11 Incredible Ways to Experience Tuscany (Florence)

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1. Experience Florence at sunrise (yes, really!)

I am not a morning person, but I promise you’ll have an entirely different travel experience if you wake up early to explore.  There is truly something magical about strolling through a sleepy Florence!

The energy of the city will be calm and peaceful, but you’ll still feel its magnificence and grandiose charm.

Florence starts to get noticeably busy around 8 am and it doesn’t take long for its streets to get swarmed by large tour groups, delivery trucks, and street vendors.


2. Take a cooking class in a castle that could’ve prevented the Renaissance (Hint: there’s a murder plot involved)

Wait, what?  Yes, it is true.  If you’re going to take a cooking class in Florence, do it in a place that could’ve prevented the Renaissance from ever happening.

This is the cooking class I took, and it was FANTASTIC.  This was one of my favorite experiences during our trip to Florence!  Not only did we get a full cooking class but we also got a private tour of the castle with a historian AND some wine tasting/pairing for our dinner.

Don’t drink?  They offer a variety of tours: cooking, olive oil tasting, history tour, etc.

We weren’t allowed to take photos of the “Conspiracy Room” where the murder of the Medici brothers was plotted (which probably would’ve prevented the Renaissance from ever happening because the Medicis were significant patrons of the arts,) but the good news is you’ll still be able to see it for yourself if you book a tour.

Our chef!  He was fantastic and had a great sense of humor.  We were a small group of six making Tuscan-style veggie pasta, a chicken dish, and olive oil cake.

 

Castle grounds!  Be sure to stick around after your tour & cooking class to take photos.  This castle is only a 30-minute drive northeast of Florence

3. Wake up to an iconic view

We stayed in both a hotel and this B&B in Florence, and I must say I loved the latter.  Waking up to an iconic view of the Duomo was an incredible experience that I will cherish forever – this is what travel dreams are made of!


4. Visit the Florence Leather School

This school was created after WWII as a way to teach war orphans a trade that would sustain them.  You’ll still find hardworking students from all corners of the world studying and learning how to make artisanal leather goods the traditional Florentine way.

Scuola del Cuoio
Via di San Giuseppe 5R, 50122,
Florence, Italy
www.scuoladelcuoio.com


5. Rent a car and EXPLORE the Tuscan countryside

There is NO better way to experience Tuscany than to have your own car!

The Tuscan countryside is no more than 30-45 minutes outside of Florence (about 1.5-2+ hrs depending on how far out you’re willing to go) and it’s absolutely worth the drive.

A bus tour is fine if you don’t want to drive, but the experience won’t be the same.

I don’t recommend renting a car for Florence, because you really don’t need it, but a car is an absolute must if you want to see and experience the very best of the Tuscan countryside.


6. Splurge on a private tour (food, wine, cheese, etc.)

Most small group wine tours I found in Tuscany were about $100-$130 per person.  I wanted something unique and personal since it was also my birthday. 🙂

Our Airbnb host recommended a private wine tour with a local guide named Francesco, and he quoted us 200 euros per person.

Yes, it costs more, but it was WORTH every penny.  All we had to do was show up, and Francesco took care of everything else.

Our private wine tour included:

  • private transportation (pick up and drop off at our Airbnb)
  • private wine tour and tastings at 3 wineries
  • small group cheese and wine tour
  • lunch at one of his winemaker friend’s vineyards

We enjoyed our day with Francesco, and he is MORE than a tour guide, he’s also like a walking Encyclopedia/historian!  We learned so much about Tuscany and discussed everything from wine to the Medicis.

We visited smaller, family-owned wineries and met the winemakers (or their spouses).  We enjoyed a fantastic homecooked pasta lunch and generous wine tasting at one of the winemaker’s homes.  Francesco also drove us to hidden and secret spots in the Chianti region that had the most incredible views!

Having your own private tour guide who knows the ins and outs of the area makes a huge difference.  Not once did we ever feel rushed, which is a common issue I have with group tours.  Everyone we met through Francesco treated us like family – this experience is worth every penny!

To book a private tour with Francesco, check out his website and read his glowing reviews on TripAdvisor.


7. Stay at an authentic Tuscan castle

I highly recommend staying at least 1-2 nights outside of Florence!
The Tuscan countryside deserves more than just a day trip or bus tour.

We stayed in this authentic 10th-century castle in the heart of Poggibonsi, Siena, Italy for $146/night!  (Total came out to $175/night with taxes and fees.)

We drove through the drawbridge to enter and staying there was the highlight of our Tuscan trip.


8. Visit Tuscany’s natural hot springs

The largest (and also the most popular) hot springs in Tuscany, Saturnia.

Not only are they free but they’re also relaxing and have healing properties!  They are also open air and you can visit them any time you want: day or night, winter or summer.

The most popular hot springs are the Saturnia, but there are others, too.

We decided to visit one that isn’t known to get as crowded as Saturnia, and that is Bagni San Filippo.  We drove 2 hours South of Siena to stay in an Airbnb in the village of Bagni San Filippo, which was just a 5-minute walk to the hot springs.

Hot Springs in Tuscany: Bagni San Filippo

If you plan to visit the hot springs in Tuscany, I strongly advise arriving as early as possible.  We were the only ones there at around 8 am, but it got noticeably busier within an hour.

TIP: Pack an extra bathing suit that you don’t mind spoiling as the sulfur in hot springs may cause it to permanently smell.  I managed to get rid of the odor in mine after a few washes, but it’s a good idea to bring extra just in case.

P.S.  The sulfur in the water won’t be as bad as you think.  It only smelled terrible when we walked towards the hot springs, but it surprisingly doesn’t smell once you’re in it.


9. Have a Tuscan picnic

Dramatic rolling hills and landscapes, authentic villages, charming Tuscan towns – this is the place to be for those la dolce vita vibes.

Stop by one of the many markets and shops for picnic essentials.  I packed my own picnic blanket and mini cheese board!  It didn’t take up as much space and we used it several times during our trip to Tuscany.

There are so many places to stop for a picnic; most of the Tuscan countryside is picture-perfect and stunning.
If you’re worried about being on someone’s private property, it never hurts to ask first.

The most picturesque towns of Tuscany that are PERFECT for an authentic Tuscan picnic:

    • Val d’Orchia
    • Siena
    • Montepulciano

10. Hire a photographer to take your vacation photos!


For about $250, you can hire a photographer to follow you around during your vacation!  You’ll return home with gorgeous, frame-worthy professional photos that you’ll cherish for a lifetime.  Beautiful memories and photographs make the BEST souvenirs.

You can find a photographer in most destinations around the world on Flytographer.  There are several packages to choose from and your photo shoot can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as 2 hours if you’re looking to have photos taken in multiple locations and backdrops.

After your photo shoot, your photographer sends you your hi-resolution photo gallery via e-mail within 5 days.  You’ll have the option to download, share and print your photos.

Use my code: LIZZAS to get $25 off your photo shoot and we’ll both get a $25 credit 🙂

To find a photographer and book a photo shoot, click here.

*Note:  The photo above was taken by my husband, not Flytographer.  I am a photographer by profession and I like to set up my own camera and have my husband quickly snap a pic.  However, I always recommend Flytographer to my non-photographer friends who want stunning vacation photos!  I plan to book a shoot with Flytographer for a future anniversary trip and photo shoot  🙂

11. Do nothing and experience la dolce vita

“il dolce far niente” – The sweetness of doing nothing.

You don’t have to make reservations and go sightseeing every single day during your vacation.  In fact, it’s best not to.  A jam-packed travel schedule is a surefire way to welcome stress and travel burnout.

Give yourself permission to be perfectly okay with not being able to see and do everything on your list.  Reserve a day or two to just relax and embrace life the Italian way.

Our Airbnb host welcomed us with a bottle of wine made with grapes from his own vineyards (which was fantastic, by the way).

My husband and I picked up some local cheese, cured meats, and fruits at a nearby market and watched the sunset from our Airbnb, which just happened to be an incredible 10th-century Tuscan castle that was once a Benedictine monastery.

Needless to say, this was a simple thing we did during our trip that we absolutely loved and still talk about to this day.


Good to know before you go…

  • Book your tickets in advance, especially if you want to see Michelangelo’s David.

I made the mistake of thinking I could buy tickets a week before my trip only to discover that ALL tickets to see Michelangelo’s David was sold out.  Everywhere.

Michelangelo’s David is one of the most popular attractions in Florence, so I highly recommend getting your tickets as soon as possible.  You won’t need to get tickets for every attraction, but you’ll be able to skip the long lines if you book in advance.

Book your ticket online at Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze.

  • Double check to see if the place you’re staying at has an elevator/lift.
    Many buildings in Florence won’t have elevators unless you’re staying at a remodeled & higher end hotel.
  • Don’t fall for faux gelato! Unfortunately, there’s a ton of fake gelato in Florence and so many people get fooled every single day.  The fancier and brighter the gelato, the more likely it’s FAKE and loaded with artificial coloring, flavoring, etc.

We tried gelato at nearly every highly-rated gelateria and hands down, this is the one I highly recommend:

Our favorite gelato spot in Florence:

Perche no!
Via Dei Tavolini 19r, 50122, Florence Italy

    • Wear the right shoes!
      I know this is common sense, but I cannot tell you how times I saw women trying to explore Florence in stiletto heels!  It is dangerous to wear high heels in Florence if you’re not used to walking in them on uneven cobblestoned streets. 

Ladies, leave the high heels at home and wear proper walking shoes.  If you do choose to wear heels in Italy, I say do so for a special occasion but not for everyday sightseeing.

    • You won’t need a car in Florence
      …unless you’re planning to explore the Tuscan countryside. Parking is difficult in Florence, and the city center has a ton of limited traffic zones, also known as ZTLS – “Zona a Traffico Limitato.”

This is a restricted traffic area controlled by a network of video cameras – you’ll see these signs everywhere, and you’ll get slapped with a 100 euro fee if you’re caught without a special ZTL permit (most commonly reserved for people who live and work in the city center).

We almost made this mistake when we were in Tuscany, but thankfully, we saw the sign and parked elsewhere.
As long as you stay in the city center, you won’t need a car.  We walked everywhere from our hotel + B&B!

  • Know where to shop
    Florence and many of the towns and villages in Tuscany are HUGE tourist hotspots, so you’ll find vendors that sell knock-offs and poor quality items EVERYWHERE.

 

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