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Vineyards at Siro Pacenti winery with an amazing view of Montalcino on the hill in the background.

Which Is Better To Visit In Southern Tuscany – Montepulciano or Montalcino?

Last updated on February 22nd, 2024

Are you trying to decide if you should spend your vacation time in Montepulciano or Montalcino? On paper they look so much alike they and offer similar activities: wine tasting, exploring cobblestone streets, and eating cheese.

I have been living in Southern Tuscany for years now and am lucky enough to spend time in both Montepulciano and Montalcino on a regular basis.

If I had to choose between Montalcino and Montepulciano for a first-time visit, I would suggest Montepulciano BUT this depends on your interests and agenda.  

After years of exploring both of these two seemingly similar towns, I am confident in sharing the similarities and differences between the two and in helping you decide which one to visit on your next trip to Southern Tuscany.

Let’s take a look.

Montepulciano Vs Montalcino – Quick Overview

View of Montepulciano from a distance. It's on a hill and you can see San Biagio church below.
MontepulcianoMontalcino
Larger local population (15,000)Smaller local population (5,000)
Larger historic centerSmaller historic center
Smaller total areaLarger total area 
80 wineries250 wineries
Less wine selectionGreater and more prestigious wine selection
Kid friendlyNot very kid friendly
More uphill walkingLess hilly
Famous for Rosso di MontepulcianoFamous for Brunello di Montepulciano
Many activitiesFewer activities
Best for whole familyBest for adults
2.5 hours from Rome3 hours from Rome
1.5 hours from Florence2 hours from Florence
Best base for travel because it’s more centrally locatedFurther away from other Tuscan sites, cities and villages

Why Visit Montepulciano?

The main fountain with lion statues on top and sand-colored stone buildings in Piazza Grande in Montepulciano, Italy.

Montepulciano has a bigger city vibe but without the actual big city size. The town has a ton of excellent restaurants, activities, wine bars, historic cantinas, casual lunch spots, a festive Christmas market, and places to play for kids all within the historic district. For a full list of activities to do in Montepulciano read Things to Do in Montepulciano and Things to do in Montepulciano with Kids.

I suggest Montepulciano to use a base and you can then do a Montalcino morning trip if you are traveling as a family, time permitting. Montalcino’s main attraction is wine and for the younger crowd, this isn’t very interesting. 

Underground in an old cantina in Montepulciano, Italy.

Montepulciano has an amazing wine scene with over 80 local wineries but also offers several activities such as climbing the bell tower, playing at the Fortezza, going on a trolley ride and several easy-going lunch spots for restless kids. 

The biggest con to Montepulciano is how steep it is. It’s much more steep than Montalcino, making it a little more challenging with a stroller. This being said, if you take your time and spend a whole day here, you can ease the walk up to Piazza Grande. 

Travel Planning Tip: Need help with your Montepulciano Itinerary? Read my one day itinerary for Montepulciano and half day itinerary for Montepulciano.

Who Should Visit Montepulciano?

Hand holds up map of Montepulciano's historic cantinas on the street of the town.

Best For: Families or Larger groups

Anyone can come to Montepulciano and have a great time. If you love wine, visit one of the eight historic wineries within the city walls paired with other activities for the rest of the family such as a visit to Piazza Grande, The Civic Museum or a trolley ride out to the Temple of San Biagio. 

Montepulciano is also better for larger groups because the large selection of restaurants and central wineries are set up well to host large parties. 

Metal statue of horse in garden area in Montepulciano. There are low hedges and trees.

Montepulciano is a better town for families even though it’s steeper. It has a larger selection of restaurants, bars and enoteche.

As a general “rule” for choosing whether to stay in Montepulciano vs Montalcino, think about the wine: is that the main attraction? If the answer is no, then pick Montepulciano and take a day trip to Montalcino (or skip it all together). If the answer is yes, head directly to Montalcino. 

Winery Visits: Read about Visiting Avignonesi Winery.

Why Visit Montalcino?

View of Montalcino in the distance with vineyards inbetween.

Montalcino is a bit smaller and ideal for adults who want to spend their time leisurely exploring a small medieval village and enjoy long hours savoring the famous Brunello wine of Montalcino.

Montalcino, although has a much larger area than Montepulciano, feels much smaller and the historic center offers far fewer activities than Montepulciano. 

Rows and stacks of French oak barrels at Siro Pacenti winery in Montalcino, Italy.

What really draws visitors to Montalcino is the amazing 250 different wine producers in and around the historic center. Each one has made a name for itself, offering a slightly different formula, selection of wines and type of experience. 

Read More: To learn more about wine tasting in Tuscany and which  winery is for you, check out Wine Tasting in Tuscany and My Favorite Montalcino Wineries.

Winery Recommendations: Unsure of where to go wine tasting in Montalcino? Read:
My Visit to Conti Costanti Winery
My Visit to Siro Pacenti Winery
My Visit to Valdipiatta Winery
Top Wineries to Visit in Montalcino

Who Should Visit Montalcino?

View of Montalcino on a hill. You can see olive groves and a vineyard in the foreground.

Best For: Wine Lovers and Adults

I firmly believe Montalcino should be a top destination for adult travelers in Southern Tuscany because of the amazing wine scene and great selection of restaurants. There is something for everyone and you can spend days jumping from one Montalcino winery to the next and never have the same experience. 

Three wine glasses sit in front of three wine bottles on a white table. Blue glass on napkin to the right and pencil and paper in front.

While my kids did have fun in Montalcino, it’s not packed full of activities. They were bored after an hour. It’s more of a place to sit back, relax, and enjoy-the-red-wine type of place. In addition, in my experience, to visit the best wineries, you need to get out of the Montalcino city center. This is not the case, necessarily, in Montepulciano.  

Conclusion: Montepulciano or Montalcino?

Vineyard in Tuscany with red roses growing on the left. You can see other vineyards in the background.

At the end of it all, it really depends on who you are traveling with and your interests. If you are a family, don’t miss Montepulciano. The type of experience you can have with children in Montepulciano will be memorable and fulfilling, just as much as one in Montalcino without children full of Montalcino wine tours and tastings.  

For visitors traveling in a small group of adults or just traveling with a couple of friends or your significant other, I suggest Montalcino. Reap the benefits of a more intimate village with great restaurants, a wide selection of wineries, plenty of opportunity to drink and buy wine, and beautiful sweeping views of Southern Tuscany. 

View of San Biagio chuch. People walk up to it and stand off chatting on the right.

If I could only pick or come back to one, it would be Montepulciano time and again because of its size, excellent wine, location, wide selection of activities, and good base point for touring the rest of Tuscany. 

Curious about including other top destinations in Southern Tuscany? Read my in-depth guides to visiting San Casciano dei Bagni, Cetona, and San Quirico d’Orcia.

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