Siena is a great city from every point of view. A city with a medieval air in which you will make a real journey back in time as you walk through its streets and admire its magnificent buildings. Not in vain was it declared a World Heritage Site.
There is much to see and enjoy in this city, from admiring monuments with many centuries of history to visiting interesting museums, savoring its delicious cuisine or tasting the good wines of the area. Even if you are only staying for a day, with a little organization you will not miss the best things to do in Siena.
1. Start your visit by admiring the Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the real heart of Siena and, therefore, the starting point of any tour of the city. It is a magnificent medieval square, in fact, it is one of the largest of its kind in the world. It is worth stopping for a while to savor all its details because there is a lot to look at.
Although it is not easy to see it from the street, you will surely notice that its shape is unique: it imitates that of a shell or fan. And it is divided into nine parts, reminiscent of the Government of Nine, the political regime that led the Republic of Siena between 1287 and 1355.
Now pay attention to the surrounding buildings. The Palazzo Pubblico, the Torre del Mangia, the Capella della Piazza and the Gaia Fountain, among others. To walk around the square is to contemplate a live history lesson, as each building represents an important part of what the city has been.
I ask you now to make a small effort. Imagine the square decked out for that horse race that pits the neighborhoods of Siena against each other every year. The Palio is held on July 2 and August 16. You may not be able to see it, but you can almost feel the excitement here. On your tour of the city, you will also see many nods to this tradition.
2. Visit the Palazzo Pubblico and the Museo Civico
If there is one building that stands out in Piazza del Campo it is the Palazzo Pubblico. It was completed in the early fourteenth century, but its beauty and the height of its tower are still able to amaze those who visit it.
I tell you now a little curiosity. Already during its construction such harmony and beauty was appreciated in the building, that the authorities took a singular decision. They forced the rest of the buildings in the square to be built following their stylistic canons, but forbidding them to compete in height and sumptuousness with the palace.
This building has been the center of political power in Siena from the very moment of its construction, but today it not only houses the Town Hall. Part of its rooms are occupied by the Civic Museum, one of the best museums in Siena.
Inside the museum you can admire rooms adorned with wonderful frescoes. One of the most outstanding is the Allegory of Good and Bad Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. If you like art, be sure to visit the Museo Civico.
- Opening hours of the Palazzo Pubblico and the Museo Civico: from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm in winter and from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm in summer.
- Price: about 10 euro general admission. Families, children, seniors and disabled have discount.
3. Climb the Torre del Mangia
You'll have to look up a lot to reach the top because this tower is a real medieval skyscraper: it's no less than 88 meters high. If you're wondering, yes, you can climb to the top, but you'll have to face 400 steps.
If you're in decent shape, my recommendation is that you make the effort to climb. From the top of the Mangia tower you will have the most incredible views not only of Siena, but also of a wonderful part of the Tuscan countryside, with its hills populated with vines and olive trees.
And a curiosity related to the name of the tower. It was named after the first bell ringer it had. The man's name was Giovanni di Balduccio, but at the time he was known as "Mangiaguadagni". The reason? That he spent everything he earned in the taverns of Siena.
- Opening hours of the Torre del Mangia: from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. approximately in winter and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in summer.
- Price: about 10 euros for general admission. There is a discount for families and children under 11 years old are free.
4. Go to the Palazzo Salimbeni by walking around the historic center
The area around Piazza del Campo hides a fabulous network of medieval streets full of palaces. No matter which one you decide to follow, you are sure to find an architectural gem. In any case, I recommend you to look for via Bianchi di Sopra and walk along it. It is one of the most essential streets of Siena.
In Bianchi di Sopra you will see the Croce del Travaglio, meeting point of some of the main roads of Siena. You will also come across palatial buildings along the way, such as Palazzo Tolomei or Gori Pannolini's Palazzo. If you don't want to miss anything, you can always sign up for one of the guided tours of Siena.
On your own or with a guide, you should leave this street to reach Palazzo Salimbeni. It is a beautiful Gothic building that today houses the headquarters of one of Italy's major banks. And in the same square two other treasures of Siena: Palazzo Spannocchi and Palazzo Cantucci.
5. Visit the Basilica of St. Dominic
If there is one thing that is sure to strike you about the Basilica of St. Dominic, it is its size. I recommend a visit not only to admire its sober Gothic architecture. Also for its location. The temple stands on the Camporegio hill and from it you can see beautiful views of the city and the Duomo.
As a curiosity, in this basilica are preserved some relics particularly appreciated by devotees, including the sacred head of St. Catherine of Siena. By the way, a short walk away you can visit the sanctuary home of the saint, from which you will have another fantastic view of Siena.
6. Where to eat in Siena
There is a lot to see in Siena, so it is essential to recharge your batteries. Around Piazza del Campo and via Bianchi di Sopra is where you will find the highest concentration of establishments. And you can choose from small taverns, osterias or elegant restaurants.
If you want a quick bite to eat, I recommend the Salumeria Il Cencio. It is in Piazza del Campo and you can eat delicious paninis. By the way, don't miss the terrace to see the views of the square, they are incredible.
There are other great places to eat, such as Mugolone, Osteria le Logge, Taverna di San Giuseppe or Campo Cedro, but really in Siena you can eat very well almost anywhere and at affordable prices.
What to try? Pici, the typical pasta of the area; gnudi, spinach and sheep ricotta fritters; ribollita, which is a kind of vegetable and legume soup; chiantina, a high quality veal meat; or meat from cinta senese, a breed of pig. If you are left wanting more, you can take one of the culinary tours of Siena.
7. Tour the Duomo of Siena
The temple was built between 1215 and 1263 in Italian Gothic style and its exterior is clad in white and green marble. But look especially at its facade, which is full of details, such as the rose window and the golden mosaics that decorate it.
But it is what awaits you inside that will surely leave you speechless. The floor is decorated with scenes made of colored marble, the pulpit and the altar are real jewels. You can also admire works by Donatello and Michelangelo. And then there is the play of light that the stained glass windows create in its naves that will leave you speechless.
And that's not all. We must also mention the Piccolomini Library, with a decoration reminiscent of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel. And, if that's not enough, don't miss the Heaven's Gate, the visit to the roofs of the cathedral, will allow you to have the most spectacular interior and exterior panoramic views.
- Hours: depend on the season, as well as if it is a holiday or holiday eve. The schedule may also vary from the cathedral to the crypt, the Heaven's Gate or the Piccolomini Library, so it is advisable to inquire in advance and purchase tickets in advance.
- Price: it also depends on the type of visit and the season. In general, starting at 7 euros for the Cathedral and the Piccolomini Library. There is a combined ticket that allows you to visit the roofs and the cathedral museums and costs about 15 euros.
8. Visit the Duomo Nuovo and the Museo dell'Opera
The cathedral is the living example of Siena's greatest splendor. But not everything was going to stay in it. Behind it you will see an unfinished facade. This was to be the monumental entrance to the Duomo after an extension designed in the 14th century that was to increase the dimensions of the temple fourfold.
But then came the plague, the crisis and some construction problems and everything came to a standstill. Of that pharaonic project , the half-finished facade and parts of a side nave, now occupied by the Museo dell'Opera del Duomo, have survived to the present day.
If you are interested in art, do not hesitate to spend some time touring the halls of this museum. During the visit you will have the opportunity to admire an interesting collection of works of art, some of them by artists such as Giovanni Pisano or Donatello.
But you can do even more in the Duomo Nuovo: climb the Facciatone, that imposing facade that was never finished. From its terrace you can admire one of the best views of Siena. Of course, you will have to climb 200 steps to reach it, but I assure you that the effort will be worth it.
- Hours: the Museo dell'Opera and the Panorama of the Facciatone are usually open from 10:00 to 19:00 in summer and from 10:00 to 17:30 in winter. But it may vary on holidays and eves of these.
- Price: I recommend purchasing the combined pass that allows entry to all areas of the Duomo and whose general price is about 15 euros. There are reduced price tickets for children up to 11 years.
9. Entrance to the Baptistery of St. John the Baptist
It is another of the Gothic treasures that you will find next to the cathedral. The baptistery is right behind it and its interior hides a number of artistic gems, including the magnificent frescoes that decorate its vault and its three naves. They have nothing to envy to those of other historic buildings in the city.
But pay special attention to the baptismal font in the center. It is a real jewel made of bronze and marble. Great artists, including Ghiberti and Donatello, worked on its design and creation. The visiting hours of the baptistery are the same as those of the cathedral.
10. Discover the Santa Maria della Scala Hospital
In the same square where the Duomo stands you will see another building that I suggest you stop at if you have time. The Hospital of Santa Maria della Scalla functioned since the twelfth century and until not long ago as a hospital, pilgrim reception center and hospice. Today it is a magnificent museum that is well worth a visit.
On the tour you can admire rooms magnificently decorated with frescoes of the fifteenth century. But the building also houses the National Archaeological Museum and the Treasury of Santa Maria La Scala, a collection of reliquaries, jewelry, miniatures and other objects from ancient Constantinople.
One more note. I'm sure you've noticed the Gaia Fountain in Piazza del Campo. It is not the original. The authentic sculptural ensemble is in this museum.
- Hours: the hospital opens at 10 am, but the closing time depends on the season and the day of the week. On Thursdays it usually closes at 10 p.m.
- Price: general admission costs about 7 euros and reduced admission costs about 4 euros. There are discounts for families and children under 11 years, young children and disabled are free.
11. Stand in front of the Palazzo Chigi Saracini
Halfway between Piazza del Campo and the Duomo you will see one of the most unique buildings in Siena. It is on a narrow street and has a peculiarity that will make you not overlook it: its curved facade, with a second floor of stone and a second floor of brick full of pointed windows.
Today this palace, built in the twelfth century, houses a renowned musical institution of Siena, the Accademia Musicale Chigiana. It can only be toured with guided tours that allow you to discover an interesting gallery of paintings and a rococo concert hall, among other treasures.
12. End the day with a very special dinner
To end the visit, nothing like sitting quietly on one of the many terraces that are set up in the Piazza del Campo, weather permitting. It is one of the best things to do in Siena in the evening.
If it is not too late, I recommend having a traditional aperitivo. You can order a glass of chianti, the local wine, and accompany it with a cheese and charcuterie board. The taste and aroma of the food and drink, together with the image of the illuminated square, will make you take away the best memory of Siena.