Siena sits in the heart of Tuscany. It’s famous for its architectural gems, bustling squares, and UNESCO World Heritage historic center. Throughout the centuries it became a prosperous town which now counts agriculture and tourism as its main sources of income. There are many attractions to enjoy in Siena – you can browse the Siena Civic Museum, Duomo Cathedral, and National Gallery. Or sip Tuscan wines in the piazza and climb Torre del Mangia for incredible views and photo opportunities. Each July and August, the town hosts its famous Palio horse race. Citizens compete against each other in their neighborhood colors. After, everyone gets together and the celebrations really begin! With so much to experience, our Siena Travel Guide will get you started with the highlights!
How to Visit Siena
It’s easy to visit Siena by train, bus, car, or even bicycle. If you’re flying into Florence or Pisa airports, it takes an hour to drive from Florence and 1.5 hours from Pisa. The SITA bus company operates a regular service from Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence and drops travelers off within the city walls of Siena. There is also a direct train service every hour from Florence and from Pisa Centrale station, with one change at Empoli. It’s worth considering that cars are not permitted in Siena’s historical center unless you’re staying inside the city walls and have advance permission from your hotel.
How to Get Around Siena
Siena is largely car-free. If you plan to drive, you can gain a permit from your hotel to enter the city walls with your vehicle or park on the outer fringes of the city. Buses operate outside the historic center to most neighborhoods and it takes approximately 25 minutes to amble from one side of Siena to the other. Another great way to see Siena is by bicycle or e-bike. There are over 200 cycle routes near the UNESCO World Heritage city and several stores offer daily bicycle rentals so you can take your time exploring the spectacular Tuscan countryside.
Neighborhoods of Siena
The Torre neighborhood is named after Torre del Mangia, a 102-metre high bell tower located in the center of Siena. The area is sprinkled with lively piazzas, museums, and quaint osterias serving delicious Tuscan cuisine. If it’s your first time in Siena, it can be the perfect base, as it’s close to all the main tourist attractions. Highlights in Torre include Palazzo Pubblico – the Gothic-style town hall filled with art masterpieces and the architecturally impressive Loggia della Mercanzia.
Historic City Center
The city center is a superb place to stay in Siena. It offers easy access to Piazza del Duomo, Palazzo del Capitano, and a whole host of charming restaurants and gelaterias. It’s close to all the main historic attractions and museums of Siena, making it easy to explore on foot – even for visitors with younger children!
Historic Aquila is located around Siena’s Duomo Cathedral and Santa Maria della Scala museum. With Renaissance art and frescoes to explore, it’s difficult to know where to begin! You can walk easily from here to Fortezza Medicea, a fortress built by Duke Cosimo to prevent the Sienese people from revolting against Florentine control. Then head to Fontebranda, an interesting 13th century fountain flanked by Gothic arches and fed by aqueducts. This popular neighborhood is a place where locals and tourists can mingle, plus there are some great pasticcerias and trattorias where you can sample typical Tuscan food.
Lupa can be discovered north of the historic center near Porta Ovile and Palazzo Salimbeni. It’s a peaceful location frequented by the Sienese people, so you can try out your Italian on the locals! It’s also only a few minutes’ walk to Giardini la Lizza, a verdant garden perfect for picnics and leisurely strolls. If you feel like stretching your legs, the historic center and Duomo are 10 minutes on foot.
Onda is a popular district for tourists in Siena. It’s home to several 3 and 4-star hotels and guest houses, interesting museums, and the botanical gardens of Siena University. In this neighborhood you’ll discover lively bars, souvenir shops, and quaint trattorias where you can sample pasta and risotto just like mama used to make!
Food, Drink, & Nightlife
Every Siena Travel Guide knows will tell you that the culinary scene is spectacular – with some of the best food in Italy! Charming trattorias line piazzas and, hidden along the narrow alleyways, you’ll find osterias and wine bars with old brick ceilings and barrels for tables. These are perfect places to tantalize your taste buds with fine Tuscan wines while sampling regional dishes such as Ribollita – a Tuscan vegetable and bread soup and Bistecca alla Fiorentina – a rare seasoned porterhouse steak. For a special treat, venture outside the city walls where restaurants are located within ancient farm buildings and villas surrounded by beautiful gardens and stunning views of the Tuscan countryside.
The town may seem tranquil and much of the socializing is done in local wine caverns, piazzas, and cafes. However you can also listen to live bands in Piazza del Campo, watch theater performances, and dance until the early hours in one of the city’s nightclubs. In Siena, if you’re looking for leisure or intensity, you’re sure to find it!
Siena is packed with wonderful specialty shops and artisan workshops where you can purchase everything from hand-painted ceramics and Italian souvenirs to clothing, shoes, and handbags. The main shopping street is Via Banchi di Sopra and if you head for the train station, there’s a modern shopping mall nearby. If local markets are more your thing, every Wednesday close to Piazza Gramsci there is a bustling outdoor market. On Fridays, farmers from all over Tuscany head to Siena to sell their produce which ranges from olive oils and fresh bread to cheeses, local fruit, and vegetables – perfect for a picnic lunch in the park!
Duomo of Siena
Gracing every Siena Travel Guide, you’re sure to find The Duomo of Siena, or Siena Cathedral as it is otherwise known. The magnificent cathedral was designed in a blend of Italian Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical styles. It dominates the skyline above Piazza del Campo and is packed with artistic treasures from Michelangelo, Pisano, and Donatello. The building was constructed between 1215 and 1263 and decorated throughout with columns of white and green/black marble stripes which represent the city of Siena. Highlights of the cathedral and adjoining Museo dell’Opera include the storytelling mosaic pavement, the ceiling frescoes of the Piccolomini Library, and the beautiful rose window designed by Buoninsegna.
Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico, & Torre di Mangia
Piazza del Campo is Siena’s main square, lined with several notable buildings including Palazzo Pubblico – a 13th century medieval palace which served as the seat of the Republican Government of Siena – and the Fountain of Gaia. You can take a guided tour of the palace, admiring opulent paintings from Italian artists. Or if you want the best views of Siena, climb to the top of Torre del Mangia. The historic tower offers incredible bird’s eye city views over Siena’s terracotta buildings and labyrinth streets, presenting abundant photo opportunities.
Located in the western area of Siena is the Medici Fortress. The impressive structure was built on the orders of Duke Cosimo during the 16th and 17th centuries following the conquest of Siena by the Florentines. The duke built the fortress to prevent a second revolt by the citizens of Siena. Today, it is mostly used for festivals and concerts and is home to a charming enoteca where you can sample local wines.
No Siena Travel Guide is complete without recommending where to lay your head at the end of the day! Siena hotels are a mix of romantic boutique townhouses, economic pensions, 5-star luxury hotels with floor to ceiling frescoes, and chic apartments and villas located outside the city walls. The most opulent hotel in Siena is Grand Hotel Continental, punctuated with fine art, period furnishings, and a short walk from museums and botanical gardens. The hotel offers hot air ballooning excursions and truffle hunting for adventurous travelers.
What to See Near Siena
Once you’ve completed our Siena Travel Guide, venture to nearby treasures! If you’re planning a day trip outside Siena, head for the ancient hilltop town of Monteriggioni. It’s one of the most picturesque towns of Tuscany, offering a unique glimpse into life in the Middle Ages. The town boasts a multitude of historical sites including a castle and a handful of churches, plus the vistas over surrounding vineyards and olive groves are simply spectacular. Stay for the day and enjoy a glass of wine overlooking the patchwork landscape at sunset. If you wish to mix food, wine, and culture, Montepulciano is the place for you. It’s around an hour’s drive from Siena – and this quaint medieval village isn’t just famous for its art and architecture! It’s also known for Vino Nobile de Montepulciano wine and regional specialties such as Pici – a thick pasta with tasty ragu sauce – and ricciarelli – almond biscuits with honey and vanilla. Nestled between the two towns you’ll find Rapolano Terme, sun-kissed thermal baths with mineral-rich waters where you can take an evening dip before returning to Siena or wherever your journey takes you next!