Siena is one of the most intriguing medieval cities in Italy. Soak up the moody atmosphere, exquisite architecture, and Italian culture with our guide to the best things to do in Siena.

By: Paul Healy | Published: 23 Oct 2023

Siena is Italy’s medieval masterpiece. Dark and moody; mysterious and noble.

With a long history of battles against Florence, Siena constructed elaborate city walls. Fighting between families inside the walls required the construction of massive defensive buildings.

As a result, Siena today is full of towering houses built on tightly packed lanes. Streets so enclosed that barely any light reaches the worn cobbled stones beneath your feet.

best things to do in siena italy
SIENA CATHEDRAL

The maze-like environment has been recognized as the “ideal embodiment of a medieval city” by UNESCO.

It’s a wonderful city full of art, local life, tiny squares and lively streets.

Our guide to the best things to do in Siena includes all the top highlights, plus a few local gems. We’ve also included a one-day itinerary if you plan on visiting on a day trip.

The very best things to do in Siena Italy including the must-visit attractions, local gems and the best coffee + 1-day itinerary and a map.

IN THIS GUIDE

VISITING SIENA ITALY


WHAT TO DO | MAP

WHERE TO EAT | ITINERARY

WHERE TO STAY | TIPS

GETTING THERE | WHEN TO GO

1 – SIENA CATHEDRAL

The Duomo di Siena is a remarkable Gothic cathedral and one of the grandest in Italy. The façade consists of alternating layers of black and white marble, with intricate statues and grand bronze doors.

The interior is a magnificent combination of light and dark, with black and white pillars rising to star-studded ceilings.

The building contains works by Donatello, Bernini, and Michelangelo. There is also an intricately carved pulpit by Nicola Pisano.

The Siena Duomo is a living monument to the incredible contributions of Italian artists and an unmissable thing to do in Siena.

Top Tip – Cathedral Floor // If you can time your visit to see the Cathedral floor, it’s on view over the month of July and from mid-August to mid-October.

Read more in our guide to visiting the Siena Cathedral.

DETAILS | SIENA CATHEDRAL


hours – 10 am to 7 pm (1 Apr-31 Oct) / 10:30 am to 5:30 pm (1 Nov-31 Mar) / 10:30 am to 6 pm (26 Dec-6 Jan) | ticketsskip-the-line / Opa Si Pass

2 – PICCOLOMINI LIBRARY

The Piccolomini Library was commissioned around 1492 to honour the memory of Pope Pius II. It contains a rich collection of books and manuscripts that the pope collected over his lifetime.

Beautiful frescos line the walls of the library as a celebration of the life and works of the pope.

They include a combination of landscapes, mystical imagery, and religious ceremonies.

The Picolomini Library is an example of Renaissance symbolism that combined scholarship with artistic expression.

DETAILS | PICCOLOMINI LIBRARY


hours – 10 am to 7 pm (1 Apr-31 Oct) / 10:30 am to 5:30 pm (1 Nov-31 Mar) / 10:30 pm to 6 pm (26 Dec-6 Jan) | ticketsskip-the-line / Opa Si Pass

piccolomini library siena cathedral
PICCOLOMINI LIBRARY

3 – MUSEO DELL’OPERA DEL DUOMO

In 1339, a massive extension to double the already huge Siena cathedral was planned.

The work began, but the project was abandoned when money ran short. The Duomo’s Museum (Museo dell-opera del Duomo) is today housed in the unfinished nave.

The museum contains a range of artworks including the cathedral’s original statues.

The highlight is the Maestá of Duccio; an altarpiece of forty-three small scenes which tells the stories of the Life of the Virgin and the Life of Christ.

It marks the beginning of the transition from Byzantine to Renaissance.

DETAILS | SIENA CATHEDRAL MUSEUM


hours – 9:30 am to 7:30 pm (1 Apr-31 Oct) / 10:30 am to 5:30 pm (1 Nov-31 Mar) / 10:30 pm to 6 pm (26 Dec-6 Jan) | ticketsOpa Si Pass

4 – PANORAMA DEL FACCIATONE

In 1339 a motion was approved to extend Siena Cathedral. However, building works halted in 1348 due to the economic recession triggered by the Black Death.

Most of the new cathedral was demolished except for the facade which still stands to this day.

From the second floor of the museum, a staircase winds up to the top of the unfinished nave. A narrow ledge (Panorama dal Facciatone) running along the top of the facade offers wonderful views over the city and the rest of the duomo.

The staircase consists of 131 tight spiral stairs and there’s not a lot of space at the top. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best things to do in Siena.

DETAILS | PANORAMA DAL FACCIATONE


hours – 10 am to 7 pm (1 Apr-31 Oct) / 10:30 am to 5:30 pm (1 Nov-31 Mar) / 10:30 am to 6 pm (26 Dec-6 Jan) | ticketsOpa Si Pass

5 – BAPTISTERY OF SAN GIOVANNI BATTISTA & CRYPT

The final attraction to visit at the Siena Duomo is the Baptistery of San Giovanni Battista and the Crypt (separate accesses).

The Baptistery was built in the 14th century. It contains beautiful frescoes surrounding a grand marble, bronze, and enamel baptismal font.

The ceiling vaults represent the 12 articles of Christian faith and are considered some of the best examples of Sienese art anywhere.

Don’t miss the six gilded bronze panels telling the story of John the Baptist.

The Crypt was only excavated in 1999 and contains some of the most important archaeological finds from the city.

DETAILS | BAPTISTERY & CRYPT


hours – 10 am to 7 pm (1 Apr-31 Oct) / 10:30 am to 5:30 pm (1 Nov-31 Mar) / 10:30 pm to 6 pm (26 Dec-6 Jan) | ticketsOpa Si Pass

6 – SOAK UP THE ATMOSPHERE IN A SIENA CAFE

There’s no better way to get under the skin of Siena, and Italian culture in general, than by having a coffee in an atmospheric cafe.

Torrefazione Fiorella // This authentic Siena stable is a tiny café where you’ll find locals spilling out onto the street. There are two tables out the front but you’d be doing very well to get one.

Caffé A. Nannini // A vast patisserie with pastries and sweets available for inspection on a long bar. It’s far more touristy than Torrefazione Fiorella, but in our opinion, it’s actually a better coffee. Ordering at your seat incurs a hefty service fee, so order at the bar.

Bar Pinacoteca // For classic Italian service, friendly baristas, and some of the best coffee in Siena, Bar Pinacoteca is a great choice. This is a neighbourhood bar without the tourist surcharge.

7 – HISTORIC CENTRE OF SIENA

One of the best things to do in Siena is to stroll the narrow laneways. There are three good areas to explore.

BASILICA SAN DOMENICO

Wander northwest towards Basilica San Domenico. The church itself is rather plain but the little alleyways along the way have some great shops, delis, and cafes. The views back up to the Duomo from the Basilica are some of the best in Siena.

VIA DEI ROSSI TO PIAZZA SAN FRANCESCO

On the eastern side of town, stroll down the buzzing via dei Rossi towards Piazza San Francesco. The medieval street has developed into one of the most atmospheric strolls in Siena.

PIAZZA DEL CAMPO

Finally, explore the area around Piazza Del Campo, the historic centre of Siena.

Via La Citta has some wonderful little shops. Antica Drogheria Manganelli is a fantastic old pharmacy packed with tasty deli goods. A few doors down, La Bottega Senese has a range of local wines and traditional sweets.

On Wednesday morning, don’t miss the Siena market laid out across Piazza Mercato.

8 – PIAZZA DEL CAMPO

Piazza del Campo is one of the grandest squares in Europe.

Originally, it was built on the intersection of three roads where three antique hill towns came together. The design was such that it could be neutral ground to celebrate civic holidays.

The square is paved in red brick with a fishtail design split into 9 sections by 10 lines of white travertine stone.

Each section represents one of ‘The Nine’ who governed Siena at the height of its medieval power from 1292-1355.

The square is surrounded by harmonious red brick structures in adherence to the strict building guidelines set down in 1297.

9 – PALAZZO PUBBLICO & THE CIVIC MUSEUM

Palazzo Pubblico is on the southeast side of Piazza del Campo.

Originally home of ‘The Nine’, the palace now houses the Civic Museum (Museo Civico).

Nearly every room is packed with intricate frescoes. This was unusual at the time because they were commissioned by governors rather than the church.

If the Duomo is Siena’s tribute to the divine power, the Museo Civico is the tribute to its secular leaders.

Don’t miss the three frescoes together called the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. Also, the carved wooden choir seats in the chapel are magnificent.

DETAILS | CIVIC MUSEUM


hours – 10 am to 7 pm | cost – €10 / €9 | ticketsskip-the-line (cheaper online)

10 – FONTE GAIA FOUNTAIN

The Fonte Gaia Fountain is located in the centre of the Piazza del Campo. The first fountain on this site was completed in 1342 with water travelling 25 kilometres via underground pipes.

The fountain is adorned with a statue of Madonna and Child surrounded by allegories of the religious virtues. Two nude female figures represent Siena’s links to ancient Rome.

It’s a popular attraction in Siena for a quick photo opportunity.

fonte gaia fountain siena
FONTE GAIA FOUNTAIN

11 – TORRE DEL MANGIA

Right next to the Palazzo Pubblico, the Torre del Mangia is the second-tallest secular tower in Italy. It’s just ahead of the Asinelli Tower in Bologna at 102 metres.

Taking the 400 steps to the top is an excellent thing to do in Siena.

From the tower, tightly packed, red-tiled houses disappear towards Tuscan hills. See the layout of Piazza del Campo surrounded by grand houses.

The gothic Duomo seems to float above it all.

Try to be at the top of the tower as close to sunset as possible when the city will be looking its best.

HOW TO GET TICKETS

Book tickets in person at the Palazzo Pubblico at the beginning of the day. Timed entrances occur every 45 minutes and allow for 45 minutes to get to the top and down again.

The steps are tight and narrow and can be a little claustrophobic. But it’s a very rewarding Siena activity.

12 – VIA CAMOLLIA

Aperitivo is a pre-dinner drink and something of a cultural ritual in Italy.

Usually between 6 pm and 8 pm, Aperitivo is a dry alcoholic drink designed to wake up the digestive system and get you ready for the meal ahead.

There are plenty of places to have an aperitivo in Italy and Siena is no exception.

Our favourite area is along Via Camollia, which has a strong selection of bars to try.

We went to 53100 Street Food & Wine, a cosy unassuming bar with a great selection of Aperitivo drinks and snacks. The cold cuts are delicious, and they have an extensive wine list.

13 – SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA

Santa Maria della Scala is a museum complex set in a medieval hospital that cared for abandoned children and the poor.  

The museum has a collection of frescoes, sculptures and paintings covering the history of the hospital. There are also modern art installations and Etruscan and Roman artefacts.

The building itself is beautiful, while the eerie crypts have an interesting collection of works.

DETAILS | SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA


hours (15 Mar-31 Oct) – 10 am to 7 pm every day | hours (1 Nov-14 Mar) – 10 am to 5 pm (Mon, Wed, Thu, Fri) / 10 am to 7 pm (Sat, Sun) / Closed Tuesday | cost – €9 / €7

fresco ceiling in santa maria della scala museum siena italy
SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA

14 – CITY GATES

Siena has 12 remaining gates which give the city it’s enduring medieval feel. Some only have traces remaining, others are more clearly visible.

PORTA CAMOLLIA

Constructed after the city walls were first extended, Porta Camollia was Siena’s most secure entrance. It’s a grand gate with three arches and a shield representing the Medici.

PORTA TUFI

Porta Tufi was built between 1325 and 1326 by architect Agnolo di Ventura. It’s one of the best-preserved gates in Siena. The gate has 3 rounded arches with several icons and marble reliefs depicting the Roman Catholic church.

PORTA ROMANA

Porta Romana is the most complex gate of Siena. It features two separate portals separated by an inner courtyard. The gate was built between 1327 and 1328, also by Agnolo di Ventura.

siena italy

15 – TAKE A DAY TRIP FROM SIENA

Siena is a great base for exploring Tuscany and there are a host of wonderful day trips you can take. It’s one of our favourite regions of Italy that we’ve visited many times. Here are some of our favourite day trips.

  • Florence – Enjoy Renaissance masterpiece on a day trip from Siena. Our Florence guide has more details.
  • San Gimignano – The UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Gimignano is just a 45-minute drive from Siena.
  • Val d’Orcia – Experience the picturesque rolling hill, vineyards and medieval towns of Val d’Orcia, just 1 hours’ drive away.
  • Volterra – Volterra is a classic Tuscan hill town with rustic medieval architecture. It’s a 1-hour drive from Siena.

OTHER THINGS TO DO IN SIENA

For a small city, the medieval gem has lots to do. If you have more time, here are some other attractions in Siena.  

PINACOTECA NAZIONALE

Siena’s Pinacoteca covers the grandmasters from the 13th to 18th centuries. Most of the famous stuff is on the top floor. Keep an eye out for Vasari’s Resurrection, the works of Il Sodoma and the cartoons that were used to design the inlaid marble floors in the Duomo.

ORATORIA DI SAN BERNARDINO

The Basilica of San Francesca has a towering red brick façade and moody gothic interiors. But the real reason to come here is the Oratorio di San Bernardino next door. Head upstairs to the upper oratory chapel to see a wealth of 16th-century frescoes.

THE PALIO OF SIENA

The Palio is a horse race held in Siena on July 2 and August 16 every year. Ten horses and their riders dressed in colours representing the 17 city wards, race around Piazza del Campo.

The race has taken place since the 17th century, and it’s deeply ingrained in the culture of Siena. If you happen to time your visit to one of the events, it will be an unforgettable experience.

SIENA ITALY MAP

We have included our list of the best things to do in Siena on the below map so you can plot your course while visiting the medieval heart of Tuscany and the soul of medieval Italy.

How to use this map / Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. Click on the top right corner of the map to open a larger version in a new tab or the star to save to your Google Maps.  


WHERE TO EAT IN SIENA

Grabbing a slice of pizza and finding a spot on a medieval square for a casual lunch while watching the world go by is a wonderful thing to do in Siena. But here are some other places we recommend.

Osteria da Divo – Said to be the oldest restaurant in Siena, Osteria da Divo delivers contemporary cuisine in an atmospheric stone house.

Enoteca I Terzi – Set in a medieval vaulted building, I Terzi does masterful Tuscan dishes. They have an extensive local wine list.

Tar-tufo – For fine dining in Siena, it’s hard to go past Tar-tufo. There namesake truffle dominates the menu.

Pizzeria Gurgu Kebab – Grab the best pizza in town at Pizzeria Gurgu Kebab. If there are no tables, you can order pizza by the slice to go.

ONE DAY SIENA ITINERARY

If you are visiting Siena on a day trip, here is our 1-day itinerary:

  • Start with a coffee at Caffe A. Nannini
  • Visit the Duomo followed by the Duomo Museum, the Panorama and the Baptistery and Crypt.
  • Have lunch at Enoteca I Terzi
  • Do our stroll around the historic centre as mentioned in number 7 of this guide.
  • Soak up the atmosphere in Piazza del Campo.
  • Go to the top of Torre del Magnia as the sun is starting to set.
  • Have aperitivo on via Camollia.

WHERE TO STAY IN SIENA

If you decide to stay over and enjoy more of the city and the Tuscany area, here are some suggestions for where to stay.

CENTRAL

HOTEL PALAZZETTO ROSSO

The vaulted stone walls and antique touches give this hotel a timeless feel. Modern amenities and a location in the heart of Siena make it a great stay.


OUR PICK

CONTEMPORARY B&B

PIAZZA PARADISO

A well-priced B&B with clean, comfortable rooms and excellent facilities. There’s a shared kitchen in the main building and self-catering apartments, ideal for families.


TUSCAN RETREAT

LA BAGNAIA GOLF & SPA RESORT

Just 20 minutes outside Siena, this resort is set in beautiful Tuscany countryside. The house has traditional features and there’s a spa, outdoor pool, and golf course. Pick up some golf tips and brush up your golf skills during your vacation


TIPS FOR VISITING SIENA

  • Entrance for the Civic Museum costs €10 and the Torre del Mangia another €10. But if you intend to do both you can buy a €15 joint ticket.
  • For €20 you can also see the Santa Maria della Scala.
  • A €40 family ticket covers The Civic Museum, the Torre del Mangia, and the Santa Maria della Scala for 2 adults and 2 children.
  • We are not aware of any way to book Torre del Mangia tickets online in advance. So go to Palazzo Pubblico to buy tickets in person as soon as you arrive in Siena.
  • If you only want to go to the Museo Civico you can book in advance through Get Your Guide.

HOW TO GET TO SIENA

The closest airports to Siena are Florence, Perugia, Pisa, Bologna and Rome. Pisa is the most popular airport for European visitors, however if you’re traveling from Canada or the US, you will most likely arrive into Rome.

The Siena Train Station is a 1.3-mile walk, uphill to the centre of town. So you may want to consider getting a taxi if you have luggage or if the walk is going to be too much.

FROM FLORENCE

From Florence Airport, take the shuttle bus to Santa Maria Novella Train Station. From here, direct trains run to Siena every hour and take 30 minutes.

Driving time from Florence – 1 hour, 10 min (78 kilometres / 48 miles)

FROM PISA

From Pisa Airport, take the airport shuttle to the central station. Trains from Siena take 1 hour and 40 minutes with a stop at Empoli.

Driving time from Pisa – 1 hour, 45 min (120 kilometres / 75 miles)

FROM BOLOGNA

From Bologna airport, take the shuttle bus to Bologna Central Train Station. From here, the train to Siena takes about 30 minutes.

Driving time from Bologna – 2 hours (168 kilometres / 104 miles)

FROM ROME

There are no direct trains from Rome to Siena, but you can stop off at Florence, which is a great thing to do anyway. Trains to Florence from Rome depart directly from Rome Fiumicino Airport.

Driving time from Rome – 3 hours (267 kilometres / 165 miles)

PARKING IN SIENA

If you are driving to Siena, park in the massive Parcheggio Il Campo car park. It’s a 10-minute walk from the Piazza del Campo but most importantly, it does not involve driving through any narrow medieval streets. It costs €2 an hour.

BEST TIME TO VISIT SIENA

Siena is a great year-round destination. The wealth of indoor sites and tightly packed outdoor lanes are as moody in winter as they are glorious in summer.

Peak Season // Temperatures can be hot and the tourist sites busy during the peak season of July and August. However, the Siena Duomo inlaid floors are uncovered during the month of July and from mid-August to mid-October. This is a great time to visit Siena.

Shoulder Season // The shoulder seasons of spring and fall bring the nicest weather. In particular, September to mid-October is a great time to come. The Duomo floors are uncovered, and the peak crowds have disappeared.

The Palio // The famous Siena horse race, The Palio, takes place on July 2 and August 16 every year. Ten horses and riders, dressed in the colours of their city ward, race around the Piazza del Campo. Tickets can be reserved online. Even if it’s fully booked it’s worth turning up the day before when many of the locals dress up in their neighbourhood colours.

things to do siena italy 10
PALAZZO PUBBLICO

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