When travelers think of Tuscany, they picture rolling fields of wheat and olive groves. Not to mention Florence and Sienna. But just a few moments in Arezzo will do as much to help understand the appeal of this region as any other spot.
The historic center ducked and dodges its way through consistent WWII bombings to remain largely in place. Now, having also been showcased in the film Life is Beautiful, you’ll be happy to know that the screen didn’t lie.
Exploring the central square, Piazza Grande, is one of the first things to do in Arezzo, offering a spectacular mix of vibrant culture and historic buildings. Steps away lie 10th-century stone churches, towering cathedrals, and the remains of Roman amphitheaters. While the antique fair brings back the town’s history as an Etruscan trading post to life, it yet again takes you down a trail well beyond the Medieval era.
Map of Arezzo
In this post, we'll cover:
14. Corso Italia
As the main street in Arezzo, Corso Italia is a great starting point from which to explore this beautiful Tuscan village. The street runs through the center of town, encompassing some of the best things to do, while side streets take you even further.
The bustling thoroughfare begins at Arezzo Citta del Natale. This sprawling green space and event area is perfect for a midday picnic to simply watch the locals go about their day. The Medici Fortress also provides a captivating view.
From there, wander south, passing local shops, restaurants, the Santa Maria della Pieve, and just steps away from the beloved Piazza Grande.
13. Medici Fortress
Built across two decades in the 16th century, the Medici Fortress stands within Arezzo’s city walls and features a spectacular five-point structure. Throughout its history, it fell into the hands of various regimes, each with its own style. This has provided the fortress with a kaleidoscopic design.
In 1800, when the French attacked Arezzo, the fortress sustained serious damage. The kind that can still be seen today, with the west side of the fortress showcasing the result of a large explosion.
Despite this and the fortress’ age, travelers can make their way to the top of the Medici Fortress. Here, you’ll enjoy a panoramic view of Arezzo below.
12. Archaeological Museum
Set within the Monastery of St. Bernard, from the 1300s, the Archaeological Museum boasts over 20 galleries that showcase local history from the Roman and Medieval eras in addition to the Renaissance.
The monastery itself was built upon a 2nd-century Roman amphitheater, making it a hotbed of discovery. The monastery even reenacts the curve of the former grandstand. In its heyday, the amphitheater was almost as large as Rome’s Colosseum.
Highlights include the extensive collection of jewels from a nearby acropolis known as Poggio dei Sole Etruscan. You will also gaze upon an extensive stone panel splashed with colorful art that depicts battle scenes from centuries prior.
11. Ivan Bruschi House & Museum
Set within the Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo, a medieval gem, the Ivan Bruschi House & Museum is beset with jaw-dropping antiques. Ivan Bruschi himself was a prominent local antiquities dealer in the 1900s. Notable, considering Arezzo’s fame as an antique paradise.
Ivan was as discerning as he was knowledgeable, choosing in many cases to simply hold on to items he deemed too great a value. When he passed in 1996, his home, filled with outstanding antiques, was left to the City of Arezzo.
Today, you can explore the medieval home that has been transformed into a museum. You’ll discover a collection that reaches far beyond Tuscany and a world of ceramics, art, and furniture from around the globe.
10. San Domenico Church
Heading north from the Arezzo Cathedral, you’ll stumble upon the unassuming San Domenico Church. Like eyes readjusting in a new light, the more you look, the more beautiful it becomes.
Constructed in the late 13th century, it’s believed the San Domenico Church was designed by Nicola Pisano. What’s not up for debate is whether the church is one of the more captivating buildings created under the Mendicant Order.
The free-standing bell tower boasts two bells from the 1300s. Inside, you’ll discover several ornate frescoes from the two following centuries. These include Saint Philip and James by Spinello Aretino, while just to the right stands a Gothic tabernacle and a painted crucifix that is older than the church itself.
9. Antiques Fair
Who doesn’t love returning home with a prized moment, or a gift for a loved one? At Arezzo’s Antiques Fair, not only will you depart with a veritable bargain, but also an authentic piece of Tuscan hardware.
On the first Sunday of each month, along with the last Saturday, crowds gather to peruse Italy’s oldest antiquities market. With over 500 stalls set along main streets and thin side alleys, the market attracts up to 30,000 folks.
But you can forget worrying about the tourist trap. Locals and compatriots descend from all over in search of unique items, from embellished grandfather clocks and ancient Roman coins to old telephones. You know, the ones that used to connect to our walls?
Not arriving in time for the market? Fear not, Arezzo offers a handful of high-end antique shops.
8. La Vita e Bella Tour
In 1998, Roberto Benigni and his film crew descended upon Arezzo to film Life is Beautiful. Soon after, the beloved film would receive a trio of Academy Awards. On the La Vita è Bella Tour, you’ll discover all the film locations that went into creating this cinematic splendor.
Over the course of an hour, your tour guide will take you around Arezzo’s historic center, connecting the film with the places that brought it to life. It begins in Caserma Italia, Arezzo’s former barracks. Best known as the scene where Rodolfo had eggs in his hat. Afterward, you’ll discover the elementary school, Piazza della Badio, Caffe dei Constanti, the Basilica, and Casa Vasari.
The tour explores many of our best destinations, making it a great way to explore Arezzo even if you’ve never seen the film.
7. Museum of Medieval and Modern Art
Art aficionados and all travelers interested in Tuscan history mustn’t pass up the chance to explore the Museum of Medieval and Modern Art. Set within the equally splendid Palazzo della Dogana, a stunning Renaissance structure, the museum quickly captures your attention.
Visitors begin by exploring a delightful courtyard fixed with a grand staircase up to the main hall. Within you’ll discover art and cultural masterpieces that blend public collections with private portfolios.
Works by revered figures such as Giorgio Vasari, Parri di Spinello, and Lorentino d’Andrea take you on a journey spanning the Medieval Era and the beginning of the Renaissance. In addition, ancient coins, ceramics, and weapons add history and context.
6. The Saracen Joust
The Piazza Grande takes a step back in time twice a month for the Antiques Fair. But on the second last Saturday in June, along with the first Sunday in September, the town square goes even further.
The Saracen Joust takes place annually on these two dates. On these days the Gisotra del Saracino becomes enveloped in bright colors, emblems, and logos dot the ancient walls and an equally historic sport takes place.
Overnight, friends become rivals as Arezzo is split into four districts as they compete to hit the Buratto shield with a spear in hand. It’s a celebration of Arezzo culture while also providing a look back at a time when locals trained to repel potential Saracen invasions.
5. Casa Vasari
Born in Arezzo in 1511, Georgia Vasari would go on to become a prominent artist, sculptor, and architect not just in his hometown but across Renaissance Italy. In his thirties, he purchased Casa Vasari, transforming it into what we can explore today.
Using his personal talents, with the help of his numerous pupils, Georgia renovated and eventually decorated this eye-catching museum. Visitors can wander inside and immediately touch base with his fresco masterpieces, splashed across the walls as if they were regular paint. Each tells a story all on its own.
Across three floors, you can also see over 50 works set within the former bedroom and living rooms along with paintings created by artists that trained under him.
4. Santa Maria della Pieve
Arezzo has no shortage of prominent religious buildings, as you’ll discover below. But its oldest church or cathedral is the Santa Maria della Pieve. Known simply as the Pieve, this parish church dates back to the 1100s.
Over the next 700 years, it was destroyed, rebuilt, renovated, and extended. It was a multi-generational that changed its exterior facade but not what lay within as it remained an exceptional example of Pisan Romanesque architecture in Italy.
From outside, you can appreciate the dozens of mullioned windows that are spread out across the four stories. Each with varying numbers, it allows the Pieve to be perceived as a tapering church. Set above all of this is the 60 meters (196 feet) campanile.
Inside, you’ll discover a timber dome above your head, a trio of 14th-century reliefs along with the ancient crypt.
3. Basilica di San Francesco
Compared to the obvious beauty of the Arezzo Cathedral, the Basilica di San Francesco is not immediately captivating. The experience here begins more subtly, with the medieval church choosing to reveal her secrets like a slowly leaking tap.
Construction on this church began in 1290, but like the cathedral, it took centuries to complete. Changing hands between architectural cicerone, the church received several extensions and renovations, including the beloved circular window created by Guillaume de Marcillat.
For years, the basilica’s frescoes laid dormant to the eye until they were again unveiled in the 20th century. Within the central choir chapel, you can discover a now celebrated piece created in the early Renaissance by master Piero della Francesca. Boasting stunning landscapes, this expressive piece will capture your imagination.
2. Arezzo Cathedral
From the end of an impressive stone staircase from the 1500s, the Arezzo Cathedral is arguably the most striking building in town. Set within the Piazza della Liberta, the cathedral looks down upon Arezzo from its heady position at the top of a hill.
It was here that the acropolis once stood, providing the cathedral with a presence as prominent as its place in local society. From afar, one can look upon the cathedral at the top of the hill, but it’s from up close that you’ll truly appreciate its various personalities.
The Arezzo Cathedral came to be at the beginning of the 14th century, yet it wasn’t complete for over 200 years. Add on some neo-Gothic improvements along with a spire and bell tower in the 20th century and you’ll discover a delightful clash of varying architectural styles.
1. Piazza Grande
When in Italy, always begin at the town square. In Arezzo, that means the Piazza Grande. In the center of the village’s old town, it harbors the heart of Arezzo’s historic culture and architecture while being beset with equally charming cafes and restaurants.
Set on a rolling slope, the Piazza Grande has a unique shape to it. Spread out like a falling trapezoid, the square is home to several buildings designed by the revered Vasari. These include the Palazzo delle Logge and the cylindrical facade of the Santa Maria della Pieve.
The latter’s construction began in the late 14th century, but it remained a work in progress until Vasari’s ornate bell town and the working clock were added in the middle of the 1500s.
It’s here you’ll find the bulk of the Antiques Fair, so too a medieval joust that takes place annually in September.
Where to Stay in Arezzo
Arezzo is a small commune, and thus it doesn’t take long to explore. With this said, it still helps to stay within the historic old town that encompasses the majority of Arezzo’s top attractions. Staying on our close to the Corso Italia, the main street, will help you get about on foot with ease.
Just beneath the old town, near the major train station and Campo di Marte is a secondary option. This provides easy access to surrounding towns and more modern amenities.
The Graziella Patio Hotel is a fantastic mid-range option within Arezzo’s historic center. Each room comes with Wi-Fi, cable TV, and eye-catching decor along with the option for in-room breakfast.
Those on a budget should consider La Corte Del Re. In Piazza Grande, this boutique hotel still has some of its original Etruscan and Medieval walls. Enjoy beamed ceilings, cable TV, views of the plaza, and a hearty Italian breakfast.
How to get there
Without an airport, travelers will need to consider public transport or car rental to reach Arezzo. Pisa Airport represents a great starting point for European travelers with a 2.5-hour train journey between Pisa and Arezzo. From Rome, you can drive to Arezzo in under 2.5 hours, with bus or trains to provide a longer but cheaper 4-hour journey.
Another common departure point is Florence. One hour by car north of Arezzo, you’ll also enjoy a beautiful drive through the Tuscan countryside. As for buses and trains, that journey will take around 90 minutes.
Approximate travel times:
- Florence – 1 hour by car, 1 hour by train
- Siena – 1 hour by car, 1 hour by train and bus
- Cortona – 30 minutes by car, 45 minutes by train and bus
- Montepulciano – 1 hour by car, 1 hour 30 minutes by train and bus
- Perugia – 1.5 hours by car, 2 hours by train and bus
- Assisi – 1.5 hours by car, 2 hours by train and bus
- Orvieto – 1.5 hours by car, 2 hours by train and bus
- Rome – 2 hours by car, 1 hour 30 minutes by train
Best Time to Visit Arezzo
With the average temperature reaching highs of 24 to 28°C (so 75-82°F) in June, July and August, you’re best off avoiding the scorching summer months unless you love the heat. As well as being super warm, this is the busiest and most expensive time to visit.
On the other hand, June is also when popular festivals such as the Saracen Joust take place. This sees armour-clad knights jousting on horseback in the Piazza Grande with other medieval parades and processions also held then. These exciting historical reenactments are repeated in September when the temperature has dropped a bit.
As they are cooler but still warm and sunny, the shoulder seasons of spring and autumn are the best times to visit Arezzo. Besides the more reasonable temperatures of 15 to 24°C (so 59-75°F), the city is less crowded and cheaper, making for a more authentic experience.
Either side of April and October, the colder weather puts most people off with November and December also seeing lots of rainfall. During this period, the city slumbers, with not all that much going on.