A medieval town on a city scale: this is the uniqueness of Siena, an unmissable destination on any trip to Tuscany. How has it managed to retain the splendour of its golden age, which runs roughly from the 13th to the 14th century?
It has undoubtedly contributed to the fact that Siena has not been affected by industrial development and is still sparsely populated, but the main merit goes to an architecture that adapts to the landscape, favouring its curves and slopes.
No small merit. The historic centre of Siena is a true jewel, so much so that it has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is bounded by a perfectly preserved medieval city wall that follows the contours of the three hills on which the city was built. The three hills are connected by as many roads that intersect in a y-shape to form a wide basin.
And it is at this precise point that the magic of Siena is released, when Piazza del Campo appears before the visitor’s eyes: the magnificent, unmistakable and inimitable square where the famous Palio is held every year.
Although it is an iconic image, already seen countless times on TV, in magazines and travel blogs, the Campo invariably leaves all those who step out to admire it for the first time open-mouthed in wonder. It opens almost suddenly and the gaze seems to widen spontaneously to take in the immense beauty before it.
They say that in Piazza del Campo one must sit on the ground to admire the sky, but when there is so much beauty on the ground, why look up?
There is so much to see in Siena: within the 7 km-long city walls an unsuspected amount of treasures are concentrated: tower-houses, elegant palaces, historic churches, fountains and even green spaces. And it only takes a short trip to admire other jewels of Tuscany such as the Chianti region, the Val d’Elsa and the Crete Senesi.
Terra di Siena is the name of a colour: the colour that will tint your emotions during a weekend in one of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities.
Siena‘s main attractions are all concentrated in Piazza del Campo: for many tourists this place is the beginning and end of their visit to the city. Make sure you have more time available because there are other interesting things to see, both in the centre and in the immediate vicinity.
Siena’s top attraction is Piazza del Campo (also known simply as ‘il Campo‘): the heart of the historical centre and city life, it is a sort of funnel into which the three main streets of the centre converge. It is rightly considered one of the most beautiful squares in the world for its unique conformation and the harmony of all the architectural elements present.
At a glance, the square as a whole resembles a huge shell divided into nine sectors with herringbone paving. The number is not a random choice, but a precise homage to the Nine Lords who ruled Siena from 1287 to 1355.
Even the beauty of the square as a whole is not a random chance, but the result of a choice: in 1297 the city government decided that the new buildings facing onto the square should be built according to precise aesthetic criteria, e.g. mullioned and three-light windows instead of balconies, to harmonise with those already present.
The name Campo recalls that in the past the square was a place for fairs and markets. The square began to take on a new function and a more elegant appearance between the 13th and 14th centuries; new palaces were gradually added and in the 15th century the square was further embellished with a decorative fountain (Jacopo della Quercia’s Fonte Gaia), now replaced by a copy.
The square is overlooked by historical buildings of great beauty: among these the most famous are the Palazzo Pubblico, the Torre del Mangia, Cappella di Piazza and Palazzo Sansedoni.
The second most important square in Siena, also much visited but perhaps less internationally famous than the Campo, is Piazza del Duomo. It is overlooked by the religious building that is the symbol of the city: the Metropolitan Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta, better known as the Duomo di Siena.
It is one of the finest examples of Romanesque-Gothic architecture in Italy, with an exterior façade characterised by a black-and-white colour scheme and elaborate decorations. The church’s magnificent exterior is only a prelude to what you will find inside.
Siena Cathedral holds priceless artistic treasures, including four statues sculpted by Michelangelo in the Piccolomini Chapel. The church floor is itself a work of art, decorated with stories of saints’ lives and esoteric symbols.
It is really worth taking the time to visit the Duomo at your leisure and enter all its rooms. Do not leave the church without seeing the Piccolomini Library, an area created in the late 16th century along the left aisle of the church.
It was built to house Pope Pius II’s very rich collection of books, but you will not find any volumes. On the other hand, it is entirely frescoed and is simply marvellous.
A curiosity: the bell tower of the Duomo is 77 metres high, 10 less than the Torre del Mangia. For an optical effect due to the slope of the squares on which they stand, the two towers seem to be the same height.
Among the splendid noble palaces of Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico stands out, the tallest building and the one that is immediately associated with the image of the square. Seat of city power from its construction to the present day, it is both mighty and elegant, and has always been appreciated for the harmony of its elements.
It was built between the 13th and 14th centuries, the city’s heyday, at the behest of the Government of the Nine of the Republic of Siena. It originally comprised only stone arches, but was later enlarged and red brick upper floors and battlements were added at the top.
Some rooms inside the Palazzo Pubblico are open to visitors and house the Museo Civico di Siena, a must-see attraction for all art enthusiasts.
Highlights of the museum collection are Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Good Government Cycle, Taddeo di Bartolo’s Famous Men Cycle, and Simone Martini’s La Maestà and Guidoriccio da Fogliano frescoes.
The tower that stands next to the majestic Palazzo Pubblico is the Torre del Mangia: built from 1338 to 1348, it is one of the tallest ancient civic towers in Italy. In the second half of the 17th century, the bell called Campanone or Sunto by the Sienese was added.
From the height of its 87 metres (which become more than 100 if the lightning rod is also considered) it is possible to admire a magnificent view of the city of Siena and the surrounding countryside. This marvel is conquered with hard work: in fact, it is necessary to climb hundreds of steep steps.
Only the final part is in white travertine; for the most part, the tower is in red brick to harmonise with the surrounding buildings, primarily the building to which it is directly connected, the Palazzo Pubblico.
A curiosity: the tower’s name is an abbreviation of the nickname of the first bell-ringer: Giovanni di Balduccio, a notorious spendthrift, was called Mangiaguadagni by his fellow citizens and then more simply Mangia.
At the foot of the Torre del Mangia stands a marble tabernacle known as the Cappella di Piazza. Its peculiarity lies in being the only building protruding from the perimeter of the square.
It was built in 1352 as a tribute to the Virgin Mary at the end of the Black Death epidemic; construction lasted for decades.
If the Palazzo Pubblico is the finest example of civil architecture in Siena, the most representative example of 14th-century private architecture is Sansedoni Palace.
It was built by an important and wealthy Sienese family that later acquired the adjacent palazzi and aligned them. The result is a single palace with a semicircular façade that follows the course of the square, the same palace we can still admire today. It was originally equipped with a high tower, which was later demolished by decision of the Biccherna Court; the base of the tower was replaced by a viewing terrace.
The interior of the palace, rich in frescoes and elegant decorations, has recently been restored to its former splendour by careful restoration work; there is still a private chapel, the Chapel of Blessed Ambrogio Sansedoni, where a mass is celebrated every year in memory of the blessed.
The palazzo is currently the headquarters of the Monte dei Paschi di Siena Foundation. Guided tours are only available by reservation for groups of at least 15 people.
Next to the cathedral is the Opera della Metropolitana Museum, also called Museo dell’Opera del Duomo di Siena. The building that houses it was supposed to be the right aisle of the cathedral according to an extension project that was, however, abandoned.
It is a private museum established in 1869 exhibiting a priceless collection of Italian art from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
You can admire masterpieces by Duccio di Buoninsegna, Jacopo della Quercia, Benvenuto di Giovanni and other artists who made art history in Italy.
A visit to the Cathedral of Siena cannot be complete without visiting the Baptistery of Saint John, a separate building located in the square of the same name behind the main church. It is accessed via a monumental staircase.
Here too, the interior is a riot of beauty: you can admire works of art by Donatello, Jacopo della Quercia and Lorenzo di Pietro.
For avid fans of art, and in particular painting, we strongly recommend a visit to the Pinacoteca Nazionale, the most important state museum in the city of Siena. Spread over three floors, the museum is a fascinating journey through Sienese painting from the 13th to the 18th century.
Among the artists on display are Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini, Domenico Beccafuni, ‘Il Sodoma’ Giovanni Antonio Bazzi, and Francesco Vanni.
Ample space is dedicated to the Spanocchi Piccolomini Collection, which includes paintings by Italian, Flemish and German painters from the 15th and 16th centuries.
Another building that immediately catches the eye within the walls of Siena is Santa Maria della Scala, an ancient hospital founded in the early 9th century.
Remaining a place of care until the 1990s, it has since become an exceptional museum centre, both for the architectural value of the building and for the collections and temporary exhibitions that can be admired inside.
The tour winds its way through the halls, corridors and chapels of the former hospital. Among the most important collections are the Archaeological Museum, the Children’s Art Museum and a collection of ancient contrade flags.
Not to be confused with Palazzo Sansedoni del Campo, Salimbeni Palace is the historical headquarters of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, active since the 16th century. Before that, it was the aristocratic residence of a wealthy Sienese family.
This magnificent palace can only be visited inside on two occasions: on the day of the Palio in July and the day before the Palio in August. On the other days of the year, it is possible to see the inner courtyard and some of the rooms on the ground floor.
An architectural marvel a stone’s throw from Piazza del Campo often overlooked by travellers is Palazzo Chigi-Saracini. The first core dates back to the 13th century and was limited to a tower house; in the 16th and even more so in the 18th century, the palace was enlarged and embellished with decorations, works of art and fine details.
It currently houses the prestigious Accademia Musicale Chigiana; it is open to the public for events and guided tours.
An attraction you might not expect to find in Siena is the Antarctica Museum, a permanent exhibition tracing the history of exploration of the coldest continent on Earth through historical documents, films, interactive stations, rock and meteorite samples, and objects used during scientific expeditions.
Walking in the historic centre of Siena or close to the city walls, it is not rare to come across a medieval fountain. Siena‘s network of medieval fountains is an engineering masterpiece: 25 km of tunnels allow water from seepage in the countryside to be channelled into the city.
Some of these fountains have been covered over and are called ‘bottini’ in their barrel-vaulted sections; they can be visited by appointment and at special events.
In medieval Siena, the Biccherna was the city’s oldest and most important financial magistracy; the tablets were the covers of the accounting registers used by the Biccherna.
The earliest were simple depictions of the Biccherna treasurers at work or the coats of arms of officials; over time the tablets were commissioned to increasingly refined artists and the subjects became more and more complex. From simple blankets they became true works of art.
A permanent exhibition of 105 Biccherna tablets made from the mid 13th to the early 18th century is on display at the State Archives in Siena.
A completely different world awaits visitors to Villa Brandi, an ancient manor house just outside the city.
You will not find the splendour of the aristocratic palaces in the centre: it is a rustic villa surrounded by 13 hectares of vineyards and olive groves that will introduce you to the rural life of Tuscany in days gone by and many touching human stories.
Guided tours are free of charge but only take place with prior booking.
The Basilica di San Bernardino dell’Osservanza is a church on top of Poggio della Capriola, a small hill just outside the walls. Once a place of hermitage of the saint, it is still today an oasis of peace and silence, inhabited only by a small group of Franciscan monks.
A visit is recommended for the splendid view from the panoramic terrace.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
The Siena Opa Si Pass is a cumulative ticket, valid for three days, which allows full access to all the museums in the Duomo complex. The pass includes access to:
Siena is certainly not the only Italian city to have a Palio, but it is the only one that has managed to make it an internationally renowned event that attracts thousands of spectators every year.
The Palio of Siena has been held continuously and with the same rules since 1633 (with very few exceptions due to world wars and similar tragic events). This is its magic: not being a fake event created to attract tourists, but a living tradition that fascinates residents.
The Palio takes place twice a year, on 2 July and 16 August; in the days leading up to it, preparations are in full swing and there is already a festive atmosphere.
Attending the horse race, the climax of the Palio, is a unique emotion. However, it is good to remember that this is an event with thousands of spectators that takes place in a very small space. It is therefore necessary to be well informed about the logistics of the event and to take some precautions against the heat and the crowds.
Warning: security measures currently in force forbid watching the Palio from the square to children under the age of 12.
There are three main options for those wishing to sleep in Siena: hotels and B&Bs in the centre, accommodation outside the walls, agriturismi and rural houses in the Sienese countryside.
Most visitors prefer to sleep in the centre to fully experience the magic of this unique city. The advantages of this option are the wide choice of hotels in all price ranges, having all the main tourist attractions on your doorstep, and a large number of places to eat and drink.
Beware, however: this option can be inconvenient for those travelling by car due to the particular layout of medieval towns, with narrow streets, few parking spaces and large restricted traffic zones.
Booking a hotel, flat or guesthouse just outside the city walls is a good compromise between convenience and proximity to points of interest for tourists, and also makes life much easier for those who have to park. Hotel prices are also on average lower in this area than in the centre.
Sleeping in a hotel or farmhouse near Siena is the recommended solution for those who want to combine cultural visits and relaxation in the countryside and for those looking for romantic accommodation. Agritourism is not always synonymous with simple accommodation, indeed some are veritable luxury hotels with spas.
This third option is not recommended for those travelling by public transport because bus connections from the countryside to the city are poor or non-existent.
Do you want to get to Siena by plane, car, train or bus? Here is all the information you need. Let’s start with flights: the nearest airport to Siena is Florence airport, about 90 km away; Pisa airport is 120 km away.
For those who want to get to Siena by car, the motorway artery of reference is the A1, from which you can take two junctions that lead to your destination.
The Siena Nord tollbooth is located along the Florence-Siena motorway link road, while the Siena Sud tollbooth is located along the Siena-Bettolle link road (SS715). Both toll stations are located a few kilometres away from the city centre.
If you are already in Tuscany, you can reach Siena from several directions along state and provincial roads.
Finding parking in Siena can be nerve-wracking: for this reason, and considering that the centre is small and can be walked around, some tourists prefer to arrive by public transport. Unfortunately, this is not always easy: often at least one change is needed and the journey can take up to 3-4 hours.
The easiest thing to do if you want to reach Siena by public transport is to take a train or even better a bus from Florence.
Direct trains to Siena from Florence are very frequent, about one per hour, and the journey takes one hour and 45 minutes. Regional trains connect Siena to other places in Tuscany, including Empoli, which is directly connected to Florence and Rome.
Siena’s railway station is located about 2 km from Piazza del Campo. There is an escalator that helps to overcome the difference in height, but it is still a bit of a strenuous walk: it is better to take a bus, you can comfortably reach the centre in just 5 minutes.
The bus station is located in Piazza Gramsci, which is one of the main entrances to the centre. It is served by regional buses to the most important locations in Tuscany and some long-distance buses.
What's the weather at Siena? Below are the temperatures and the weather forecast at Siena for the next few days.
Siena is a municipality in Tuscany, capital of the province of the same name. It is located in the hinterland of central Tuscany, about 75 km from Florence, 125 km from Pisa and 70 km from Arezzo.