10 small towns to visit near Florence

This post is for tourists who want to go off the beaten path and for locals who want to explore more of their own surroundings.

1. Arcetri

Arcetri is a small hilly area south of the centre of Florence, extending from Porta San Giorgio, near Forte Belvedere and from San Miniato and Poggio Imperiale to the foot of the hills of Santa Margherita a Montici and Monteripaldi towards the Ema Valley. A 1083 parchment is the oldest document in which Arcetri appears for the first time. There are many historic buildings, such as the house in which Galileo Galilei lived after abjuring and where he stayed under house arrest and died on January 8, 1642 (it is called Villa Il Gioiello). Other important buildings are the church of San Leonardo in Arcetri, the convent of San Matteo and the villa where Francesco Guicciardini died. The Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory is a local gem.


2. Montaione

Montaione is located on a hill 35 kilometres southwest of Florence and surrounded by vineyards, olive trees and woods. The historic centre and part of the fortified walls have maintained their ancient structure. The place’s origins are shrouded in the mystery of a legend, but the first documents that mention Montaione date back to the thirteenth century. Among the points of interest we can mention the church of San Regolo, which is home to the Madonna del Buonconsiglio by Guido da Graziano (late 13th century); many castles and museums like the Palazzo del Pretorio, which is home to the Civic Museum. The church and convent of San Vivaldo, with works attributed to Giovanni della Robbia, Andrea Sansovino and other artists, is a complex of chapels and churches reproducing the topography of the holy places of Jerusalem. It was built in Italy during the Middle Ages in order to let the pilgrims visit Jerusalem virtually, since it was difficult to reach the Holy Land for most of them (and in fact it is called the Jerusalem of Tuscany). Montaione is also famous for its glass-making; in fact, since the 13th century, bottles, flasks and cruets have been produced here. The village is also known for the white truffle festival held every year in October and for the fine wine produced in the surroundings.


3. Fiesole

While visiting Florence, don’t forget Fiesole, probably the settlement from which Florence originated. It’s easy to reach it, since it’s situated 8 kilometres northeast of Florence; you can get a taxi or take the bus Ataf number 7 from the city centre. The first thing you will notice are the beautiful views over Florence, then you can start to explore the town. The town hall, the Cathedral of San Romolo (a Romanesque construction enlarged in the 13th-14th century) and the church of Santa Maria Primerana (the oldest church in town) all stand in the main square called Piazza Mino. Fiesole is home to a vast array of archaeological evidence of great importance, such as a Roman theatre still used today for summer events, an Etruscan-Roman temple, Roman baths, the Archaeological Museum and the Etruscan walls. Other not-to-be-missed attractions are the church of San Francesco, the Bandini Museum, the church and convent of San Domenico, and the Badia Fiesolana.


4. Bagno a Ripoli

Bagno a Ripoli is a town of Etruscan origin that assumed importance as a trading centre in Roman times. Romans elected it a spa town (hence the name Bath) and the excavations of Via della Nave show the remains of a building of that era. There are also many castles, Renaissance villas and tower-houses in the town. It is located about 7 kilometres southeast of Florence. Three major events bring Bagno a Ripoli to life: the Joust of the Star in September, the Antique Fair dell’Antella in October and the historical re-enactment of Christ’s Passion on Good Friday in Grassina. These events are carefully prepared by the town’s associations and attract many visitors every year, making the town an important centre of culture and preservation of folk traditions.


5. San Casciano in Val di Pesa

San Casciano in Val di Pesa is a town located 15 kilometres south of Florence, famous for the production of extra-virgin olive oil, wine and excellent products. In the surroundings of San Casciano you can visit the observatory of Torre Luciana, a visit to the Tomb of the Archer, an Etruscan tomb of the seventh century BC, the Museum of San Casciano with its works of Sacred Art with archaeological finds found in the area and the Quattro Pievi (four parish churches: San Pancrazio, Santo Stefano a Campoli, Santa Cecilia a Decimo and San Giovanni in Sugana), ancient religious buildings of great artistic and architectural importance. Other things of great importance are the walls of San Casciano, which are the defensive structure of the historic centre of the town, and many beautiful castles (Castello di Bibbione, Castello di Gabbiano, Castello di Pergolato and Castello di Montefiridolfi). The area of San Casciano is well known for its production of wine and olive oil. The main wineries of the famous Antinori wine firm operate here.


6. Vinci

Vinci is situated in the hills of Montalbano, a green area of olive trees and vineyards divided between the provinces of Pistoia, Prato and Florence and dates back to the early Middle Ages. There are plenty of things to see in Vinci and many of them are related to Leonardo’s life: the house in which he was born, just 3 kilometres from Vinci in the middle of the countryside, the church where he was baptised, and the museum and the library that take his name. In the town centre you’ll find the Guidi castle, which contains the Leonardo museum and bears painted and sculpted coats of arms as well as a ceramic Madonna and Child by Giovanni della Robbia, made in 1523. Among the other points of interest there is the church of Santa Croce, a wooden representation of the Vitruvian Man and Piazza dei Guidi.


7. Montelupo Fiorentino

Not far from Empoli there is Montelupo Fiorentino, a town surrounded by walls, green hills and lush forests situated at about 20 kilometres southwest of Florence. Human presence in the area of Montelupo dates back to the Palaeolithic era and evidence of this are the many prehistoric sites in the area. Other must-see places are the Villa Medicea dell’Ambrogiana, the parish church of San Giovanni Evangelista and many other churches. Montelupo is famous for the production of ceramics and glass, which has a long tradition handed from generation to generation. There is a Museum of Ceramics and each year in the third week of June, the city comes alive for the feast of Ceramics.


8. Borgo San Lorenzo

The biggest town in the Mugello area is located about 20 kilometres northeast of Florence, and was destroyed and rebuilt many times. The highlights of the town are religious buildings such as the Abbey of St. Lawrence, the Parish of St. Cresci in Valcava and the Oratory of the Madonna of the Three Rivers. Other non-religious points of interest are the municipal building (now, the Town Hall), Villa Pecori Giraldi (built in the 13th century) and with Liberty interiors that host the Museum of Chini Manufacture. We suggest visiting not only Borgo San Lorenzo but also the whole area.


9. Greve in Chianti

Greve in Chianti is considered the gateway to the Chianti region for its strategic location midway between Florence and Siena. It is located along the via Chiantigiana road, about 30 kilometres from Florence and 40 from Siena. In the past its favourable location at the crossroads of three major pilgrimage routes favoured its flourishing development. The starting point of a visit here is in the funnel-shaped piazza Matteotti, surrounded by arcades with small shops selling local products. An arcade that houses craft shops, restaurants, hotels and shops that offer handmade products of the place characterizes the square. On the same square there is also the Town Hall in neo-Renaissance style, the large statue of Giovanni da Verrazzano, who discovered the bay of New York and who was born just a few miles from here. On the opposite side there is the Church of Santa Croce, built on the ruins of the medieval church. A few steps from here there is the Museum of Sacred Art and another interesting one is the Wine Museum. Less than two kilometres from the centre, do not miss the beautiful village of Montefioralle.


10. Malmantile

Malmantile is a village in the municipality of Lastra a Signa, near Florence. The small village was probably built as a military outpost along the road between Florence and Pisa. It is one of the best examples of a fortified medieval village in Tuscany and the current circle dates back to 1424. At the centre of the short sides of the walls there are two doors, connected by a single road that runs from northeast to southwest. Every year, between May and June, a medieval festival is held within the walls of the castle.