Located in the centre of Tuscany, Siena is known for its medieval buildings, main town square, and history. In fact, the town centre is historic, earning itself a UNESCO World Heritage designation. Siena was settled by Etruscan tribes but didn’t start thriving until the Roman era. It’s now a hot spot for viewing architecture, museums, and cultural sites. Plus, it has a fantastic location, making it the perfect base for viewing the Tuscan countryside and all of the cities and villages around it. And, while Siena is a great base for exploring, it is certainly worth seeing itself. So, if you’re planning a trip travelling in Siena, here’s what you should see and do.
Piazza del Campo
This is the main historic square of Siena. It is open to the public and surrounded by surreal architecture. It’s alive with locals and tourists relaxing, chatting, and taking in the views. Some of the most famous sites in the square are the Palazzo Pubblico, Fountain of Gaia, and the Torre del Mangia. There are also plenty of shops, cafes, and restaurants to explore too.
Shop For Souvenirs
Even if you hate shopping you’ll find the souvenirs in Siena tempting. Via Banchi di Sopra is the main shopping street and a great place to start when you want to stock up on goodies to take home. Wander around and look for leather goods, handmade ceramics, and textiles that you can take back home to your friends and family. If you’re visiting on a Wednesday, make sure to visit the outdoor market near Piazza Gramsci where you can find clothes, shoes, jewellery, housewares, and groceries. There’s also a market here on Friday’s where you can find produce, olive oil, bread, cheese, and other locally made products.
This famous Siena building can be found in Palazzo Pubblico. It dates back to the 13th century when it once housed the Republican Government of Siena. The design is a mix of Italian Gothic and medieval, with beautiful arched windows, frescoes, and paintings. Visitors can tour the interior to see the artwork up close.
Inside the Siena Cathedral is the Piccolomini Library, an absolutely stunning gem that’s hidden inside. ‘Hidden’ is a bit of a stretch as this library has a reputation for beauty that is well known. It is said to feature the most beautiful and impressive frescoes in all of Tuscany. The ceiling, walls, and arches are covered in incredibly detailed paintings that depict 10 scenes related to the life of Pope Pius II. Visitors will also get to view the historic manuscripts they have on display.
This quirky museum can be found at the University of Siena. Visitors will find medical drawings (some which were done by Leonardo da Vinci,) eight hundred skulls, wax anatomical models, a pathological fetus collection, and more. It was the collection of Paulo Mascagni, a famous anatomist who specialized in collecting dried anatomical parts.
Siena National Gallery
Located inside a former palace dating back to the 15th century, this museum is one of the best in the city. You’ll find a fantastic art collection mostly of Sienese Artists from the 12th to the 16th centuries. Make sure to see ‘Entry into Jerusalem’ and ‘Raising of Lazarus’ by Guido da Siena and ‘Madonna Enthroned’ by Lorenzetti. The cartoon series by Beccafumi is worth seeing too.
This square is quite small but also very interesting and beautiful. It can be found in the historic town square and is bordered by the facades of different palaces; Palazzo Spannocchi, Palazzo Salimbeni, and Palazzo Tantucci. It was a garden but now features a stunning marble statue and colourful patterned tiles.
Santuario di Santa Caterina
This site is an entire complex created to honour St. Catherine of Siena. Legend has it that it was built over her birthplace. The complex is filled with various structures that include the Church of the Crucified as well as loggias and several arcades. The architecture here is quite amazing and can be considered artwork within itself. Make sure to check out the Church of the Crucified and its frescoes picturing the life of St. Catherine.
Orto de’ Pecci
If you want a truly off-the-beaten-path experience in Siena, this is the place. It’s a tiny farm and vegetable garden where you’ll see goats, chickens, geese, and donkeys wandering around. You’ll also find La Proposta restaurant inside the garden where you can taste local dishes made with the garden’s produce. It once was the farmyard of the Siena Mental Hospital but is now run by a social group that helps people suffering from mental illness. This is a great place to get in touch with nature while relaxing with your family. The kids will love it too!
Baptistery of Santa Maria Assunta
Located in Siena Cathedral, the baptistery was added a bit later in the 14th century. The outside of the building is still unfinished but the part that is intact is adorned with polychrome marble which has become quite iconic. The interior is lined with white and black polychrome marble and the ceilings are painted in intricate Renaissance Frescoes. Make sure to pay close attention to the baptismal font that was designed by the famous sculptor, Donatello.
Siena Civic Museum
You’ll find this museum inside the Palazzo Pubblico. It’s full of artworks and artefacts from around Siena over the years. The original frescoes are one of the highlights, as well as the Good and Bad Government frescoes which depict the history of Siena. Don’t forget to visit the fresco, Madonna in Throne with Child, and the Hall of the Globe. Families may especially love a visit as the colourful paintings tend to win the kids over.
Church of San Domenico
This massive church has been added to and updated over the years which is why it features so many different design styles. While the exterior may not be as ornate as other buildings in Siena, it does have an impressively beautiful interior. Make sure to visit the Chapel of Santa Caterina, marble sculptures, and religious frescoes. The altar pieces, religious fixtures and candelabras are impressive too.
Torre del Mangia
This skinny tower is one of the best known sites in Siena. It stands at 102m tall and can be found in the Palazzo Pubblico. It was built during the same time as the palace, so it features a similar design. Visitors are allowed to climb to the top for incredible views of Siena. You’ll need to climb 200 steps but the views are definitely worth it. You’ll even be able to catch a few glimpses of the Tuscan countryside.
Go Bar Hopping
Siena is full of quirky bars, cozy hangouts, and charming cafes that serve wine. If you want to take a break from exploring the tourist trail it’s best to grab a glass, take a seat, and enjoy some people watching. There are great bars all over Sienna and while you may just want to wander into establishments that catch your eye, there are a few noteworthy watering holes to keep in mind. Check out Un Tubo, a wine bar with live jazz music, Bar II Palio, a pub with outdoor seating overlooking Piazza del Campo. There’s also La Diana, a casual pub with a great selection of craft beers, and Cacio & Pere which has reasonably priced drinks and DJ sets.
The Porta Pispini is a portal that used to make up part of the defensive network that surrounded Siena during the Middle Ages. This gateway is outfitted with a double doorway that is constructed from stone and features regal arches and an inner gate that still has its original wooden doors and frame. Visitors can see the original city walls and the guard tower that’s located to the right of the gate.
Go Cafe Hopping
Italian coffee is delicious and there’s no better place to get your fill than in Siena. There are quaint cafes all over that city that will welcome you with an expertly made cup of coffee. Check out the city’s most famous cafe, Torrefazione Fiorella, which has every coffee drink you could imagine. Bar II Palio has a great outdoor seating area that’s perfect for sipping a steamy cup, and Cafe Nannini is the best for a coffee and pastry combination.
You can’t visit Italy without eating gelato, especially in Siena. The city is dotted with gelato shops selling the creamiest, most flavorful concoctions. Make sure to check out La Vecchia Latteria, a hidden gem that prides themselves on fresh ingredients, as well as Grom, a popular chain that is well known around Italy. There’s also Gelateria Il Bacio, which is a favourite among the locals, and Gelateria Kopakabana, which has created more than 200 original flavours.
Try The Restaurant Scene
If you want to experience authentic, Italian cooking you need to explore the restaurant scene. There will be plenty of places around the city so it may get a little overwhelming. A few restaurants to keep in mind are Castel Monastero, a luxurious hotel restaurant just outside Siena that is run by chef, Gordon Ramsy. There’s also Gino Cacino di Angelo, a great spot to get sandwiches with fresh meat and cheeses. Check out La Prosciutteria, a rustic restaurant where you can get planks of meat and Tuscan wine, as well as Numero Unico, a fine dining establishment known for its rabbit antipasto and glazed duck.
This fort is located near Franchi Stadium in west Siena. It was built by Duke Cosimo during the 16th and 17th centuries to help prevent uprisings from the citizens who were unhappy with the Florentine rule. It’s made up of four defensive towers, and a large central wall. You’ll find beautiful gardens to walk through and explore around the complex. There are festivals and concerts held here regularly that you can attend.
If you’re looking for an adventure it’s time to get lost in Siena. While this city is famous for its major attractions, there is a lot to be seen down the small alleyways, hidden courtyards, and natural areas. Spend some time wandering down the small streets to see beautiful scenes of local life. There are colourful flowers, green vegetable gardens, and fresh laundry hanging from the window lines. Make sure to bring your camera as the city streets, mural artwork, and architecture will make for some stunning photos to take home and frame in your living room.
Visit The Tea Room
This is another gem in Siena that goes under the radar. While the coffee lovers can be found in the cafes, tea drinkers can venture to the Tea Room. The aesthetic is what makes this place so exciting as it looks like a 15th-century tavern with vaulted ceilings, antique furniture, and a fireplace. They serve up more than 100 selections of tea and have traditional Italian options as well as a selection from all over the world. Since they do still have coffee, as well as a full bar, anyone can enjoy a visit.
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
This cathedral is one of the most renowned works of Gothic architecture in Italy. Both the interior and exterior were artfully designed and stand out grandly in Siena’s sea of historic buildings. It was first built in the 13th century in the Piazza del Duomo and has served as the city’s icon. The marble arches, frescoes, and golden dome make this cathedral extra special.
See a Show at Teatro dei Rinnovati
This 14th-century theatre was originally built to entertain King Charles V when he visited from Austria. The original building has been destroyed many times over but rebuilt with the vision of various artists over the years. The architecture and interior design are stunning, as are the beautiful performances put on here. If you’d like to catch an Italian opera or ballet, this is your place.
Siena is full of history, culture, and undeniable charm. No matter what you do in this city you’ll be sure to find something you’ll love and will remember for a lifetime.