Tuscany day-trips for ambitious travellers

Burano, Venice

At least once a week, I get asked by one of our future guests about a crazy idea they’ve had to visit some far-off city on a Tuscany day-trip. I used to push back hard. “Are you nuts? Why on earth would you want to go all that way when there is so much to see and do, right on your doorstep?” And it’s true. You could spend 3 weeks in Tuscany and not see everything. (I’ve been here 11 years and there’s loads I’ve not seen yet.)

But you know what? I’m starting to have some sympathy for these crazy travellers. Want to see Rome for the day? Why the hell not? It’s your vacation. The Italian roads are really pretty good, and the super-high-speed trains mean you can cover big distances relatively quickly. So as long as you’re sensible, there’s no reason why you can’t have a really exciting and memorable experience.

So here’s my guide to organising a successful longer day-trip, one that won’t leave your marriage, family or group in tatters.

Where to go on you Tuscany day-trip

Whilst I may have softened my approach to ambitious travellers, I’ve not gone completely mad. You want to go on a long day-trip? Sure. No problem. I admire your grit. But you’re going to have to decide on some guidelines, and set some limits.

And the key question is this: how much of the day are you prepared to spend travelling?

If you leave at 8am, and get home at 10pm, that’s 14 hours. How much of that time are you willing to spend en route? Personally, I think the limit is somewhere around 3 hours, each way. More than that, and you’ll spend more time travelling than you will sight-seeing.

This means that the following places are IN:

  • Bologna
  • Rome
  • Venice
  • Cinque Terre
  • Verona
  • San Marino

But these places are OUT:

  • Naples
  • Pompei
  • Lake Como

That’s not so say you can’t visit these places. It just means you should probably think about spending the night away, rather than trying to get there and back in a day.

How to get there

The easiest mode of travel is to use your hire car. You get up, you grab a coffee, and you hit the road, Jack. Leave by 7am, and you’re driving into Rome by 10. As long as you have willing drivers, this will be your simplest and cheapest travel option.

But it’s not your only option. The high-speed trains here are fast, really fast. We’re talking 350kmh, that’s 220mph. So, Florence to Venice or Rome in less than 2 hours.

And the best bit? The restaurant car.

Dining at 350 kph

Always book your train tickets in advance. The tickets are cheaper, you’ll get to reserve seats together and travel at the ideal time.

But my super-clever tip is this: don’t even bother trying to find your booked seats. Go straight to the restaurant car, and ask for a table. The food on these trains is really rather good. And you might not fancy a bottle of wine for breakfast, but if you travel at lunch or in the evening, eating a decent plate of pasta whilst sipping an inoffensive glass of wine, hurtling through space at a frankly ridiculous speed…now that’s the way to travel.

Getting to Florence Santa Maria Novella (SMN) is a lot easier than it used to be. Now you can park on the outskirts, and get the tram all the way to the station. Otherwise, get the train from Poggibonsi. Get your timings right, and your travel could be very comfortable indeed.

If you’re not worried about the extra cost, then this would be my preferred way to travel to Venice or Rome for the day.

And once you get there?

Once you’ve gone to all this effort, you don’t want to be wasting more time in queues. So, where possible, plan your day in advance, and pre-purchase any necessary tickets.

In Rome, for example, you can purchase tickets for the Colosseum and the Forum, and totally jump the lines. Just make sure you buy your tickets from the true official sites, and not from one of the fake ‘official’ queue-jumping sites, that will charge you 100%-200% more for exactly the same ticket.

The Colosseum seen from the Belvedere levels

Some specific advice

Cinque Terre – drive to La Spezia train station, park, and then buy a day-ticket for the little train that goes up and down the coast to all 5 towns.

Rome – pre-purchase tickets for the Forum and the Colosseum from the official website. Spend a few extra Euros and pay for the guided “Belvedere” tour of the upper levels of the Colosseum, where general ticket-holders can’t go, so you get a really calm, stress-free tour, with amazing views.

Venice – then you get to the train station, buy a one-day travel card that allows you to travel on Venice’s vaporetti as much as you like, including going all the way out to Murano.

If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go

Quite often, the people asking the questions are group leaders who are trying their hardest to keep everyone in their group or family happy. That’s never an easy task, and as travelling to Europe isn’t cheap, especially if you’re coming from far, there will be people might not be back in Italy for a while.

And if some of your party really want to see Rome or Venice, these days, it’s no big deal. It’s a long day, but with a modicum of forward-planning, everyone can have a really spectacular day with a minimum of fuss.

Have fun, you crazy travellers.

Manarola, Cinque Terre

For more ideas on Tuscany day-trips, try our main website
things to do in Tuscany, or check out some of the other blog articles here on this blog.

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