As one of Italy’s largest hill towns, Siena boasts a bustling main square, quiet, winding side streets and a rich, colorful culture. Read on for my top Siena picks.
Siena features sights and bustling streets like a Rome or Florence, while still offering the quaint, small-town feel of your typical central Italy hill town.
Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, Siena’s main city center boasts an expansive, shell-shaped square, a decorated cathedral and the iconic Mangia Tower that stands above the city as a beautiful brick beacon.
Siena is the largest hill town my family and I visited during our time in central Italy. It’s definitely busier, than most Tuscan towns and even during the off season (we went in March), the city is filled with tourists.
But that doesn’t mean you should skip Siena.
Siena is worth a day trip or longer. Just know that the closer you get to high season, the more likely you are to face tourist crowds.
Piazza del Campo
Since Siena is larger than most Italian hill towns, it only makes sense that its square is larger, too. Where else would visitors kick around the soccer ball, take group selfies, feed the pigeons, and sip that quintessential Italian espresso?
The Piazza del Campo, Siena’s main square, is known widely as one of the greatest European squares. Lined with cafes, restaurants, shops and seating areas, the Piazza del Campo is the perfect place to sit down, soak up that Tuscan sun and watch the scenes of Siena unfold.
Just watch out for the pigeons. They have food on the brain — and will do about anything to get it.
If you’re not one for sitting (I hear you – so much to do, so little time!) then climb up the 87-meter-high Mangia Tower for 360-degree views of Siena. Tickets are about 10 euro, and hours vary, so map it out before you go if you’re interested.
While stumbling through the side streets of Siena is a ball, sometimes the best way to experience a city is to see it from afar. Enter Forteza Medicea.
This 600-year-old fort and its surrounding park offer unique, photogenic vantage points of Siena. In the distance sits the Siena Cathedral, its pale blue duomo towering high above the city.
As your eye wanders away from the duomo and down through rows upon rows of red-tiled rooftops, you suddenly land on a …. soccer stadium. Double take. Soccer stadium?
Stadio Artemio Franchi, home of A.C. Siena, is a multi-purpose stadium located at the base of Siena. Unfortunately, no matches were on during our trip there, but it’s definitely something we’ll look to schedule around in the future.
Soccer match or not, the Forteza Medicea park is the perfect place to let go, explore ancient ruins and get entirely Wanderlost.
Built in the 1200s, the Siena Cathedral has all the makings of a traditional Italian cathedral: beautiful entrance, striking clock tower and a duomo to top it off. But on the inside, the Siena Cathedral takes it one step further with its unusual, eye-catching black-and-white-striped interior.
Now, I’m not much of a church historian (OK, by not much I mean not at all), but in my book, the Siena Cathedral is a must-visit Italian cathedral because it’s — wait for this highly esteemed criterion — pretty.
Like my description or not, it’s a really pretty cathedral, and you should check it out if Siena is in your future!
Know before you go
If you’re visiting during early July or mid-August, you may be lucky enough to see Siena’s most popular event of the year — the Palio. This iconic Siena competition pits the city’s 17 neighborhoods (AKA contrades) against each other in some good old-fashioned horse racing.
Twice a year (July 2 and Aug. 16) the horse races overtake the entire Piazza del Campo, with riders from 10 of the 17 contrades facing off for a race around the square. Whichever horse makes it across the line first after three times around the Piazza – jockey or not – wins.
Each contrade has its own emblem and mascot, ranging from eagle to tortoise, snail to porcupine, and all sorts of fun animals in between. Since I didn’t actually get to see the race in person, I bought myself a souvenir flag for the time when I do get back here for a Palio … and went with the speedy panther for good luck.
There’s a lot of history to Siena’s Palio, so here’s some information from Discover Tuscany with full details on the tradition if you’re interested in learning more.