The Best Base for Exploring Tuscany, Italy

The Best Base for Exploring Tuscany

Last Updated on Tuesday 18th, February 2014 / 14:19 Written by
The Best Base for Exploring Tuscany
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Anyone planning to visit Tuscany would like to know which is the best base to explore it! Where is the best location for a base in Tuscany? 

Best Base for Exploring Tuscany: Florence or Siena?

Often many travelers ask me which one between Florence and Siena is the best base to travel the region and visit its main sights. That makes sense as Florence and Siena are the 2 most beautiful and major art towns in Tuscany.

However, other Tuscan towns and destinations can be great as a base. I think to Cortona, Montepulciano, or San Gimignano for example, but we need to say that Siena and Florence in particular are the best to reach most of the top sights and attractions in Tuscany, including Tuscany best areas, also considering their central location in Tuscany and the possibility to use public transportation more easily.

Both Florence and Siena are incredibly beautiful and amazing art towns in Tuscany, and you should definitely visit both, wherever your base. Generally I recommend staying in Florence in case you are not going to rent a car, on the contrary, I always suggest staying in Siena or its surrounding beautiful countryside (Crete Senesi, Val’Orcia or also right near Siena) if you are going to rent a car and can move more freely. A good alternative to Siena and its countryside, but still using the car, is also the beautiful Chianti area, located between Florence and Siena. Chianti is a great base to explore Tuscany as well.

Torre del Mangia and Palazzo Pubblico in Siena

Florence and Siena are both incredibly wonderful, though very different from each other, the first being mostly a Renaissance town, while the second entirely medieval. Florence is more chaotic and tends to be overcrowded, while Siena is more peaceful.

In case you have a limited time to spend in Tuscany, like just few days, Florence can be the right choice, considering its central location in Tuscany and the convenience to reach most of the sights by train or bus. All means of transport, from bus to train, are to be found centrally in town, in the area of Santa Maria Novella Train Station.

You may well also take advantage of one of the many organized tours leaving from Florence and taking you to visit the main attractions of Tuscany, like Chianti, San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa, and Lucca.

If you have instead more time to spend in Tuscany, like one week or two, you may even split your journey, and make Florence or Chianti your base for the first part of your vacation, and Siena or its countryside for the last part of it.

From Siena and Florence you can start making fantastic day trips! Have a look:

Both Florence and Siena offers a lot to see and do! Find out more about Siena’s Top Attractions and Florence’s Top Sights and Must Visits.

Please also find my suggestions for one week Itinerary in Tuscany and for a two weeks itinerary in Tuscany! These 2 itineraries are particularly useful if you’re not willing to stay in the same place all the time, but want to explore and discover Tuscany at its best :-)

Cortona as a base to visit Tuscany and Umbria

Coming back to Cortona as a base for your trip to Tuscany, I consider it a very good alternative, especially if you‘re going to move by car. However, you can move quite easily also using public transports; the train station of Cortona Terontola is located near Cortona’s town center; and from there you can reach Florence and Siena. Cortona may be well considered as a good base to visit some of the best and most important sights not just of Tuscany but of Umbria as well, been right on the borders between the two regions. Take a look to the best day trips from Cortona, so stay tuned!

Enjoy your trip :-) If you need help planning your Tuscan trip contact me!

About the author

Hi! My name is Elena, I'm a travel writer and a happy mom living near Florence. I love to explore Tuscany to discover special places and I have a great passion for Tuscan Cooking. On this blog I share my experiences on special hotels and places to visit in Tuscany and Italy, and about my grandmother's tasty Recipes! I'm happy to help travelers plan their holiday in Tuscany :-)

View all articles by elena nacci

13 Comments on “The Best Base for Exploring Tuscany

  • elena nacci Post author

    Thanks a lot Margie! Yes Firenze is great as well! a beautiful town full of character! I will dedicate a full post to using Florence as a base to visit Tuscany, with advice on how to move back and forth from Florence using public transportation :-) I think Florence is perfect in case you’re not going to move by car.

    Reply
  • Nitin Rameshchandra

    Hi Elena,

    I liked going thru your notes on keeping a base at Siena and Florence to visit Tuscany by car. We wish to find a single base to tour Tuscany and Umbria using a car in about 6 to 8 days. I was contemplating using Tresimeno lake area to stay for most of the days except maybe a couple using Lucca to tour Florence and Lucca and Viagregio beach area as we have a 4 year old travelling with us and he loves the water (hence wanting to live along lake Tresimeno also). Your comments and suggestions and maybe day by day itinerary if you could suggest will be highly appreciated.
    Thanks.

    Reply
    • elena nacci Post author

      Dear Nitin, thanks for contacting me! I think the best and most convenient base to tour both Tuscany and Umbria is the beautiful hill town of Cortona or indeed its surroundings near the Trasimeno Lake (just 20 minutes away from Cortona). There’s a full article on the blog where I speak about making Cortona your home base to explore both Tuscany and Umbria:-) have a look and get back to me for further questions. The area is beautiful and convenient to visit great sights in both regions. It’s also great to then move to Lucca, that is incredibly beautiful and near the sea of Viareggio! I suggest to stay within its medieval walls. Ciao from Tuscany! elena

      Reply
  • Hi Elena, I will spend 10 days in Cortona during May and will arrive there by train… I wish to travel around by car car to a few of the towns you have mentioned .. I’m wondering is it possible to pick up a car in Cortona or the town of Camucia? I love reading your page !
    Kerry

    Reply
    • elena nacci Post author

      Dear Kerry,
      thanks for contacting me! Yes you can pick your car up in Cortona. The car rental company Il Girasole is located right next to the train station of Cortona-Terontola, so you may consider getting off at Terentola’s station instead of Camucia.
      In case you’ve not read it yet, here is a post dedicated to the best day trips you can make having Cortona as a base :-)
      Let me know if I can be of further help,
      elena

      Reply
  • Elena, thanks for all the great information! We are going to spend only about three days in Tuscany. Would you still recommend Cortona as a base? That’s if we rent a car, correct? We are planning on visiting Lucca and maybe a beach at Pisa? Looking also at bike tours and cooking classes. We can’t decide. :):)

    Reply
    • elena nacci Post author

      Hi Shanna!
      thanks for your nice message!
      When having a car, Cortona is a great base to explore southern Tuscany including the Val d’Orcia, and also the Umbria region.

      As you’re staying in Tuscany only 3 days, the best thing would to base in a central location in the region, like Florence itself, its surroundings hills, Chianti, or even the wonderful San Gimignano and its countryside. The only case in which a car is not required is if you base right in Florence historic center; in this case here are my suggestions on the best day trips to make from Florence using public transportation only.

      Since you also like bike tours and cooking classes, I would choose between Chianti or San Gimignano, both very convenient to reach Tuscany main sights, including Lucca, Pisa, Volterra, and also Siena, Monteriggioni, and the Val d’Orcia. Of the 2, San Gimignano is probably the better option, as you can reach Pisa and Lucca in less time. Take a look at this specific post on using San Gimignano as your home base.

      In case you wish suggestions on where to stay, just let me know, I’d be happy to help!
      Have a nice day,
      elena

      Reply
  • Elena thank you! We don’t have to go to the beach, we just want the best of Tuscany for the three days we are there. We are active people (biking/walking enjoyed) and I love to cook. Italian is my favorite. My husband just likes to eat it. :) I would love any suggestions you have on where to stay. Also, we will be renting a car so any tips you have on that would be appreciated as well.

    Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Three more things I should mention: We are tall people (6’00 and 6’03”) so one double bed will not work for us. I know finding a king bed in these smaller towns may be difficult. I did see the Hotel Villa Marsili in Cortona has some.

      We are also big breakfast eaters so a complimentary full breakfast would be fantastic. Fuel us up for the adventures ahead!

      Although I don’t see us spending an exceedingly large amount of time in the hotel, a balcony room with views of the lovely Tuscan countryside seems like a must,

      The three Bs… bed, breakfast, and balcony!

      Reply
      • elena nacci Post author

        Hi Shanna!
        I’m happy to hear from you :-)

        Let’s come to my suggestions on where to stay!

        Hotel Villa Marsili is a very good 4 star hotel I always suggest for anyone looking for a charming accommodation right in the heart of Cortona. As I told, Cortona has not so a central location in Tuscany but since you’re having a car you can pretty stay anywhere.
        For the best day trips to make from Cortona take a look here.

        This being said, I think the best option would be the wonderful Villa Bordoni in Greve in Chianti!
        The Villa has beautiful rooms with king-sized beds and lovely views; some also has private terrace or outdoor private space. This is one of those very special places in Tuscany where to pass an unforgettable holiday. The food here is delicious and I highly recommend you try their cooking class, for a real cooking experience :-)

        The Villa’s location is also perfect to explore Tuscany. Near it are the enchanting villages of Montefioralle and Panzano in Chianti. Have a look at the website and let me know.

        Chianti is a great home base to discover the region, here are my travel tips about making Chianti your home with a list of the best day trips to make from there.

        Do not hesitate to contact me again if you wish more suggestions.
        Enjoy the weekend!
        elen

        Reply
  • Hi Elena,

    My husband and I are traveling from Prague to Rome in December this year (November 30th to 15th December). I would love see the Christmas markets on our way. It will be a very special trip as we celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary and my birthday on the 4th. So here’s what I thought..

    Fly in to Prague 30 nov – 3 Dec
    Prague to Florence.. Florence 3 – 7 Dec (fly from Prague to Milan and take the train to Florence)
    Florence to Siena.. Siena 7- 11 Dec
    Siena to Rome.. Rome 11 – 15 Dec (fly out)

    Or..

    Fly in to Prague 30 nov – 5 Dec
    Prague to Florence or Siena 5- 11 Dec (fly from Prague to Milan and take the train to Florence/Siena) I would prefer to choose between the 2 cities as a base to travel around Tuscany given its not really the Tuscan season. We are planning to get a car to drive around. Which city to choose for this purpose? Or another recommendation? I’m open to reducing my days in Prague.
    F/S to Rome.. Rome 11 – 15th Dec (fly out)

    Please help me decide.

    Thank you in advance.

    Reply
    • elena nacci Post author

      Hi!
      thanks for your message and my excuses for my delay! How about your Italian vacation?

      Reply

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