Last Updated on January 17, 2024 by Michela
The list of beautiful towns in Tuscany is seemingly endless but there is one that makes my personal top favorites. Towering atop a hill overlooking the expansive beauty of the Tuscan countryside is Volterra, Italy. Not only is Volterra surrounded by incredible panoramas, but it also holds special scenes in its Medieval town center. If you have one day in Volterra to dedicate to your Tuscany itinerary, spend it like this.
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Volterra: A bit of history
Volterra is a walled village in the heart of the Tuscan countryside, in an area known as the Valdicecina.
While it’s current state is that of a village typical of the Middle Ages, Volterra’s history goes back thousands of years.
It was one of the main settlements of the Etruscans, an ancient people of this area of Italy that pre-date the Romans. You will find both Etruscan and Roman ruins in Volterra.
Fun Fact: Yes, this is the Volterra you may have heard from the Twilight series! However, scenes of the New Moon film weren’t shot in Volterra, they were actually shot in a nearby town called Montepulciano.
How to Reach Volterra
As you get further out in the Tuscan countryside, public transportation becomes fewer and further between. However, it is not impossible to arrive to Volterra by public transportation. It is just very inconvenient.
By public transportation
The nearest major city to Volterra is Florence. And even if you are in a closer city, like Siena, you would still have to pass through Florence with public transport.
To paint the picture, what would be a one hour drive turns into a minimum three and a half hour journey by train and bus from Florence.
Because getting to Volterra by public transportation is so inconvenient, I really don’t recommend it. However, if you are restricted to this, then head to Google maps for all the info on trains and buses to take.
Even if you don’t rent your own car, you do have an alternative option in organized day trips. Keep reading to find out how.
Volterra is a perfect stop on an iconic Tuscany road trip. You’ll end up driving down some beautifully scenic one-way roads, where you can soak up that pinch-me moment of “I’m road tripping through the Tuscan countryside!”
Going by car is the simplest and fastest way to reach Volterra. The only downside to arriving by car is that, especially in the peak season of Italian summer, parking fills up quick.
There are several paid parking lots around Volterra, but they are very tight. And once you miss them, it is tricky to circle back.
Pro Tip: Arrive as early as you can to Volterra to have the best shot and calmest experience at searching for parking.
By organized tour
If you can’t be autonomous with your transport or you just prefer a hassle-free way to get around and have someone else take care of the transportation, then an organized day tour is for you.
Luckily, Volterra is a popular enough spot that there are day trips organized both from Florence and from Siena. Many are combined trips with a stop in another beautiful Tuscan town, San Gimignano.
The Best Things to Do in Volterra
Because Volterra is on a hilltop, it means you get almost 360° views of the Tuscan countryside.
One of my favorite viewpoints and photo spots is along the Vicolo degli Alberi. Just past the Baptistry of San Giovanni Battista, there is a little alley and staircase leading to the most beautiful view of a quiet street and the endless stretch of green hills the countryside is known for.
You will come across so many of these viewpoints just by walking along Volterra’s defensive walls.
Piazza dei Priori
One of Volterra’s main attractions is its main square, the Piazza dei Priori. While the square is quite empty besides the number of tourists and locals that blend together enjoying the scenery, it is what is at the square’s edge that catches the eye.
The Palazzo dei Priori is a famously tall and unique municipal building. Towering above you, it just makes you think, how did they build this thing? It was difficult to get it all in the photo!
You can get a private tour of the Palazzo and the cathedral for the ultimate history lesson!
Eat Traditional Tuscan Food
What better way to experience the Tuscan countryside than tasting the local flavors?
Add some tastes to your Volterra itinerary like pici pasta, trippa alla volterrana, pappardelle di lepre, and zuppa volterrana!
Baptistry of San Giovanni Battista
After you visit the main square, make your way to one of the next coolest buildings in town. The Baptistry of San Giovanni Battista is a gorgeous, octagonal 13th century building right in front of the Duomo of Volterra.
While it is beautiful to see from the outside, the inside is a bit more bear, but still interesting. Keep in mind that you need to pay to enter the baptistery and the duomo. One ticket costs €7.
Parco Archeologico Enrico Fiumi
One of my favorite spots in Volterra is the large green area of the Enrico Fiumi Archeological Park.
You get some amazing views of Volterra rooftops and an up-close look at Etruscan ruins, like the acropolis.
Lastly, it is right next to the Medici Fortress, a huge complex built by the ruling family of Florence that once also ruled over Volterra.
Ruins of the Roman Theater
Another extremely special historical place in Volterra is the ruins of the Roman Theater.
You can see great ruins, like full columns and facades. The best view is from above the ruins, along the city walls.
You can also pay to enter the area of the ruins, which is a very cool experience if you are really into history and archeology. However, if you just like to see those things and don’t necessarily need the up-close look, the view from the walls will more than suffice!
Etruscan Museum Guarnacci
Go back in time thousands of years when visiting the Etruscan Museum Guarnacci.
Among the artifacts that date from the prehistoric era to the 1st century BC is a collection of over 600 urns, one of the items the Etruscans were known for making with the local alabaster.
Last but not least, there is a panoramic terrace at the top of the museum building for amazing views!
Experience the excellence of alabaster
Volterra is one of the most precious areas in the world for natural deposits of alabaster stone.
The production and use of alabaster is an ancient practice that goes back to Volterra’s Etruscan history. It can be best celebrated today by visiting the Ecomuseum of Alabastro, next to the Pinacoteca and Civic Museum, or one of the current alabaster shops, like Ali Alabastro.
Because Volterra has become popular for travelers since it isn’t too far by car from some of Tuscany’s major cities, you will find more and more cultural excursions being offered.
Volterra Travel Tips
Like many small towns in Italy, there is an afternoon pause of activity from around 2:30/3pm to 6/7pm. During this break, many restaurants close completely, so keep watch of your time to make sure you get a lunch in!
For the least crowded experiences, try to visit on a weekday. Many locals will use weekends to spend one day in Volterra, so if you can plan your itinerary in a way that you avoid making the trip on a weekend, you are likely to find fewer crowds.
The SGTD Take: Is one day in Volterra enough?
While Volterra is extremely picturesque and lovely to walk around, one day is more than enough to see the entire town.
If you are planning a busy Italy itinerary, you could even spend half a day here.
I would only stay longer in Volterra is you have a lot of time in Italy and you love the countryside feel. I think if we could, we would all love to spend slow, quiet days in this tiny Medieval village!
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Ready to visit Volterra, Italy? Share your experiences with me in the comments after your visit!