The Ultimate Travel Guide to Siena, Italy
Located in the heart of Italy’s Tuscany region, the town of Siena is a treasure trove for lovers of medieval and renaissance art, second only to Florence. Hills surround the town, the center of which has been declared a World Heritage Site. An abundance of religious buildings, but also museums and patrician homes contain a number of artworks by renowned Italian artists such as Fra Bartolomeo, Beccafumi and Lorenzo Lotto. Think Florence but on a smaller and more manageable scale.
Peculiar to Siena is the division into districts or wards called contrada which dates back to the Middle Ages. Each Contrada is represented by an animal. And there was fierce competition between the wards in the Middle Ages which was the reason for a rather fierce horserace called Palio, fought out not on a race course but in the middle of town around the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo.
The race is enacted every year on 2nd July and 16th August. Luminous ochre walls and green shutters are the color scheme associated with Siena, a shade of orange/yellow is actually called burnt sienna as any painter knows.
In this Siena Travel Guide blog, we listed helpful DIY Siena, Italy travel tips and advice on how to get around, recommended activities, places to eat, accommodation, tour packages and more.
Best time to visit
Like most of Tuscany, Siena has an inland Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cold winters. Unless you want to see the horserace, spring and fall are the best seasons to visit.
How to get there
The nearest airports are Florence and Pisa. Pisa’s Galileo Gallilei Airport serves more international airlines than Florence. Regular buses and trains bring you to Siena, the travel time from Florence is 1 ½ hours.
If you arrive by train, Siena’s train station is at the foot of a long winding and steep hill which leads up to the Old Town. Never fear, several escalators make the ascent easy. The bus station is up the hill at the foot of the city wall.
Getting around is best by foot, although a few buses are running in Siena.
Places to stay
Like Florence, Siena gets thousands of visitors, although many just come for the day. If you wish to stay overnight, Siena offers a good selection of hotels for every budget.
NH Excelsior Siena
For the higher budget, there is the NH Excelsior Siena hotel in Piazza del Lizza.
The 4-star hotel features elegant well-appointed rooms with free wifi. American breakfast is included and you might marvel at a rather peculiar décor of a mixture of contemporary furniture and a huge gothic chandelier in the foyer. Right across the street is a bus stop which gets you to Siena’s attraction and Piazza del Campo is a 10-minute walk away.
Hotel Alma Domus in Via Camporegio
Great value for money is the 1star Hotel Alma Domus in Via Camporegio.
Located in a historical 13th-century building the rooms are good and have their own bath as well as wifi. No lifts, but splendid views over the city as you are just 2 minutes from Siena cathedral. Italian breakfast is included.
B&B Quatro Cantoni
Even more economical is the B&B Quatro Cantoni in Via San Pietro. This is located in a 14th-century building, equally in the heart of Siena’s Old Town. Rooms are simple but very clean with vaulted ceilings, private bathrooms, and free wifi.
Guest are issued with a breakfast voucher which they can redeem at a nearby café.
Best places to eat
Tuscan cuisine knows it all: pasta, pizza, meat, even some fish and..polenta. In Siena you find some of the best restaurants to indulge in specialties often with a personal touch by the chef.
The closest you can come in Siena to ‘streetfood’ is a visit to Il Caliere Errante in Piazza Provenzano 3. They specialize in pizza with an incredible variety of toppings and hearty red wine by the carafe. Take a look at the antipasti buffet too.
Far more elegant, and pricier is Osteria Boccon del Prete in Via S. Pietro 17.
A sit down restaurant in a very cozy atmosphere, specialties are toasted polenta with cream sauce and spicy Tuscan sausages.
If you fancy not only excellent food and service but also an unusual setting, head for the Antica Osteria da Divo in Via Franciosa 29. Carved out of tuff stone, the restaurant resembles a cave, albeit a very welcoming one. Lunch is their specialty.
What to do and see
Saint Catherine is the patron saint of Siena and you should pay respect to her by visiting the Sanctuary of St. Catherine which incorporates her birth house as well as the mystic crucifix from which she received her stigmata. Nearby is the Basilica San Domenico, also closely connected to the saint. It gets a bit creepy inside because in an elaborate silver shrine is displayed the mummified, severed hear of Catherine!
Back to beauty and fresh air with a walk around Piazza del Campo where the Palio is held and a look at the Renaissance Palazzo Pubblico (town hall) and the adjacent Torre del Mangia.
Another important religious building is the Siena Cathedral which features one of the largest and most elaborate black and white mosaic marble floors in Italy. Inside the dome, turn left and enter the marvelous Piccolomini library with colorful frescos on walls and ceilings.
Pay a visit to the Botanical gardens and if you fancy insider tips: find Via dei Rossi, look up at your right and see the sculpture of a woman leaning out of a window. Modern art has a place in Siena too.
For those of you who have strong nerves, heard some 15km out of Siena to Miniato and visit the Museum of Anatomy located in the Dept. of Anatomical and Biomedicine. It houses a large collection of medical drawings, among others by Leonardo da Vinci and the world’s largest collection of anatomical models, dried specimen and other shocking things connected to the world of medicine Quite a contrast to all the beauty in the rest of Siena.
Language, currency etc.
The official language is Italian but due to the many visitors, English is understood nearly everywhere. Currency is the EURO. Major credit cards are accepted everywhere, but Italy is a country that loves cash. If you pay cash you may get good discounts, so make sure you always have some EUROs in your pocket.
All hotel offers free wifi and you have coverage in most of the town but not everywhere.
Best places to shop
Another great pleasure in Siena is shopping, be it just window shopping or the real thing. The town is too small for a huge shopping mall, but there are three pedestrian streets which are lined with one excellent boutique after another, not only for clothes and leather goods but also for such different things as ceramics, exquisite stationary, antiques, and costume jewelry.
They are Via di Citta, Banci di Sopra, and Via Dei Montanini. And as a special treat: cakes and sweets from Psticceria Bini.
Enjoy Siena, Tuscany’s most romantic historical town, even if it’s only for a day.
Siena Travel and Tour Packages
Siena Full Day Tour (Palio’s Contrada, San Gimignano, and Monteriggioni) from Florence with Wine and Food Tasting
Embark on this day tour to Siena from Florence and begin with the first stop at San Gimignano, a small and world famous walled town located on a hilltop, which remained intact through the centuries. It is known for its tall towers, wonderful frescoes, and many valuable works of art.
Find Hotels in Siena, Italy according to your budget via Agoda.