On the list of Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1995, Siena should not be overlooked if you travel to Tuscany. Located in the heart of central Tuscany, surrounded by stunning landscapes that inspired many painters, Siena seems frozen in time. This medieval time capsule vibrates day and night with history, architectural wonders, amazing food, ancient celebrations and characteristic shopping.
May is a beautiful month to visit Tuscany when the hills are covered with flowers of vibrant hues and varous shapes. The autumn colors transform the scenery with stunning red and gold tones. Avoid Easter, July and August months, when tourists invade every corner of the city.
Located 230 kilometers from Rome, 170 kilometers from Pisa and 70 kilometers from Florence, Siena is easily accessible by bus, car or train. The two closest airports are those in Pisa and Florence, with connections to major cities in the world. Once in town, your feet will be your best friends so keep them happy.
Legend has it that Siena was founded by Aschius and Senius, the two sons of Remus, one of Rome’s fathers. The city’s colors are black and white, just like the colors of the horses they rode when fleeing Rome. The city was organized around Via Francigena, a major road leading to Rome. Once as wealthy as its neighbour Florence, Siena started to decline in 1348 when the black plague hit the city. Its golden age was put to an end 200 years later by its rival Florence after an 18-month siege that left the city worn out and frozen in time. Get lost in the narrow streets and small alleys of this magical place. Stay after dark to admire the golden hour revealing the striking beauty of the Sienese architecture. And make sure to enjoy a refreshing glass of Aperol Spritz right on the Piazza del Campo.
At the crossing of the antique routes to Rome, Florence and Maremme, the Piazza del Campo is one of the most beautiful squares in the world. All roads lead to this amazing place, shaped like a shell, as red as the bricks covering it, its gentle slope delicately leading you to the Palazzo Pubblico. Siena’s heart beats here. The shell is composed of nine sections separated by white lines. They each represent the nine members of the city government during the fourteenth century. Every year, on July 2nd and August 16th, thousands of people gather on the large square to watch the Palio, a bareback horse race. The 17 jockeys represent the 17 districts or contrade, and they each bare the emblem and colors of each contrade. The winner is awarded a palio or banner. It is a colorful and intense event that has been taking place since 1283.
The Palazzo Pubblico houses the town hall. Completed in 1342, this graceful palace was built using red bricks, typical of this argeleous area. You can visit the state rooms. On its left, the Torre del Mangia is the second-highest medieval tower ever built in Italy, measuring 102 meters. It is named after its first guardian, Giovanni di Duccio, a true foodie in his own time. His nickname was mangia-guadagni because he used to spend all his money on food and drinks. Climb the 400 steps to reach the top of the bell tower for splendid views of the city and the countryside.
Siena Duomo (1136-1382) is a beautiful example of the Italian Gothic style, with its black and white marble, its many sculptures and gargoyles, its decorative mosaics. Supposed to be the greatest church in Christendom, it was never finished, the black plague putting an end to this grandiose project. Nevertheless, the tiger-striped cathedral is breathtaking and the unfinished nave became an interesting museum.
If you are interested in art, and more specifically in paintings and sculptures, many exceptionally well-preserved palaces accomodate art galleries and museums that show the striking work of Siena schools. The Pinacoteca Nazionale, the Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana, the Santa Maria della Scala are some of them.
When in Siena, and Tuscany in general, you must sample the local gastronomy. This region is very rich with local ingredients. There is excellent olive oil production; five different wine types – such as Chianti; different varieties of mushrooms harvested in the local forests of the tuscan hills like porcini; and many aromatic herbs such as wild fennel, tarragon and garlic that add particular tastes and aromas to traditional dishes. These are the pici, large spaghettis rolled by hand; ribollita (a rustic soup); grilled meat; pecorino cheese; and tripe (guts) of Val d’Elsa. For those with a sweet tooth, try the delicious panforte, a dense fruit and nut cake.
La Taverna del Capitano (Via del Capitano 6-8, 53100 Siena) serves typical Sienese dishes such as ribbolita and pici, under vaulted ceilings. Located near the Duomo, the entire decoration of the restaurant is dedicated to the Palio.
Osteria Le Logge (Via del Porrione 33, 53100 Siena) is one of the prettiest restaurants in Siena. You will taste delicious local products twitted into creative dishes.
For a small bite or to take away for an improvised picnic, Gino Cacino (Piazza del Mercato 31, 53100 Siena), a long-established delicatessen is the perfect place.
Hotel Palazzo Ravizza (Pian dei Mantellini 34, 53100 Siena) is a charming historical hotel in the heart of Siena, just a stroll away from Piazza del Campo.
The B&B Castello delle Quattro Torra (Strada di Pieve al Bozzone 36, 53100 Siena) offers amazing views and typical Tuscan-style rooms in an impressive castle.
If you are traveling on a budget, Casa Cecchi (Strada d’Istieto 71, 53100 Siena) a traditional B&B located in an old farmhouse with its own garden outside the city will be an oasis of comfort and tranquility.
Travel Tips, Blogs and Beyond
Dive deeper into the personality of the city with this book and movie.
Juliet, the bestselling novel written by Anne Fortier is a beautiful story of love, family, and heritage based in Siena.
Did you know that the James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, starts in Siena, during an incredible high-speed pursuit that ends on the roofs of the city and at the top of the Bell tower? Don’t you love it when you recognize a place you’ve been in a movie?
For more travel tips and suggestions for Siena, have a look at these blogs and resources.
Blog Siena is full of insider tips on discovering the city.
Finally, immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere of Siena and its fantastic food with this video.
Last Updated On: November 4th 2016