Clinging to Italy’s north-western coast and sprawling inwards in the form of dramatic green hills lined with vineyards and olive groves, Tuscany is a slice of traditional old-world Italy. Although a totally different part of Italy, its pastoral vistas are much like where Michael Corleone went into hiding in the middle of the Godfather. You can imagine sitting down for lunch with a huge family on outdoor tables beside a rustic crumbling edifice, cypresses and groves making up a scenic background. Anyway, stop imagining that; you’re actually here now. Go and taste truffles, make a pilgrimage to a religious gem and clamber up the mountains in this rustic and tranquil region. Mix the views of sweeping landscapes with a dip into the rich tradition of art and history in the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. You’ll feel renaissanced (or at least reborn, if we're going to use real words) after this serene and enlightening trip, because here at Plum Guide, we've done all the hard work to ensure that this itinerary consists of only the very top Tuscan activities. So without further stalling, here is our list of the best things to do in Tuscany.
Indulge in local cuisine
Bowl with vegan Italian panzanella salad, a favourite in Tuscany
It’s no secret that Italians know what they’re doing when it comes to food. While Italian cuisine is celebrated worldwide, things get really exciting when you get into regional cuisine. As a largely farming region, many Tuscan dishes are inspired by traditional ‘peasant dishes’ with simple and rustic flavours. Some dishes you shouldn’t miss include panzanella (bread salad with tomatoes, onion, basil, olive oil and vinegar), crostini toscani (chicken liver pate on a thin slice of toast) and pappardelle al cinghiale (pappardelle pasta paired with a wild boar ragu). And that’s before the desserts—end on a sweet note with bomboloni (doughnuts stuffed with custard cream), castagnaccio (chestnut flour cake) and ricciarelli (soft almond biscuits from Siena).
Pisa is more than the lean of its tower, but it is a cool sight to behold, and you can’t exactly visit the city without seeing it. So check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and pretend to be holding it up for your totally unique photo like everyone else. Then, see the rest of the impressive buildings in the Campo dei Miracoli complex. Visit the Pisa Cathedral for its Romanesque architecture, and see the adjacent Camposanto, an old cemetery filled with magnificent paintings and tombs on the Piazza del Duomo. Head out for some Italian pizza in the old town centre, and feel the history surrounding you.
Live out your fantasies at a castle
Vineyard with view of Castello di Brolio, Tuscany
Speaking of castles, play king or queen for the day at one of Tuscany’s many magical castles and fortresses. Dotted around the landscape, you’ll find some of them dating as far back as the Middle Ages and Renaissance era. Some castles have been transformed into museums and cultural centres which you can visit and learn more about the area's history. One of our favourites is Castello di Brolio which dates back to the 11th century. Roam around the castle grounds, take in the views and pop into the winery next door for a tasting. Other must-visit castles include Castello di Verrazzano, Castello di Vincigliata and Castello di Vicchiomaggio.
Clamber up the coastal mountains
Tuscany may be better known for its rustic interior, but the mountains by the coast make for dramatic and unforgettable views. Monti dell'Uccellina is made up of mossy mountains, marshes and coastal plains. Rummage through the forests and stop for picnics in this nature haven, far from the sightseers of the cities. Enjoy the utter serenity, as you share this eclectic realm with red foxes, deer and turtles. Bring your binoculars to catch a feast for the eyes in the form of an impressively wide range of birds.
Admire famous art in Florence
Skyline view over Florence, with rooftops and the Duomo, Italy
It’s simply one of the most eye-catching cities in Europe. And for art lovers, it’s even better. Known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, the city of Florence is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Essentially an open-air museum, the city is full of galleries, palaces and churches, housing some of the finest art treasures in the world from names like Michelangelo and da Vinci. Study the works in the Uffizi, which has the greatest collection of Italian Renaissance art in the world. In case you’re pretending to know about art to impress your fellow holidaymakers, know that The Birth of Venus is considered Botticelli’s best work. Then, see the Santa Maria del Fiore Cathedral, say hello to Michelangelo's David in the Galleria dell’Accademia, and enjoy the vistas from the Piazzale Michelangelo viewpoint.
Head to the vineyards and try the wine
Next up on our list of things to do in Tuscany is the one you were waiting for. Tuscany is renowned for its vineyards and wineries. It boasts some of the world’s most acclaimed reds and whites, and you can get your hands on those bottles now. Since there are around 100 wineries in Tuscany, oenophiles can happily plan their entire holiday around wine-tasting experiences—each sitting paired with delicious local specialities. Most of the wineries are found in the main wine-producing areas of Chianti, Southern Tuscany and the coastal area, with some of the most noteworthy institutions including Azienda Agricola Malenchini, Azienda Agricola Villanoviana and Camigliano Castle (when else do you get to drink wine in a 13th-century castle?). With all these heady experiences, you’ll have more than a few memories to drunkenly forget.
Set sail to Elba
Turquoise water and shoreline of Elba island, Tuscany
With such dream-like interiors, it’s easy to forget that Tuscany is home to around 230 kilometres of coastline. Elba is the largest of the islands off the coast of Tuscany and is the perfect place for a little seaside holiday. Spend long, lazy days consuming your weight in seafood and lounging on one of its picturesque beaches, or get a taste of the island’s excellent snorkelling and scuba diving. Elba is steeped in history, with plenty of attractions such as the Fortress of Volterraio and Villa San Martino, where Napoleon lived. There’s also the opportunity to get active and hike the Cappane Mount, the highest point on the island (psst, there’s also a cable car that takes you to the top).
Browse through the local markets
Market stall selling fruit and vegetables, Tuscany
The buzz of activity, traders announcing their wares, and the scent of freshly cooked food wafting in the air… markets are fascinating places and a must-visit when exploring a new country. Tuscany has a great range of markets where you can find anything from antiques and handicrafts to Italian leather jackets, cheese, and salami (you may want to purchase an extra suitcase). Each Tuscan city and town has their own market, usually on different days, so you could spend each day of the week market hopping if you'd like to. However, remember that early birds catch the worm, and most of these markets start early in the morning before closing around lunchtime to avoid the Tuscan sun.
Hunt for truffles
Countryside and hills with view of village church at San Miniato, Tuscany
If you’re looking for unique things to do in Tuscany, what could be better than teaming up with a four-legged friend and setting off on a quest into the forest? Join a truffle hunter and his dog, and learn how to search for these luxurious and expensive fungi using their techniques and secrets. Then, end your hard work with a delicious truffle meal using the treasures you found. Some of the areas of Tuscany most known for truffles include the town of San Miniato overlooking the Arno Valley and San Giovanni d’Asso with its small Truffle Museum.
Live it up at the Viareggio Carnival
Crowds watching the floats pass at the Viareggio Carnival, Tuscany
If you love an excuse to party, then make sure to visit the Viareggio Carnival, one of the most famous carnivals in Italy. For an entire month each spring, the streets of the seaside city of Viareggio are flooded with costumed dancers, spectacular floats, marching bands, confetti and streamers, livening up the city in a kaleidoscope of colours. It’s fun for the whole family, and you can join in the festivities with face paint, masks and wigs, all for sale in the area. There’s even a Carnivale Museum where you can learn about the history of the carnival, which dates back to the 19th century, and maybe even see some of the floats being made.
Marvel at the Duomo di Siena
View of the Duomo di Siena over the rooftops, Tuscany
Siena’s magnificent cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, is amongst Italy’s finest churches. Its facade is decorated with sculptures, Venetian mosaics and one of Italy’s oldest stained-glass windows. The interior is equally breathtaking, with bands of black and white marble, a ceiling of gold stars and a floor paved with marble mosaic panels of scenes from the Bible. While it’s sadly not a Plum Guide home, you can still book a tour to see highlights of the building, including the exquisitely carved marble pulpit and the 15th-century musical manuscripts.
Visit Lucca’s historic centre
The beautiful city of Lucca is the ideal place to spend the day. Home to some of Europe’s finest Romanesque buildings, the city enchants anyone who visits. It’s an easy city to explore, and the best way to see it is from the ancient walls that circle the city. Take a walk or cycle around the four kilometres of wall before wandering the city streets and dipping into the shops and market stalls. A must-do while in Lucca is climbing the tree-topped Guinigi Tower for spectacular views across the city. Once you’re tired out from climbing up and down the 233 steps, head to one of the cafes that spill out onto the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro for an aperitivo and a spot of people-watching.
Rest in the spa after your long days
After all that, you must be feeling tired, and holidays are supposed to be refreshing and relaxing. Don’t worry, we’ve got the perfect end to your Tuscan voyage. Finishing up with a spa trip is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in Tuscany. Hit up the exclusive spas, such as the Calidario Terma Etrusche in Livorno, or the Terme Sensoriali in Siena. In Bagno Vignoni, you’ll even find hot sulphuric water lying there for free public use.