Travelling in Tuscany by train is a wonderful way to experience the region. We pick 8 great Italian masterpieces to explore...
Perhaps Italy's most beautiful region, Tuscany remains incredibly popular as a holiday destination. It isn't hard to see why it's on so many people's bucket lists - Tuscany is packed with cities, towns and villages that are well worth a visit, not to mention its glorious scenery and mouthwatering food.
Many visitors like to create a Tuscan itinerary that includes a few days in Florence, some by the beach and others exploring some of the many hilltop villages dotted around the region. If coach tours aren't your thing, and the idea of navigating Italy's roads in a hire car fills you with dread, then taking to the rails is a good option.
Thanks to Italy’s extensive high-speed rail network and smaller, regional networks, exploring Tuscany by train is easy. Here are some of the best places to visit in this exquisite region.
Florence by rail
Florence is a good starting point for any Tuscan holiday by train. But hoards of visitors flock there every year so think carefully about when to visit and plan ahead, because it can be hot, expensive and busy! It may be a good contender for visiting in winter.
That said, it is genuinely beautiful, so do go! In spite of the crowds, the city which kick-started the Renaissance deserves a place on any Italian itinerary.
If you're coming from the UK, travelling by train from London to Florence is surprisingly simple though it's quite a long journey. There is an overnight option, using the Thello night train from Paris to Italy and a daytime route that takes just under 14 hours. It's a long day but easily done with an early start from London.
Florence is well connected by train to other parts of Italy since it's on the main high-speed axis from Milan to Rome. Direct trains head north to Bologna, Milan and Turin and south to Rome and Naples. What's more, Florence is at the heart of a dense network of local trains departing regularly for Pisa, Lucca, Siena and Poggibonsi (for San Gimignano), any of which make an excellent day trip from Florence.
Hiking in Cinque Terre by train
If the heat of the city becomes too much in Florence, escape on a day trip by train to Cinque Terre - though don't expect to find fewer crowds! It's so popular that a ticketing system was introduced in 2016 to reduce the number of coach parties and cruise ships visiting in summer. But if you aren't bothered by crowds then there's no denying the stunning landscape and pleasure in hiking between the villages on rugged coastal paths.
Part of the reason they're so popular is that each of the Cinque Terre towns have their own railway station. The nearest mainline station is La Spezia, where you can change onto a regional train to Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza (pictured), Corniglia, Manarola, or Riomaggiore. If you're coming from the Tuscan capital, the train from Florence to La Spezia takes just over 2 hours.
If all this sounds like hell, consider a trip by train to Sestri Levante, a small, sleepy town and Italian family seaside resort with a picturesque medieval centre. Or hop on a bus from La Spezia to Tellaro, a small fishing village, perched on a cliff.
Sightseeing in Pisa
Leaning Tower of Pisa, Italy © Chakphet Sirichumsaeng | Dreamstime.com
There is more to Pisa than its leaning tower, though as a tourist, it's mandatory for you to take an awesome picture at the tower as soon as you arrive. You probably don't want to spend more than a day in Pisa, but it is worth taking a few hours to explore.
Catch the best views from the top of the leaning tower - at 56m tall, it provides enough height to see the city’s architecture and nearby port, as well as the Alps in the distance. Wander along the banks of the river Arno, do some window shopping and grab something nice to eat. We've heard the best ice cream can be found at Bottega Del Gelato.
Pisa is less than an hour by train to the east of Florence. To get there, take a regional train from Florence to Pisa in just 49 minutes. The train follows the Arno Valley downstream via Empoli to Pisa, taking in the lovely Tuscan scenery along the way.
Lucca by regional rail
The medieval town of Lucca is less popular than other Tuscan destinations but it's an excellent choice for a day trip from Pisa or Florence, since it's just a short train journey away from both. The ancient fortified town was a Roman colony in 180 BC and you can take in the view by wandering round the top of the tall walls. Lucca’s city walls form a perfect ring around the city, which has been preserved as a green belt in which you can wander, ride a bike or just relax.
Ensure you save enough energy to climb the 230 steps to the top of the Guinigi Tower then enjoy a treat all the more in one of the town’s many cafes!
The train to Siena
Siena Cathedral, Italy © Sborisov | Dreamstime.com
Another wonderful walled city in the rolling Tuscan hills, Siena is built over three peaks, each topped by towers and churches creating a dramatic effect. Its striking medieval piazza, Il Campo, makes for a perfect centrepiece to this delightful city.
There are numerous sights to take in while visiting - particularly the beautiful cathedral and cobbled streets. There is a huge range of art in the city’s churches and galleries, helping you build up an appetite for the delicious Tuscan food and wine that awaits you in the evening.
Siena is easily reached by train, though the station is 2km north-west of the town centre. Buses run from the station into town. The train from Florence to Siena takes about 90 minutes on frequent direct services.
San Gimignano by rail
A short hop from Siena is the celebrated hilltop village of San Gimignano – much loved by North American visitors to Tuscany. The nearest station is Poggibonsi-S. Gimignano, just an hour from Florence by regional train, but it's some distance from the town. Buses climb up the hill from that station to San Gimignano.
The village is perhaps best known for the towers that dominate the skyline, visible for miles around, which were built by competitive Tuscan families in the Middle Ages. But you're also near Chianti country, so San Gimignano is a good spot to enjoy the wines of Tuscany. Take advantage of being on the train (without a designated driver) and make a trip to one of many local wineries.
If taking a day trip from Florence, the train from Florence to Poggibonsi takes just over an hour.
Take the train to the beach in Viareggio
Viareggio by WunschbrunnenEla reproduced with thanks under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Public Domain Dedication licence.
Tuscancy's biggest beach town, Viareggio, is popular with Italian holidaymakers from within the province and beyond. Its long white sandy beaches and warming waters are a lovely choice for a day of sunbathing and swimming. The pretty town's many designer shops will empty your pockets, and excellent restaurants fill your stomachs, after the sun has worked its magic!
There are a multitude of events throughout the summer months, and if you visit around Easter, you can experience the famous Viareggio Carnevale.
You can take the train to Viareggio very quickly from both Pisa and Lucca by regional services - just 10 minutes and 20 minutes respectively, or travel from Florence to Viareggio by rail in 1 hr 32 mins.
Adventures in Anghiari by rail
The incredible hill town of Anghiari sits surrounded by the Valtiberina landscape and is still relatively untouched by the masses of tourists visiting the region. With its well-preserved ancient walls, winding streets and awe-inspiring view over Tiber valley, Anghiari is a great option for a day trip from Florence. While there, take a tour of the Busatti factory to pick up some traditionally-woven fabrics.
The town's closest train station is a short bus ride away from the west - the best approach to Anghiari - where the town will suddenly come to view around a large bend in the road. Travel from Florence to Arezzo by train in just 33 minutes by regional services.