If there is one medieval town in Tuscany that is really not to be missed, and that attracts thousands and thousands of tourists every day of the year, it is San Gimignano. It is located in the province of Siena, conveniently located also for those coming from Florence, and is a real gem. That it is a special place is clear as soon as you catch sight of its outline in the distance with its numerous towers, which seem to lie on top of the hill on which the town stands.
There is no getting around it: San Gimignano is a true paradise for those on holiday in Tuscany. As if that were not enough, the panorama surrounding it is marvellous, with hills and vineyards as far as the eye can see. That is why, perhaps unsurprisingly, it is so crowded with tourists, who fill its streets and shops 365 days a year.
Many arrive there from Florence, either independently or with tours organised by tourist agencies. But if you decide to devote more than one day to it, in the evening when the crowds thin out you will discover a different San Gimignano, made up of quiet corners and deserted streets, illuminated by little more than a light. Give it the time it deserves, and go beyond the main tourist attractions: you will slowly fall in love with it, and you will never want to leave.
The things to see in San Gimignano are all contained in the small historical centre, declared aUNESCO World Heritage Site. You can go from one to the other comfortably on foot, walking only a few minutes past the many medieval towers that still stand proud. Thanks to the list below, you can visit them all without missing a single one.
The cathedral of San Gimignano, officially the collegiate church of Santa Maria Assunta, is a beautiful church located in the centre of the town, at the top of a flight of steps overlooking Piazza Duomo.
The church, built in the Romanesque style, dates back as far as the 10th century, although what we can see today is an ‘enlarged’ version of the original; the expansion work took place at the end of the 15th century, designed by the famous architect Giuliano da Maiano. During World War II, the cathedral was considerably damaged, but fortunately a series of restoration works have brought it back to its former glory.
On the outside, the façade of San Gimignano Cathedral is bare and austere, with two entrance doors and three rose windows; but it is inside that the Collegiate Church is at its best, thanks to the rich frescoes that cover the vaulted ceiling and the walls of the three naves, mainly painted by the brothers Lippo and Federico Memmi and Bartolo di Fredi. Also very beautiful is the rose window located in the counter façade of the nave, a contemporary work from 2003 called Iridescenze, by the Cosenza artist Marcello Aitiani, who moved to Siena at an early age.
Lastly, the pipe organ, built in 1500 and renovated several times afterwards, the last of which, in 1905, gave it its current appearance. It is located in the left side aisle, above a marble chancel dating back to 1450.
Like many tourists visiting San Gimignano, you will want to explore the historical centre starting with its main attractions. If so, head straight for Piazza della Cisterna, one of the city’s most beautiful squares. It is triangular in shape and is connected to the nearby Piazza del Duomo by an open passageway.
In Piazza della Cisterna, amidst souvenir shops and ice-cream parlours, are some of San Gimignano’s most interesting monuments, including the Arco dei Becci, an ancient city gate, and a number of aristocratic palazzi including Palazzo Razzi, Casa Salvestrini and Palazzo Tortoli.
The square is overlooked by some of the city’s most famous towers: the twin towers of the Ardinghelli, the Torre del Diavolo (Devil’s Tower) and the tower of Palazzo Pellari.
In Piazza Duomo, next to the famous Torre Grossa, is the Town Hall, also known as Palazzo del Popolo or Palazzo del Podestà. Its iconic façade is made up of lowered arched windows, and above them extends the balcony from which the podestà spoke to the crowd.
On the upper floors of the town hall is the interesting civic museum, which displays splendid works of art from the Florentine and Sienese schools, by artists of the calibre of Pinturicchio, Filippono Lippi and Coppo di Marcovaldo.
Among the most important rooms of the civic museum are the hall of Dante, who came here in 1300 as ambassador of the Florentine Republic, the hall of secret meetings, originally used by the city government, and above all the picture gallery, located on the second floor, with numerous works of art on display including paintings, frescoes and sculptures.
Among the many towers in San Gimignano that can be visited, we recommend the Salvucci towers. They are two twin towers with a square plan, located in Piazza delle Erbe, immediately next to Piazza Duomo. Their construction dates back to the 13th century, and originally belonged to the Salvucci, the most important Guelph family in San Gimignano.
The higher of the two towers houses a multi-storey period residence, which can be booked for stays of one or more nights. When it is unoccupied, it can be visited by paying the entrance fee, and climbing the 11 floors of narrow stairs you reach the panoramic terrace, from which you can admire a superb view of the town and its surroundings.
Slightly off-centre from the city centre, just outside the walls, are the medieval fountains of San Gimignano, which can be visited free of charge by walking down a steep road. The fountains date back to the 12th century and are very impressive, as well as being of great architectural interest. They are characterised by Gothic and Romanesque arches, under which are several basins and a water fountain.
The medieval fountains of San Gimignano, of all the city’s monuments, are among those that receive fewer visitors, mainly due to their location outside the centre. Therefore, go there if you want to spend some time away from tourists in a town with a very high tourist vocation.
Among the museums of San Gimignano, the museum of torture stands out for its intensity and uniqueness, joined a few years ago by the museum of the death penalty. Upon entering, the visitor will find himself catapulted into the prisons of the Middle Ages, in a truly frightening atmosphere, and will be able to identify with both the prisoners and the jailers. It will be possible to discover all the instruments of torture in an emotional crescendo; a testimony to the past that lays bare the worst side of human nature.
The museums of torture and the death penalty can both be visited by paying a single entrance fee, and are open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; in winter, opening is reduced to Saturdays and Sundays only.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
If you are based in Florence and would like to reach San Gimignano and other unmissable locations in Tuscany such as Pisa or Siena, take a day tour departing from Florence.
As one of the most touristy towns in Tuscany, there is no shortage of accommodation in San Gimignano. The historical centre is scattered with bed and breakfasts, flats and small hotels, of every category and type, but on average all of a good standard.
If, on the other hand, you prefer to sleep further away from the centre, in the middle of the Tuscan countryside, there is no need to travel kilometres and kilometres, since just a few hundred metres from the walls begin, one after the other but well spaced out, the many agritourisms in the area.
Sleeping in an agritourism allows you to enjoy the utmost relaxation and tranquillity, surrounded by postcard views. The agritourisms in San Gimignano often have a private swimming pool and an in-house restaurant, where you can enjoy the delicacies of the local zero-kilometre gastronomy. Many also produce oil and wine, two of the area’s most renowned products.
San Gimignano is easily reached from Florence or Siena by taking the Florence-Siena motorway and exiting at the Poggibonsi Nord exit. From there, it takes about 20 minutes by car to reach the centre along the SP1 road.
Coming from Pisa , on the other hand, it is necessary to take the FI-PI-LI motorway and exit at Pontedera, then continue through the Tuscan countryside along the SP11, SP64, SP62 and SP69 roads.
San Gimignano is about an hour from Florence, an hour and 20 minutes from the centre of Pisa and about 50 minutes from Siena. Reaching San Gimignano by train is not possible as the town does not have a railway station. The nearest one is in Poggibonsi; from there it is necessary to take a bus to the town centre.
What's the weather at San Gimignano? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at San Gimignano for the next few days.
San Gimignano is located in the province of Siena, not far from the border with the province of Florence. It is located in the open countryside, more or less in the centre of a triangle with the cities of Pisa, Florence and Siena as vertices. Although the kilometres are not excessive, the time is considerably longer as there are no major roads in the vicinity of San Gimignano, only provincial or regional roads.