This post is by Chris Bienemann
Siena often gets mentioned in lists of the most beautiful cities in Italy and there is a good reason for this. It is an almost entirely intact medieval city surrounded by walls and full of ornate churches, spectacular palaces, and quaint streets. A day trip to Siena is sure to be one of the highlights of any trip to Tuscany.
UNESCO World Heritage In Siena
The beauty and history of the city have been recognised by UNESCO, and the entire centre was designated as one of Tuscany’s World Heritage Sites in 1995. It is an exceptionally well-preserved medieval city that was devised as a work of art that blends into the surrounding landscape. The seven-kilometre-long fortified wall still surrounds the 170-hectare site while defensive gates are found at strategic points like the Porta Camollia on the road to Florence.
Inside the walls, many townhouses, palaces, piazzas, and churches survive. These have been built in Siena’s distinctive Gothic style, often including the quintessential Sienese arch. The whole city was built to a master plan with the aim of creating a city more beautiful than its fierce rival Florence.
Exploring The Historic Centre Of Siena
Siena is best explored on foot, and walking the ancient streets is the highlight of any day trip to Siena. It’s worth noting that, although it’s a fairly small and compact city, Siena is built between three hills so getting about can be quite strenuous.
Piazza Del Campo
I recommend heading straight to Siena’s main square, the Piazza del Campo. This is the physical and spiritual heart of the old city and ranks as one of Italy’s most beautiful piazzas. The centrepiece of the square is the 13th century gothic Palazzo Comunale which boasts the tallest tower in Tuscany, the Torre del Mangia. This rises 102 metres above the piazza and the views from the top are incredible.
Piazza del Campo provides the location for the famous Palio bareback horse race, which takes place twice a year on 2 July and 16 August.
Duomo Di Siena
Another site not to be missed is the city’s cathedral. It’s a Romanesque-Gothic structure constructed of white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes, and was built between 1215 and 1263. The facade is a masterpiece of design and sculpture by Giovanni Pisano, with a beautiful rose window and Venetian mosaics.
All the streets are worth seeing but be sure to take in Via di Città, before continuing on to Via Banchi di Sopra, a wide promenade lined with shops, cafes and restaurants. Here you will find the stunning Piazza Tolomei, home to one of the city’s oldest buildings, the 13th century Gothic-style Palazzo Tolomei, and to the world’s oldest surviving bank, Monte Dei Paschi.
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Eating And Drinking In Siena
As with all of Italy, you won’t need to look too hard to find fantastic food and drink during your day in Siena. If you are looking for the best coffee in Siena, head to the historic Caffè Fiorella in Via di Città (they also do amazing pastries). For a classic Tuscan meal and atmosphere try Osteria Il Grattacielo, which is a lively rustic osteria in Via Dei Pontani. If you prefer somewhere more elegant and modern, Salefino Vino e Cucina on Via Degli Umiliati 1 is an excellent choice.
Some local specialities include ribollita which is a vegetable soup, and pici which is giant spaghetti seasoned with cheese and pepper.
How To Take A Day Trip To Siena
It is easy to reach Siena by train or bus and many people take a Siena day trip from Florence or Pisa. The train station is a couple of kilometres from the centre so you might like to take a bus or taxi into town. Alternatively, there is a free escalator that whisks you up to the old town and takes the hard work out of going on foot.
If you are travelling by car you will need to park outside the city walls as the old town is pedestrianised. You can park at the railway station or next to Fortezza Medicea.
If one day in Siena doesn’t sound like enough, then an overnight stay will give you more time to explore. The Hotel Athena is just a short walk from Il Campo and offers comfortable rooms and great views of the old town.
Chris is a keen traveller who aims to explore as much of the world as he can with his young family. He shares travel tips and inspiration at morelifeinyourdays.com.