5 Best cheap day trips from Florence, Italy
Florence, Italy, is located in the Italian region of Tuscany. Most travelers to this area plan on visiting the major tourist towns of Pisa and Siena while staying in Florence, and indeed these are easy day trips from the centrally located city, either by regional train or bus, and at budget prices.
There are also hundreds of small towns along these train lines, not to mention a few neat places you can reach with the city bus, that will make you feel like more of an explorer. This article tells you how to get to Pisa or Siena from Florence on a budget, as well as suggests three other places you might not have thought of visiting.
1 – Pisa: World's most famous tower, and a cathedral
The main tourist attraction of Pisa needs no introduction: millions of tourists flock to the Leaning Tower each year, to pose “holding it up” in a photo. Although it looks far on the map, you can easily walk to Piazza dei Miracoli from the central train station.
Many tourists do not even go beyond the tower and into the rest of the Cathedral Complex, which is, however, very much worth a thorough visit once you’re there. The cathedral is free to enter, but it’s worth buying the €9 euro combined ticket for the lovely museum as well as the Baptistery and Camposanto, a medieval graveyard with creepy frescoes. Skip walking up the tower for €18.
Having had your fill around the Duomo (cathedral), head over to the Orto Botanico, or botanical gardens, that are part of the University of Pisa (€2.50 to enter). Also make a trip to the Piazza dei Cavallieri, the center of civic government, with an impressive building that has a recognizeable “sgraffito” façade.
The piazza is now dominated by the famous Scuola Normale di Pisa, one of the country’s top universities. Before heading back to the train, stroll down the Lungarni, or roads along the Arno river, for a great photo opp.
How to get there
Train from Florence SMN to Pisa Centrale, €7.90 each way. Trains run hourly. Travel time: 1 hour
2 – Siena: Tuscan hill town and UNESCO World Heritage site
Siena is compact and hilly, characterized by red bricks and thin, tall towers. It is more isolated than the other large towns in Tuscany, accessible only by a badly maintained 4-lane highway or a slow train track.
In the Middle Ages, it developed its own artistic style, quite different from that of Florence, and maintains a particular feeling still today. The main tourist sites in Siena are the Duomo (cathedral) and its related buildings, and the famous Piazza del Campo (site of the Palio horse race) with its Palazzo Pubblico or city hall.
If you’re going to pay just one entry ticket in town, get the OPA SI Pass, giving access to all the Duomo buildings for €12 in the summer, €8 in the winter, including walk-up access to the Facciatone with an amazing panoramic view over the city.
You can easily spend more than an hour inside the Duomo alone, which has stunning marble inlay floors and a tiny frescoed library, and there’s also a Duomo museum with a very important altarpiece in it, and other important statues.
Spend the rest of your day wandering and getting lost in the back streets of town, ducking into small and large churches (all free).
How to get there
SITA, CAP or LAZZI Bus from Florence SMN to Siena San Domenico, €7.80 each way. Travel time: 1 hour 15 minutes.
3 – Prato: Gorgeous Tuscan town with fewer tourists
Prato is considered something of a commuter town to Florence, though it is also a highly industrial and large city of its own. It boasts the largest Chinese community in Italy, and thus has a rare Chinatown where you can get cheap and authentic food.
But the core of this city is a typical, wealthy Tuscan town, with an impressive stone cathedral on a large central piazza (square). The cathedral is free to enter; to the left of the main door is an important chapel dedicated to the city’s important relic of the girdle of the Virgin Mary.
The main chapel is painted with Renaissance frescoes by Filippo Lippi – there is a small fee to see them up close. Next door is a small museum (Museo del Duomo). There’s a fortress in town (Castello dell’Imperatore) and near there, a lovely textile museum that holds innovative fashion exhibits (€5 entry). Prato is a great town to walk around, take in some shops (no cheaper than Florence) and sit down in a cafè for some people watching.
How to get there
Train from Florence SMN or Rifredi stations, €2.50 each way. Trains run hourly or more frequently. Travel time: 20 to 27 minutes.
4 – Fiesole: A Roman city with excellent views of Florence
Fiesole was a Roman city before Florence was established, and it is located on a hill just above Florence. It’s sufficiently close to be serviced by the city bus, yet it feels like a small hill town of its own.
The bus leaves you in the main piazza (square) where you can see the city hall (still in use, no visits) and the cathedral of San Domenico (nice, free). Head up the road to the archaeological site and explore a Roman theatre (€10 combined ticket with the museum)!
A steep road at the back of the Cathedral, on the other hand, takes you to another lovely church (free) and a look-out point over the whole city of Florence. There’s a little park with benches there, making this a good picnic spot and photo opportunity.
How to get there
ATAF city bus number 7, €1.50 each way. Busses run every 15 minutes or less. Travel time: circa half an hour, depending on traffic.
5 – Montelupo Fiorentino: Lesser-known and easy-to-reach ceramics town
Most people have never heard of this small town, considered mostly a commuter town to larger Florence due to its lower property prices. However, historically, it was an important center for the production of maiolica (tin glazed ceramics), and still today it preserves this role.
Every June it hosts the Festa Internazionale della Ceramica, making this the best time to visit the town, but year round a trip here will give you a sense of small-town Tuscany.
Its historical center has been all fixed up, and everything is walking distance from the train station. The main thing to visit is the Museo della Ceramica (ceramics museum) which costs only 5 euro.
How to get there
Train from Florence SMN to Montelupo/Capraia, €3.30 each way. Trains run hourly or more frequently. Travel time: 22 minutes.
By Alexandra Korey (Google+)
Alexandra Korey is a Canadian-born art historian who works in arts marketing in Florence Italy. She has been blogging at www.arttrav.com since 2004.
Photo credits: Florence by Richard Casssan on Flickr, Pisa by John Y. Can on Flickr, Siena by Steffen Ramsaier on Flickr, Prato by Jono Colliver on Flickr, Fiesole by Bruce Stokes on Flickr, Montelupo Foirentino by Dia on Flickr