A day in Siena Italy is time well-spent. You’ll find a lot to love about this charming, medieval walled-hill city that’s bursting with personality. But even if you don’t have a full day to spare in your Italian itinerary, you can explore the most important sights in Siena in less than a day. Here are the absolute “must see” attractions when visiting Siena Italy, below.
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CONTENTS: In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about what to see in Siena, (or as they say in Italian, cose visitare a Siena), including:
- Introduction to Siena
- Can You See it in One Day or Less?
- Brief History of Siena
- Where is Siena?
- How to Get to Siena
- The Wards of Siena
- Grab a Bite to Eat
- Souvenirs from Siena
- Absolute Must See Places in Siena
- Additional Attractions, If You Have Time
- Final Thoughts
Introduction to Siena
The city of Siena is the capital of the province by the same name. It’s one of Italy’s most visited tourists destinations, and it’s historic centre is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
You might know the word “sienna” to mean reddish-brown or reddish-orange–and when you tour the city, you will see plenty of buildings that fit the description. But in Latin, “sienna” means “to be old.” One could argue that describes this magnificent city dating back to the 12th century, as well.
In any case, it’s historic art and architecture, delicious cuisine, condrades (neighborhoods), and the famous horse race in Siena Italy known as the il Palio de Siena, make the medieval city of Siena unforgettable!
Can you See Siena in Less than a Day?
In short, the answer is yes.
That is, if you stick to the “must see” attractions we’ll describe below. This short itinerary will give you a good taste of Sienese culture and experiences if you’re someone who wants to see as much as possible when you visit Italy (like we did).
So, if a day tour like the one we took sounds like something you would enjoy, book a day tour to Siena from Florence for just $90 per person.
Tours typically last around 13 hours and allow you to discover the vast beauty of Tuscany as you explore the region”s many medieval cities and towns.
Plus, throughout this amazing guided excursion from Florence, you’ll uncover the incredible charm of San Gimignano, Pisa, and Siena World Heritage Sites – and all while sampling a multitude of exceptional local foods and wines.
Of course, if you have more time to spend in Siena, we fully encourage you to make use of it. You certainly won’t want for things to do in Siena. That’s why you’ll find several additional attractions included here that you may find interesting.
But if you want to spend less than a day in Siena, follow our suggestions for the attractions not to be missed.
Before we get into our top picks, it will be helpful to know the history of Siena and and some of the cultural highlights, like the food and the horse races. Then you can decide what to do in Siena when you get there.
Brief History of Siena
The first settlers in Siena, like other Tuscan hill towns, were Etruscan (c. 900-400 BC). The Saina tribe were the first inhabitants of this area, followed by the Roman city of Sena Julia.
During the golden age of Siena, the city was home to about 42,000 people. The Black Death in 1348 significantly reduced the population by as much as half. (Some sources say the population dropped as low as 14,000!)
However, by the turn of the 14th century, Siena made a come back. It was a major commercial and banking center as well as a political power in southern Tuscany. This was due in large part to its location along the Via Francigena. This route taken by pilgrims between Rome and Northern Europe helped trade flourish.
Siena ultimately suffered economic losses to Florence in the Middle Ages. While it initially won political victories over Florence (Battle of Montaperti), it was unable to maintain banking and economic superiority.
However, during the city’s economic strife, wars, and famine, Siena embraced an increasingly religious focus. As a result, two saints emerged: Saint Catherine of Siena and Saint Bernadino of Siena.
After a short period of Spanish Rule (1555-1557), the city was surrendered to Florence.
However, the Sienese maintained an overall prosperity that enabled them to embellish their city with beautiful churches, palaces, towers, and fountains.
Where is Siena?
You’ll find Siena in Tuscany and Central Italy. It’s about 43 miles (70 km) south of Florence so under an hour’s drive. This makes a Florence day trip to Siena very doable.
From Rome to Siena is about 143 miles (232 km) north-north-west and takes a little over 2.5 hours to get there by car. That’s a little long for a Siena day trip, but still very reasonable if you’re up for a marathon day.
How to Get to Siena?
Take a Tour Bus to Siena
Perhaps the easiest way to get to Siena is as part of a day tour from Tuscany. We recommend this one, which also include Monteriggioni, San Gimignano, and Chianti.
The coach buses are airconditioned and comfortable, and this is a carefree and guided way to see the highlights of Siena and other beautiful scenes in Tuscany. Plus, you can sit back and enjoy the beautiful Tuscan countryside!
Airports Near Siena & Connecting Trains
If you are arriving internationally, Siena is accessible from several airports.
The nearest international airports to Siena are:
- Peretola Airport (Florence)
- Galileo Galilei Internaitonal Airport (Pisa)
From both Pisa and Florence, you’ll find trains running to Siena, sometimes requiring a change at Empoli. A direct train ride from Florence to Siena takes about 90 minutes. However, with a change, it can take as long as two hours.
From a third airport, Bologna Airport, the Sena line buses run to Siena two to three times a day.
On arrival, you’ll find the Siena railway station is at the bottom of the hill outside the city walls. Take a series of escalators to the top of the hill to reach the city.
To Siena by Bus
You have several options to reach Siena by bus
- Florence: Arrives in Piazza Gramsci and takes about one hour.
- Rome: about a three hour ride.
- Milan: about four and a half hours
- Availability from elsewhere within Tuscany and beyond
You’ll find Siena’s bus station at Piazza Gramsci is convenient to all the sightseeing attractions in Siena.
Driving to Siena
You can arrive in Siena by car from Florence on the Raccordo Autostardale RA03 – Siena-Firenze, also known as the “superstrada.”
It’s important to not that almost no automobile traffic is permitted within Siena’s city centre, so you won’t be driving in Siena. This is a city you can see on foot. You’ll find several large car parks right outside the city walls. The closes car parks to the centre are:
- La Fortezza
- Il Campo Parking Siena
For free parking look further out near Porta Romana.
What Are The Wards (Contrade) of Siena
What is a “ward,” you ask?
They are simply another way of describing neighborhoods, or in Italian, contrade. This is a very old culture from medieval times. Each has its own mascot, boundary, and distinct identity. Within the neighborhood, each contrada has a parish church in Siena, and a contrada house or social club.
A contrada can refer to a district, or a ward, within any Italian city. But the contrade of Siena might be the most well-known.
While Siena’s contrade usually get along fine, they become rivals during the Palio, or horse race held twice a year.
There are 17 contrade in Siena:
- Aquila – Eagle
- Bruco – Caterpiller
- Chiocciola – Snail
- Civetta – Little Owl
- Drago – Dragon
- Giraffa – Giraffe
- Istrice – Crested Porcupine
- Leocorno – Unicorn
- Lupa – She-Wolf
- Nicchio – Seashell
- Oca – Goose
- Onda – Wav
- Pantera – Panther
- Selva – Forest
- Tartuca – Tortoise
- Torre – Tower
- Valdimontone – Valley of the Ram
As you walk the narrow and hilly cobbled streets of Siena and throughout the cities, you will see coats of arms, flags of Siena, and other identifiers of each contrada. The Sienese are very proud of their neighborhoods!
Grab a Bite to Eat
It seems like everywhere you might eat in Italy will be a gastronomic pleasure. But every region has its specialty that you’ll want to try when you visit.
The same is true of Siena.
Traditional Sienese Dishes
There are a number of traditional dishes in Siena, should you have the opportunity to stay for a meal. For instance:
- Crostini Neri (‘black crostini’) – Toasted bread with a chicken liver spread
- Pici – Long, fat, hand-rolled spaghetti, usually served served with pepper and cheese or a rich tomato sauce
- Pappardelle con Lepre – Ribbons of pasta with a Tuscan hare ragù
- Ribollita – Slow-cooked, thick soup of bread, beans, and vegetables
- Scottiglia – An ancient Tuscan stew of slow-cooked meats and tomato sauce
While you’re looking at the menu, if you are a fan of eating local, you’ll find two meat-varieties local to Siena:
- Cinta Senese Pig – recognized by their white bands on a black body
- Chianina – a large white-skinned cattle breed – Chianina
Many of Siena’s restaurants are committed to using of local ingredients, preparating food traditionally, and the “slow food” movement. With that in mind, be prepared for a leisurely meal, where you can savor your dishes and enjoy your company.
To expand upon the culinary experiences in Siena, you could even take a cooking class in Siena. You’ll find cooking classes in Siena for all kinds of specialties, from Sienese to Tuscan dishes and more.
But be sure to save room for dessert, because Siena has a few famous ones you’ll want to try!
Traditional Sweets and Pastry in Siena
Even if you don’t have time to enjoy a full meal during your day trip to Siena, you have to try some desserts and sweet things. After all, they are specialties in Siena.
- Cavallucci – a hard cookie once exchanged by peasants at Christmas, made with ingredients like walnuts, candied fruits, and spices like coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, and anise.
- Panforte – a dense cake of honey, flour, dried fruits, almonds, candied fruit, spices, and pepper only made in Siena and Monteriggioni. The most famous brand is Sapori, and you’ll find it both at the supermarkets and cafes and bakeries.
- Ricciarelli – almost cookies, these small almond paste cakes melt in your mouth.
You’ll have no trouble finding good local wines in Siena in the shops and restaurants, since the countryside is part of the Chianti region. Salute!
Shopping in Siena – Souvenirs
You will have no trouble finding all kinds of souvenirs in Siena – there are plenty of vendors selling magnets, postcards, and corno (Devil’s horn) keychains.
But if you’re looking for something a little more authentic, consider some good Chianti wine, olive oil, and brightly hand-painted ceramics. If you know where to look, you’ll find the artisan workshops of weavers, potters, leather craftsmen and sculptors. For that, we recommend checking these streets:
- via di Città
- via Banchi di Sopra
- via Montanini
- via Stalloreggi
- streets around the Cathedral of Siena
Absolute Must See Places in Siena
Now that you have an overview of Siena’s history, culture, and neighborhoods, let’s get into the places you must see while you have less than a day in Siena. And if you’re really short on time, you could always do a 2-hour, private guided tour of the city. Your expert guide will answer all of your most pressing questions and will take you on a personalized tour to Siena Cathedral, Piazza del Campo, Torre del Mangi, Fonte Gaia, Piazza del Mercato, and more
1. Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the expansive main square in Siena, considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares. It was built upon the intersection of the three roads that lead to and from Siena, and was used by merchants to sell their wares.
The square, built sometime before the 13th century, has a circumference of 365 yards (333 meters) and is paved with red brick and white travertine stone. You’ll notice it’s patterned to look like a shell, with nine sections fanning out from Palazzo Pubblico. This represents the (at the time) 9 ruling governors of Italy.
The buildings surrounding the Piazza in the 13th century had to adhere to strict guidelines that created a pleasing surrounding, or be torn down. And it is a lovely, harmonious space.
Depending on when you visit, you’ll find tourists sunning themselves, public gatherings and community events, or, if it’s July 2 or August 16, you’ll find the Paleo! The perimeter of the Piazza is covered with sand for this famous horse race!
2. Fonte Gaia
While you’re in the Piazza del Campo, you can’t miss the Fonte Gaia, or “Joyous Fountain.” It won’t take you long.
The rectangular basin features white marble bas-reliefs on three sides. In addition to being a beautiful work of art, the fountain is an impressive engineering feat of the times. Fonte Gaia was built in 1419, and is fed by underground pipes that are 15 miles (25 km) away.
Full disclosure, the original decorative frame was replaced by marble copies in the 19th century. Still pretty amazing.
If you have the time and desire, you can view the original panels and the two nude sculptures once on the front columns of Fonte Gaia. They are at a museum within the medieval hospital that overlooks the Piazza del Duomo, Santa Maria della Scala.
Tip: To see the oldest fountain in Siena (1246), head over to Via di Fontebranda. You’ll find the fountain near the Porta di Fontebranda, one of the remaining gates in the ancient city walls.
3. Pallazzo Pubblico and Torre
Right across from the Pizza del Campo is the Palazzo Pubblico and it’s grand tower, Torre del Mangia. It’s a central point of focus when you’re in Siena, 335 feet (102 meters) tall, made of brick and travertine.
You’ll find the entrance to the Torre del Mangia in the courtyard, and for 8 euro, you can climb over 500 steps for magnificent views of Siena and the region. Only a small group of people are allowed in at once, so expect that you might have a bit of a wait. And, be prepared to leave your bags in a locker at the ticket desk.
Interestingly, the tower is built to the exact height of the Cathedral in Siena, symbolizing that the church and state have equal power. Also, notice the beautiful statues on the loggia of the tower.
Notice at the tower’s base, you’ll find the Cappella di Piazza. This is a small chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, in thanks of overcoming the black plague.
While your at the Palazzo Pubblico, if you have time you can check out the Civic Museum (Museo Civico). It’s on the first floor of the Palazzo Pubblico. Commissioned by the city rather than the church, this museum houses many frescoes depicting non-religious subjects. (That said, the piece de resistance is the Virgin Mary in Majesty (1315).
Admission to the museum includes access to a series of rooms in the town hall and museum, including the Sala dei Nove where the council of The Nine (who governed Siena) met.
4. Duomo di Siena – Siena Cathedral
This incredible cathedral is about a two minute walk from the Piazza del Camp by way of Via dei Pellegrini and Piazza S. Giovanni. You can’t miss the Duomo di Siena, or Siena Cathedral. It’s arguably one of Italy’s most beautiful gothic churches, combining elements of French Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical architecture.
This is a very popular attraction, so it’s advisable to buy tickets in advance. When you have one look, you’ll understand why it’s so loved. The Cathedral is open Monday – Saturday, 10:30am-5pm, and Sun 1:30pm-5pm, so plan accordingly.
On the outside, the Siena Cathedral features black and white marble stripes. The ornate façade is dripping with intricate carvings and sculptures, as well as venetian mosaics and a large rose window. The impressive bell tower, which holds six bells, rises alongside.
When you step inside, it just gets better. Soaring striped marble columns, ornamental ceiling, 15th century relief paintings, and archways might easily take your breath away. Even more amazing are the cathedral floors, which hold 56 spectacular mosaic panels.
Two points of special interest in the Siena Cathedral include:
- Feast of Herod (1427) by the sculptor Donatello, his first bronze relief and earliest relief sculptures. You’ll find it on the baptistry.
- The Piccolomini Alter by the Lombard sculpture Andrea Bregno because of the four sculptures in the lower niches (Saint Peter, Saint Paul, Saint Gregory and Saint Pius) were made by the young Michelangelo in 1501-1504. It’s to the left of the entrance to the library.
- (Note that excellent views of the city are also available from the ‘Panoramio’ by the cathedral, entry to which is purchased as part of the cathedral museum ticket. You could also couple your museum ticket with a guided tour of the area).
Optional Attractions Within the Cathedral
If you have the time, you’ll also want to look at the Biblioteca Piccolomini (Piccolomini Library), which is inside the Duomo. The library was built by Pope Pius III for his uncle Piccolomini, also known as Pope Pius II. Though most of the books are gone, the library is decorated with stunning frescoes and sculptures, itself a work of art.Before you leave Siena Cathedral, climb the top of the “new cathedral,” whose work was halted due to the Black Death. Entrance to the ‘Panoramio’ is part of the cathedral museum ticket. From here, you’ll see stunning views of Siena.
Other Things to Do in Siena, If You Have The Time
If you still have time to further explore Siena in a day, here are some additional worthwhile attractions in Siena you might include in your day trip:
The Palazzo Salimbeni is about a five minute walk from the Cathedral. You’ll find it in Piazza Salimbeni. It’s important in that it was the original headquarters of one of Europe’s oldest banks in continuous existence, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena. What’s even more fascinating is that it still houses the bank’s offices.
To it’s right you’ll find the Palazzo Spannocchi (1473). Look up to see exquisite carvings of the heads of Roman emperors near the roof.
Art in Siena | Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena
The Pinacoteca is a museum which houses works from Italian artists, especially late medieval and Renaissance paintings from Italian artists. It’s located on Via San Pietro, and is about a 5 minute walk from Piazza del Campo
If you’re looking for some green space in this urban setting, you’ll find a restful botanical garden about a 7 minute walk from the Piazza del Campo. The Orto Botanico, maintained by the University of Siena, is free to the public. You’ll find it on Via Pier Andrea Mattioli.
The botanical garden’s origins date back to 1856 when it was used to raise medicinal herbs. It currently preserves preserves over 2000 plant species from local plants to the exotic.
There, you’ll also find the Herbarium, with a collection of over 100,000 dried plants and other collections indispensable to research and teaching. To visit, you’ll need to email [email protected] at least one day before your arrival.
St. Catherine of Siena’s House
Just a few blocks from the Siena Cathedral on Costa di San Antonio, you’ll find the house where St. Catherine of Siena was born and lived during the 14th century. St. Catherine is an important patron saint of Italy.
St. Catherine’s home has been turned into a sanctuary with four main buildings built over the family’s old house and gardens. You can see where St. Catherine slept and prayed, and visit the small chapel. Admission is free, and you’ll learn all kinds of interest facts about St. Catherine of Siena.
TIP: You’ll find St. Catherine’s mummified head in a reliquary in the Church of St. Dominic in Siena. The Feast Day of St. Catherine of Siena’s is celebrated on Apr. 29.
The Siena Markets
You’ll find the largest market in Tuscany every Wednesday in Siena. Head over to La Lizza Park by the old fortress for more shopping in Siena from 7 am to 1 pm. You’ll find vendors selling bargain items, including:
- Some groceries
It’s best to go early to avoid the crowds, and beware of petty theives.
In the same place on Friday mornings, you’ll find another, smaller market. Here, you will find high quality:
- Olive oils
- Local products
Where to Stay in Siena
As you might imagine, Siena is a popular tourist destination that is brimming over with fantastic places to stay. However, to get a truly authentic stay with the most exceptional service possible, you can stay in the following hotels:
- Grand Hotel Continental Siena – This luxurious, five-star hotel occupies a former aristocratic residence from the 1600s and is just a 4-minute walk away from Piazza del Campo. All rooms here are also furnished with opulent, antique furniture and include free Wi-Fi, flat-screen TVs, in-room safes, minibars, marble bathrooms, vaulted ceilings, and so much more. Room service is also available at any time of the day and a glorious breakfast buffet is served daily for a nominal fee. Other on-site amenities include an upscale restaurant, a lovely lounge, and a fantastic wine bar.
- Il Piccolo Castello – Rooms at this enchanting hotel are tucked away inside a former fortress and are surrounded by exquisite, well-manicured, Italian-style gardens. Continue inside and you’ll find a series of stately rooms with satellite TV, free Wi-Fi, and minibars that showcase neoclassical furnishings and hand-painted murals. You can also enjoy an elegant, complimentary hot breakfast with the cost of your stay and make use of the onsite restaurant, outdoor pool, spa, and gym.
- Quattro Cantoni – Well-priced rooms at this bed and breakfast sit inside a historic, 14th-century building that is just a 4-minute walk away from the Palio di Siena, and the Piazza del Campo. All of the rooms here feature vaulted ceilings and understated decor that includes free Wi-Fi, in-room TVs, and picturesque views. A sumptuous breakfast buffet is also served on the on-site lounge daily.
So, you see it is possible to see the best of Siena in a day or less. Plus, you can have a fantastic day trip from Florence to Siena. And if you have more time, no doubt you will find yourself exploring further within this proud city filled with history, culture, and delicious food.
If you enjoyed reading about Siena, continue reading about San Gimignano, another unforgettable medieval Tuscan town with 14 soaring towers! It’s less than 20 miles (30 km) from Siena.
This article is a collaborative post and may contain affiliate links. As always, all opinions expressed are my own. For more information, please see the following Disclosure.
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