For the first time visitor to our region, sooner or later the question of how to get around Tuscany arises. Tuscany is about the size of New Jersey and has a good public transport network of trains and buses that allows visitors to get around the main centres and many of the minor ones with a minimum of stress. That said, having a car gives you greater flexibility and allows you to visit innumerable beautiful but otherwise inaccessible sights dotted around Tuscany.
Getting around Tuscany by train
There are fast trains between the larger cities such as Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Sienna, Cortona and Grosseto, with slower trains stopping at the smaller intermediate stations. Almost all tickets can be purchased on-line at the Trenitalia Website which has an English language version. Make use of this facility if you are not familiar with the ticket dispensing machines in the railway stations, because in the larger stations there can be interminable queues at the ticket offices. Tickets bought online for the Frecciarossa and other fast trains are specific to a named person and a particular train departure even if they don’t include a seat reservation. You should therefore carry an ID that corresponds to the name on the ticket printout. These identified tickets don’t need to be franked but all other tickets MUST be franked (validated) with a place and date stamp before you board the train, using the yellow machines at the head of every platform. If you forget to do this you WILL be fined and could even be asked to get off the train at the next stop. The ticket inspectors are in general merciless. This is because an unvalidated ticket can be re-used without payment.
Getting around Tuscany by bus
Comfortable Pullman buses, usually with air-conditioning in summer, run along routes that fan out from the provincial capitals. These buses are primarily for working people and school children so that their timing, especially the lack of late night runs, is not always ideal for tourists. Bus travel between towns that are located in different provinces, or trips across a province between small towns, can mean a long trip to the provincial capital with a change for your destination. Nevertheless, buses connect to many interesting towns, including Greve in Chianti, that have no railway connection. In other cases, the bus is much more convenient than the train because the buses stop in the town centre while sometimes the railway station is on the outskirts: the Florence to Sienna route is a case in point – the bus is much more convenient and just as fast.
Getting around Tuscany by rental car
Renting a car provides the best way to get around Tuscany with the exception of the historical centres of the cities and of many much smaller towns. These inner city areas are usually ZTLs (limited traffic zones) meaning that access during certain time periods is limited according to the type and owner of the vehicle. Rental cars have no particular right to enter a ZTL. The ZTL’s are under photographic control and many tourists, when they receive a fine months later, claim not to have seen the notices demarcating the zones. It is best therefore not to attempt to drive in city centres except under special circumstances, and to be very careful when picking up a car near a city centre. The ZTL system and traffic fines in Tuscany are described in detail here.
The larger car rental companies are usually not represented in medium to small towns in Tuscany. You must either rent in a provincial capital or find a local car rental company. These latter exist but are often hard to locate until you are in town by which time all of their cars might be unavailable.
More about car rental agencies in Italy.
You will need an International Drivers License and you will save a lot of money if you know how to drive with stick shift. GPS is useful but should definitely be supplemented with a good map.
More about roads and driving in Tuscany.
Getting around Tuscany by NCC minibus
Another mode of transport in frequent use in Tuscany is a fixed fare minibus driven by an registered driver (NCC license, prominently displayed on the windshield). These vehicles can be booked ahead of time for a quoted price and are a reasonable option for a family with baggage that needs transport from an airport to their accommodation in the country. In the end, the higher price outweighs the stress of trains, buses and taxis with the resulting loss of time and chances of losing an item of baggage.
More about getting around Tuscany by NCC minibus.
Minibus tours in Tuscany
Minibuses also do guided tours, especially wine tours. These are expensive but are by far the most efficient way to see a lot comfortably in a short time.
Getting around Tuscany by taxi
Taxis are permitted to charge double fare when taking you into the country or to a small town where they have no chance of finding a return fare. The driver will click the meter to double and you pay what the meter reads. A ride from Florence railway station to Greve in Chianti will therefore cost you 65 euros.