is served by Silver Air, which flies 16-seater planes from Florence or Pisa to Elba several times a week.

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