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Travel Tips

Need help making plans for activities that will keep everyone entertained on your holiday in Tuscany? We know the tips and tricks that will ease your journey and fill your days. Make a good start by following our advice about what to pack, whichever season you’re planning to visit. Check your diary against our year-round guides to the best local events taking place, from markets and concerts to exhibitions and festivals. And discover some of the more curious experiences you might want to try while you’re here – fancy testing the health-giving properties of bathing in the local wine? We’ve suggested games that will keep the kids amused on nights in, and some great ideas for days out that won’t cost you a euro. Sorted!

Travel Tips

Five free things to do in Tuscany

They say the best things in life are free and Tuscany certainly has plenty of enriching experiences to offer that won’t cost you a penny. These outdoor activities and jaw-dropping sights will nourish both body and mind.
Wallow in a hot spring
There are plenty of natural hot springs to enjoy around Tuscany, many of which are free to use. Take a dip in these thermal baths in the wilderness to be at one with nature. Among the best are in the south of the region, including the Cascate di Mulino waterfalls at Saturnia, and the hot springs at Bagni San Filippo
Swim in the sea – or lie on the beach
Tuscany isn’t all about rolling hills and lush countryside, this region is also blessed with a coast of craggy coves and pine-fringed beaches, especially in the Maremma. Spend a day on the sands and take a dip in the sea at the old seaside town of Castiglione della Pescaia, not far from Grosseto, or the Marina di Alberese, a peaceful beach in a nature reserve a little further south.
Visit a museum
Plenty of state-run museums in Tuscany offer free admission on the first Sunday of every month. Plan your trip accordingly and you can tick off some of Tuscany’s most impressive attractions, such as Florence’s Uffizi Gallery, without having to open your purse.Click here for a list of Tuscan museums that take part in this scheme.
Get an overview of Florence
It’s not on the usual list of attractions, but one of the best things to do in Florence – and for free – is to climb the steps to the Piazzale Michelangelo for sublime views across the city.
Discover Roman Siena
Go in search of Roman treasure in Siena. The city dates from the first century AD and has plenty of Roman ruins around the city to warrant whiling away a few pleasurable hours delving into the past. Keep an eye open for the dappled red bricks that were made using small crimson stones mixed with cement in Roman times. To Tuscany has a fantastic range of villas across the region

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What’s on in Tuscany in Spring?

Spring in Tuscany is a time of celebration, which means it’s festival time in the towns and villages as locals welcome the season of renewal. These are gentle events focusing on food, drink and, of course, family, as well as the serious business of paying homage to patron saints. Next, Easter arrives, a chance to enjoy the full spectacle of one of the most important religious festivals of the year.
La Pasquetta – or ‘little Easter’ – held on our Easter Monday, sees families get back in touch with nature as they head out to the countryside or gather in cities’ green spaces to picnic on a feast of traditional seasonal foods, such as pecorino cheese and fava beans, rustic bread, olives and red wine.

La Pasquetta sees families head to green spaces for a picnic. Photo: Mark Bolton Photography/Alamy

Easter is the time to witness the full spectacle of this important religious festival, which is marked by events from sombre plays depicting the Passion of Christ to colourful street parades and historical re-enactments. The carnivalesque celebration lasts from Holy Thursday to Easter Monday, and generally finishes with gorging on chocolate eggs.

Watch a religious procession at Easter. Photo: Robert Onencini/Shutterstock

In Florence, Scoppio del Carro, or ‘the explosion of the cart’ has been an unusual highlight of Easter Sunday for 350 years. A parade trundles a cart through the streets to the cathedral square where it is literally blown up in a noisy pyrotechnic display. Why? They say the ceremony commemorates the return of a crusading knight, while the ‘blessed fire’ carries the promise of a good harvest.

Visit Sant’Anna di Stazzema on Liberation Day. Photo: REDA/Alamy

Meanwhile, Liberation Day, a public holiday on 25 April, marks the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy in 1945. Honouring those who served in the Resistance, events range from marching bands and concerts to food festivals and political rallies. But there’s a time and place for quiet contemplation, too, such as at the shrine to the inhabitants of the remote Tuscan hillside hamlet of Sant’Anna di Stazzema, where the entire population was massacred in one day in 1944. Declared a National Park of Peace, the hamlet is the site of a memorial monument, and its little church bears a plaque mentioning the priest who pleaded for their lives in vain.

Even kids can take part in Nova Eroica. Photo: Paolo Martelli

Amateur cyclists hit Tuscany’s strade bianche, or white gravel roads, in April as the Nova Eroica gets young and old in the mood for the nation’s eagerly awaited professional race, Giro d’Italia, in May. This spring version of the more famous autumn vintage cycle festival, Eroica, is a ‘gravel gran fondo’ that combines time trials and a variety of routes, from a leisure ride for children and families to a 130km circuit that really tests competitors' endurance. Even non-cyclists can enjoy race day, watching the cyclists speed along and joining in the (five-day) festival celebrating art, nature, food and wine in the village of Buonconvento.

Serious cyclists should find a space at the roadside for Stage 2 of the Giro d’Italia when it makes its way south from Bologna. After crossing the Apennines to enter Tuscany, the cyclists will make the descent into Prato to a finish line in the town of Fucecchio. The following day, the town of Vinci is the starting point of Stage 3, marking the quincentenary of the death of its famous son, Leonardo da Vinci. From here, the peloton will head off through the Tuscan landscape, passing by San Miniato, through Grosseto and on to the southernmost tip of the region, Orbetello, for the first sprint finish

Three important Tuscan gardens will be opening to the public on La Pasquetta as part in the nationwide event Caccia al Tesoro Botanico Grandi Giardini Italiani, with fun and games such as Easter egg hunts for children to enjoy, as well as the chance to admire the blooming herbaceous borders. There are guided tours of historic buildings and gardens, too, at Giardino Bardini in Florence, Giardino Storico Garzoni in Collodi, and Parco della Villa Reale di Marlia in Lucca.

Spring is also the moment to catch a hilarious alternative to the great Palios di Siena, which takes place in the medieval town of Torrita de Siena, south of Florence. Instead of a horse race featuring gleaming steeds, Palio dei Somari sees neighbourhood jockeys in historic outfits competing astride humble, if disobedient, donkeys. The stakes are high and this race is taken very seriously, but it’s filled with funny moments as the stubborn animals ignore their riders, stop and even go backwards. A market, parades and traditional flag-throwing contests keep the weekend’s proceedings lively, too.

All aboard the Nature Train for day trips departing from Siena. Photo: Visit Tuscany

The popular steam-engine-driven Nature Train comes back into service after winter in the sidings, departing Siena for scenic day trips around the region, carrying passengers to local festivals and special events. The first trip of the spring season heads out to San Giovanni d’Asso for the Mazzuolo White Truffle Market, while other journeys include a ride out to the San Quirico d’Orcia Wine Festival.

The San Quirico d’Orcia wine festival offers a taste of Tuscany’s vineyards. Photo: Shutterstock

Whether or not you go there by train, the four-day San Quirico d’Orcia Wine Festival is a date for your diary. The long weekend is packed with organised tours of local vineyards on foot, on two wheels, and by bus, talks and tastings, and lots of cultural events, including opera performances and a short film festival.

Spring ends with the start of the internationally renowned Lucca Summer Festival

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What’s on in Tuscany this Autumn?

Late summer and autumn is the time to indulge in Tuscany’s fantastic home-grown food and drink, with plenty of festivals, or sagre, to experience.

If it’s autumn, it’s time to celebrate the region’s wine. Photo: Look/Alamy

One of the biggest is Chianti Classico Expo, a major celebration of the region’s most famous wines in Greve. Taste your way around 60 producers from the nine towns of the Chianti Classico region, which will be presenting their wines alongside olive oil and other delicious local produce. Check out, too, the national Calici di Stelle wine event when glasses are raised as night falls, with tasting events beneath the stars in towns including Siena, Gaiole, Castiglione D’Orcia and Montepulciano.

Prefer beer? Get down to the Villaggio della Birra festival

For beer-lovers, there’s the Villaggio della Birra beer festival held south-east of Siena in Buonconvento. This international festival of artisanal breweries started in 2006 as a celebration of friendship between Italian and Belgian brewers. It now welcomes brewers from across the world for tastings, food, live music and arts.

Montepulciano’s Bravio delle Botti was originally a horse race but in 1974 wine barrels were substituted for the steeds. Eight contrade, or districts, challenge each other to win a precious piece of painted cloth by rolling wine barrels up hill. They make a day of it: lunch follows, with a medieval procession in the afternoon.

One of the region’s most important events takes place in autumn, L’Eroica a cycling event that has launched an international movement over the past 20 years. Thousands of cyclists set off on vintage bikes from Gaiole along the white gravel roads of the Tuscan countryside. Routes range from 46km to 209km and a 3,700m altitude difference with plenty of stop-offs to sample local food and, of course, wine.

See ‘Heaven In A Room’ at the Uffizi. Photo: Ministero Beni e Attivita Culturali/Roberto Palermo

Chestnuts get their own celebration at Bacchereto. Photo: Christine Webb/Alamy

So, what about those delicious sagres? Carmignano celebrates figs at its Benvenuto Fico Secco festival and Bacchereto, a hamlet of Carmignano, puts chestnuts in the spotlight. For truffles, head to the hamlets of San Miniato in the province of Pisa. Corazzano holds its White Truffle Fair on, with more truffles in Ponte a Egola on, while there are mushrooms as well as truffles on show at La Serra and Balconevisi.

And, if you missed Siena’s famous horse race, Il Palio, in July, there’s a second chance to catch it in August. And don’t forget Domenica al Museo, when all the state-run museums open free of charge on the first Sunday of the month, starts in October and runs until March.

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What’s on in Tuscany this summer?

The arrival of the warmer weather calls Tuscans outside as they make the most of the region’s natural surroundings, enjoying activities such as folkloric festivals by day and concerts beneath the stars by night. So take a lead from the locals with our pick of the best events in June and July.

The race is on: Il Palio is the highlight of the year in Siena. Photo: Xinhua/Alamy

Italy is the home of the Slow movement, so why not ease yourself into Tuscany’s fifth Slow Travel Fest, a selection of outdoor experiences including talks, hikes, culture, food and music events held along the Via Francigena over three weekends in June and September. The first, ‘Folks and Family’, takes place in Villafranca in Lunigiana and features a programme of excursions on foot, by bicycle and on horseback, as well as river hiking, storytelling, concerts, performances and workshops.

See Pisa light up during Luminara. Photo: Pisa Photography/Shutterstock

See the city of Pisa in a different light on the evening of 16 June when Luminara di San Ranieri illuminates the River Arno with 70,000 candles suspended along its banks and set afloat on the water. A magical celebration that dates from the 17th century, Luminara hails the feast of the city’s patron saint, St Ranieri, the following day. Join the crowds of Pisani to enjoy the city by flickering candlelight and watch a spectacular fireworks display launched from the old town.

Meanwhile, intense rivalries resurface every summer as Il Palio takes over the city of Siena. Not one but two spectacular horse races take place in the medieval Piazza del Campo. It’s an exhilarating time to be in Siena – in the days leading up to the race, the streets are dressed with the colourful banners of the city’s 17 contrade, or districts. On race day, the event kicks off with the blessing of the horses, followed by a parade of more than 600 participants through the buzzing streets. Then, in a fast and furious race that’s over in just three minutes, the jockeys and horses give their all to cross the finishing line first. Read our interview with photographer Greg Funnell about his experience of shooting the event.

See Tosca at the composer’s lakeside home. Photo: Giorgio Andreuccetti

Opera buffs can join thousands of fellow fans from around the globe at Torre del Lago for the annual Puccini Festival, held in the huge al-fresco auditorium at the late composer’s villa. The 65th edition, a comprehensive programme of Puccini’s works, including performances of Turandot, La Bohème, Madame Butterfly, Aida, Manon Lescaut, Tosca and Le Villi. Whilst there, make time to visit the museum and stroll through the grounds dotted with contemporary sculptures by the likes of Pietro Cascella, Jean-Michel Folon and Kan Yasuda. Brush up on the maestro’s operas with our bluffer’s guide here by Puccini expert Adrian Mourby.

Enter the ‘fourth dimension’ at Mercantia. Photo: Massimo Tordini

About an hour’s drive from Florence, the small hill town of Certaldo offers the intriguing opportunity to enter the ‘fourth dimension’… The international street-theatre festival Mercantia, will stimulate the senses, with performances taking place in atmospheric parts of the town, including secret gardens and quiet courtyards. Take the scenic route up by parking at the bottom of the hill and riding the funicular railway.

Cortona becomes a photo gallery in summer. Photo: Massimo Tordini

Each year, the Etruscan hilltown of Cortona hosts Cortona on the Move, a programme of contemporary photography events and exhibitions mounted around the lively town.

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