Florence

Should you rent a car in FlorenceItaly>Florence

We have looked at car hire in Florence and compared it to nearby Pisa, so there is quite a lot of interplay between these two destinations.

However, your visit to Florence or Pisa may well start off on a very different footing. Although Florence is by far and away the most important destination of the two (Pisa is often labelled as a one-hit wonder even though it clearly isn’t), the main airport for the region is in Pisa, as flights to Florence are limited by the small size of Florence Peretola airport.

This means that many visitors will arrive in Florence by train from other parts of Italy, so we’re largely basing our advice on this.

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  • Tuscany — although you can get out of Florence and go on guided (or unguided) tours of Tuscany by bus, a rental car will give you the usual flexibility that a guided tour cannot.
  • Base for driving tour — Florence makes a natural base for driving around any of the scenic areas which surround the city, especially if you don’t just want to do Tuscany on its own.
    For this kind of itinerary we would naturally suggest getting a hotel on the edge of Florence, as city centre hotels are going to mean driving through congestion to get in and out, and paying heavily for parking.
  • Flexible timing — whether you take a guided tour or public transport, in some cases (San Gimingano in particular) you will find that you will have to leave before or during sunset, just as the best photo opportunities are developing. Also, once the coach loads have gone, these tourist honey traps tend to get a lot more enjoyable as they return to a more rural atmosphere.

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  • Florence speaks for itself — this is the great centre of Renaissance art and architecture, and the whole city can be seen within the range of any half decent pair of walking shoes. Florence is where “Stendhal syndrome” was first observed. This is where visitors become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the paintings, frescoes, interior and exterior architecture. Hopefully that will happen to you in a good way, but there is certainly more than enough to justify spending several days without even thinking about heading out of the city centre.
  • Highlights by rail and bus. You can still get out to a number of the most impressive towns in Tuscany by regular scheduled train and bus. For example, you could easily reach Siena by train and then continue to San Gimingano by local bus before heading back in on the same route to Florence (change at Poggibonsi for local bus to San Gimingano, but check timings first, especially later in the day).
  • Cinque Terre, a must see, but a no-go area in a hire car – see Pisa car hire advice page for more details.
  • Rail away — great architecture in Florence doesn’t stop when you decide you want to head out of town. Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Station is a 1940s modernist classic, and once it finally opens, the city will also have a brand-new TAV (high-speed railway) station designed by the British architect Norman Foster. Needless to say, Florence is also a great base from which to explore elsewhere in Northern Italy:
  • Base in northern Italy — I have previously used Florence as a base for exploring northern Italy by train and have been as far as Milan and Rome on day trips. That is pushing things to the limit, but Florence still makes a natural base for exploring many of the places which are relatively close by, and you can easily do this by train if you are staying in one of the many hotels or hostels near to Santa Maria Novella Station.
  • Florence itself is easy to get around on foot, with trams and buses operating a network of routes in and out of the city centre. The station is on the edge of the city centre and by Italian standards, Florence is also a relatively easy city to cycle around.
  • Tuscany by bike or on foot – If you just try to zip out of Florence and explore Tuscany in a single day trip, you aren’t really going to appreciate it at its best. Obviously, you can explore at your own pace in a hire car, but if you’d rather not, you could just as easily base yourself in Tuscany instead of Florence, and then either appreciate the area at a steady pace on foot or by bike. You can still get between the larger towns and villages by bus.

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Conclusion — Do you need a car in Florence? Our long list of reasons not to get a hire car would suggest that there really is no need to get one, but that only tells half the story. Tuscany in particular really is one of Italy’s most scenic rural areas, and this is somewhere that you can really only do justice to by car (or perhaps by bike), so for these reasons we still recommend getting one, even if only for a day or two.

Notes:

  • Bus services in and around Siena, including between Poggibonsi on the Florence – Siena railway and San Gimignano (note – timetables in Italian, only limited information in English)
  • Allow around 1 1/2 hours to travel by train between Florence and Siena, and a similar time to travel be train between Pisa or Pisa Airport and Florence.

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Author: Carometer

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