Siena is a picturesque little Tuscan town and before I left on this trip, everyone I told we planned on spending a few weeks in Italy said I simply had to go visit Tuscany. We spent a few days in Florence before taking the short trip south to Siena. With all the things to do in Siena, Italy, was it worth a visit? Yes, absolutely.
Best known for it’s UNESCO listed walled town centre, Siena is the perfect location to get away from the hustle and bustle. It has a nice combination of food, wine, museums and scenery. Here are some ideas for things to see in Siena during your visit.
Enjoy coffee in the Piazza del Campo
The Piazza del Campo is the main public space in the town and a visit is a must do in Siena during your visit. In fact, it is so central to the town, it would almost be impossible to avoid it. It is bordered on one side by the Palazzo Pubblico and the other sides contain restaurants, cafes, bars, or a combination of all at once! During the day the umbrellas come out creating a perfect undercover location for that morning coffee. Just sit here and while away some of the day people watching, which makes this the best free thing to do in Siena.
If coffee is not your preference, you can enjoy a meal, or later in the day, a glass of wine while enjoying the atmosphere.
The Piazza del Campo is also the location of the traditional Palio horse race that takes place in Siena twice a year on 2nd July and 16th August.
Visit the Duoma di Siena
The Duoma di Siena, or Siena Cathedral, is a beautiful, mostly white 13th century medieval cathedral dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta and one of the most popular Siena attractions. The stunning facade gives way to an impressive interior.
Included in the entry ticket is a visit to the Piccolomini Library, a stunning room containing beautiful frescoes. The frescoes tell the story of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, a Bishop of Siena in the fifteenth century, who later became Pope Pius II. The builder was his nephew, who then also went on the become Pope Pius III.
Unlike many churches in Italy, there is a €4 entry fee to go inside, but this is included with some of the many ticket bundles that are available. Note that modest dress is required to enter.
Visit the Basilica of San Domenico
Like all good Italian towns, there is more than one impressive church in Siena. Right up on the hilltop is the Basilica of San Domenico, also dating from the 13th Century. Originally a gothic building, fires, earthquakes and general renovations have left it a strange mish-mash of styles.
This church is where many of the relics of Saint Catherine of Siena can be found, including a huge painting of her on one wall. Nearby you can also visit her house, the Santuario di Santa Caterina.
Take a Siena Photo Tour
If you are visiting Siena for a special occasion such as your honeymoon, birthday or anniversary, why not immortalise the visit by taking a photo tour through the streets with a professional photographer. They will ensure you get the best Siena views and hidden corners to allow you to capture some amazing shots to dress up either your walls at home of your Instagram feed.
Search the streets for the seventeen animals of the Contrade
One of the best free things to do in Siena is to hunt down the flags of the Contrade. Historically Siena is divided into seventeen Contrade, or districts. Each has it’s own flag and symbol. These are visible in many hidden and not-so-hidden places as you wander throughout the city. How many Siena Contrada flags can you spot while checking out the Siena sights?
Walk the city walls
It is possible to walk all the way around the city following the ancient city walls. If you have a few hours, then walk the whole loop, but if you don’t have the time, walk a section. It is also possible to get up on top of the walls for a scenic view at Fortezza Medicea
Football lovers can watch Siena play
Right in the centre of Siena is the football stadium that is the home to the Siena football club. If there is a game on and you need to get your fix while you are here, join the locals cheering them on.
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. It is said to still be safe to drink from, but we didn’t test it.
Take a Cooking Class
The region of Tuscany is famous for it’s food and wine, and your visit to Siena is the perfect opportunity to learn to cook some of the local food just the way Grandma does. Take a class in a professional setting with a chef to guide you along the way, or do a market visit and private learn to cook class with a local Cesarina in their own home.
Hunt for a bargain in the markets
Every Wednesday markets are set up around the Fortezza Medicea area. There is a huge variety ranging from clothing and accessories, shoes, household goods, and food. The best time to visit is in the morning, but it can get quite busy, with both locals and visitors all searching for bargains.
Eating gelato should be something to do in every Italian town! We found a great place in Siena behind the Duomo that is worth a visit. La Vecchia Latteria had a line out the door so we figured it must be good. Prices were on the lower end of the scale, with 2 scoops in a cup costing us €2. I chose my favourite stracciatella (chocolate chip) and a new one, nicciola, which turned out to be hazelnut. Both were extremely smooth, and possibly the best I have tried in Italy so far!
Visit a museum
There are quite a few museums to choose from when you are looking for what to do in Siena. The Museo Civico (or Civic Museum) is one of three housed in the Palazzo Pubblico and is a showcase for local Siena artworks. It is particularly well known for it’s frescos including the “Bad and the Good Government” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. It is also possible while here to climb the steps up the Torre del Mangia to get a stunning view of the surrounding countryside.
Another option is the Santa Maria della Scala which is housed in an old hospital building originally treating pilgrims and the poor.
There are many different combinations of tickets that can be bought if you wish to see more than one museum, so keep this in mind when considering where to go. One option is the Siena Pass, but there are other combinations on sale at the ticket offices.
Do a wine tour
Tuscany is so well known for it’s food and wine that you cannot leave the region without doing at least one of the day trips from Siena to visit the vineyards and taste some of the local Italian wine. There are many options, from tours to certain areas, combinations with food, combinations with local historical sights, private or with a group, half day, full day – even a one hour Italian wine experience in Siena itself if you are short on time.
Only time for a Day Trip to Siena from Florence?
Since Siena is located only about an hour and a half from Florence, there are plenty of tours that leave from there and visit Siena. Here are a few suggestions
- Pisa, Siena and San Gimignano Day Trip from Florence Including Lunch
- Siena with Palio’s Contrada, San Gimignano and Chianti, Day Trip from Florence with Wines and Food Tasting
- Pisa, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti and Monteriggioni Small-Group Tuscany Day Trip
- Sunset Siena and Chianti Wine Tour with Dinner from Florence
- Siena, Cortona & Montepulciano Full-Day Small-Group tour
Looking for accomodation in Siena?
Now that you know what to do in Siena, where are you going to stay?
We stayed at Casa di Osio. This B&B is only a few minutes walk from the Piazza del Campo on the main street. If you are lucky enough to get the back room like we were, you will have fantastic views over Siena to the rolling hills beyond.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.