As I began to write these lines, I was lying in a tower in the middle of Manhattan (not really in the middle), to write about another “Manhattan” of the Medieval Period — an ancient city-state in the middle of rural Tuscany, when behind its walls, it was not the mossy red-brown clay roof tiles, but from the very end of the Middle Ages, every family and upper clan knew how to build themselves high-rise towers to represent their power, wealthy and prosperity. The small city of San Gimignano, often also goes with the descriptive phrase “San Gimignano delle belle Torri” — “The town of the beautiful towers”. Today, I want to share with you everything about this ancient town after my recent trip. So, what is San Gimignano famous for, what to do in San Gimignano, what to see in San Gimignano and how to plan a perfect budget trip to San Gimignano Italy (San Gimignano Tuscany) for the first-time? Let’s check out our San Gimignano blog with the fullest San Gimignano guide from how to go to San Gimignano from Florence, where to stay, best places to visit and things to do in San Gimignano and must see in San Gimignano to find out the answer!
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Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990, San Gimignano offers visitors the chance to step back in time while enjoying local produce including saffron and the famous white wine – Vernaccia di San Gimignano.
San Gimignano blog: Overview of San Gimignano Tuscany
The ancient town of San Gimignano, located between Florence and Siena, is famous for its quaint, charming medieval architecture and towers that offer an impressive view of the city from the surrounding valley. Although it is not a famous tourist destination in Italy, there are many interesting things and should be discovered in this city! It is also one of more than 50 sites that was recognized by UNESCO in Italy. But really, in Italy in general and in Tuscany in particular, there are so many places worth going that we don’t know yet.
San Gimignano during its heyday belonged to no single family or clan, operating as a small republic. Not just one, but many flourishing families. Legend has it that the city has a textile industry and many families in the city prosper from this profession. Each clan built its own tower. The higher the tower represents the wealth of that clan. The tower for hanging cloth, that is, the higher the tower, the longer the cloth can be woven, the more expensive and precious it is.
San Gimignano guide: A brief history of the city of San Gimignano Italy
During the Middle Ages, San Gimignano was conveniently located on the busy Via Francigena road, so the city quickly became a busy trading center for people and merchants traveling to or from Rome. Families and clans in San Gimignano wanted to show off their wealth, so each aspired to have their own palace.
But in this small town, there’s only one thing that can fit in the narrow space between the city walls: Towers. The merchant families of San Gimignano took part in an informal competition to build more beautiful tall stone towers. As construction progressed more and more fiercely, the authorities enacted a law prohibiting the construction of towers higher than the main town hall, called Torre Rognosa, to ensure the safety for its residents.
Owning a hight and beautiful tower became a symbol of power at that time. At its peak, 72 soaring towers were built. As ramparts inside the ramparts, each tower is like a fortress allowing fortification whenever an incident could happen. After many golden centuries, the city gradually lost its independence after the Great Plague in the late 14th century and then fell under Florence’s control. Today, only remain 15 towers still proudly rise to the sky of Tuscany, but it is enough to make this place unmistakable.
San Gimignano blog: How to get to San Gimignano from Florence?
By car (self-driving)
I recommend renting a car at Rentalcars.com because of the easy rental procedure, moreover, in Florence, Rentalcars is very reputable. The road to San Gimignano by car is not difficult, moreover it goes through many beautiful roads. If you are confident in your driving, you should drive to enjoy the scenery along the way. I drived with my friend, and I found it much faster and more convenient.
The entire area inside the ancient town of San Gimignano, like many other tourist sites in Italy, is located in a Restricted Traffic Zone (zones referred to as “ZTL” — “Zona a traffic Limitato”). Only local vehicles are allowed to enter. Vehicles of visitors are prohibited from entering and parking.
Of the parking lots around the town, the cheapest is P1 Giubileo. The price in 2021 is €1.5/hour. Parking for a whole day costs €6. If you want to park your car overnight from 8pm to 8am the next day, the symbolic fee is €1/night. It takes about 5 minutes to walk from the parking lot to the city gate.
This is also the simplest way to get to San Gimignano because there is no direct public transport from Florence or Pisa to here. And the direct bus from Siena to here is very rare.
San Gimignano is about halfway down the road. The most suitable way is from Florence or Pisa when going to Siena, so let plan a road trip that turns through Volterra and San Gimignano via provincial road SR 68.
By public transport
There is no direct train to San Gimignano. But there are buses. There are two ways to take the bus, one is to take the train from Florence to Poggibonsi and then from Poggibonsi take bus 130 to get to San Gimignano. Every morning there are at least two buses per hour from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano. The ticket price is about 10 euros/each way. Here is the bus schedule from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano. The journey for each way takes about 2 hours.
This is the way I show you to have other options. But the way below is the way I recommend the most if you want to take public transport. That is taking the bus for two ways.
First, go to Santa Maria Novella bus station, right next to the railway station, take bus #131 Florence-Poggibonsi-Colle-Siena route. From Siena: Take bus 131 from Siena FS station in the opposite direction or take the train to get to Poggibonsi. Traveling time from Siena to San Gimignano takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes by public transport. Get off at Poggibonsi, take bus 130 as above to get to San Gimignano. The ticket price is about less than 8 euros. Buying tickets from the driver will be a bit more expensive (about 10 euros).
The below way, which means taking the bus two times, is more convenient than taking the train and then the bus. Because the bus from Florence to Poggibonsi and then from Poggibonsi to San Gimignano operating by the same bus company, so it will “match” together better. However, there are two trips from Poggibonsi every hour, quite a lot, so don’t worry.
San Gimignano guide: Must see in San Gimignano, what to do in San Gimignano
Strolling around the quaint nooks and crannies of San Gimignano
The city is named after the bishop of Modena province, Mr. Saint Gimignano who had great merits in the war of aggression at that time. With 14 towers built in the Middle Ages, the historic center of San Gimignano is also known as the “the city of the towers”.
Coming to this land, visitors cannot help but be a little shocked by the ancient beauties of the city with the defensive walls around the town still being preserved and keep intact very well. Passing through these surrounding walls of the city, visitors will come to the historic center of San Gimignano with 4 long squares on 2 main roads: Via San Matteo, Via San Giovanni and a system of ancient towers, churches, palaces and museums.
Located on a hill and surrounded by groves of grapes, olives and sunflowers, the works here are even more beautiful and romantic. In the past, due to its favorable geographical position on the busy traffic road, the city quickly became a bustling trading center. Because of that rich period, aristocrats and lords raced to build towers to show their power as well as turn them into a place to hold opponents. At that time, there were up to 72 towers in the historic center of San Gimignano.
However, the construction is just a competition between the nobility, so they try to exploit workers and money. However, most towers are only majestic outside but almost do not pay attention to the decoration inside. Therefore, there is not much difference between the towers. The highest tower is Grossa with a height of about 55m, from here visitors can see the whole dreamy town of San Gimignano.
San Gimignano still keeps ancient looks and well-preserved from nearly ten centuries ago. Now the people living here are mainly old people, almost young people have gone to the city to look for work. This makes San Gimignano seem too peaceful, in the afternoon at many corners, the old people still gathering to chatting and drinking wine, just like in the movies!
Visit the 14th-century fortress ruins of La Rocca di Montestaffoli
There are luscious olive groves that provide some shade in the sun and a great place to enjoy salami (a type of cold cut) and baguette while gazing at the Tuscan hills and towers. Veteran musicians such as harpists will perform classical tunes while artists paint their paintings. All together create an extremely romantic and poetic scene. In the summer there is an open-air cinema, and you can learn about Tuscany’s famous white wines at the Museo del Vino (an underground Wine Museum).
Address: Via della Rocca, 6, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
Climb the Grossa Tower (Torre Grossa) of Palazzo Comunale
Torre Grossa is the tallest tower in San Gimignano with a height of 54 meters (177 feet). It began construction exactly on August 21, 1300. And the only tall tower open to the public owned by Ardinghelli family. When you reach the top of the tower, you will have the opportunity to enjoy the panoramic view of the countryside surrounding the town.
Right next to the cathedral is the town hall, including the tallest Grossa tower in San Gimignano. You must climb more than two hundred steps to reach the top of the tower, but I guarantee the view is breathtaking. It is recommended to climb the tower a little late, around 4pm or 5pm hours to avoid tourists and the sun has softened.
Address: Piazza Duomo, 2, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
Piazza del Duomo (Duomo Square) and The Duomo di San Gimignano (Cathedral of San Gimignano or Collegiata di San Gimignano)
San Gimignano’s cathedral looks quite boring from the outside, but the inside is brilliant, the walls are covered with paintings dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. In fact, the whole city is similar in the past.
The town of San Gimignano is beautiful and charming with its many soaring medieval towers. You will feel the charm of San Gimignano as soon as you arrive. If you don’t have enough time to explore all of its treasures, head to the Duomo of San Gimignano, also known as the Collegiata di San Gimignano (Collegiata church) to admire its interior.
This is the cathedral in San Gimignano, located in the Piazza del Duomo (Cathedral Square), which is famous for the murals that almost cover the entire interior of the walls. Another treasure in the Collegiata is in the small chapel dedicated to Santa Fina (a saint). A 15th-century painting of Saint Santa Fina illustrates the towers of San Gimignano from that period.
The frescos collection inside the church has been kept in its original form, almost completely without needing to be restored for a long time. The colors you see are the original colors painted in the 1300s and their brightness is amazingly preserved. It should be clear that San Gimignano was bombed during World War II, so some parts were eroded and disappeared.
Inside the church there are many murals arranged in their own order in which you will read a story about the history of Christianity. If you go through the side entrance, when you look at the altar you will see that the left wall is dedicated to depicting Old Testament stories, while on the opposite wall, New Testament stories are shown.
The museum exhibits a collection of Etruscan and Roman civilizations and medieval artefacts. The Etruscan civilization was the first to exist in San Gimignano.
San Gimignano 1300 Museum
Located in the heart of the city from hundreds of years ago, the museum includes 800 handcrafted models that recreate 72 towers, street scenes, as well as people in the Middle Ages.
Here, the town is reproduced in 1:10, 1:100 scale and includes acoustics simulating street life and entertainment in ceramic reenactments of San Gimignano in the 1300s. Thanks to modern lights and sounds, the museum offers visitors a glimpse into life 700 years ago.
The museum is the creative culmination of two master artists, Michelangelo and Raffaello Rubino, together with a team of artisans and historians, faithfully recreate the town of San Gimignano as it was. Visit San Gimignano 1300 to marvel at what has been described in detail as a “masterpiece of human achievement”.
Address: Via Costarella, 3, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
Medieval Laundry Pool
This beautiful ruin is where the Medieval people used to come to do their laundry and fetch water. This is also one of the most popular tourist attractions. With the ancient ruins, this place recreates the old scenery, the living space of medieval people in the most authentic and special way.
Piazza della Cisterna
Once as a historical witness through the ages and also a place of commerce during the town’s prosperity, Piazza della Cisterna (Cistern Square) is today a venue for cultural events. This bustling square was once a place that attracted many passersby because of its beauty that has lasted for more than 1200 years. Seen from above, the square is triangular in shape and is completely paved with bricks and is surrounded by medieval houses and towers. There is a well placed in the center of the square that was built in the 13th century. The engraved bricks of the well are the mark of Guccio dei Malavolti, a chief judge in the Middle Ages.
Address: Piazza Della Cisterna, 20, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
If you want to take a panoramic shot of San Gimignano from the outside, you can stop on the road Strada Comunale Di Santa Lucia, 53037 San Gimignano (GPS coordinates 43.458453, 11.043419). In addition, from the ruins of the fortress Rocca of Montestaffoli, is also a very beautiful spot to watch the sunset over San Gimignano.
San Gimignano blog: What to eat?
Gelato at Gelateria Dondoli
Address: Piazza Della Cisterna, 4, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
Italian ice cream (Gelato) is inherently delicious, this is also an Italian ice cream shop that won the world championship, so you must try it. The owner, Mr. Sergio Dondoli, was part of the Italian team that won the title of World Champion in the art of ice cream making in 2007 and 2009. His gelato has many strange flavors, admittedly delicious, although I do not dare affirms that it is superior to other delicious ice cream parlors. Usually quite crowded, but worth it. The price is also reasonable, not too much. After buying ice cream, there is nothing like a beautiful day, sitting right on the two main squares of the city in front of the shop. Siting around the well in the middle of Piazza Della Cisterna, or sit on the steps of the Duomo di San Gimignano to enjoy this deliclious ice cream. Note that the opposite ice cream shop also hangs a sign claiming to be the best ice cream… in the world, easy confusing.
Dinner at Boboli
I really think the dinner I’ve eaten in San Gimignano is what I miss the most. That time when my friend took me to San Gimignano, I was not fluent in the language, did not understand what he said, and when I got there, I knew that I was going to the village. So we climbed all day until we were exhausted. At dinner time is when I am so happy.
The restaurant I highly recommend is Boboli. I’ve been to this restaurant twice, and it’s always delicious. My friend said that there are some dishes this restaurant prepares better, which is minestrone (seasonal vegetables stew, add olive oil!); bruschetta mix (slices of bread with toppings), and ravioli. So you should order these dishes! The red wine here is especially tasty. Before coming to Italy I didn’t like wine, after coming to Italy, it was from here that I became a drunk who forgot the way home, LOL.
Address: Via S. Giovanni, 30, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy
Hours: 7:30AM–10PM/Wednesday: Closed
You will have the opportunity to taste the famous wines of the region. Vernaccia di San Gimignano – a famous white wine, made from grapes of the Vernaccia region. Wine is often served with fish, seafood, white meats such as chicken, and rabbit. According to historians, this wine dates back to 1276. Since the Renaissance, it is considered one of the finest wines in Italy and was awarded the Denominazione di origine controllata e Garantita (DOCG) prize in 1993. DOCG is a high-end, prestigious Italian brand. Any bottle of wine with this label has to go through production, processing under the most stringent conditions and taste before bottling by certified government experts.
The most famous wineries of the San Gimignano region include Montenidoli, Teruzzi e Puthod, Il Palagio, Fattoria di Cusona and Panizzi. If you have time, visit at least one of these wineries.
What to do in San Gimignano: Shopping
The shopping districts along the streets of San Gimignano are famous for their fine products such as olive oil, wine and pasta. There are also shops selling hand-made tablecloths, textiles and homewares made of olive wood by local craftsmen. The shops along Via San Matteo and Via San Giovanni retain their medieval structure. You will find that the shopping experience here is very different from any modern shopping street.
San Gimignano blog: Some useful tips before visiting San Gimignano
In San Gimignano, there are not many specific things to do. But since the whole village is a open museum, you should prepare mentally like visiting a living museum.
However, there are a few experiences that I want to share with you, so that you can have a more complete trip.
- It is recommended to bring a light jacket. In Tuscany, even in the summer, the evening temperature is usually quite low, sometimes even a little chilly. Bring a light jacket or a scarf just in case.
- Must wear comfortable sneakers!
- When I went with my friend, I drove myself, so it is not clear the time when the last bus trip from San Gimignano to Poggibonsi and then back to Florence. Please check carefully to prepare for the journey.
- Boboli Restaurant is a local restaurant, open both for lunch and dinner. But dinner is the time when you can “feel” the most Italian atmosphere. Now that the tourists have all left, San Gimignano returns to an deserted and mysterious atmosphere like medieval period, only the restaurants are packed with locals. This is the reason why I advise you to self-drive actively.
- If you choose to self-driving, the next is find a parking lot. Finding parking here is not particularly difficult. But you should come a little early to have a parking space. If you come to San Gimignano from Florence, passing through Poggibonsi, that is, from the south, there are two parking lots, P1 Giubileo and P2 Montemaggio. P1 Giubileo is the cheapest as I mentioned above, parking all day costs about 6 euros. I recommend this parking because there are usually more slots. And if coming from the North, there are P3 Bagnaia Superiore and P4 Bagnaia Inferiore. These two parking lots are more expensive, parking all day costs 12 euros.
- Every Thursday, at all squares of San Gimignano will have local markets. If possible, arrange to come here at this time.
San Gimignano blog: Where to stay?
If you intend to spend a night in San Gimignano, below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Torciano Hotel Vecchio Asilo (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Villasanpaolo (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Hotel L’Antico Pozzo (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Hotel Casolare le Terre Rosse (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Agriturismo Poderi Arcangelo Farmhouse (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
San Gimignano leaves a strange feeling in the hearts of visitors. Not too romantic, not at all spectacular, but the town has very real and unique architecture to satisfy visitors. If you are a lover of exploring ancient architecture and historical works of art, this is a place not to be missed. Ancient and real, this place recreates the old scenes, the living space reminiscent of the Middle Ages of the town’s inhabitants as being reconstructed in the most special way.
Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to San Gimignano you can refer to
- Guided Day Tour of Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Chianti (from Florence)
- Private Day Tour of Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa (from Florence)
- Siena, San Gimignano and Chianti Full Day Private Tour from Florence
- San Gimignano, Siena, and Monteriggioni Full Day Tour with Chianti Wine Tasting and Lunch from Florence
- Siena, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni Full Day Tour with Chianti Wine Tasting and Lunch from Florence
- Siena, San Gimignano, and Chianti Small Group Tour from Florence