Driving in the city of Florence itself is not recommended. Traffic is often very heavy, non-residents’ cars are banned from entering many areas of the old town and parking can be both difficult and costly. Pollution rises to high levels under certain weather conditions and at such times special restrictions apply, including a ban on diesel cars entering the city.
If you want to explore the more remote corners of the Tuscan landscape then a car is a good option – though the environmentally aware take note that a combination of train and local bus can also get you almost anywhere in the region. If you merely want to have a day trip to one particular destination like Siena or Lucca, then the cheapest and least stressful option is the train, as parking is difficult and roads often slow. Also, if you’re planning a trip to Rome, take the train.
That said, the best way to really explore this fantastic region is to have the freedom to go where you want, when you want and be able to change your mind halfway there. Tuscany is an truly stunning landscape of rolling hills, vineyards and olive groves, peppered with gorgeous little medieval towns and villages, forts and castles, hills and valleys.
If considering hiring a car in Italy, we strongly recommend you go with an international, reputable firm such as Hertz (www.hertz.com) or Europcar (www.europcar.com). Small, local or national dealers are too often not to be trusted. In particular, stay away from a company known as ‘Sicily by Car’, who operate all over Italy as subcontracted suppliers to online car hire sites, and are notorious for taking repeat payments from your credit card.
You can also get a discount with many international firms if you book through your airline. Most airlines these days have car hire partners, so simply log into your flight booking online and look for a link to a car hire firm. Hertz and Europcar have offices at Florence Amerigo Vespucci Airport as well as in Florence city centre but it’s usually much cheaper to book online in advance. Make sure your carry all parts of your driving licence and if you do book online, call anyway just to abate any problems when you go to pick up the car.