Siena, Italy: The Heart of the Tuscany!
Siena is one of the travel highlights of Tuscany and for many people the historic old town is even one of the most beautiful in Italy. Unique here are, above all, the old red-brown brick houses, the curved medieval alleys and the historic churches, which attract visitors from all over the world. Among the most important attractions of Siena is also the impressive Piazza del Campo, probably one of the most beautiful main squares in Italy, and the imposing Torre del Mangia tower, over 100 meters high. But also the surroundings of Siena, which captivate with picturesque vineyards and hilly fields, offer many places worth seeing.
In this travel guide we will show you the ultimate best things to do in Siena. Additionally, you will get lots of info and tips about viewpoints, tickets and where to find the best accommodations in Siena.
General information about Siena
Siena in Italy has about 54,000 inhabitants and its historic old town is considered to be one of the most beautiful places to visit in Tuscany. While Florence, only 70 kilometers away, is known to be the ultimate city of the Renaissance, Siena shows a breathtakingly beautiful medieval side. Especially the historical center of Siena, which is also on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, is unique in Italy because of its flair.
Siena is not only popular with tourists but it is also a vibrant student city. Almost 20,000 students attend the University of Siena, which gives the old city a youthful charm. Additionally, the city is famous for the delicious Christmas pastry Panforte, a firm cake made of nuts, candied fruits, cinnamon and honey.
Best things to do in Siena
On a city trip, there are so many amazing things to do in Siena. Most of the attractions are located directly in the old town, which you can explore on foot via a city-walk. In order not to lose the overview, here are the best places to visit in Siena at a glance.
Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is not only the most beautiful attraction in Siena, it is probably one of the most famous squares in Italy. This former marketplace has always been the center of the old town and is still the most popular meeting place for tourists and locals alike. It is home to many of the city’s most important monuments, such as the Palazzo Pubblico, the imposing Torre del Mangia tower and the beautiful Fonte Gaia fountain.
Around Piazza del Campo are the old red-brown townhouses, where numerous cozy restaurants and the fabulous cafés invite to take a sightseeing break. Especially during the warm season, countless visitors sit here and enjoy the unique magic that surrounds this square.
Tip: Siena is world famous for the Palio di Siena horse race, which has been held in the main square, Piazza del Campo, since the Middle Ages. This unique event takes place twice a year, on July 2 and August 16.
Torre del Mangia Tower
One of the most important things to see in Siena is the imposing Torre del Mangia, the 102-meter-high tower in the center of the city, which rises above the roofs of the old town. Located in the famous Piazza del Campo, it is one of the highest ancient towers in Italy and a real must-see in Siena! Made of brick, it had been built within 10 years, between 1338 and 1348, and its first mechanical click was installed as early as 1360.
Whoever wants to climb the famous tower of Siena has to overcome more than 300 steps to the top. The ascent to the Torre del Mangia is quite exhausting, extremely narrow and there is not much space on the platform either. But once you reach the top you will be rewarded with a breathtaking view of Siena.
Tip: You can save money with a combined ticket, which includes the entrance to the tower and the Museo Civico.
The Palazzo Pubblico is probably the most fascinating palace in the old town and therefore one of the most famous attractions in Siena. This attraction is also located in the center, at Piazzo del Campo, and has been the city’s town hall for many centuries. Impressive from the outside, the interior of the Palazzo Pobblico is also worth seeing.
Here you can find the Civic Museum, where you can see many famous frescoes, such as the work of Guidoriccio da Fogliano with the frescoes of good and bad government. Another important attraction is the tower of the palace mentioned above, the so-called Torre del Mangia, which rises majestically over the city.
Fonte Gaia Fountain
Another lovely sight of Siena and also a very popular photo spot is the beautiful fountain Fonte Gaia on Piazza del Campo. The so-called “Fountain of Joy” had already been built in 1419 by Jacopo della Quercia, but the figures were replaced by replicas in 1858. The original marble sculptures can be admired today in the museum of the Town Hall on the opposite. The fountain owes its name to the joy of the city’s inhabitants when they saw water coming out from the fountain for the first time. Until then, Siena, which lies on a hill, had always suffered from a lack of water.
Duomo Santa Maria della Scala
The Cathedral of Siena, also called Duomo Santa Maria della Scala, is one of the most important buildings in the city. It took about 200 years to complete and the style of the cathedral reflects the transition from Romanesque to Gothic. Beautiful here is the magnificent facade of dark green and white marble, which is decorated with countless details.
Also from the inside, the cathedral is absolutely worth seeing! You should plan some time for a visit, because there are countless art treasures to be admired. Duccio di Buoninsegna, Nicola Pisano, Donatello, Pinturicchio, Beccafumi, Michelangelo and Bernini are just a few of the artists who have immortalized themselves here. Also interesting is the floor of this cathedral, on which 56 marble panels depict the scenes of the Old Testament.
Tip: You can save a lot of time and energy with a fast admission online ticket, because the queue to the cathedral is always long! Other attractions, such as the Baptistery, Crypt, Piccolomini Library, Cathedral Museum and Facciatone are also included in the ticket.
The impressive Piccolomini Library is also worth seeing. It is located directly in the Cathedral of Siena, in the left aisle, and was commissioned by the Archbishop as early as 1492. Inside, besides the splendid handwritten manuscripts, there is a fantastic collection of frescoes and artistic paintings painted by Pinturicchio and some of his students. A real highlight for all art and culture fans!
The Museo dell’Opera della Metropolitana or simply the Cathedral Museum is located right next to the Cathedral in Duomo Nuovo. This museum, which was actually founded in 1869, is an exhibition of collected original works from the cathedral. Here, for example, the works of Duccio di Buoninsegna are displayed. Among them is the Maestà, the altarpiece that once decorated the high altar of the Cathedral. Also impressive paintings, such as the Madonna degli Occhi Grossi, one of the oldest paintings of the Sienese school, can be seen here.
Tip: From the Cathedral Museum you can easily reach the Facciatone, one of the best viewpoints in Siena.
One of the most beautiful viewpoints of Siena can be found on the Facciatone. It is located on the facade of the “Duomo Nuovo” and can only be entered by visiting the Cathedral Museum. A rather narrow staircase leads up to the panoramic passage, an experience not to be missed. On top, you have the most ingenious 360° view over whole Siena, over to the high tower, the cathedral and up to the picturesque hilly landscape of Tuscany.
Baptistry of San Giovanni
Another interesting attraction in Siena is the Baptistery of San Giovanni, the baptistery located in the square of the same name under the Cathedral. It was built between 1316 and 1325 with the unfinished façade dating back to the second half of the 14th century. The interior of the baptistery is very interesting, where some important works are being kept. The centerpiece is certainly the famous baptismal font in the middle, a masterpiece of the early Tuscan Renaissance.
Piazza and Palazzo Salimbeni
One of the most beautiful squares and a popular photo spot is the 14th century Piazza Salimbeni with the Palazzo Salimbeni. This historic building houses Monte Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in Europe, which still owns all the buildings around the square. The statue in the middle of the square is also interesting. It was created in 1880 by Tito Sarrocchi and represents the politician and economist Sallustio Bandini.
Also interesting is the crypt of the Cathedral of Siena, which had unexpectedly been brought to light during a restoration in 1999. It is located under the pulpit of the Cathedral and is now open to the public in a museum. Of particular interest here are the beautiful medieval murals from the 13th century, which show scenes from the Old and New Testaments. It is hard to believe that this historical treasure had been hidden for over 700 years – a real insider tip for all loving arts!
Basilica di San Domenico
Basilica of San Domenico is one of the most important church buildings in Siena. It took almost 240 years to build this rather massive, simple basilica. Situated on the hill, “Colle di Camporeggio” you can enjoy a wonderful view from this imposing church to the cathedral opposite. Basilica di San Domenico is especially famous for its countless art works. Very worth seeing is the Maestà and the beautiful frescos. Also interesting to visit is the Cappella di Santa Caterina, which contains relics of Saint Caterina of Siena.
Natural History Museum
A real insider tip is the small natural history museum, the so-called Musei dell’Accademia dei Fisiocritici in Siena. This academy was founded in 1691, although the museum opened in the second half of the 18th century. Today, the exhibition rooms house collected curiosities from three centuries and valuable geological, mineralogical, paleontological and zoological findings.
Tip: Admission to the museum is free of charge!
Santuario di Santa Caterina
Santuario di Santa Caterina, also known as Santuario Cateriniano, is one of the most important monuments in Siena. It is the birthplace of Saint Catherine and therefore one of the most sacred sites in the city. Nothing of the original dwelling has been preserved, since most of the rooms have been transformed into church buildings.
Open to the public, it is possible to visit several interesting attractions free of charge, such as the Church of the Crocifisso, the sacristy and the Oratories of the Cucina.
The Woman in the Window
During a stroll through the old town you can expect some surprises in addition to the countless attractions and famous sights. A real insider tip in Siena is “The Woman in the Window“, a white sculpture that seems to look out of an inconspicuous townhouse. You can find this unique photo motif in Via dei Rossi, if you walk from the main square towards the Basilica di San Francesco.
Fortezza Medicea Fortress
Fortezza Medicea, also known as “Forte di Santa Barbara”, is a fortress with a beautiful view of the old town. It is located just outside and is a real recreational center of the city. Locals come here to walk and jog; tourists come to enjoy the wonderful view. In summer, exhibitions and concerts are held here.
Best places to stay in Siena
In the historical center of Siena, but also in the picturesque surroundings of the city there is a great selection of accommodations. From cheap hotels to apartments, bed and breakfasts and agriturismo with pool, everything is available. If you are looking for a recommendable accommodation in Siena, we can give you these hotel tips…It’s worth a look!
- Pension in the old town: The B&B La Terrazza Sul Campo is situated in best location directly on the main square and delights its guests with beautiful rooms and a fantastic view.
- 5-star hotel in the center: The Grand Hotel Continental Siena is the perfect hotel for a very special stay in Siena. Situated in a historical palazzo, this dream hotel with a unique backdrop will delight you for sure!
- Staying in a castle: The Castello Delle Quattro Torra is a small castle that spoils its guests as a B&B. Highly recommended here is the tower room with a 360-degree view of the surrounding landscape.
- Agritourism with pool: The Agriturismo Renaccino is a beautiful farmhouse with pool and very well-equipped apartments. Especially children are happy about the cats, horses and the donkey!
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