The Tuscan capital of Florence, apart from being a knockout Renaissance city, is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore the surrounding areas. Day trips from Florence by train
are aplenty. From Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s main train station, jump on some rolling stock and shoot off to Pisa, Siena, Lucca, Milan, and even Venice. That’s right, from Florence, Italy is your oyster
from which a world of opportunity awaits. So, what are you waiting for, your (train) carriage awaits. Here are five of the best day trips from Florence by train.
Once a significant maritime power, this beautiful university town is now a vibrant cultural center. Bars and cafes line the popular Via Lungarno opposite the Arno river, and little streets give way to buzzing piazzas. In the warm summer sun, Pisa is a world of architectural delights. The Piazza dei Miracoli is home to the city’s eponymous tower and other awe-inspiring wonders. As day excursions from Florence go, you can’t get much better than Pisa.
What to do
Smack bang in the middle of the Piazza dei Miracoli is the jaw-droppingly, breathtaking medieval cathedral dedicated to the Santa Maria Assunta. And, in this writer’s opinion, it is this Cathedral that is the centerpiece of the Piazza. In 1092, when construction was completed, it was the biggest cathedral in all of Europe. It so impressed that it was used as the model upon which many Tuscan Romanesque churches would subsequently base themselves on.
Opposite the Cathedral and dedicated to St. John the Baptist is the Baptistery. Hitting the ball out of the park again, this ornately beautiful structure is the largest of its kind in Italy. It is a blend of architectural styles, Romanesque in body, but, the Loggia and Dome, added later, in Gothic. Step inside, and let the echoing immensity of its interior overwhelm you.
And, of course, who could forget, the Campanile, also known as, the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Located behind the cathedral, construction on the structure that has come to define Pisa began in 1173. It took close to 200 years to build and gets its dramatic tilt from the soft soil upon which it was built. Climb its narrow staircase, for some of the best views of the city.
There are three trains from Florence to Pisa
every hour departing from Santa Maria Novella train station. The “Regionale Veloce” train takes approximately one hour, and tickets cost € 8.40. From Pisa Centrale train station grab the LAM Rossa bus which goes to Piazza dei Miracoli.
Take note of your train number as the boards at the station will not necessarily read Pisa as this is not always train’s final destination. It is also important to remember that even if you buy your ticket from one of the many ticket machines at the station, you must still validate it before you board. Failing to do so will result in a fine.
There’s more to this beautiful medieval city than the thundering hooves of the Palio di Siena. That being said, the heart of the town is certainly the famed and lively Piazza del Campo around which the horses storm. Said to have been founded by Senius, the sons of Remus, one of the founders of Rome, Siena swells with life. It is a goldmine for Gothic architecture and an essential visit for anyone in the Tuscany region.
What to do
If you’re in Tuscany in early July or mid-August and looking for one of the most unforgettable day trips from Florence, then this is a must. The Palio di Siena is the wildest horse race you’ll see in this life or the next. Ten of seventeen Contrade (neighborhoods) battle it out for a year’s worth of boasting rights and the coveted Drapolene in this ferocious bareback horse race around the city’s Piazza del Campo. Tickets to sit in the grandstand are hard to come by and very expensive. But, to muck in with the crowds, it is completely free.
A historical parade precedes the race. Townsfolk dress in period clothing and march through the city streets. There are flag throwers, drummers, and trumpeters. It all culminates in the Piazza before the race kicks off. It’s a moving cultural experience that adds to the anticipation and cannot be missed.
Palio aside, Florence day trips to Siena should begin in the Piazza del Campo. The Piazza del Campo is credited as one of the largest medieval squares in the world. And, consequently, it is the center of Sienese life. Sitting at the top of the square you will find the Fonte Gaia which has been running since 1346. The Torre del Mangia towers over the square, and you can climb its narrow staircase for panoramic views of the city. Also, lining the square are many fantastic cafes and restaurants. Here is a great spot to settle in for breakfast, lunch, dinner or just an evening drink and watch the world go by.
- Cycle the Sienese countryside
Siena is nestled in some spectacular countryside. Jump on a bicycle and take a tour of the surrounds. The brave could cycle the 66 kilometers south to Montepulciano for a taste of some of the country’s best wine. Whereas, those looking for something a little more relaxing could head 20 kilometers north to Monteriggioni. Here, there is a beautifully preserved walled, hill town completed with ramparts and towers.
From Florence to Siena
by train is quick and easy. There are direct trains on the hour that leave from Santa Maria Novella train station, and they cost € 9.10. Take note of which train you take though, as some require a change in Empoli. The average journey clocks in at approximately 90 minutes. It’s also worth bearing in mind that the train station is 2 kilometers away from the city center. However, the train station is serviced regularly by bus numbers S3, S4, S7, S10, and S17, with the ride only taking 5 minutes.
If you’re planning any day trips from Florence by train, Lucca must feature. This beautiful, walled medieval town. Located at the foot of the Apuan Hills, 25 minutes from Pisa and 30 from the coast of Versilia, is idyllic. Walk through the narrow, cobbled streets and drink in Lucca’s history. Then, tour the ramparts that encircle the city before settling into one of the many cafes, bars, and restaurants for a glass of Lucchesi wine and a bite to eat.
What to do
Built across the 16th and 17th century are Lucca’s now famous old city walls. Despite their age, over 400 years old, the walls remain in near perfect condition and at 12 meters high and 4.2 kilometers long, encircle the entire city. Atop the ramparts, and going all the way around, you can enjoy a tree-lined promenade where you will find in the evenings locals enjoying a stroll. As you walk around them yourself, you can enjoy stunning views of the Centro Storico below with its terracotta roofs and the Apuan Alps in the distance.
The Palazzo Pfanner derives its name from the Austrian brewing family who moved into the residence in the 19th century. Felix Pfanner is believed to have brought beer to Italy and brewed the stuff in the palace cellars. The copper pots with which he brewed remain strung up on display. However, it is for the Palace’s beautifully manicured, baroque gardens that the Pfanner palace really stands out. There are ornamental ponds, statues of Greek gods and lemon trees. In the summer, the Palace also hosts chamber music concerts.
Luca’s railway station is just outside the old city walls, meaning getting from Florence to Lucca is a cinch. The line is direct and journey time is about an hour and twenty minutes. Tickets cost € 7.60. From Lucca’s train station it is only a short 5-minute walk to the Porto San Pietro and access to the old city.
Disappointingly, Milan is often not at the top of anyone’s list of day trips from Florence. Let’s change that.
Strut your stuff in one of the fashion capitals of the world. Versace, Prada, Dolce Gabbana, the Milanese aren’t afraid to look good. And, the city isn’t either. Rationalist and art-deco architecture, Leonardo da Vinci’s the Last Supper and the beautiful opera house La Scala all help to define Milan. Florence and Rome may boast better art galleries, but Milan’s vibrant, creative energy is undeniable. Grab yourself a Campari and bask in it.
What to do
Leave buyers remorse at home and bring your credit cards, this is Milan’s world famous shopping district. Often referred to as the “Golden Rectangle of Fashion,” these cobbled streets are home to many of the top designers’ stores. Down via Monte Napoleone, you’ll find Gucci’s flagship as well as many Prada and Fendi shops. Via Sant’Andrea is home to Hermes, Chanel, and Armani and via della Spiga to Dolce and Gabbana, Tiffany & Co, and even more Prada. Don’t worry if you haven’t got the big bucks to splash out on designer gear, the Golden Rectangle is a great place to window shop, and people watch too.
Milan is bursting with exciting new bars serving hip cocktails and craft beers. On Ripa di Porta Ticinese exists the world’s smallest bar, Backdoor 43. No bigger than a walk-in wardrobe, you can book the little place for you and three friends for 90-minute slots. Here, you can enjoy a private speakeasy that caters specifically to your taste. From special cocktails to music, Backdoor 43 is a bespoke bar experience.
When you’re 90 minutes are up, but you’re in the mood for another tipple head to Bar Luce. From the terrazzo floor to the patterned wallpaper, you can immediately guess who designed this bar. Acclaimed film director Wes Anderson, that’s who. Located in the Fondazione Prada, Anderson’s designs draw inspiration from Italian pop culture of the 50s and 60s. This place is more than a gimmick though, and frequented by locals and tourists alike. So, install yourself at one of the formica tables and get yourself an
Milan’s Teatro alla Scala is one of the world’s most famous opera houses in the world. With the season running between December and July, here you can watch ballets, concerts and, of course, operas. Tickets for performances are available up to two months prior to their play date. For those who haven’t been able to get tickets for a performance, attached to the theatre is the Museo Teatrale alla Scala which contains paintings, statues, costumes and documents relating the history of the opera house. This too is well worth a visit.
High-speed trains can see you getting from Florence to Milan in an hour and a half. Both Trenitalia’s high-speed Frecce and Italo’s variation run services between the two cities. There are 14 Frecce trains a day and tickets bought in advance cost € 19.90. If you travel with Italo high-speed trains, tickets cost € 18. Remember that tickets bought on the day are charged at the “base fare” and are significantly more expensive.
City of Water. City of Masks. City of Bridges. Venice, beautiful Venice
. Floating atop the Adriatic Sea, this city is one of Italy’s most dazzling. In February, the canals, cobbled streets and Piazza’s burst into life for Carnival, a celebration that dates as far back as the 12th century. In September, the artistic heavyweights of the film world descend for the Venice Biennale. It is a city for romance, gondola cruises by moonlight, grand architecture, and fine art.
What to do
is the biggest party of the year. And, as day excursions from Florence go, this would be one for the books. People the world over head to Venice for this extravagant, pre-Lenten event. The streets come alive with color, masked revelers and the sounds of delight. There are firework displays, live music performances, and dances. VIPs scuttle between exclusive parties, while the rest of us celebrate on the streets and canals of the city. In St. Mark’s square, an angel launches herself over swooning crowds. And, on the canal, a waterborne parade for all to watch cruises by. Venice during Carnival is an enchanting wonderland that invites all to join in the revelry.
- St Mark’s Basilica & Doge’s Palace
A day trip from Florence by train
to Venice wouldn’t be complete without at least catching a glimpse of these iconic sites.
Built in 1092, the five Byzantine domes that sit atop St. Mark’s Basilica, its the golden mosaic portals and polychrome columns will render you speechless. A view of this most sumptuous of church facades will have you making a beeline for the ticket kiosk. Inside, it is a jewelry box, with 8000 square meters of gold mosaics plastering the walls and ceilings. And, beneath your feet, the inlaid marble floor is equally impressive. To think that for years the Doge of Venice kept the Basilica as his personal church is criminal.
The Doge’s Palace began life as a gloomy, wooden fortress. Look how far it’s come since. The facade is a feat of architectural brilliance and its ornate lace design and soft pink Verona marble, stunning in their beauty. Inside, confident navigators can explore the many state and institutional rooms as well as the prisons and armory. The rest of us though, will get a tour!
Up the Golden Staircase and you’re in the most impressive part of the palace, the Doge’s Apartments. The Scarlet Chamber, The Hall of Four doors and the Bridge of Sighs (which you can cross!) are all here.
For something a little unusual head to the Ponte dei Pugni, or, in English, the Bridge of Fists. A tradition no longer kept up by the Venetians. But, this bridge was where, for generations, the townsfolk came between September and December to punch it out. The fights were hugely popular with the aim being to knock your opponent into the sewage-strewn canal below. All that remains today are four white marble footprints. These were the markers that fighters stood on before they charged.
There are 22 trains that run between Florence and Venice, many of which are high speed, direct trains. The quickest journey time is just under two hours and the average just over. Tickets for high-speed services begin at € 19.90 if bought in advance.
There you have it five great day trips from Florence by train and we haven’t even mentioned Rome! So, jump aboard a train, wave goodbye to the Tuscan capital and have a great day trip!