Siena is a large medieval town in the beautiful hilly province of Tuscany, Italy. The town found it’s glory in the middle ages when it was an independent city state, which was eventually taken over by the more powerful city of Florence. The medieval old town of Siena has been beautifully preserved, and today you can walk through it’s narrow cobblestone streets and explore it’s old buildings, enjoy the fantastic Tuscan food and wine, and talk with it’s friendly people.
If you’re staying anywhere in Tuscany you can easily explore Siena as a day trip, although it would certainly be worthwhile spending longer to enjoy the old feel of this beautiful medieval town.
Getting to Siena
If you have rented a car for your stay in Tuscany (highly recommended), it is easy to drive to Siena. There is a superstrada (motorway) that connects Siena to Florence, or for a more picturesque journey you can take the main road through the beautiful Chianti hills. Surprisingly, there is quite a lot of parking available in Siena compared to other Tuscan hill towns, however prices can be fairly pricey depending on how far from the historic center it is. We parked at a parking garage at the bottom of the hill and walked the rest of the way. The prices were fairly reasonable there.
If you are flying to Siena it is best to fly to the Florence Airport and then take the train/bus/shuttle to Siena.
It is very easy to get to Siena from Florence by bus and train. The local SITA buses run regularly and stop almost right in the center of the old town. The ride should take about 1 and a half hours and costs about €7. It is also possible to arrive by bus from Rome and other major cities.
The trains run from Florence to Siena around every hour, however the train station in Siena is located about 2km from the historic center. Buses run from the train station into the center of town, or you can take the half hour walk up the hill. The train tickets cost €7.40.
Getting around Siena
The historic center of Siena is mostly pedestrian only, so walking is the only option, but certainly the best. Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets is a highlight of a trip to this beautiful town. Most of the streets are wheelchair/pram friendly.
We didn’t stay in Siena when we were there as we rented a villa in the Tuscan countryside for the week (a great option). There is a wide range of accommodation right in the historic center of the town, and there is something available to suit most budgets. There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of backpacker hostels, however there are cheap hotels starting from around $70 per night for a double and there are several luxury options available as well.
For those on a tight budget it is possible to camp in Siena, only 3km out of the historic center. The camping area is called Siena Colleverde and you can walk or catch the local bus into town. They also have a range of cabins available.
The food and wine of Tuscany is some of the best in the world, and sampling the local food is a must in Siena. There are food options all over the place and it’s possible to eat at a little pizzeria for only €2 per slice. Local cafes are your best option for a sit down meal, costing from €10-€20 per meal, and restaurants can range greatly in price. When ordering wine, ask to have the house wine as it is always the cheapest, can be ordered in a carafe and is usually very nice. For desert, try some gelato (ice cream) at one of the gelaterias.
In Italy, it always costs more to sit at a table. When ordering a cappuccino or espresso, try having it at the bar/counter as it is almost always cheaper.
Places to see and things to do
The greatest thing about Siena is exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of the medieval old town. Wandering down these streets, you will come across some beautiful buildings, churches, piazzas and monuments with incredible medieval architecture.
Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the heart of old town Siena, the main public square and one of the greatest piazzas in Europe. Dominating this main square is the Torre del Mangia, a 100m high clock tower next to the late 13th century Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s town hall. There is some beautiful fresco artwork inside the town hall and you can climb the clock tower for €8.
Siena Cathedral (Duomo di Siena)
This 13th century cathedral is architecturally and artistically magnificent. The interior contains artwork by famous artists such as Michelangelo, Bernini and Donatello. Perhaps the most beautiful room in the cathedral is the Piccolomini Library which contains some magnificent frescoes and some very old choir books.
Underneath the cathedral is the crypt, which was never actually used as a crypt and was long abandoned. The unpreserved walls and frescoes gives the crypt a very old and eerie feel.
St John’s Baptistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)
Unlike other main cathedrals in Tuscany, Siena’s Baptistery was not built as a separate building, and actually makes up the back part of the cathedral. Built in similar style to the cathedral, the baptistery contains some beautiful art and architecture.
Located near the cathedral, The Museo della’Opera is the Duomo’s Museum, containing many important treasures that have been removed from the cathedral over the centuries.
Panorama del Facciatone (Panoramic Terrace)
The Facciatone is actually the facade of an incomplete cathedral extension that was commissioned in the 14th century to be later abandoned. The terrace is reached by climbing a steep spiral staircase located in the Museo della’Opera. The climb might be a little scary but the terrace provides amazing 360 degree views of Siena.
San Bernardino Oratory
A historical building, the oratory was where Saint Bernardino used to preach. Today it is a museum containing some interesting pieces.
Fortezza Medicea (Medicean Fortress)
A 16th century fortress that is now public space and park lands.
A museum containing beautiful Sienese paintings from the medieval times.
Siena contains many interesting shops selling unique items and crafts that you can not find anywhere else. Apparently there is also a large market that is held every Wednesday around Fortezza Medicea, however we weren’t there on a Wednesday to check it out.
*Travel tip – If you want to visit all of the attractions in the Siena Cathedral Complex, buy an Opa si Pass. You can buy this at the ticket booth at the Cathedral or online, and it gives you access to the Cathedral, Baptistery, Crypt, Museo della’Opera, Panorama del Facciatone and San Bernadini Oratory for €12, saving you 50% on tickets. Your money also goes towards preserving these amazing buildings.