Tuscany: is there anywhere better on the planet? Here at Walkabout Florence we’re obviously biased when we say the answer to that question is ‘no’, but we certainly aren’t alone so we think it might be OK to claim it as a truth! This magnificent part of Italy has become a much-loved tourist destination for visitors from all over the world who can’t get enough of the deep history, outstanding culture, lip-smacking food and legendary ‘la dolce vita’, for which we’ve become so famous.
It’s not hard to pinpoint the appeal of our much-loved region, to be honest, but if we had to break it down we’d say it’s probably because no single one of these things (mentioned above) stands out more to create the inimitable ambience of Tuscany; it’s all of it, rolled into one delicious, magical, memorable experience.
The word ‘experience’ is key, because we believe that one doesn’t simply visit Tuscany and tick off the (very many) attractions. Once you’re here, you really do become a welcomed part of an immersive and unforgettable experience that’s almost impossible to describe to someone who hasn’t yet been here.
But you can take it as read that, however you imagine, perceive or hope it will be, this magnificent place will not disappoint you in any way.
Making the Most of a Trip to Tuscany
While it would be perfect if every visitor who arrived here had the luxury of several weeks to explore and really get to know the area, the reality is that’s not the case. Most people have a few days or a week at most, so it’s important for them to be able to make the most of their valuable and possibly limited time. It’s for that reason that we design our tours to suit those who may be worried about missing out on something. Because we’re local and we’re experts, we know how to pack in the fun without ever making you feel rushed.
Florence makes for the perfect base from which to explore the surrounding area on a range of day trips. It means that, depending on the duration of the tour (or tours) you choose, you’ll also be able to make the most of your time in the city itself – discovering its highlights, historical sites and many wonderful museums and galleries.
Even if you have fairly limited time, one of the places that should absolutely be high on the list of priorities to visit is the incredible hilltop town of San Gimignano. This place is jam-packed with history, culture and character, and has an inimitable charm that exudes from its ancient architecture (including its unique towers), fascinating religious sites and spectacular outlook over the rolling hills of Chianti.
While the first question you might be asking yourself is how to get to San Gimignano from Florence, (and don’t worry, we promise to answer that!), we think there are a few other things you should know beforehand.
How to Pronounce San Gimignano
Maybe there should be a saying, ‘hard to say but easy to love’ about this magical place, but actually, once you know how, it’s not that hard to pronounce at all. If you want to sound like a local (or at least a pretty cool tourist) say it like this:
Say it slowly, now give your inner Italian a nudge and repeat it a few times a little faster while thinking of pizza, pasta and gelato. There; you can now consider yourself an expert!
Is San Gimignano Worth Visiting?
Yes, yes, a thousand times ‘si’! While it might not be as high profile as some other Tuscan cities, this hilltop town most definitely packs a punch in terms of its history and culture – and therefore its appeal to the casual visitor. The very fact that it is so compact is even more of a bonus, because even if you only have an hour or two, you can quite easily stroll around the centre and stumble upon some of its best attractions quite by happy accident. (Although we do recommend knowing what to look out for, just to be sure – which we outline below.)
This diminutive walled town has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages as part of the pilgrim’s route and as an Etruscan and Roman settlement. Much of this heritage is still in evidence in its architecture and enduring culture – so much so, in fact, that the entire historic city centre has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. The fact that the hill upon which it is built sits smack-bang in some of the most picturesque scenery you’ll ever lay eyes upon is the icing on the cake. You’d better believe it’s worth visiting!
What is San Gimignano Famous For?
You really can’t miss the thing this town is most famous for: the 14 remaining ‘torre’, or towers, that decorate the skyline on the hilltop and from which it gets the nickname as the ‘Manhattan of Tuscany’. Originally there were 72 of these towers, which were built by two of the rival ruling families as a display of their political and economic superiority. The medieval equivalent of skyscrapers, the towers were built ever-more splendid and soaring to assert the respective families’ power, and the remaining ones still dominate San Gimignano’s skyline in a very bold statement.
Other highlights of the town include the central triangular plaza, the Piazza della Cisterna, which will also lead you to one of the most notable streets, Via del Castello (on which some of the remaining towers are located). The Romanesque church of Santa Maria Assunta stands in the Piazza del Duomo, dating back to the twelfth century; its interiors are decorated with stunning frescos by some of Italy’s most celebrated artists.
The Palazzo del Popolo is home to the tallest of all the remaining towers (standing at an impressive 54m), which you can ascend to reward yourself with staggering views if you have the energy, and also the excellent Municipal Art Gallery.
If that’s not enough to convince you, other attractions include the church of Sant Agostino, the city walls and their ancient gates, the ruins of the magnificent Rocca (castle), the Archeological Museum and Herbarium, and the lovely Romanesque San Iácopo church.
We should add though, that quite apart from the sightseeing and cultural smorgasbord that await you, this gorgeous town can be enjoyed in the simplest of ways just by wandering around to soak up the ambience, stopping every now and again at a cafe to enjoy a coffee or a famous award-winning gelato. And, if all you do while you’re here is stroll around and take it all in at a very relaxed snail’s pace, it’ll be a job well done.
How Far is it from Florence to San Gimignano?
Obviously the exact distance and time it takes will depend on the mode of transport you’ve chosen, but it’s roughly 57 kilometres by road – which will take, as we detail below, anything from one to two and a half hours, depending on the route.
How do I get to San Gimignano from Florence?
If you were to Google how to get to San Gimignano from Florence you’d find there are several options. Of course the mode you choose is entirely up to you, but if your time is limited, as is most people’s, some choices are definitely smarter and easier than others.
By car: You could hire a car and drive yourself, which generally takes about an hour and a quarter (depending on traffic). While this does add an element of independence, which might appeal to some people, you really do need to be fully cognisant of what it entails. It goes without saying that the most important thing is to have a valid driver’s licence, but you also need to consider your confidence and skills when driving on unfamiliar roads and possibly on the opposite side of the road to which you’re accustomed. In particular, in this instance you also will have to factor in the challenges (and costs) of parking, as no traffic is allowed in the city centre so you’ll have to scramble for spaces in the busy designated spots below the town. To be frank, unless you are entirely comfortable with driving in Italy and you’re prepared to waste valuable time (and money) parking, it isn’t really recommended.
By bus: Taking the bus is certainly a relatively popular option and there are routes that range from an express one, at just over an hour and a quarter, to slower ones that can take up to two and a half hours. It’s fairly economical and there are several companies from which to choose. You will get to enjoy the countryside along the way, but you’ll be at the mercy of the sometimes erratic timetables – so make sure you do your research beforehand and know when your return bus is leaving.
By taxi: You could engage the services of a local taxi or a private driver and car from Florence, but you should be aware it will be expensive and you’ll also have to pay for the driver’s time while you are sightseeing.
As part of a private or small group day trip: For most people, we think this is the most sensible, economical, time-efficient and enjoyable way to get to San Gimignano from Florence. If you book on to one of our full or half-day tours, not only do you get to travel in air-conditioned comfort, but you’ll also get the services of a local guide who can give you all the insider tips and knowledge about the town and point out the main highlights not to miss. You won’t have to think about tickets, timetables or parking and you’ll be able to just sit back and relax, knowing someone else is taking care of the details. It’s all part of ‘la dolce vita’…
Can You Get a Train from Florence to San Gimignano?
This is a question a lot of people ask so we’re giving it its own little subheading. The answer is essentially no, because there is no train station at the destination. However, if you’re determined to give it a go, you will have to take the train from Florence to the nearest station, which is Poggibonsi (and this will most likely involve a change in Empoli), then take a bus from there. There are about two buses every hour from Poggibonsi and the same back so you’ll need to ensure you coordinate for your return journey. Unless you have unlimited time and patience, this isn’t particularly recommended.
Day Trips from Florence
Because Florence is such a popular destination it is a veritable hub for a range of half-day and day trips out into the surrounding countryside. With so much to see and do, many people choose multiple trips to ensure they get to see everything in their available time. Within a radius of just a couple of hours’ drive, you can visit iconic cities like Pisa and Siena, explore the magnificent wine-growing Chianti region, and even travel as far afield as the spectacular Cinque Terre.
Of course, there are enough attractions, culture and Renaissance history in Florence itself to keep you busy all day, every day for weeks on end, but it really would be a shame to visit Tuscany and not scratch the surface of its authentic heart and soul a little deeper. The key is managing what time you have wisely and, generally speaking, booking on to some carefully selected day trips is the most effective way of doing this.
For most people, choosing a mixture of a few cultural tours within the city and adding one or two that take in the wider Tuscany area provides a really fulfilling and memorable overview. It also gives you an idea of places you might like to explore in more depth on a return journey. (Because, oh yes, you will want to come back…)
When it comes to exploring Tuscany, there’s not much that can beat having a local friend – and that’s how we’d like you to view Walkabout Florence. We are completely dedicated to showing our clients the most authentic experiences at a genuine grass-roots level, and that’s something only a company with comprehensive local knowledge and passion can do.
All our wonderful tour guides have an in-depth knowledge of the art, history, food, wine and culture of the region – it’s what they live for (because it really is their life), and there’s nothing they’d rather do than share it with our visitors from all over the world.
Having a local guide is our secret weapon when it comes to ensuring our clients have the most memorable experience while on one of our tours. Not only do they take care of all the details like tickets, transport and entry fees, they’re also walking encyclopedias on the history and art of Italy. Learning facts and information from a person who is so clearly passionate about it makes it so much more enjoyable than trying to discover things from a book. You may find yourself an expert via osmosis by the end of a day or half-day spent with one of our guides! Many of our guests tell us that even a small taste has inspired them to learn more about Italian culture, food, art or history, which is a great source of pride.
The Best of the Best
We’re constantly thinking about creating new tours and itineraries to add to our existing range. It encompasses not only several superb walking tours of Florence to introduce you to the most famous (and some lesser-known) galleries and museums, we’re also thrilled to be able to take you into the countryside for authentic culinary experiences on farms and vineyards, out on the open road on a Vespa or Fiat 500, and all the way to the ultimate walking experience along the breathtaking Cinque Terre. There’s also the ultimate Best of Tuscany in One Day (see below for details) for those who want to see it and do it all in just one day!
If, after reading this post, you’ve decided that a visit is on the cards, we’re extremely proud to tell you about the latest addition to our range, which takes in two of our favourite places: Siena and San Gimignano.
This small group tour, which is also available as a private tour, is designed to make the most of your time and ensure that you don’t miss anything in either city. What’s more, it includes a delicious lunch in a working Tuscan farmhouse and an informal wine tasting from their vineyard. We think it’s the ultimate way to explore these two gorgeous places.
San Gimignano is the first stop on the day trip after a gorgeous drive through the countryside in a comfortable air-conditioned coach, taking in scenery of rolling hills, vineyards and hilltop towns. Your guide will take you to the gates of the city and, armed with all the information and facts you’ve found out along the way, you can wander at your leisure to discover the delights of this charming town. The beauty of this tour is its relaxed nature and the opportunity to do as much or as little sightseeing as you wish, but with plenty of time so you won’t ever feel rushed.
Lunch is an event in itself, and the chance not only to eat and drink to your holiday heart’s content, but also to get an insight into a working Tuscan farm and vineyard is truly wonderful.
Once in Siena the benefits of having a local guide become apparent, and you’ll be treated to a fabulous walking tour taking in all the main highlights and quite a few of the lesser, more out of the way ones as well (things that only a true local knows).
We love this exciting new tour and we think you will too! We enjoy taking care of the finer details (and that’s what we’re good at), so let us take the stress out of trying to navigate the roads or public transport, and worrying about how to get to San Gimignano from Florence, then to Siena and back again. We’ve got you covered!
We are Walkabout Florence
Here at Walkabout Florence we’re very proud of the wonderful tours we’ve created and we work hard to ensure every client has a memorable and fun-filled experience. We’re absolutely passionate about sharing our knowledge of Italy and our wonderful guides are dedicated to showing you the most authentic and immersive experience possible. With everything from riding a Vespa through Florence, to exploring hilltop towns, wine tasting in Chianti and culinary experiences in a farmhouse, we’re here for you. Get in touch and get ready to make magical memories with us!