Siena is a Medieval city in the heart of Tuscany. I debated where to go besides Rome when I was planning my trip, and I stumbled across this deep into some travel blogs, and the moment I saw the sprawling buildings I knew in my heart I had to go.
Just look at how gorgeous it is!
I knew nothing about it. Nobody really talks about going to Siena, at least not on their first trip to Italy. I did quite a bit of research and I also talked to my AirBNB host on what to do.
To learn how to get to Siena, read my blog post: Traveling Italy by Trains
I only spent two and a half days here, but in the future I would dedicate more time to exploring Tuscany. Here are my favorite things to do in Siena.
Brush up on the History
Before you go, learn about the region. This city is almost 2,000 years old after all. It was settled in 30 AD when the Romans established it as a military post and it grew from there. Read a little about the history here & do some exploring on your own.
When you’re browsing shops you’ll see a lot of colorful balls for sale. Siena is actually composed of 17 neighborhoods, or contradas, each with their own distinct colors and symbols. You’ll see the different flags as you walk throughout the city. The Palio races were horse races held each summer with an athlete from each contradas, competing for victory. Each neighborhood had a wooden ball painted with its colors and symbols and the balls were used to determine the order of the horse lineups. The Palio & Contrada balls are a really unique souvenir to this region and something to keep an eye out for!
Piazza del Campo
This is easily the top attraction in Siena. Located in the heart of the city, this is an open plaza with vendors set up in the middle. At these vendors you can sample liquor in chocolate shot glasses, buy gelato and other sweets as well as pretzels and snacks.
It’s surrounded by restaurants with outdoor seating so you can have a drink of wine and people watch as the sun sets on the Palazzo Pubblico. The Palazzo Pubblico is from the 13th century and is now used as the town hall and hosts a museum you can visit.
Travel Tip: You can actually climb to the top of Torre del Mangia (the tall tower at the Palazzo Pubblico) for stunning views of the city.
Drink Chianti Wine
If you have the time, head outside the city to go wine tasting. You’re in Tuscany after all! If you’re like me and you’re on a tight schedule, have a seat in the plaza and enjoy a glass or two as the sun sets. It’s a relaxing way to end your afternoon before you get dinner. Chianti is the wine of this region. It’s made from Sangiovese grapes which are typically found in Siena and Florence.
Piazza del Duomo
The second most popular and iconic spot in Siena is the Duomo. This church has spectacular stripes inside and out and can be seen from miles away as it rests on one of the highest points of the city. Inside the cathedral is a crypt, library and baptistry, but you have to buy a pass to get inside. These are three of the biggest tourist attractions in the city, and the library has works from some of the most famous artists of the Renaissance.
Fun Fact: While the stripes look black and white, they’re actually dark green and white, representing the colors of Siena.
Basilica San Domenico
If you’re a practicing Catholic or just interested in Catholic history, you’ll want to stop by the Basilica San Domenico. Inside you’ll find the head of Saint Catherine of Siena. Her history is very interesting. At the age of 7 it is said that she started to experience visions from God. To keep her family from marrying her off, she cut off her hair and scalded herself so no one would want her. Then she became a nun. She devoted her life to her faith and died at just 33 years old.
This is where it gets interesting. She was actually in Rome when she died and she was such an important figure that the city wanted to bury her prominently there. However, Siena was her hometown and they wanted her buried there instead. A few people severed her head and snuck it back to Siena where to this day it remains on display in the Basilica San Domenico.
Travel Tip: If you want to see her tomb, where the rest of her body is, stop by the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva in Rome.
I wasn’t brave enough to go in, but it draws in a lot of tourists and people of faith every year.
When you’re walking around the city you’ll turn corners and stumble into important, historic places without even realizing it. This gothic plaza demonstrates the medieval architecture of the time very well. I loved the parapets and the tight, narrow streets that wind its way here.
Siena City Market
In La Lizza every Wednesday from 8:30-1:30 is a pop-up market. There are tons of vendors selling everything from clothes and household items to fruits, vegetables and fish. Even when it’s raining (like it was for us) it’s fun to explore this market. It gets crowded and there is so much to see! It’s location also gives stunning views of the countryside surrounding Siena. I was really lucky that I happened to be here on a Wednesday!
If you make it to the market you’ll automatically see the Fortezza Medicea. It was a fort built in the 1500s and the market surrounds the fort’s walls. While the fort itself is not particularly exciting, it is surrounded by green space, shops and restaurants. It’s a really neat part of Siena!
That’s part of the fort wall behind the fountain!
Explore the Outskirts of the City
The heart of Siena is gorgeous and deserves attention, so make sure to walk all throughout the city. However, don’t forget to make your way outside of the city so you can look back on it. Because Siena is built up so high (which we can credit to its origins as a military post) you can see the buildings from a distance. It’s one of the best ways to see Siena.