Siena sits in the heart of Tuscany. It’s famous for its architectural gems, bustling squares, and UNESCO World Heritage historic center. Throughout the centuries it became a prosperous town that now counts agriculture and tourism as its main sources of income. Today, Siena is home to some of the best things to do in Tuscany. There are many attractions to enjoy in Siena – you can browse the Siena Civic Museum, Duomo Cathedral, and National Gallery. Then, sip Tuscan wines in the piazza and climb Torre del Mangia for incredible views and photo opportunities. Each July and August, the town hosts its famous Palio horse race. Citizens compete against each other in their neighborhood colors. Afterwards, everyone gets together and the celebrations really begin! With so much to experience, our Siena Travel Guide will help you start with the highlights!
How to Visit Siena
It’s easy to visit Siena by train, bus, car, or even bicycle. If you’re flying into Florence or Pisa airports, it takes an hour to drive from Florence and 1.5 hours from Pisa. The SITA bus company operates a regular service from Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence directly into Siena. There is also an hourly direct train from Florence and from Pisa Centrale station, with one change at Empoli. It’s worth considering that cars may not enter Siena’s historical center unless you’re staying inside the city walls and have advance permission from your hotel.
How to Get Around Siena
Siena is largely car-free. But if you plan to drive, you can gain a permit from your hotel to enter the city walls with your vehicle or park on the outer fringes of the city. Buses operate outside the historic center to most neighborhoods and it takes approximately 25 minutes to walk from one side of Siena to the other. Another great way to see Siena is by bicycle or e-bike. There are over 200 cycle routes near the UNESCO World Heritage city, making bike rides easy and pleasant. Several stores offer daily bicycle rentals so you can take your time exploring the spectacular Tuscan countryside. Our Chianti E-Bike Tour from Siena makes that easy to do, topping off a scenic ride with a pastoral lunch and wine tasting. Check out the best tours from Siena for more ways to experience the region.
Neighborhoods of Siena
The Torre neighborhood gets its name from Torre del Mangia, a 102-meter high bell tower located in the center of Siena. The area is chock-full of lively piazzas and museums, as well as quaint osterias serving delicious Tuscan cuisine. It’s the perfect base for first-time visitors in Siena, as it’s close to all the main tourist attractions. Highlights in Torre include Palazzo Pubblico – the Gothic-style town hall filled with art masterpieces and the architecturally impressive Loggia della Mercanzia.
Historic City Center
The city center is a superb place to stay in Siena. It offers easy access to Piazza del Duomo and Palazzo del Capitano, as well as a whole host of charming restaurants and gelaterias. It’s close to all the main historic attractions and museums of Siena, making it easy to explore on foot, particularly for visitors with younger children!
Historic Aquila is located around Siena’s Duomo Cathedral and Santa Maria della Scala Museum. With abundant Renaissance art and frescoes to explore, it’s difficult to know where to begin! You can walk easily from here to Fortezza Medicea, a fortress built by Duke Cosimo to prevent the Sienese people from revolting against Florentine control. Then head to Fontebranda, an interesting 13th-century fountain flanked by Gothic arches and fed by aqueducts. This popular neighborhood is a place where locals and tourists can mingle. Moreover, there are some great pasticcerias and trattorias where you can sample typical Tuscan food. The Insider Siena City Tour will have a local expert on the town’s history show you all the highlights and the stories behind them.
Lupa is north of the historic center, near Porta Ovile and Palazzo Salimbeni. It’s a peaceful location popular with the Sienese people, so you can try out your Italian with the locals! It’s also only a few minutes walk to Giardini la Lizza, a verdant garden perfect for picnics and leisurely strolls. If you feel like stretching your legs, the historic center and Duomo are 10 minutes on foot.
Onda is a popular district for tourists in Siena. It’s home to several 3 and 4-star hotels and guest houses, interesting museums, and the botanical gardens of Siena University. In this neighborhood, you’ll discover lively bars, souvenir shops, and quaint trattorias where you can sample pasta and risotto just like mama used to make!
Food, Drink, & Nightlife
Every Siena Travel Guide will tell you that the culinary scene is spectacular, with some of the best food in Italy! Charming trattorias line the stunning piazzas. Hidden along the narrow alleyways, you’ll find osterias and wine bars with old brick ceilings and barrels for tables. These are the perfect places to tantalize your taste buds with fine Tuscan wines while sampling regional dishes. For a special treat, venture outside the city walls where restaurants are located within ancient farm buildings and villas surrounded by beautiful gardens and stunning views of the Tuscan countryside. This Tuscan Cooking Class from Siena will teach you how to prepare local dishes in the stunning Chianti region. Meanwhile, the Brunello Wine Tasting Tour from Siena is perfect for wannabe wine experts to discover the region’s vintages.
Much of Siena’s nightlife is rather low-key, most taking place in local wine caverns, piazzas, and cafes. But you can also listen to live bands in Piazza del Campo, watch theater performances, and dance until the early hours in one of the city’s nightclubs. In Siena, if you’re looking for leisure or intensity, you’re sure to find it!
Siena is packed with wonderful specialty shops and artisan workshops. Local specialties include hand-painted ceramics, quality clothing, shoes, and handbags. The main shopping street is Via Banchi di Sopra, and there is a modern mall near the train station. If local markets are more your thing, every Wednesday close to Piazza Gramsci there is a bustling outdoor market. On Fridays, Tuscan farmers head to Siena to sell olive oils, fresh bread, cheeses, local fruit, vegetables, and more. Perfect plan for a picnic lunch in the park!
Duomo of Siena
Gracing every Siena Travel Guide, you’re sure to find The Duomo of Siena or Siena Cathedral. The magnificent cathedral was designed in a blend of Italian Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical styles. It dominates the skyline above Piazza del Campo and is packed with artistic treasures from Michelangelo, Pisano, and Donatello. The building, constructed between 1215 and 1263, is decorated with columns of white and green/black marble stripes – the motif of Siena. Highlights of the cathedral and adjoining Museo dell’Opera include the storytelling mosaic pavement, the ceiling frescoes of the Piccolomini Library, and the beautiful rose window designed by Buoninsegna.
Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico, & Torre di Mangia
Piazza del Campo is Siena’s main square, lined with several notable buildings including Palazzo Pubblico – a 13th-century medieval palace that served as the seat of the Republican Government of Siena – and the Fountain of Gaia. You can take a guided tour of the palace, admiring opulent paintings from Italian artists. Or if you want the best views of Siena, climb to the top of Torre del Mangia. The historic tower offers incredible bird’s eye city views over Siena’s terracotta buildings and labyrinth streets, presenting abundant photo opportunities. These Siena tours are designed to highlight these fascinating historical relics and more.
Located in the western area of Siena is the Medici Fortress. The impressive structure was commissioned by Duke Cosimo during the 16th-17th centuries, following the conquest of Siena by the Florentines. The duke built the fortress to prevent a second revolt by the citizens of Siena. Today, it is mostly used for festivals and concerts. It’s also home to a charming enoteca where you can sample local wines.
No Siena Travel Guide is complete without recommending where to lay your head at the end of the day! Hotels in Siena are a mix of romantic boutique townhouses, economic pensions, 5-star luxury hotels with floor-to-ceiling frescoes, and chic apartments and villas located outside the city walls. The most opulent hotel in Siena is Grand Hotel Continental, punctuated with fine art, period furnishings, and luxurious details. The hotel offers hot air ballooning excursions and truffle hunting for adventurous travelers. If that’s piqued your curiosity, read all about our other top picks for where to stay in Siena and its surrounding area.
What to See Near Siena
Once you’ve completed our Siena Travel Guide, venture to nearby treasures! If you’re planning a day trip from Siena, head for the ancient hilltop town of Monteriggioni. The medieval-throwback town boasts a multitude of historical sites including a castle and a handful of churches, with spectacular vistas over surrounding vineyards and olive groves. And if you wish to mix food, wine, and culture, Montepulciano is the place for you. It’s known for Vino Nobile de Montepulciano wine and specialties such as Pici – a thick pasta with tasty ragu sauce – and ricciarelli – almond biscuits with honey and vanilla. Nestled between the two towns you’ll find Rapolano Terme, sun-kissed thermal baths with mineral-rich waters where you can take an evening dip. Our Siena tours like the Siena 5 Day City Break will give you the perfect dose of Siena and its surrounding highlights.