You can walk around Florence quite easily and you can also opt to stay in the hills around Florence which allows you to have a quieter base while still enjoying what the city has to offer. There are also buses around the city and tours around Tuscany but driving is the best way to see the Tuscan countryside. The best option is to choose a central area to base yourself and then take daytrips by car to Florence and the various towns and villages.
Driving in Florence & Tuscany
Driving is by far the best way to see Tuscany but it is not recommended in Florence. Florence is connected by good highways to the rest of Italy. Driving in the historic centre – inside the wide “viale” where the old city walls were (and still are, on the southern side of the Arno)- is strictly prohibited, except for residents with permits. Enforcement is by camera, and is ferociously efficient. If you drive in the prohibited areas, you will be tracked down, and you will receive stiff fines in the mail, maybe months after you return home. It is easy to drive in prohibited areas as you may not be able to read the signs so be vigilant. Parking in garages and parking lots is expensive, costing €30 per night. There are three kinds of parking places on the street: white, yellow and blue. White is for residents only, yellow ones are reserved, so you can park only on the blue places. The price is €1 per hour and you have to pay from 8AM to 8PM (12 hours). Leave the ticket inside the car in a visible place. Attention: you need coins for the parking – the machine won’t accept banknotes or cards.
You can also find ‘free’ parking at all hours at “Piazzale Michelangelo” on the south side of the town. However, there are time limits for how long you can leave a car, which are rigidly enforced, and if you violate those limits, your car will be towed. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the city centre (down the stairs and across the Arno). It has gorgeous views of the city as well.
If you are driving in Tuscany, beware of the motorways as Italian drivers are impatient and fast. Many areas do not have hard shoulders so you just have to keep going even if you are not sure of where you are going! The country roads are much more manageable and less stressful so stick to them where possible.
Taxis in Florence
Taxis are available, but it may be best if you have your hotel or the restaurant you are eating at call ahead. Taxis should be called by phone and the nearest one available is sent to you through the company’s radio system with its meter ticking away. In Florence, it can be difficult to hail a cab from the street curb. You either call for one or get one at the very few taxi stands. One popular taxi stand is at the central Santa Maria Novella Train Station and in a few major squares. If you don’t have your car seat with you can ask your hotel to book one for you or you can book one from Best Airport Transfers.
Tuscany by Train
From the central station of Florence you can easily reach most places in Tuscany, including:
- Siena (1.5 to 2 hours)
- Pisa (1 to 1.5 hours)
- San Gimignano (by train to Poggibonsi, 1 hour ride, and then a bus that runs every 30-40 minutes, 25 minute ride)
- Volterra (also reachable by bus from Poggibonsi)
Tuscany By Bus
Toscana Mobilitá has a useful website (http://www.busfox.com/timetable/) for bus routes and schedules in Tuscany. The site is mostly in Italian, but is simple to use.
The website for Siena Mobilità (http://sienamobilita.it/orari.html) has bus schedules (orari) for and between a number of popular towns in Tuscany including Florence (Firenze in the schedule), Siena, San Gimignano, Arezzo, Cortona, Montepulciano and Chiusi among others. Local services for several cities are marked urbano. The interurban services are all under the tab servizio extraurbano.
Google maps identify bus stops throughout Tuscany for both local and interurban routes. If you click on the bus stop symbol, you can get a list of bus routes serving that stop.
Bus users should purchase their bus tickets before boarding the bus. Most Tabacchi-shops (tobacconists) sell bus tickets. Sometimes newsstands and bars may also sell tickets. You must tell the ticket seller your destination so that your ticket will be valid for the correct fare zones. After boarding the bus, stamp your ticket in the machine located behind the driver.
Be aware that many routes have either reduced or no service on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. Schedules indicate reduced service as festivo while the regular work day schedule is feriale.