Florence certainly has enough history to keep anyone interested in the subject busy for weeks, but sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city for a new perspective. Coming into its own during the Renaissance, much of the popular sights here revolve around this time period.
Cities like Pisa and Siena are worth visiting for their historical significance alone, but this being Italy, you’ll also find amazing cuisine in the Tuscany region, fantastic shopping, and stunning views pretty much everywhere you look. Smaller towns like Lucca and San Gimignano are almost as easy to reach and punch well above their weight when it comes to historical significance.
Taking a day trip to a hilltop town in the Tuscan countryside or to a larger city will be much easier if you don’t take everything with you. Leave your unneeded bags behind at a Santa Maria Novella Train Station luggage storage before you hop on a train. Then, you’ll be all set to explore the history surrounding Florence.
It’s a bit of a stretch to travel to Pisa for the day, but it’s totally doable (and worth it). Pisa is small, so it’s fairly easy to squeeze the major sights into a single day. Of course, the foremost thing to do here is the iconic Leaning Tower. History is everywhere in the Piazza del Duomo, where you’ll find the tower and three other impressive attractions – the cathedral, the baptistry, and the cemetery.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this complex is where most people head off the train in Pisa. The construction of this area began in the Middle Ages and is a staggering example of Medieval Christian architecture. There’s art to peruse in the cathedral’s museum, fantastic views, photo ops, and beautiful adornments everywhere. If that doesn’t keep a history buff happy, nothing will.
Before you leave Pisa, try to also visit Palazzo Blu for an in-depth look at Italian art. The permanent collection was purchased from Cassa di Risparmio di Pisa, and over the years, additions have been made by artists like Orazio Artemisia Gentileschi, and Tribolo.
Grab a train at Santa Maria Novella and head out on a day trip to Siena. The journey time varies from an hour to an hour and a half, so like Pisa, this is a possible day trip destination from Florence.
Siena, though smaller than Florence and Pisa, holds its own history. The city was formed on three hills, and at the center of it all is the large square called Piazza del Campo. Your historic exploration of Siena should start from here. Inside the square, check out the Palazzo Pubblico, also known as the town hall, which was built in 1297. The defining feature of this building is the ultra-tall attached clock tower that residents have been using for nearly 700 years.
After you get your fill of the bustling piazza, head out towards the Siena Cathedral, which was completed in 1348 – the same year as the Piazza del Campo clock tower. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more impressive building on any day trip from Florence than this. The Medieval facade is extremely ornate and has an impressive striped bell tower. And the stripes don’t end there. Inside, the support columns have black and white stripes that contribute to one of the most amazing cathedral interiors you’ll ever see.
The drive from Florence to San Gimignano takes about an hour, but if you’re not into driving in Italy, you can still get here by a combination of rail and bus in an hour and 20 minutes from Santa Maria Novella Station.
This small hilltop town has some great things to attract history lovers, including the Palazzo Comunale Museum, which was constructed in the 13th century and is thought to have been designed by Arnolfo di Cambio, a sculptor. Visitors with a penchant for history will also enjoy the atmosphere and Medieval surroundings of Piazza della Cisterna, which has a triangular shape. Plus, to continue our theme, multiple historic towers are visible from here.
Leaving the square but just two minutes away is another historic building and museum. The Tower and Casa Campatelli allow visitors to see what life was like for the home’s residents, and a highlight of the museum is the preserved living quarters with original furniture.
A similar distance from Florence, Lucca is another great day trip option. The city boasts well-preserved walls dating to the Renaissance, explorable ramparts, and basically a history-filled city center.
Among the notable sights here is the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. It has an elliptical shape that gives away its origins as a Roman amphitheater. Although buildings have been constructed around the square, the remains of the amphitheater are intact.
Not far from the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, you’ll find the Guinigi Tower, which dates to the 14th century. The good news is that you can climb the tower for fabulous views over the surrounding countryside. The bad news is that to get to the top, you’ll have to go up 233 steps. Another thing that sets this tower apart is the trees growing at the top. It’s a sight you won’t soon forget!
Leaving Florence for the day promises even more history
We know it’s super tempting not to leave Florence when there’s so much to do there, but a little change of scenery, just for the day, is usually a good idea. Pisa is a world-renowned destination, but slightly less traveled spots like Lucca, San Gimignano, and Siena are also fascinating for history buffs.
Renaissance art, Gothic architecture, a glimpse into former Italian life, and tons of stunning towers are your rewards for taking the time to venture outside the city. You’ll surely return to Florence with an even bigger appreciation for Italian history.