Florence is arguably the most famous city in Tuscany. It’s definitely one of the busiest tourist destinations in the area. This reputation is well deserved, after all Florence is where the Italian Renaissance was born. But less than 50 miles away is another famous tourist destination, Siena.
Unlike Florence, Siena is not a Renaissance showcase. Siena is Italy BEFORE the Renaissance. The town’s soaring architecture, art, and narrow streets are parts of an open air museum dedicated to Italy in medieval times.
The historic city center is an embodiment of a medieval city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are many things to see and do in this Gothic city, you can spend days exploring it’s narrow streets and Gothic buildings. But if you’ve got just one day to spare, no worries. A visit to Siena can be an easy day trip from Florence or even Rome. Siena’s main attractions are centered in 2 piazzas making it easy to see many of them in a day.
You can easily get to Siena by train. It’s an hour and half train ride from Florence’s main train station (there are direct trains or you can transfer at Empoli; from Rome it’s 3 hours by train with a transfer in Chiusi. Or you can take a bus or drive from either city. However you choose to get there get ready to do some walking, the city center is where you’ll be spending most of your time and cars aren’t allowed in.
If you are arriving by train you will be 3 km. from the city center. You can choose to walk to the city center, it’s about a half hour walk, but get a map from the tobacco shop at the station before you head out as the walk to the historic center involves a few turns. Oh, it’s an uphill walk, not steep, but definitely uphill.
If you don’t want to walk, and I don’t blame you, then hop on the bus. (We took the bus from the station but walked back.)
Buy bus tickets from the tobacco shop, you can buy round trip tickets. Then walk across to the mall, you can’t miss it, the mall is directly in front of you when you exit the station. Inside the mall follow the signs to the bus stop. This can be confusing, but don’t worry when the sign points down do so, the bus stop in one floor down. You can hop on any bus and get off at Piazza Gramsci or Piazza del Sale. It’s about a 15 minute bus ride. From there just follow the crowds to the city center.
If you’re really concerned you’ll get lost then pick up a map at the tobacco shop when you buy your bus tickets.
Now that you’re in the historic city center make your way to Piazza Del Campo, this is the heart of the city. Piazza Del Campo is surrounded by Gothic buildings and is where the Palio di Siena (bareback horse race) is held 2 times every summer.
In Piazza Del Campo you will see Fonte Gaia. It’s the largest fountain in the city and was originally decorated with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia.
The fountain you see is a copy made of Carrara marble. Carrara marble which stronger than the Montagnola marble used by della Quercia. The original Fonte Gaia has been restored and can be seen in the museum complex of Santa Maria della Scala).
Across from the fountain is the Palazzo Comunale. It houses the Civic Museum with several masterpieces of Sienese artists.
Right next to the Palazzo is the Torre del Mangia. You can climb the 400 steps to the top of the tower a for 360º view of the city and the hills beyond.
If you plan on visiting the Civic Museum and climbing the tower buy a combo ticket from the tower ticket office for €13.
And of course while you’re in the Piazza Del Campo take time to walk around the entire piazza which is lined with cafés, restaurants, and shops.
Take a seat at one of the restaurants and enjoy some Sienese cuisine, don’t forget the wine!
If you have time explore some of the narrow streets leading out of the piazza. There are lots of interesting shops and sites tucked in these streets.
Otherwise make your way to the Piazza Del Duomo. You can easily spend the rest of the day in this area, there is so much to see!
Along the street that leads from Piazza Del Campo to the Duomo you’ll pass interesting shops and restaurants. My favorite was Nino & Friends.
The dripping display of chocolate was just too irresistible. I had to walk in and sample their candies and gourmet delicacies.
I walked out with bags full of cookies, chocolates, candies, and oils. All very yummy! (On the downside we had to carry those bags the rest of the day, but it was worth it!)
The Duomo or the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a complex that includes the Cathedral, Crypt, Piccolomini Library, Baptistery and the Museum of the Opera del Duomo (where you can enjoy the view of the city from the “Facciatone”).
The Duomo is one of the best examples of Romanesque-Gothic churches in Italy. It houses masterpieces signed by Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio.
The Piccolomini Library, dedicated to Pope Pius II, is located inside the Duomo. It is known for its frescoes painted by Pinturicchio and his pupils, including Raphael Sanzio in the early 1500s. Don’t miss out on this hidden gem. The entrance is a small door located on the left side of the Duomo.
The Crypt is located under the Duomo. Here you’ll find 13th. century frescoes from the Old and New Testaments.
The Baptistery which can be entered from Piazza San Giovanni boasts a beautiful Baptismal Font created by some of the greatest sculptors of the Renaissance: Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello.
The Museo dell’Opera del Duomo is one of the oldest private museums in Italy and is located in the south side of the Cathedral. Here you can admire the altarpiece of the Majesty one of the greatest masterpieces of the early Fourteenth century by Buoninsegna.
If you plan on visiting all the areas within the Duomo you can buy a combo ticket called the OPASi Pass. The pass is available from the call center of OPA.
By this time you should be ready to reluctantly head back to the station. You may have seen many of the must sees, but I’m sure you’ll want to come back for more!