Despite its small size, if you travel to Siena you will not be short of things to see and do, because this medieval-looking city has a lot to offer. If there is one time when magic covers the streets of this enchanting place making it even more special, it is Christmas.
During this time of the year, the Christmas spirit takes over Siena and its streets are decked out in glittering festive decorations. In addition, special activities and a lively atmosphere invite locals and visitors alike to come out and enjoy the holiday season.
1. Visit the Christmas market in the Piazza del Campo.
Every year during the holiday season, a spectacular Christmas market is held in Siena in Piazza del Campo. Piazza del Campo is located in the heart of the city and is one of the most emblematic places in Siena, as well as being considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.
One of the characteristics that make this square so special is that it is home to some of the main attractions of the city such as the Palazzo Comunale or the Torre del Mangia. For this reason, it is not surprising that this is one of the most important stops on guided tours of Siena.
Although the hustle and bustle and life never leave this square, during Christmas time the atmosphere multiplies and dozens of stalls reproducing an ancient medieval market are set up here. Among the countless products on offer you can find Christmas decorations, handicrafts and local gastronomic delicacies.
In addition to immersing yourself in this charming Christmas atmosphere and buying some souvenirs, you can take the opportunity to taste some of the typical products of Tuscan cuisine, either in the stalls dedicated to it or in the restaurants that surround the square and offer their dishes to take away and enjoy during the walk.
2. Taste the most typical Italian Christmas sweets
If there is something for which Italy is known around the world, besides its impressive artistic heritage, it is for its exquisite gastronomy. As in many other countries, food is one of the main elements in the celebration of these special dates.
Therefore, if you visit Siena during the holidays, you can't miss some of the most typical Italian Christmas recipes. And more specifically, one of its most popular sweets, the Panettone, which consists of a spongy sponge cake whose base is made of butter, eggs and flour.
According to legend, the recipe for this delicious sweet dates back to the fifteenth century and its creation was the result of a mistake, when during a Christmas lunch, Toni, the cook of some dukes of Milan, accidentally burned the dessert. As a result, he had to improvise a new sweet with ingredients from the pantry, resulting in Panettone or pan di Toni.
Today, you can find Panettone in almost any supermarket or pastry shop in Italy during the Christmas season, so if your trip coincides with these dates, I strongly encourage you to try it. An interesting option if you want to get to know the local cuisine in depth, is to book a gastronomic activity in Siena.
3. Christmas shopping in Via Bianchi di Sopra
The best way to get to know a city is to lose yourself in its streets with a good walk, and thanks to the small size of its historic center, it is possible to see the most emblematic places in Siena in a single day.
Although wandering aimlessly can lead you to fantastic unexpected places, I encourage you to walk along Via Bianchi di Sopra, which together with Via di Città is the axis of the medieval city of Siena. In addition to being one of the busiest streets in the historic center, you will find some architectural gems such as magnificent palatial buildings.
This bustling shopping street is even more alive during the Christmas season, when Siena's inhabitants, as well as tourists, take to the streets to enjoy the atmosphere, festive decorations and Christmas shopping.
So, if you are still short of gifts to buy, or if you want to take home a nice souvenir of your trip, I recommend you to take a walk along the charming Via Bianchi di Sopra, where you can contemplate the Christmas window decorations and let yourself be enveloped by the explosion of colors, lights and illusion of this magical time of the year.
4. Join the Italian tradition of going to see Nativity scenes
In Italy, as in Spain, one of the most popular Christmas traditions is going to see nativity scenes, or as they are known in Italy, the presepi. The presepi are representations of the birth of Jesus that are recreated by means of figures.
Traditionally, nativity scenes are set up in Italian homes as part of the Christmas decorations. However, it is also common to find them displayed in churches, squares or different areas, usually in the historic center of the cities. In Siena, it is also quite common to find these representations at the train station.
The presepi are usually set up starting on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, and remain on display throughout the holiday season. A variant of this tradition are the living nativity scenes, in which the characters are represented by real people instead of figures.
5. Stroll under the Christmas lights
If you travel to Siena during Christmas, strolling through its streets to see the Christmas lights is one of the essential plans to do at night. The incredible beauty of this Tuscan city stands out even more under the thousands of multicolored bulbs that decorate it every year at this time.
Although the Christmas lights decorate the entire historic center, there are areas that are especially striking and that you can not miss, such as Piazza del Campo, Via Bianchi di Sopra, Via di Città or Piazza Salimbeni, where they usually place a giant Christmas tree where you can take some pictures of the most Christmassy.
In addition, in recent years a new attraction has been added as a video mapping that projects images and lights in some of the most important streets and squares of Siena, creating an unforgettable experience for those who have the pleasure of witnessing it.
6. Experience New Year's Eve as a true Sienese
If you are lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in Tuscany, you will be able to experience Italian customs and traditions to bid farewell to the year. Although the most common in Italy is to dine at home and with the family, you can find a large number of restaurants that offer special dinners and events for this night.
Some customs may change depending on the region, but others are kept alive throughout the country, such as serving one of the Christmas dishes par excellence: Zampone and Cotechino, always accompanied of course by the traditional lentils, which according to beliefs symbolize luck and abundance.
Another Italian custom is to open doors and windows and make as much noise as possible in order to ward off evil spirits. For this reason, at the stroke of midnight, hundreds of firecrackers, fireworks and sparkling wines are uncorked, so if you have the opportunity to live this experience, get ready for a great roar!
In addition, the streets of Italy are filled with concerts on the last day of the year. These shows usually begin on the evening of December 31 and continue until dawn. In Siena, you can find them in various squares in the historic center, especially in Piazza del Campo, Piazza del Mercato and Piazza della Indipendenza.
Many of these events also include food stalls that are open all night long. If your trip coincides with these dates, it would be best to check the official program of events, as it changes every year.
7. Celebrate Befana Day
While in Spain we celebrate Three Kings Day, in Italy they have the day of La Befana. La Befana is a witch who appears every year in the early morning of January 6 to bring gifts to the children.
According to legend, the Three Wise Men got lost on their way to Bethlehem, so they asked an old woman, La Befana, for directions. Grateful for her help, they invited her to join them, but she declined the offer. Later, repentant, she decided to follow them by leaving gifts in the houses where there were children in the hope that one of them would be the baby Jesus.
In some parts of Italy, it is customary for the Befana to bring toys to the children, however, in the north it is more common for the gifts to consist of sweets and candies. If your trip to Siena coincides with Befana Day, you will have the opportunity to experience the lively atmosphere of one of Italy's most typical holidays.
Also, on that day it is common for families to gather to eat together, so you can join them by going out to eat at a good restaurant or go to a pastry shop to try the befanini, delicious cookies that are traditionally served on Befana Day.
Here is a list of good restaurants to celebrate this special day:
- Osteria Permalico: this magnificent restaurant is located in the heart of the city, a few meters from Piazza del Campo and the Duomo. Its prices are quite affordable and its menu consists of the most exquisite dishes of the traditional cuisine of Siena. In addition, all its products are local and of excellent quality.
- La Taverna San Giuseppe: the prices of this restaurant are somewhat higher than those of the first option, however, they are still affordable. This extraordinary restaurant combines traditional Tuscan cuisine with amazing creativity, resulting in the most delicious and innovative dishes.
- Antica Trattoria Papei: is located in the PIazza del Mercato and besides serving exquisite Tuscan dishes, it has a covered terrace from where you can enjoy magnificent views. Some of its specialties are fresh pasta and delicious grilled meats of the highest quality.
- Osteria degli Svitati: this excellent restaurant is great value for money. Some of its specialties are the charcuterie and cheese board, the pappardelle and its superb Tuscan wines.
8. Take a trip to Abbadia San Salvatore on Christmas Eve
Abbadia San Salvatore is a small town in the province of Siena and is especially known for its way of celebrating Christmas Eve with the Notte delle fiaccole, which translates as the Night of the Torches.
Every December 24, a ritual takes place in this small town in which huge pyramid-shaped wooden piles are lit in every corner of the historic center. This action marks the beginning of a night of festivities in which hundreds of people take to the streets to celebrate the arrival of Christmas.
Throughout the night, concerts and music take place, people gather with family and friends and typical sweets and wine are served. If you have the opportunity to be part of this millenary tradition, you will feel like you are traveling back in time and will live a unique and unforgettable experience.
9. Take shelter from the cold with a visit to the Duomo of Siena
Christmas in Siena can be cold, so if you decide to make your trip during this time, it is best to alternate outdoor walks with indoor visits where you can take shelter for a while and protect yourself from the low temperatures. In addition, you cannot leave Siena without visiting its most important icon, the Cathedral.
Entering the Duomo of Siena is a must on this trip, as this Romanesque-Gothic style temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Its imposing facade stands in the Piazza del Duomo and its construction is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta.
Some of the most important artists of all times have worked on its sculptures, such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Giovanni Pisano and Bernini. Its interior is even more impressive if possible, highlighting especially the marble floor, in which by means of inlays are represented different scenes.
Other areas to highlight would be the Piccolomini Library and the tour of the roofs of the cathedral known as Puerta del Cielo (Heaven's Gate).
I recommend that you complete your visit by visiting the Baptistery, the Crypt and the Opera Museum, where you will have access to a viewpoint where you can enjoy a sensational panoramic view of Siena.
Practical information about Siena
- Where: Siena Cathedral is located in Piazza del Duomo, 8.
- Hours: from November 1 to March 31 the opening hours are usually from 10:30 am to 5:30 pm. However, the opening hours vary depending on the time of year, so it is recommended to consult the official website. Please note that the opening hours may change on public holidays.
- Price: it is best to buy the Opa Si Pass, which is a single ticket that allows access to all museums in the complex. The Opa Si Pass is available from 15 € approximately.
10. Take a day trip to Montepulciano
Montepulciano is a town in the province of Siena whose fame comes not only from its beauty but also from its exquisite wines. However, the reason I have included this day trip from Siena in this list is because of its incredible Christmas atmosphere.
Every year at Christmas, Montepulciano is transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland. In and around the Piazza Grande, the heart of the town, an authentic Christmas village is set up consisting of quaint wooden stalls that function as a market.
At these stalls you can compare everything from Christmas decorations to seasonal food, hot drinks or local handicraft products. If you stroll through the historic center, you can also find a beautiful carousel, a skating rink and many other attractions.
Another of Montepulciano's main Christmas attractions is the Castle of Santa Claus that is usually recreated inside the Poliziana Fortress, where the little ones can play games, attend workshops, attend shows and even deliver their letter to Santa Claus.