Siena Travel Guide and Attractions

Get to Know the Tuscany Hill Town of Siena

siena-cathedral.jpg
••• Siena Cathedral. © by Martha Bakerjian

Siena is a classic medieval hill town in Tuscany famous for its large fan-shaped piazza or main square. Piazza del Campo is the heart of the town and is the home to the famous summer horse-race, known as Il Palio. Its peak was about 1260-1348 when it was one of Europe's wealthiest cities and many of its buildings and art works originate from that time.

Siena Location and Weather:

Siena is about 200km north of Rome and 60km south of Florence near the center of the Tuscany region.

The famous Chianti Wine Region runs between Siena and Florence. For typical temperatures and rainfall to help you decide when to go, see Siena Weather and Historic Climate.

Where to Stay in Siena:

I stayed at the Arcobaleno Hotel, a nice hotel outside the walls in walking distance of the center. See more Top Rated Siena Hotels.

If you're traveling with friends or family Villa Pipistrelli, in the hills near Siena, would make a great lodging choice. The luxurious villa has its own private infinity pool, a large well-appointed kitchen, and a fireplace for winter.

Siena Cooking Classes and Tours:

  • Take a hands-on cooking class in the heart of Siena where you'll prepare a seasonal meal from antipasto to dessert, then enjoy eating the finished products.
  • Discovering Siena's Masterpieces is a half-day guided walking tour of the main sights in the city center.
  • The Gate of Heaven Tour takes you to the upper stories of the Cathedral.
  • Save time and money by buying Combination Tickets for Siena's attractions. Buy a Combo Pass online in advance through Select Italy.
  • Federica Olla gives English language tours of one of Siena's neighborhoods that includes a visit to its Palio Museum - see Olla Eventi.
  • Choose a one day Tuscany Guided Winery Tour with pick-up from your Siena hotel.

    Il Palio di Siena Festival:

    Siena's most famous festival is Il Palio di Siena, a horse race run in Piazza del Campo on July 2 and August 16. Winning the palio is a huge honor and the race is highly competitive. There are other festivities around the days of the palio, too. The races are very crowded - you might be able to snag a standing place, reserved seats are usually sold out in advance.

    Siena Attractions:

    • Piazza del Campo, also known as Il Campo, is the heart of Siena. Il Campo is paved with brick and ringed by cafes, restaurants, and historic buildings. Narrow medieval streets lead to the piazza, which has an unusual fan shape. Piazza del Campo was originally the Roman forum and later was Siena's main marketplace. Grab a seat at Osteria Liberamente to enjoy the piazza scene; it's an especially good place for an evening aperitivo. (more about Osteira Liberamente and the nearby Il Magnifico Bakery where you can try the typical panforte and sweets of Siena).
    • Palazzo Pubblico, Siena's Gothic town hall building, and the bell tower, Torre del Mangia, dominate Piazza del Campo. Torre del Mangia, 102 meters tall, is the second highest medieval bell tower in Italy. You can walk up the tower's 505 steps for some great views of Siena.
    • Fonte Gaia is an ornate fountain carved by Jacopo della Quercia in the fifteenth century. The one you see today is a 19th century copy. It sits at the north end of Il Campo.
    • Piazza del Duomo is another beautiful square and home to Siena's Duomo. The impressive Duomo has a black and white facade with intricate carvings and statues. The magnificent floor pavement consists of 56 inlaid marble scenes but it's only uncovered a few months of the year - see Siena Cathedral Floor. Also inside are frescoes in the Piccolomini Library. The Museo dell'Opera del Duomo has some beautiful art works and a panoramic terrace. Visit the Baptistery and the Crypt under the Duomo for an interesting archaeological look at the Cathedral's past.
    • Siena's art museum, Pinacoteca Nazionale, houses some of Italy's greatest paintings from the 13th and 14th centuries. The musuem opens daily at 8:15 but closes at 1:30 on Sundays and Mondays.
    • Siena Tourist Office, Piazza del Campo 56, has information and maps for the town and the countryside including the Chianti wine region.

    Siena Pictures:

    Take a virtual tour of the top sights with our Siena Picture Gallery. Then take an in-depth look at the Duomo Interior. Enjoy these Siena Palio Photos taken at the palio in July, 2005, by Joe Bauwens and Marybeth Flower, photographers who created the book Piazza, Italy's Heart and Soul.

    Getting to Siena:

    Siena is 2-3 hours from Rome by train and 3-4 hours from Milan. The closest airports are Florence and Pisa (see Italy Airports Map). You can reach Siena by train or bus from other cities in Tuscany. Buses take you into the historic center. The train station is outside the center and connected by bus. Traffic is limited within the walls but there are parking lots outside the center that are served by shuttle bus. Some are within walking distance if you don't mind a long walk.

    Near Siena:

    The countryside outside of Siena is beautiful and unusual. You'll come across small villages, medieval hill towns, grape vines, and olive trees. The Crete Senese is the area of clay hills south of Siena, a striking and barren landscape.

    North of Siena is the Chianti Classico wine region. If you want to go wine tasting, see our Tips for Visiting Chianti Wineries.

    Monteriggioni is a small and picturesque walled town with 14 towers very near Siena. In less than an hour's drive, you can visit San Gimignano or the wine towns of Montepulciano and Montalcino.