A Tuscan Holiday in Siena, Italy

by sockii

Siena is a beautiful and unique medieval city in Tuscany, well worth a visit while in the region - or at least a day trip from Florence!

For travelers to Italy looking for a break away from the major tourist destinations - such as Florence, Venice or Rome - Siena is a delightful option to consider. Located close to Florence, with easy connections by train or bus, Siena is a wonderful medieval city rich with history, art, culture and architectural beauty. While during the midday, Siena's streets can be packed with throngs of tour groups and day-trippers from Florence, by early evenings the crowds disperse, leaving a sleepy Italian town worth exploration and contemplation. A dedicated traveler can see most of Siena's top sites in two or three days' time, making it a perfect choice for a weekend getaway.

Here you will find my recommendations for how to best enjoy Siena: its history, its culture, its art and so much more. I hope after reading this page you will learn more about the wonderful Tuscan city of Siena and perhaps choose to visit it someday yourself.

All photos on this page are by the author, sockii, unless provided by Amazon.

The stunning Duomo of Siena, one of the city's major attractions.
The stunning Duomo of Siena, one of the city's major attractions.

Historic Siena Italy

Basic Facts and History About this Powerful Medieval City

Siena is a hill town in Tuscany, first settled by the Etruscans, with earliest documentation mentioning the location in AD 70. Legend purports that Siena was founded by Senius, the son of Remus, who was the brother of Romulus, after whom Rome was named. As such, many statues and artwork of a she-wolf nursing the young twins Romulus and Remus can be found around Siena, much like in Rome. Siena did not prosper under Roman rule due to its isolation and lack of roads and nearby trade routes. However, after the Lombards invaded and took control of the city, it began to thrive as an important route to Rome. Siena continued to prosper as a city-state into the 12th century, becoming a major center of money lending and also an important player in the wool trade.

A view of Siena and the countryside.
A view of Siena and the countryside.

Indeed, in the 13th century Siena was even seen as more powerful than nearby Florence. On September 4, 1260. the Sienese Ghibellines, supported by the forces of King Manfred of Sicily, defeated the Florentine Guelphs in the Battle of Montaperti. Siena’s incredible Duomo was completed in the early 13th century, but the Sienese were not satisfied with its magnificence, making plans to expand it further to become the largest cathedral in the world. But then money ran out and in 1348 the Black Death decimated the city, leading some to propose that God was punishing the population of Siena for their greed and egoism.


As such, in many ways the Renaissance passed Siena by as Florence grew in strength and influence. The city’s art and architecture remains closely fixed and tied to pre-Renaissance, medieval styles and traditions. But within the city’s walls, there is a rich history of art, culture and tradition waiting to be discovered.

Learn more about Siena at Wikipedia.

Siena, Italy

Learn More About Siena Before You Travel to Tuscany

Historical Books About Siena
Global Treasures Siena Tuscany, Italy

Siena Medieval walls surround Siena, the most beautiful city in Tuscany. It is also proudly referred to as the 'Italian metropolis of the Gothic period'. Throughout the centurie...

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Siena: Constructing the Renaissance City

Siena, one of the major artistic centres of medieval and Renaissance Italy, is renowned for its striking architecture and its beauty as a city. This book is the first to focus o...

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Renaissance Siena: Art for a City (National Gallery London)

Sienese art was very deliberately shaped and sustained by the patronage of powerful and wealthy families, such as the Petrucci, Piccolomini and the Spannochi, to provide an arti...

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The historic Piazza del Campo of Siena.
The historic Piazza del Campo of Siena.

Traveling to Siena, Italy

Signs in SienaSiena is easily reached by frequent bus and train service. Trenitalia regularly serves Siena from Florence, with near hourly service most of the day. The ticket cost is quite reasonable (6.30 Euro) and the trip takes less than 2 hours. These are only basic second class trains, however, so you may have a bit of hustling and shuffling to do with your luggage.

Reserving tickets in advance on-line is possible through the Trenitalia website, but not always easy to navigate for those who don’t read Italian – nor for those with a non-Italian credit card. Automated ticket machines are located in the Siena train station but as of my visit they accept Euro cash only (not credit cards). I would recommend buying your ticket at a ticket counter, however, if you are connecting through to other cities in Italy on your journey. The ticket agents are helpful in recommending the best connections depending on seat availability (and likelihood of making connections, if one train perhaps is running late!)

Members of the Tartuca (Turtle) Contrada on parade, preserving historic traditions.
Members of the Tartuca (Turtle) Contrada on parade, preserving historic traditions.

Top Sites To See In Siena, Italy

Siena's Best Attractions For Art and History Lovers

Siena may be a small city, but it is rich with beautiful art, architecture and historic sites. These are the ones you will not want to miss when visiting Siena, if you have more than a day or two to explore them all.

  • The Duomo di Siena

    Siena's Duomo is perhaps one of the most beautiful churches in all of Italy. The black and white striped marble creates a dizzying effect, and one will be struck with wonder at the beautiful mosaic floors, notable sculpture (including works by Donatello).

Duomo di Siena
Duomo di Siena
Palazzo Publico
Palazzo Publico
  • Palazzo Publico

    Siena's Town Hall is a beautiful example of Italian medieval architecture, with its adjacent tower at one time the highest structure in Italy. Visit the Palazzo today to see beautiful fresco artwork, including the famous works by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

  • Piazza del Campo

    It is impossible to visit Siena and not end up, at some point in time, in its famous and unique Campo. It is one of Europe's greatest medieval squares, and a perfect place to enjoy a luncheon picnic or late evening drink contemplating the stars.

Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo
  • Pinacoteca Nazionale

    The Pinacoteca Nazionale contains an extensive collection of Sienese art from the 13th through 16th centuries. Located in the 14th century Palazzo Buonsignori, the Pinacoteca features noteworthy art by Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini.

  • Santa Maria Della Scala

    One of Europe's oldest hospital complexes, Santa Maria Della Scala is a fascinating site to visit not just for its historic importance but its collection of art and archeological finds. See remaining frescoes and changing exhibits of contemporary and and classical art.

  • The Basicilca of San Domenico

    One of the most noteworthy churches in Siena, San Domenico is noteworthy for its important relics and art related to Saint Catherine, whose house is located nearby. One of the two patron saints of Italy, Saint Catherine is much beloved by the people of Siena.

Climb the campanile of the Palazzo Publico for the best views of the city.
Climb the campanile of the Palazzo Publico for the best views of the city.

Travel Guides Featuring Seina

Explore the Tuscan Hill Cities and Countryside
Siena Travel Guide: Sightseeing, Hotel, Restaurant & Shopping Highlights

Siena is a medieval Italian city in Tuscany, seventy kilometres south of Florence. It is known for its colourful horse race, Il Palio that is held twice each summer. Introductio...

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Siena: City of Secrets

Jane Tylus’s Siena is a compelling and intimate portrait of this most secretive of cities, often overlooked by travelers to Italy. Cultural history, intellectual memoir, travelo...

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Tuscany Travel Guide: An Italy Travel Guide to Florence, Siena, Pisa and Arezzo

Planning your first trip to Tuscany?This short Tuscany travel guide will get you started with travel tips, food and wine recommendations and city by city guides to the places an...

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The incredible frescos by Pinturicchio in the Duomo di Siena are a must-see!
The incredible frescos by Pinturicchio in the Duomo di Siena are a must-see!

Shopping in Siena, Italy

Arts, Crafts and Food to Take Home with You

Siena’s main roads are lined with small shops and workshops aimed mostly at separating the tourist from his or her Euros.

Traditional fresco art in SienaCeramics are big business in Siena, and you will find many shops filled with beautiful bowls, plates, cookware, tiles and other decorative items for your home. Look for one selling uniquely Sienese designs (such as the symbols and colors of Siena’s Contrade) and where you can see an artist actually at work in the studio.

There are of course many other shops in Siena, selling everything from fine Italian leather to unique perfumes and delicious food products, spices and wines. We found a wonderful artist creating miniature frescoes, painted in the traditional tempera style, and had to take home one of her artworks for ourselves! (We bought the Virgin Mary shown here to the right).

Most shops in Siena can easily arrange for shipping goods home, a must if you are tempted by any large ceramics or works of art. Bring cash and you might be able to negotiate a better price as well. Most of all, take some time wandering the smaller streets and alleys, where you might find unique craftsmen at work, happy to welcome you in to visit their studio. It will give you a taste of Siena’s culture and history most tourists will never experience.

Travel Tips for Enjoying Siena, Italy

How To Maximize Your Visit to Siena

Walking in SienaBased on personal experience, here are a few tips I have for first-time visitors to the beautiful city of Siena.

  • Pack comfortable shoes! Siena is a walking city - taxis are generally only available for hotel pick-up and drop-off, and bus service limited to taking passengers to locations outside of the ancient parts of the city. Many roads are steep and sidewalks uneven. So be prepared to spend your time exploring Siena on foot.
  • Enjoy the early morning and late evening serenity. Siena is largely visited by day-tripping tourists from more popular destinations such as Florence. Streets may swarm with tourists from 11am onward, but by 5-6pm they are already on their buses out of the city. That makes the early morning and later evening times the best for quiet exploration, or experiencing the city with predominantly residents only.
  • Hit top attractions, especially the City Tower and Unfinished Wall, either in the early morning or just before closing. Only limited numbers of visitors are allowed at a time to climb the narrow stairways to see the panoramic vistas from the bell tower and unfinished Duomo wall. To avoid wasting time in long lines and large crowds, go to these sites just at opening time, or later in the evening (many sites are open until 6:30 - 7:30pm at night; check schedules, however, as some are seasonal.)
  • Shop around before buying anything! In Siena you can find beautiful handmade crafts, in particular wonderful, colorful ceramics. But don't impulse buy; check out the different possibilities available, and be sure the store authenticates that all crafts are indeed made in Siena.
Don't attempt to climb the "Unfinished Wall" unless you're okay with tight spaces!
Don't attempt to climb the "Unfinished Wall" unless you're okay with tight spaces!

Food in Siena

Tuscan Italian Delights to Enjoy

A meat shop in SienaFoodies will find much to delight in when visiting Siena. Sienese food is largely Tuscan in style, with an emphasis on pork and game meat such as rabbit. In my experience, restaurants in Siena tend to be less touristy (at least if you dine in the evenings) and also less expensive than Florence - although there are some locations where one can truly splurge.

You may find my "Dining Out in Italy" guide helpful in selecting a good restaurant in Siena, as well as knowing what best to order.For day time meals, it is best to enjoy Siena with light bites as you explore. Although many hotels in Siena offer breakfast buffet service, step outside and up to one of Siena's many cafes and bars for a cappuccino and sweet pastry, as the Italians do. Enjoy a hot panini sandwich for lunch out on the Campo, then cool off with a cup of gelato as you walk. Later in the day, pause for an aperitif - around 5 or 6 pm, most bars will offer free snacks and mini sandwiches to go with your drink, to keep you satisfied until a later suppertime. You will also find many places in Siena to buy unique food products to take home such as unusual pasta shapes, olive oils, chocolate, cured meats, cheeses and spices.

Italy has some of the most delicious food in the entire world. However, travelers to Italy often find themselves victims of restaurants out to scam tourists with bad food and infla

A Delicious Meal, Siena-style

A feast for two...and then some!
Eggplant rollatini
Eggplant rollatini
Seafood carpaccio
Seafood carpaccio
Shellfish risotto
Shellfish risotto
Pasta in pesto sauce
Pasta in pesto sauce
Fritto misto
Fritto misto
Osso bucco
Osso bucco
Fruit pastry for dessert
Fruit pastry for dessert
Full and happy!
Full and happy!

Siena's Famous Palio

The City's Annual Horse Race Through the Campo

Tartuca ContradaThe Palio di Siena is easily the biggest event held annually - in fact, held twice a year - in Siena, Italy. On July 2 and August 16, every year, bareback riders representing 10 of Siena's 17 Contrade race three times around the city's Piazza del Campo. Although the race typically only lasts about 90 seconds, the frenzy surrounding the Palio takes over Siena throughout the entire summer.

Every Sunday leading up to the race, one of the chosen Contrade celebrates by rallying around the city, dressed in traditional colors and garb, following thunderous drums, and displaying (and throwing!) flags in front of the headquarters of rival Contrade. Indeed, one of the best ways to go on a grand tour of Siena is to follow a Contrada flag-and-drum corp around the city on a chosen Sunday, pausing for leisurely drinks and snacks along the way. It's never hard to find them again - just listen for the sounds of drums echoing through Siena's narrow streets and alleys.

The August 2014 Palio in Siena

Useful Links for Travelers to Siena

More Resources for Tourists to Italy

If you're planning a trip to Siena, Italy in the near future, these on-line resources will help you further plan your vacation.

  • Siena Vacations, Tourism and Siena, Italy Travel Reviews

    TripAdvisor's section devoted to Siena is quite useful to those looking for the best attractions, restaurants, hotels and deals. Read the opinions of other travelers and see plenty of real-life photographs.

  • Siena Online

    An extensive tourism guide to the city of Siena.

  • Terre di Siena

    The official tourism site for Siena, Italy.

  • World Guide to Siena

    Another comprehensive site detailed the best things to do and places to go in Siena, Italy.

  • About Siena

    A non-commercial website devoted to providing a detailed tourist guide to Siena.

Sunset in Siena

Have you been to Italy before? Have a favorite city or destination in the country? Please feel free to leave a comment here about your favorite, and/or if you've enjoyed this brief tour of Siena. Thanks for reading!

Updated: 01/29/2017, sockii
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georgebass on 09/13/2016

Great work! Amazing and complete. Thanks for sharing this guide.

NanciArvizu on 07/13/2015

What a great article! I'm so envious - your photos, where you live... the history and life of it all! I've been to Italy once, Venice, and absolutely fell in love. You are so lucky to be there! Keep sharing - more photos especially!

jptanabe on 07/13/2015

I had a wonderful visit to Italy when I was young! Tuscany is amazing, and your article and photos bring back great memories.

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