Are you ready to take an unforgettable journey through an engaging Siena tour? Siena is one of the most popular and visited places in Tuscany, a place extremely rich in history and art and with strong local traditions tied to its 17 districts (called “contrade”) and to the famous Palio di Siena, the biggest annual event that takes place twice each summer in the city.
The historic centre of Siena is one of the best preserved in Tuscany and is a true joy to explore during your Siena tour. If you will visit Siena there is an abundance of beautiful architecture such as the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. Furthermore, the city has a range of fantastic museums and galleries to visit.
Here are the 10 best things to do in Siena:
Piazza del Campo – a unique medieval square
Piazza del Campo is the core of the city and without a doubt the soul of this beautiful Tuscan community. As one of the most visited of all Tuscan towns, Siena is a magnet, drawing tourists from all over the world. With its stunning Duomo and its famous Piazza del Campo, otherwise known as the Il Campo, visitors can walk the same paths and alleys as the Etruscans did centuries ago.
The square is famous for its clamshell design, red brick paving, and it is one of Italy’s most unique and beautiful medieval squares.
Surrounded by impressive public buildings, cafes’, and residences, the Piazza del Campo is the natural gathering spot for visitors and locals alike.
Sitting at one of the cafes in Piazza del Campo is in itself a special experience. You can easily spend a couple of hours just admiring the details of the splendid buildings that surround the square with the lovely windows, balconies, crenellated rooftops and Fonte Gaia, the largest fountain of the city originally decorated with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia.
Climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia-The Tallest Symbol of Siena
Looming 102 meters over the Piazza del Campo, the elegant, sleek tower to the Palazzo Pubblico is the third tallest in all of Italy. The Torre del Mangia, offers one of the most beautiful views of the city. There are over 400 steps, a bit steep and narrow, to climb, but the 360° view that awaits you at the top of the tower is really spectacular and worth the “effort” you go through to reach the top.
This tower was constructed at the same time as the palace and features a similar two tone design with a white stone crown.
When you reach the top, you can look down to the Piazza del Campo and see the gorgeous Tuscan countryside.
Ticket: € 10,00 per person
Explore the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
A short walk from Piazza del Campo leads you to the other focal point of Siena, the Cathedral Square.
The imposing Duomo, lavishly decorated, dominates the square and fills it with light.
The cathedral’s façade will take your breath away, a masterpiece of design and sculpture by Giovanni Pisano: the black, white and pink marble, and the facade’s rich golden decor add to the splendour of a building, that is one the most important Gothic edifices in Italy.
This building is simply fantastic and both its exterior and interior designs are sublime.
Entering, you will not be disappointed: the Cathedral is enriched with works signed by famous artists the likes of Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio.
Piccolomini Library Frescoes
The Piccolomini Library is a true gem that you really can’t miss during your Siena tour. The library is inside the Duomo. Make sure to find it, as many won’t find the small door on the left side of the church and miss this treasure!
Inside the Library, you can admire truly extraordinary frescoes on the walls, where you can see some scenes of the life of Pope Pius II, but also on the ceiling, shining for the abundant use of gold.
In the middle of the room, take a few moments to admire the beautiful copy of The Three Graces from Roman times, based on the more ancient original that dates back to the Hellenistic period (4th-2th century BC)!
Get lost in the historic centre of Siena
To enjoy this town, you do not need a map. Forget about the itineraries! Lose yourself! Walking these streets is like walking back in time. You’ll come across little piazzas where you can stop for a bit and enjoy a glass of wine, and churches that you can admire as you walk by.
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.
A funny visit during your Siena tour: Spotting the signs for each of Siena’s ‘contrade’
Siena is divided up into 17 contrade or districts. You’ll know which one you are in by looking up at the heraldic symbols on the side of the buildings. Eagle, Owl, Snail, Giraffe, Unicorn are just a few and each have their own stories and mythologies. These contrade still have great emotional significance for the residents today.
Births, marriages and festivals are only celebrated within the area of one’s contrada. And the yearly horse race the Palio pits them against each other in a highly charged and colourful race that’s been running since Medieval times. Streets are lined with flags, small signs, lamps and more. See if you can discover all 17 symbols on a self-guided walk of the city.
Tick them off as you find them: caterpillar, dragon, eagle, forest, giraffe, goose, owl, panther, porcupine, ram, shell, snail, tortoise, tower, unicorn, wave and wolf.
If you’re lucky, in the evening you may be treated to the sight of small parades or flag-waving crowds and hear drums beating.
The Palio di Siena
The Palio di Siena is a famous horse race that draws huge annual crowds. It has religious significance and is run in Siena’s city centre, with dirt hauled in to cover the streets.
This horse race is held twice yearly, once in July and once in August.
The first race, on July 2, is dedicated to the Madonna of Provenzano; the August 16 race is run in honour of the Assumption of Mary. Ten horses and riders, representing ten of the city wards, circle the Piazza del Campo three times.
The race is over quickly, usually well within two minutes, but the crowds, the vendors, and the race itself make it something not to miss if you’re in Siena at the time.
See the head of Saint Catherine, the patron saint of Italy
One of the most peculiar things to do during your Siena tour. In the vast San Domenico Church, that stands atop a hill in the west of the town, you find a very special though macabre relic, the mummified head of Saint Catherine.
Born in Siena, she joined a religious order and went on to exert a strong influence on the papacy. An extraordinary character, she’s one of only four female doctors of the church and one of the patron saints of Italy and Europe.
Visit the Fontabranda
The Fontabranda is a medieval fountain made by Jacopo della Quercia that would have been used for not only the town’s water supply, but to bathe in too! It is famous for being mentioned in Dante’s classic book “Inferno”. Now it is filled with stunningly clear water and some big fish.
Shop For Souvenirs
The main shopping street is Via Banchi di Sopra, where you will find a variety of boutiques, especially clothes, bags and shoe shops. 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.
Siena travel tips: Things to know before you go!
–Arrive early in the morning, so you have the full day for your Siena tour
-The city centre is closed to traffic, so if you’re planning to arrive by car you’ll still have to move on foot or by public transport to visit Siena. The train station is located outside the city, but it is well connected with the city centre by buses.
-If you plan to visit Siena monuments, we suggest you to buy the OPASi Pass, a cumulative ticket that allows you to visit the Cathedral, Crypt, Piccolomini Library, Baptistery and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (where you can enjoy the view of the city from the “Facciatone”), saving more of than 50% on individual tickets.
– For a great view of Siena, head to via Camporegio, in the Drago contrada. You will see all the rooftops, the Duomo and the Mangia Tower in their beauty. Don’t miss it during your Siena tour.
– If you would like to take home some local treats head straight to Antica Drogheria Manganelli which has been around since 1879. They specialize in panforte (a spiced Sienese fruit and nut cake) and ricciarelli (sugar-dusted chewy almond biscuits) as well as homemade pasta and of course Tuscan wine.
Best time to visit Siena
We consider the best time to visit Siena is between May and September when warm weather ushers in art and music festivals, open-air dining and the kind of Italian lifestyle you dream of experiencing. The warmest months are generally July and August.
Low Season in Siena is during the winter months of December to February, although many travellers love visiting during the Christmas celebrations.November is the month with the most precipitation on average, but October, December, March and April also generally have a good amount of rain. Make sure to dress in layers!