Tuscany is most certainly one of those places that should be on everyone’s travel bucket lists. Known for its beautiful landscapes, architecture, history, art and culture as well as fine wines and cheeses. With its central location Tuscany is also a great place to stay for access to travelling to other parts of Italy. Italy has a great rail network so it is easy to rent a house in Tuscany and explore both in and out of the region. We stayed in Figline Valdarno just outside the capital of Florence and travelled to Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano (the home of the World Champion Gelato), and even Rome. There are definitely some things worth knowing before visiting Tuscany though:
Flying into Pisa
I found that it was actually much cheaper to fly into Pisa than it was Florence, even when adding on the cost of travelling from Pisa. This also meant we got to visit another part of Italy as well as saving money. With such a good transport network it really is worth checking out all your options of where you can fly in to.
Trains in Tuscany
There are good links all around Italy and if we would have had more time we would have also caught a train to Venice. We pre-booked our train tickets online before we left home, but if you buy them at the station you will need to ensure you get them stamped by the machine before you board the train. The boys also loved that there are double decker trainers.
Places to visit in Italy
Italy has so much to offer in general that it is worth keeping in mind where you want to visit, and book in advance where possible. I wish I had known the opening and closing times for the places we wished to visit in advanced. It is also worth knowing any age restrictions (under 8s are not allowed up the Leaning Tower of Pisa) or other restrictions (no bags are allowed either).
We were surprised to find that the final entry time to the Vatican was 4pm (Monday to Saturday). Also check to see if there are beat the queue tickets available, as Italy is a very popular place for tourists; there are queues everywhere – and when I say queues they are massive.
Street Sellers and Beggars
Be very aware of Street Sellers who can be very pushy – just because you already have a selfie-stick/coat/umbrella does not mean they won’t try to sell you another one! Then there’s the ones who are quite assertive in their requests for money as they are “hungry.” Pisa was by far the pushiest place for street sellers and beggars. One man put things over the heads of my youngest two children telling them they were free and it was a gift. When I went to sort this out he tied string around my wrist and very assertively told us he was hungry. We took the things off the children and gave him a Euro but still couldn’t get the string off – but he was still not wanting to leave us alone and my husband had to be very insistent that we were not giving him more money. There were people like this literally everywhere in Pisa; even a trip to McDonalds had people begging whilst we tried to eat with no-where to sit! My advice is firmly say no and try and avoid stopping making, eye contact or even letting them know that you speak English if you can help it.
Speaking English in Italy
If you are worried about how ropey your Italian is then fear not as we had no problems being understood in English in Tuscany.
Meal times in Italy
The Italians do not eat at the same time as the English and therefore do not expect to get an evening meal at 5pm. Lunchtime is 1-4pm and Dinner time is around 7-8pm. We ended up using a Supermarket for our evening meal and this cost almost as much as eating at a restaurant. It was actually really hard to find a supermarket too, and we wondered if the Italians eat out all the time! Although Gelato seems to be on sale all the time and in plenty of places (with many amazing flavours!)
Toilets in Italy
We found the toilets quite difficult to find and then there is a charge (usually 50 cents or 1 Euro). This is either paid via a turnstile or there will be someone there – and they will give you a receipt. We often found that children could go in free with an adult, or at a discounted rate. Some places the toilet has no seat too. Some cafes will let you use their restroom free of charge without even making a purchase. The Hop on Hop off Cruise does have a toilet on board.
Crossing the Road in Italy
You need to take extra care when crossing the road. Italy was the totally opposite of Iceland! We were surprised to find that even when there is a green man indicating to cross that cars can still turn into the road where we were crossing and that cars do not automatically stop when using designated crossing places (indicated by white stripes like a zebra crossing but without the orange lights). You have to set foot in the road and some drivers are still likely to accelerate rather than stop!
Rome wasn’t built in a day
They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day and I am not surprised as it is so big and takes a lot of time to try to get around. I suggest if you are planning on venturing out of Tuscany to visit Rome then plan your day using some kind of transport to help you get around. We found the Metro very easy to use and a lot like London Underground. Be aware that you can’t just get on public transport and buy your tickets on-board. However, personally I think that Florence was a far more amazing place to visit than Rome! In general Italy may involve a lot of walking (and stairs) so bring comfy shoes – but it is well worth it.
Have you been to Tuscany? Have you any advice or opinions on visiting?
This is a commissioned post