Make Your Next Trip Extraordinary

The Best Way to Travel Between Rome, Florence, and the Towns of Tuscany

Wendy Perrin | May 14, 2014

Question:

Hi Wendy,

We’re taking a mother-daughter trip to Italy for my daughter’s college graduation. We’ll be in Rome for four days, then Florence for six days, in early June.  We want to make day trips from Florence to Lucca, Pisa, a few Tuscan villages, and possibly Cinque Terre. What’s the best way to get around efficiently in our limited time? What are the best day trips from Florence?

Thanks,

—Donna

Answer:

Donna, if I were you, I’d use a combination of trains and private drivers.  I’ve driven from Rome to Florence, and all over Tuscany, in a rental car, and I have to tell you that it’s not very efficient. You can easily get lost because of poor signage and confusing roads, get fined for breaking rules you didn’t know exist, and waste untold hours searching for parking spots, especially in June—a peak month for tourist crowds. You can’t drive into the historic centers of cities like Florence and Siena anyway—although you can drive in circles around them for hours, following the signs for “centro”  yet never reaching it.

Trains are a good solution for certain day trips from Florence—say, to Pisa and Lucca, which you can combine in one day by train (especially in June, when you have many hours of daylight to play with). For certain day trips, though, you need a car—especially if you want a proper experience of the hill towns of Tuscany.  As for Cinque Terre, it makes no sense to do that as a day trip from Florence; it takes too long to get there, whether by train or car.

Your best option, if your budget allows, is to hire a knowledgeable private driver for the day trip to Tuscan villages, especially if you want to see Chianti, the legendary wine region between Florence and Siena, and if you plan to do any wine tasting there.  You might also hire a driver for the trip from Rome to Florence. True, you could easily take the train, but then you’d miss must-see stops in between, such as the grand Umbrian hill town of Orvieto.

I asked Maria Gabriella Landers of Concierge in Umbria, an Italy travel specialist who arranges magically efficient itineraries with private drivers, to share her advice for you:

“Travelers to Italy can be smart about when to utilize a driver. Do it on a day when you’re changing hotel locations, so you have the convenience of a driver when you have luggage, and so you can make sightseeing stops between those locations—such as these stops between Rome, Florence, and Venice.  Stopping in Orvieto or Siena, or in the hill towns of Chianti, en route from Rome to Florence adds color and contrast to an itinerary focused on the bigger cities.

Once you’re in Florence, you could do a day trip, with a driver, to visit San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, Radda, and Gaiole, and stop by a couple of vineyards—all in one day. There are also lots of tiny, charming villages just outside Florence—Vinci, for instance, which is Leonardo da Vinci’s home town and has spectacular views, as well as a da Vinci museum and the house where he was born. You could also do a day trip to Montepulciano and Pienza (90 minutes by car).”

As for day trips from Florence that you can execute comfortably by public transportation, here are Maria’s suggestions:

  • Lucca and Pisa. You can work the trains so as to visit both in one day. Check Trenitalia for schedules; be sure to enter the city names in Italian—e.g., Firenze for Florence, Roma for Rome. Keep in mind that the Leaning Tower of Pisa is a 20-minute walk from the train station.
  • Bologna. It’s just half an hour by train.
  • Fiesole and Settignano. You can take city buses from Florence to visit these two charming and historically rich towns in the hills outside of Florence.
  • For a bit of fresh air without really leaving town, you can walk up to the Piazzale Michelangelo and stroll along the hills to Via San Leonardo and Villa Strozzi.

Note to readers who’ve already been there and done that: If you’re looking for more unusual day-trip ideas, here are two that are on my own wish list: The Piero della Francesca trail, and this unusual ancient Tuscan cooking class.

Also read Maria’s Insider’s Guide to Florence, her Insider’s Guide to Tuscany, and her Insider’s Guide to Umbria.  Buon viaggio!

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13 Comments

  1. Su Bains

    Hi Wendy

    Were traveling to Italy on the 17 of feb, this month. I have booked a car rental from FCO airport, when we are going to stay just out side rome in a hotel with a car park, so that we can then travel into the center by public transport., visiting as many sites. I would like to travel up to Florence exploring as much as we can as i will be bring my daughter as she is going to start big school this year. But on reading your post driving doesn’t sound as straight forward as what I would like!! Im staying in total for 5 nights what would you suggest please?

    1. Wendy Perrin Post author

      Hi Su,
      It’s not clear to me why you’re renting a car, since it’s easy to take the train from Rome to Florence. Are you saying that you’d like to make stops and sightsee en route between Rome and Florence? I need a few more details in order to advise you accurately, so please click over to Ask Wendy.
      Wendy

  2. Denise Klose

    This information is really helpful since we are planning a trip in June. I am looking to hire a driver for several day tours but on the day we are going to Florence I would prefer not to pay for a driver for the day when we would just need transportation back and forth from our Villa. We are staying in a Villa in San Pancrazio and would like transport from the Villa to Florence. Any suggestions?
    Also, should we hire the car/limousine company we go with for our day trips to take us from Rome to our Villa that first day? We will likely take the train back to Rome after our week in the Villa but after an overnight flight from the US we are looking into possibly hiring a driver to take us to out villa. Your thoughts?

    1. Wendy Perrin

      Thanks for asking, Denise. Your June trip sounds fun, but one of the things that makes any vacation extraordinary is not having to worry about logistics like this. You can use an online tool such as Rome2Rio.com to look at the pros and cons of taking a car vs. public transport between any two points. But remember that one reason why the right driver is well worth the extra cost is that drivers can be more than just people who shuttle you back and forth. They can turn a drive into a unique experience, making various stops en route and turning you on to local gems or a favorite mom-and-pop restaurant. They also can have access to attractions–access that you wouldn’t have on your own. In the future, when you’re booking a villa vacation, I strongly recommend having the right villa specialist on my WOW List arrange it. I choose them for the List specifically because they have the most thorough knowledge of their destinations. They know the best, safest, and most reasonably priced drivers and guides in your area–the ones who know all the short cuts and all the hidden gems en route. Even more valuable, they can answer all these questions up front for you, and get everything sorted ahead of time so that all you have to do is show up and enjoy!

  3. Michelle GG

    This article prompted us to explore Orvieto and the surrounding Umbria, and I have to tell you, we fell in love with the region. We rented Vespas from Umbria Vespa in Magione (we took a train from Firenze and the Vespa shop owner, Claudia, picked us up from the stazione). We then left our luggage with her and went on a fantastic day tour of vineyards, hill towns and acres of beauty. Our luggage was delivered to our B&B at the outskirts of Orvieto, and the Vespas trailered off to their shop. I used to live in Florence many years ago, and know Tuscany well. Umbria was fantastic. I thank you for the article, and highly recommend our day to anyone. If we were to do this again, we would spend a night in Todi and 2 in Orvieto. Todi is precious and beautiful!!

  4. Carmen Hung

    Hi,

    I am looking for means of transport from Firenze to Roma in one day, with a stop of several hours in Orvieto (in one day).

    As we are in a group of 4 and we don’t drive, we need to think if we should hire a private driver or if we should take train.

    If we hire a driver… I can’t find any website for that so I don’t know where I can hire one before setting off to Italy.

    if we take train – I don’t know where we can keep our luggage during our stay in Orvieto.

    What would you advise us?

    Thank you.

  5. Cacinda Maloney

    Like dhammer said, use caution when renting a car in Italy. And pay especially close attention to the speed CONTROL signs! Every time you hear that ding in your rental car’s windshield, it means you will be getting a ticket later from the municipality in which you violated their law . TIP: When you return home from Rome (or other city in Italy) be sure and cancel the credit card you used to rent the car, since they have no problem with giving your credit card number to the government to pay for your fine…

  6. Alissa van Tol

    Just got back from Italy today, and I am so happy that you want to go! I wanted to share a good experience I had with you regarding using a private driver service. I searched on the internet and asked hotel concierges in and around Florence, and came up with Max Niccoli, who owns and operates his own service. My family and I were very happy with our dealings with him and ended up using him for not one, but four trips in total: the original airport pickup; a to-and-from to a football match; a half day to San Gimingnano (great!); and a half day to a Chianti winery (great!!). The prices were more than fair, and half of what the hotel concierges were charging for the same journeys.
    THE NICCOLI LIMOUSINE GROUP
    Limousine and minivan service. Since 1922
    Florence and Tuscany car service
    Piazza Vittorio Veneto 2-3 r 50123 FIRENZE
    Telefono e fax: +39 055 216952
    Phone: +39 339 7057216
    http://www.niccolimousineservice.net
    info@nicrent.it

    1. Bonnie

      Can you provide an estimate of the cost for the private driver you recommended ?

  7. J Sagett

    Kudos for Wendy’s caution re: driving a rental car. Tried it several years ago. NOT a good idea for all the reasons stated.

  8. lee laurino

    i have been to Italy every year for more than a decade and still Maria has given me several new places to visit…….if you can give me a link to the secondary train systems in Italy, I would be able to go everywhere!
    hometoitaly.com

  9. dhammer53Flyertalk

    Wendy,

    Please remind your readers Not to drive their cars into the center of most towns and villages. You’ll get a ticket; and months after the fact, you’re rental car company will charge you for it.

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