Siena is a historic city on the region of Tuscany and is the capital of the province of Siena. This city is well known for its gorgeous architecture and beautiful main square – the Piazza del Campo. Furthermore Siena has a historic city centre that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Additionally, Siena is also known for its legendary Palio horse race that takes place twice a year and draws hundreds of spectators.
As with other cities in Tuscany, Siena was first settled by Etruscan tribes and became a town during the Roman reign of Emperor Augustus. As the town was not located near any major roads, it did not prosper during the Roman Era, however during the time of the Lombards the town developed and eventually became the powerful Republic of Siena that last for several hundred years. In subsequent years Siena continued to be prosperous and today it relies mainly on its tourist and agriculture industries.
For those visiting Siena there is an abundance of beautiful architecture such as the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. Furthermore, the city has a range of fantastic museums and galleries such as the Siena Civic Museum and the National Gallery. The historic centre of Siena is one of the best preserved in the region and is a true joy to explore.
Here are the best things to do in Siena:
1. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Siena Cathedral is one of the premier pieces of Gothic architecture in the whole of Italy.
This building is simply fantastic and both its exterior and interior designs are sublime.
Originally constructed in the 13th century, the cathedral has stood for hundreds of years as an icon of the city and sits in the Piazza del Duomo in the history town centre.
The façade and exterior of the cathedral is magnificent and features a plethora of white stone and marble design features, plus several sublime frescos.
Furthermore the interior of the church is quite breath-taking – practically every angle is decorated; from striped polychrome marble arches, to the ornate golden dome and the beautiful frescos above the main altar.
2. Piazza del Campo
The Piazza del Campo is undoubtedly the main square of Siena – this superb open square contains some simply stunning architecture and is always buzzing with local life and tourism.
What makes this square so inviting are the curved lines of the buildings that provide an enclosed and friendly feeling.
Notable buildings located on the square include the gigantic Torre del Mangia, the beautiful Palazzo Pubblico and the Fountain of Gaia.
Many people start their tour of Siena from this very point and it also contains a range of cafes, restaurants and shops.
The beautiful medieval architecture, lively atmosphere and interesting shape of the square make it a prime attraction.
3. Palazzo Pubblico
Located in the Piazza del Campo, the Palazzo Pubblico is one of the most renowned structures in Siena and stands out due to its amazing architecture and the domineering Torre del Mangia.
This medieval structure was created in the 13th century and served as the house of the Republican Government of Siena.
The exterior features an Italian Gothic design with a two tone stone cladding and a plethora of beautiful arched windows.
Furthermore, the interior of the palace contains some absolutely stunning frescos – practically every major room in the building is covered with ornate decoration and gorgeous paintings.
Guided tours of the palace interior are possible and it is also possible to climb to the top of the Torre del Mangia.
4. Torre del Mangia
This slender 102m tall tower stands proudly at the end of the Palazzo Pubblico and is one of the best known attractions in the city.
This tower was constructed at the same time as the palace and features a similar two tone design with a white stone crown.
It is possible to climb to the top of the tower for unrivalled views of the city of Siena – be warned however, you have to climb over two hundred steps to reach the top, but the reward is worth it! When you reach the top, you can look down on the Piazza del Campo and see the gorgeous Tuscan countryside.
5. Biblioteca Piccolomini
Siena Cathedral is a wonder in its own right, but within the walls of this impressive building is a hidden treasure.
The Piccolomini Library is renowned throughout the country and rightly so – within this small room is one of the most impressive frescos in the region of Tuscany.
The walls, arches and ceiling are covered with this immensely detailed painting created by Pinturicchio and his workshop team.
10 different scenes are depicted here – all of which relate to the life and career of Pope Pius II. The detail is fantastic and the colors are still as vivid as the day they were created.
Aside from the magnificent paintings, there is also a series of historical manuscripts on display.
6. Siena National Gallery
The Siena National Gallery is housed within a formed palace which in itself is a fantastic building dating back to the 15th century.
You can find the gallery on Via San Pietro in the historic town centre, just south of the Piazza del Campo.
Within the confines of the superb gallery there is a brilliant collection of art, predominantly from Sienese Artists between the 12th and 16th centuries.
Notable artworks include “Raising of Lazarus” and “Entry into Jerusalem” by Guide da Siena, and “Madonna Enthroned” by Lorenzetti.
Furthermore there is also a series of cartoons by Beccafumi.
This gallery is one of the most important in Siena, and is a great place to visit to learn about the history of the cities arts and culture.
7. Church of San Domenico
The Church of San Domenico is located in the western part of the historic town centre and features a jumble of different styles.
Over the years this church has been changed and added too hence its immense size and strange amalgamation of design styles.
Although the exterior isn’t lavish in the same way as Siena Cathedral, the interior has some beautiful decoration such as the Chapel of Santa Caterina.
This chapel features some gorgeous religious frescos and some marble sculptures.
Furthermore, the main nave contains some ornate religious fixtures such as golden candelabras and altar pieces.
This building is yet another magnificent structure in the heart of Siena and is definitely worth a visit.
8. Piazza Salimbeni
The Piazza Salimbeni is a small but interesting square in the heart of the historic town centre.
On three sides of the square you can find three entirely different palace facades – the Palazzo Tantucci, the Palazzo Salimbeni and the Palazzo Spannocchi.
Originally, the centre of the square was the garden of Salimbeni palace but today it contains some beautiful patterned tiles and an ornate marble statue.
The Palazzo Tantucci features an orange façade with many white framed windows, whilst the adjacent Palazzo Spannocchi has an opulent light yellow design with a series of arched windows.
Finally, the Salimbeni Palace has a cream façade with several window adorned with intricate plasterwork.
9. Porta Pispini
During the Middle Ages, Siena was a mighty city and it had an extensive defensive network that surrounded much of the town centre.
The Porta Pispini (or Gate of the Water Spout as it is also known) is one of the remaining portals from this historic network and can be found in the eastern part of Siena.
The gateway features a double doorway made from stone – both have impressive arches and the inner gate still has its wooden frame and doors.
Furthermore, both doorways have a crenulated roofline and the effect is quite impressive.
If you walk to the right of the gate you can see the original city walls and a well-preserved guard tower too.
10. Santuario di Santa Caterina
This religious complex was created to honour St. Catherine of Siena and it is supposedly built over her original birthplace.
Within the complex you can find a variety of different structures including several arcades and loggias, and the Church of the Crucified.
The Loggias and arcades are beautifully decorated and contain some fantastic architecture.
Additionally, the Church of the Crucified contains some opulent decoration and frescos depicting the life of St. Catherine.
This is a great place to visit to understand the importance of Siena’s main Saint.
11. Fortezza Medicea
The Medicea Fort can be found to the left of the Artemio Franchi Stadium in the western part of Siena.
This fort was created during the 16th and 17th centuries by Duke Cosimo and was erected to prevent any uprisings from Sienese citizens who were unhappy with the Florentine rule.
The fort has four triangular defensive towers and a large central walled area – the whole fort us surrounded by beautiful gardens and is a pleasant place to walk through.
Aside from the superb architecture of the fort, regular concerts and festivals are often held here so it is worthwhile checking out what is on during your visit.
12. Baptistery of Santa Maria Assunta
The baptistery of Siena Cathedral was actually added at a later date in the 14th century.
The exterior remains incomplete, and only half of the building connected to the cathedral is covered with the iconic polychrome marble.
Inside the baptistery you can find some sublime decoration – the walls are lined with black and white polychrome marble (complete) and the ceilings are covered with intricate and detailed Renaissance Frescos.
In the centre of the Baptistery you can find the baptismal font designed by non-other than the legendary Renaissance sculpture Donatello.
13. Siena Civic Museum
This museum is housed within the Palazzo Pubblico and contains some fantastic artwork and artefacts from Siena.
The main attraction of the museum is the series of original frescos that were painting inside the palace during its construction.
Good and Bad Government is the title of the main fresco cycle; this beautiful and informative series depicts various aspects of local government and provides fantastic insight into the history of Siena.
Other notable features include the Hall of the Globe and the fresco of Madonna in throne with Child.
This museum is a great place for all the family as children can look at the lively colored paintings.
14. Enjoy a sublime meal at the Ristorante Tar Tufo
Located in the southern part of the historic town centre, the Ristorante Ta Tufo will provide customers with an excellent evening of fine dining.
If you travel down the Via del Sole you will find this fantastic restaurant.
Their menu includes a superb variety of Italian dishes including Antipasti, lamb, pasta and seafood.
You can opt to take the creative taster menu which provides several small courses from an aperitif through to a dessert.
Aside from the brilliant choice of finely cooked meals, you can enjoy a glass or two of high quality wine with your meal.
Furthermore, if you are lucky enough to have an outside seat, you are given stunning views across the southern farmland of Siena.
15. Enjoy a drink and some Jazz Music at Un Tubo
Un Tubo is a swanky bar located only a short distance from the Piazza del Campo.
This bar is renowned for its cosy ambience, great selection of wine and regular live jazz music.
Inside this bar you can find a dimly lit interior that is welcoming and inviting – you will feel at home immediately! Furthermore, the bar hosts regular exhibits of contemporary art and the live jazz music is worth a visit in its own right.
If you are looking for a sophisticated evening of culture, art, music and fine drink, Un Tubo is undoubtedly the best place to visit in Siena.