Siena is a very small city and for that reason perfect for 1 single day visit, but at the same time rich of things to do and see. Situated in the heart of Tuscany, is easily reachable from everywhere: from Florence, from Chianti, from Grosseto and from Pisa. It’s the destination of all of those who decide to stay in accommodation facilities, spread across the Tuscany countryside. Sometimes it can be coupled with both, a visit to San Gimignano or Monteriggioni.
Either you are coming from Siena by bus or by train or by car, you will have to move by walk in the small historic center, enclosed by medieval walls.
The advice is to start from Piazza del Campo, the centre of the town, which its shape remind a shell, where people love to sit beneath the sun and meet up with others. Slightly sloping, the square is fanning out in front of Palazzo Comunale (the municipal building) and the wonderful torre del Mangia. In the opposite side of the square there is Fonte Gaia, built around 1300 to convey water to the hearth of the city through an underground pipeline long more than 30km! Today the water flowing from the sides is still potable.
Inside the town hall there is a museum with some remarkable artworks, like the room with frescos of Ambrogio Lorenzetti of Buon Governo and Cattivo Governo, date back to1338, and two artworks of Simone Martini in the majestic Sala del Mappamondo.
It’s even possible to climb up the Torre of Mangia: 400 steps narrow and steep, which deserve to be made to get to the top of the tower, where you will enjoy an incredible view of the city of Siena and the surrounding hills. If you get up at the change of the hour you will heard the bell ring above you!
The two attractions have combined tickets with a special fare.
Another unmissable stop is the square of Piazza Duomo with the baptistery, the crypt and the “facciatone”. The Dome is characterized by the variegated marbles, coming from different ancient mines of Tuscany (Prato, Massa, Carrara): inside the white and black columns are impressive. You will be astonished by inlaid floor that in part, during some periods of the year, will be covered to protect the fragile surface. Artworks of Donatello, Niccolò Pisano, Pinturicchio, enrich the church. Don’t miss to visit the Libreria Piccolomini.
Once finished with the church you can visit the baptistery, the crypt and the Museo Civico (with the wonderful “Maestà” of Duccio di Boninsegna). But the best advice is to get up on the “facciatone”, in common words a huge wall, designed to be part of an enormous project, of a new cathedral.
Unfortunately the Siena’s citizens had never managed to complete the project due to the plague. But the façade is last intact, as suspended in the empty space. If you are not suffering of dizziness, I recommend it!
Even for these monuments a combined ticket is available.
If you are not still satisfied and you still want to visit museums, just in front of the Duomo, there is the Museo di Santa Maria della Scala, ancient hospital and an old Pilgrims refuge (Siena is on the road of the ancient Via Francigena that run till Rome).
In addition to these monuments and museums, at Siena is worth walking through the narrow streets, alleys, squares and admire the palaces and the fascinating glimpses the city offers. Other churches have frescos, statues, and altars that maybe are less famous but as much captivating.
Whilst walking around the streets, more than palaces you may catch sight of the different contrade.
Each Siena’s citizen, since his birth, belongs to the “contrada” where he is born, with a hot-blooded devotion. Not only during the days of the Palio, but during the whole of the year, the contradoiolo lives his own life in contrada, with a strong distinctive approach and sense of belongings, that usually is difficult to be understood by foreigners.
In small squares you’ll find fountains with the symbol of each contrada( l’Onda , La Torre, Il Nicchio, La Pantera, l’Acquila…) and in the buildings across the borders the “mattonelline” with the same icon, as if to define the territory. With an a pre-booked appointment it’s possible to visit the “headquarters” of the contrada.
But pay attention on showing the highest respect for a tradition which goes since centuries!
Fancy an ice cream? In Via de’ Rossi street, few steps away from the main drag, Banchi di Sopra, there is Kopa Kabana, a small handmade ice cream shop not bad at all.
A good restaurant in the city center? Just behind Piazza del Campo, in Piazza Mercato square, there is one of the most ancient restaurant of Siena: Trattoria Papei.
It’s a family-run restaurant present since decades, and offers typical Tuscan food, with great grilled meats, and some more particular dishes (ossobuco, i.e. cross-cut veal shanks braised, duck and wild boar…). Tables outside and menu in foreign languages are available. Very recommended the “pici”, a traditional type of pasta of Siena) and the “trippa” (tripe)
If you love wine instead hurry up and go to Fortezza Medicea, outside the city center. There Enoteca Italiana offers a variety of wines of high quality, both for taste or take away.
How to get to Siena
The best way, without car, it’s a bus. From Florence there are several buses from central rail station of Santa Maria Novella, and the journey is just a bit longer than 1 hour.
From Rome and from Milan there is another bus company with direct routes (with some intermediate stops on the way) which take about 3 hours. Often they have special offer at 5 euro per tickets!