Italy is a country with many proud destinations, the grandeur of Rome, the beauty of Naples and legendary Amalfi Coast, the romance of Venice, the rich in culture of Florence… and much more. Of which Siena is likened to a hidden gem of this Mediterranean nation! Siena is a small city located in the heart of the charming land of Tuscany in central Italy. Siena is not breathtaking by extreme beauty, overwhelming by the grandeur or magnificent, but overflowing with feelings of intimacy and attachment. The houses in Siena are built in the shape of an arc like solid walls embracing the central square of Piazza del Campo. Coming to Siena, visitors will be immersed in the pure beauty of this outstanding medieval town. So, what to do in Siena and how to plan a perfect budget trip to Siena — the hidden gem of Italy for the first-time? Let’s check out our Siena travel blog (Siena blog) with the fullest Siena travel guide (Siena italy travel guide, Siena guide, Siena tourist guide) from how to get there, best time to come, where to stay, best places to visit and things to do in Siena to find out the answer!
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Today the entire old town of Siena was recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. Talking about Siena is talking about a pure beauty. Siena is rich in culture and art, so perfectly beautiful that even though it is a pure tourist destination, only crowded with visitors but I still love it so much.
Siena travel blog: Overview of Siena
Siena is an ancient city located in the central part of Tuscan region of Italy, considered the capital of the province of Siena. Siena is located about 200km north of Rome and about 60km south of Florence, the famous Chianti wine region also nested between Siena and Florence. The city of Siena has an area of about 118 square kilometers (km²) and a population of less than 55,000 people. Despite its modest size and population, Siena is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations. This city has always been attractive by museums, cuisine and unique cultural traditions. The historic centre of Siena has also been recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site.
The old city of Siena is an outstanding destination with its cobbled streets and tall medieval buildings that make you feel like you are lost in a different world from the real life. Siena can be likened to frozen in time with steep winding roads that have barely changed since the 1300s. From a distance, it looks like a fairy land surrounded by high majestic hills and mountains.
Siena travel blog: When to visit?
Siena is a city with quite mild and pleasant climate. April and May are the hottest months in Siena. July and August are cooler, but often rainy. In general, you can go to Siena at any time of the year. However, to have the most complete and comfortable trip, you should go from May to June every year. This is the time of autumn in Siena. The weather at this time is quite cool, pleasant, rarely rains, so it will be very convenient for your journey to discover Siena.
September and October are also good times to visit Siena, as the weather is quite mild. Many tourists, especially love to travel to Siena in March, when it is cool at night but usually quite beautiful during the day.
If you want to take part in the Palio horse racing that held in the city twice a year on July 2 and August 16 you can visit Siena on this occasion to experience the bustling and vibrant atmosphere of the festival.
Siena travel guide: How to get to Siena?
Siena-Ampugnano Airport Airport (SAY) is located about 9km from the city center. However, there are very few flights to this airport. According to Siena Italy travel guide, you should fly to the airport in Florence or Pisa then continue to travel to Siena by train or bus. If you land in Rome and then take the train, it will take about 2 to 3 hours to getting to Siena. From Milan it will take up to 4 hours.
As a major tourist city, getting to Siena is easy and convenient. There are 3 major cities that have direct trains to Siena: Florence, Pisa and Rome. In my opinion, if you take public transport, the most convenient way to getting to Siena is from Florence or Pisa.
Siena is 2-3 hours away from Rome by train and 3-4 hours from Milan. The nearest airports are Florence and Pisa.
You check the train schedules on Trenitalia is the best!
If you take the train, you will get off at Siena railway station – 2km from the old town. From here there are two ways to get to the center of Siena. The first option is to take a bus to Piazza del Sale/Viale Garibaldi or Viale Tozzi/Piazza Gramsci. The second option is to take a free elevator right in the train station that takes you straight up the hill, near Via Vittorio Emanuele II (near the gate Porta Camollia). From this road, you just need to climb up and you will reach the main square of Siena (Piazza del Campo).
- From Florence, there is a Tiemme SpA bus company with buses depart at the bus station (auto-stazione) straight to Siena. Take the Rapida bus (express bus). Bus 131R. Refer to timetables here.
- From Pisa, you have to change bus in Florence. Basically catching a bus/train from Pisa to Florence. From Florence either take the train, or take the bus as mentioned above.
- From Rome, you can take Flixbus. Flixbus is quite cheap, about 8-12 euros only.
All buses will bring you closer to the center of Siena than the train!
Or, you can also choose Siena as the last stop point of your back and forth journey through fields of Tuscany. In this case, choose the route that goes through Poggibonsi and Colle Val d’Elsa towns. (Read this article for a self-guided driving experience in Tuscany).
I recommend Siena as another starting point to explore the vast region of Tuscany. Florence, while arguably the focus of my trip, but from Siena is also full of routes to the jewels of Tuscany such as San Gimignano, Volterra, Pitigliano, Pisa.
Siena Italy travel guide: Getting around
Siena is an ancient city, so vehicles such as cars are limited here. Siena is also quite small, so the best way to explore the city is by bike or on foot.
Siena blog: What to do in Siena, things to do in Siena
Siena is a city pure in art, culture and history. Coming here is mainly to walk around the city to enjoy the ancient atmosphere and admire its charming beauty. There will be less vibrant and youthful activities here. But I think if you want to come here to check in, you shouldn’t. By taking check-in pictures with Siena, Siena’s grandeur will definitely “swallow” you. Come here for its art, history and your curiosity.
Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the main public square in the historic centre of Siena, Italy and is one of the Europe’s largest squares in Middle Ages. This square is specially designed with red bricks in the seashell-shaped with its nine parts of honor symbolizes The Council of Nine – the semi-democratic group of government that ruled and brought Siena to its zenith for nearly 70 years, from 1287 to 1355.
Piazza del Campo is one of the most beautiful medieval squares in Italy. In the past this square was the market place and the center of all Siena events, political meetings or gatherings. It can be said that Piazza del Campo is a secular center, similar to the Duomo Square that represents a religious center. This square brings an interesting thing that even if it is full of people, it still make you feel like is surrounded, protected and connected. As if the city itself has been protecting its people. Absolutely love it!
Standing in the middle of the square is the red brick town hall with the towering Torre del Mangia tower. You can buy tickets to climb Mangia tower to have a panoramic view of the square. I did not climb but I climbed the tower of Siena church. Surrounded the square is palazzos (apartments, residences) of the nobility.
Twice a year, there is a horse race called Palio di Siena take place here. To win, the riders must pass 3 laps and complete in a maximum time of 90 seconds. Seen from above, this square looks like a clock divided into many different time zones with the centerpiece is a tall skyscraper. If you’re a movie buff, you might see the ancient city of Siena and Palio horse race in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace.
In this square, of course, there will be many shops, cafes. But I suggest you prepare picnic items and go out there to enjoy the atmosphere. The beauty of Italian villages is that there are no cars at all, most of them are just walking, so the atmosphere is very comfortable. You can sit anywhere in this square. Sitting at the middle of the square is also fine. There is no need to sit in a restaurant to do anything.
Siena’s gothic town hall building and bell tower, Torre del Mangia is the highlight of Piazza del Campo. The 102-meter-high Torre del Mangia bell tower is the second tallest medieval bell tower in Italy. You can walk up the tower’s 50 steps for a beautiful view of Siena.
Gaia Fountain (Fonte Gaia)
Also, at the highest place of the square, there is a replica of Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia (The Fountain of Joy). This replica was designed and built by Tito Sarrocchi in 1869 to mark the event of Siena when the water was first led to the center of the square. The Fonte Gaia is an ornate fountain carved by the artist Jacopo della Quercia in the 15th century. The one you see today is a 19th century replica. It is located at the north end of Il Campo square.
National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)
Traveling to Siena without visiting its museums is a pity. One of the most famous museums in Siena is the National Gallery. This museum is located inside an ancient palace built in the 15th century. Visiting the National Gallery, you will have the opportunity to admire the famous artworks of talented artists from the 12th to 16th centuries. Siena’s art museum, Pinacoteca Nazionale is home to some of Italy’s greatest paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries.
Address: Via S. Pietro, 29, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Hours: 8:30AM–1:30PM/Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 2–7PM
Wandering around ancient streets of Siena
If you have the strength and time, it is very nice to wander around the cobbled streets and red brick houses that have existed for nearly a dozen centuries of Siena. Siena’s architecture tends to be large and monumental as if it wants to swallow people. Rarely do I walk in the Old Quarter and feel suffocated by the weight of history and at the same time wandering in front of such a decaying beauty.
Piazza del Duomo, Siena Cathedral and Baptistery of San Giovanni
Is another beautiful square and home to the Siena Cathedral. The impressive Duomo has a black and white facade with carvings and statues. Its pavement is decorated with 56 marble pieces that are 56 squares representing meticulously carved figures. Also inside the church are frescoes in the Piccolomini library.
Siena Cathedral (Santa Maria Assunta Church)
If there’s a country in Europe with churches that always make me overwhelming, it’s definitely Italy. In addition to similarities such as grandeur, perfect style and idealism, each church in each region of Italy has its own local style. Siena Cathedral on the outside is characterized by Gothic style with meticulous sculptural details. This church is arguably the most monumental representation of the Gothic-Romanesque style in Italy. The entire church is built in marble, the inside is full of works by the greatest Italian artists like Pisano, Michelangelo, Donatello. Especially, the floor of the church is meticulously paved with marble, a great feat. From the beginning of August to the end of October, the entire its floor will be showed out for tourists to admire.
Although it was built in the 13th century, the church of Santa Maria Assunta is still preserved quite intact. To build this cathedral, people had to use hundreds of tons of marble. The murals of the cathedral also make visitors feel excited.
Are you an art lover? After visiting the church and chapel, stop by to admire the church’s museum, which houses excellent early Renaissance art. Especially the painting Duccio di Buoninsegna: ‘Christ and the Samaritan Woman’.
The Piccolomini Library Inside Siena’s Cathedral
Visit the church and you remember to visit the Piccolomini Chapel and library. This library is breathtakingly beautiful. Inside, there are precious books written and illustrated by the monks. All are gold plated. The wall depicts the life of God.
Piccilomini Library is considered one of the most beautiful and famous libraries in Italy. This library impresses visitors with its unique frescos and murals. Most of the paintings on the walls here depict the life and career of Pope Pius II.
You can buy OPASi Pass to visit all the places above, including the church museum. If you want a guide, buy OPASi Pass+.
Satisfied, then going to the back to visit the Siena Baptistery of San Giovanni. If you have time and already buy a full ticket, you should take a look inside.
Climb the tower of the Siena Cathedral
In Siena, there are two points with the best panoramic view, the Mangia tower in Piazza del Campo or the cathedral tower. I deliberately chose to climb the tower of the cathedral because I have a feeling that the view will be wider because the cathedral is on a higher hill. And indeed, the sunset over the tower makes me want to stop breathing, spectacular scene!
Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico)
After spending a whole day of traveling to explore Siena, if you still have the energy and time, you should visit the Basilica of San Domenico for the complete trip. This heavily medieval church complex is one of Siena’s most important public places. This is the place of worship of the Dominican Nuns.
Address: Piazza S. Domenico, 1, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Outside the city of Siena
The countryside outside Siena is beautiful and if you plan to visit you will go through small villages and medieval hill towns with vineyards and olive groves.
North of Siena is the Chianti Classico wine region. If you want to tasting Tuscan wine then take a day tour to Chianti wineries.
Also Monteriggioni is a small picturesque walled town with 14 towers very close to Siena. In less than an hour’s drive, you can visit the town of San Gimignano which dubbed as the medieval Manhattan or other wine towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino.
Siena blog: What to eat in Siena?
Siena cuisine favors meat, with a special emphasis on beef, truffle pastas, and crostini with chicken liver pâté (is crusty bread brushed with olive oil, then toasted in the oven). Alternatively, you can try Carpaccio (beef salad) or Tagliata di manzo (beef salad with rucola and parmesan reggiano scraped in thin strips). If you want to enjoy a leisurely evening, you can listen to jazz at unTUBO (Address: Via Luparello, 61, 53100 Siena SI, Italy/3-min walk from Piazza del Campo).
The food here is average compared to the common level of European countries.
If you want to experience a typical Italian breakfast, let visit Nannini – a restaurant with classic Italian delicacies. Nannini is where locals meet, talk and hang out in the morning. It also has very delectable pastries and you should try the Panforte di Siena or Panpepato.
Address: Localita Banchi di Sopra 24, 53100, Siena Italy
Hours: 07:30 AM – 10:30 PM
Gastronomia Morbidi is an attractive restaurant for lunch. Morbidi is the old restaurant in Siena since 1925 with unique Italian dishes that look both rustic and delicate, modern. Also a lunch buffet allows you to sample many delicious dishes in this restaurant.
Address: Via Banchi di Sopra, 75, 53100 Siena SI, Italy
Hours: 8AM–9PM/Sunday: Closed
For a long, flashy evening meal, you should opt for Ristorante San Desiderio. Housed in an old church building, this restaurant is a beautiful place to taste delicious Italian cuisine.
Address: Piazza L. Bonelli, 2, 53100 Siena SI, Italy (In between Siena Cathedral and Piazza del Campo)
Hours: 12–2:30PM, 7–10:30PM/Tuesday: Closed
What to do in Siena: Shopping in Siena
For those who have experienced traveling to the ancient city of Siena, this is not the shopping capital of Italy. But if you want to visit the small shops selling souvenirs, the main shopping street is Via Banchi di Sopra, where you will find many shops especially clothes, bags and shoe shops.
The Citta area from Banchi di Sopra also has a few more shops with Italian souvenirs and local crafts.
There is also a small shopping mall in Siena located near the train station, you can get to Via Vittorio Emanuele II using the public escalator or catch the bus directly to the station. Especially and in January and July is when the promotion is very attractive, sometimes down to 50% or 75%.
If you want to visit the open-air local markets, every Wednesday from 7am to 1pm, there is a market near Gramsci Square where you can visit and learn about local life. It offers mainly clothing and shoes, but also bags, costume, jewelry, home supplies and a few groceries.
On Friday mornings, there is a small market here selling farm produce near the fan-shaped square Piazza del Campo. Farmers come from around Siena to sell their products. You’ll find rye bread, olive oil, fruit, vegetables, cheese and other local produce. Is a small market, but the produce is good quality and fresh.
A special antique market takes place in Piazza del Mercato on the third Sunday of each month.
Siena blog: Where to stay?
To fully explore Siena you should spend at least 2 days 1 night. So, if you plan to spend 1 night in Siena, below we recommend more best budget, mid-range and upscale hotels with good ratings and reviews you can refer to.
- Sangallo Park Hotel (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Hotel Athena (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Hotel Italia (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Palazzo di Valli (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- Hotel Garden (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
- NH Siena (Agoda.com or Booking.com)
What to do in Siena: Some best day tours, trips, activities and transfer services, tickets in, from and to Siena you can refer to
- Guided Day Tour of Siena, San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Chianti (from Florence)
- San Gimignano, Siena, Monteriggioni, Chianti Day Trip with Lunch & Wine Tasting
- Private Day Tour of Siena, San Gimignano and Pisa (from Florence)
- San Gimignano, Siena, and Monteriggioni Full Day Tour with Chianti Wine Tasting and Lunch from Florence
- Highlights of Tuscany with Lunch in a Chianti Vineyard
- Siena, San Gimignano and Chianti Full Day Private Tour from Florence