Distinguished by its medieval brick buildings, Siena is a treasure trove of history, and home to tons of great things to see and do.
Situated in central Italy’s Tuscany region, the charming city’s focal point is its huge central square, Piazza del Campo, where crowds gather day and night to mingle. But venture beyond the fan-shaped plaza and you’ll discover a wealth of incredible sights and attractions. If you’d like to start working on an action-packed itinerary for your Siena adventure, we’ve compiled a list of 12 unique things you won’t want to leave out.
Marvel at a magnificent medieval church
Overlooking the Piazza del Camp, the Duomo di Siena is a magnificent Gothic edifice brimming with sculptural treasures by Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo as well as frescoes by Pinturicchio. Both the cathedral’s exterior and interiors are decorated in white and greenish-black marble in alternating stripes – black and white being the symbolic colours of Siena – but it is the interior that truly catches the eye. From its marble columns to its busts of past religious men of Siena to its flooring decorated with mosaics that present storytelling masterpieces, there is a feast for the eyes every which way you turn. A day pass gives you entry to the cathedral as well as the baptistery, crypt and Opera museum (see below).
Piazza del Duomo / Mon-Sat 10.30am-5pm Sun 1.30pm-5pm
Visit a world class museum
Within the Duomo di Siena is a magnificent museum complex, among which the Museo dell’Opera stands proudly as one of the oldest private museums to be found anywhere Italy. Founded in 1869, it houses works of art and architectural fragments that were formerly in, or a part of, the Duomo. Highlights include a major collection of 14th-century Sienese statuary from the Cathedral façade, precious silk fabrics, and extremely rare illuminated manuscripts and codices.
Piazza del Duomo / Mon-Sun 10.30am-6pm
Stroll through a 17th-century piazza
One of the largest and most visually arresting medieval squares anywhere in Europe, Piazza del Campo dates back to before the 13th century when it served as a site for merchants and market-goers to gather and peddle their wares. Notable for its slanted floor tiling that is divided into individual sections, today the piazza is a perennial buzz of activity at all times of day and a major nexus for the city. The square is also the site of many of Siena’s annual civic and cultural activities including bullfights, horse races (see below) and festivals.
Wander around an outdoor sculpture park
Located a quick drive north of central Siena, the Chianti Sculpture Park is spread over 7 hectares of mystical woodland and is home to an eye-catching collection of contemporary sculptures and installations created by artists from around the world. The artworks are dotted along a shadowy trail which runs through a beautiful wood of oaks, flanked by vineyards, olive trees and cypress trees. The park also boasts an amphitheatre where concerts and other cultural events take place during the summer months each year.
S.P. 9, 48/49 Loc. la Fornace, 53010 Pievasciata SI / Mon-Sun 10am-4pm
Traverse the Siena streets with a private guide
Discover the medieval streets of Siena with a personal guide at your side, and find tucked-away corners far from the well-trodden tourist trail on this private and fully customisable 3-hour walking tour. Departing from Piazza del Campo in the morning or afternoon, you’ll stop at prominent churches and monuments as you explore on foot, ambling down local streets and alleys that immerse you in local life as your guide regales you with facts and tales about resident artists and neighbourhoods and Siena’s golden age of architecture.
Climb a 14th-century tower
Looming large over the Piazza del Campo, the Torre del Mangia is one of the most distinctive landmarks on Siena’s picturesque topography. Among the tallest secular towers in Italy, it was built in the mid-14th century to be the exact height of the Siena Cathedral as a sign that Church and State possessed equal power in the city. Visitors who ascend it are rewarded with incredible panoramic views, with the most intrepid types navigating the narrow stairways to climb 102 metres all the way to the top.
Piazza del Campo / Mon-Sun 10am-6.15pm
Learn how to cook Siena style
The traditions of Tuscany are strongly linked to its cuisine and visitors to the city have the chance to learn more about the region’s gastronomic heritage during a special 4-hour cooking class. Led by a multilingual chef, you’ll get to prepare traditional dishes in a professional cooking environment before sitting down to enjoy your (hopefully) delectable creations. From bruschetta to homemade pici, you’ll learn the techniques of Tuscan cooking, the basic ingredients used in authentic dishes, and the magical way in which local cooks create their meals.
Catch a thrilling horse race
Held twice a year during the summer months, Palio di Siena is a captivating horse race that takes place in the otherwise peaceful environs of the Piazza del Campo. Drawing vast crowds, the event sees ten horses and riders, representing 10 of the city wards, circle the pizza a total of three times. The race is over quickly, usually well within two minutes, but it’s two minutes that spectators are unlikely to forget in a hurry. The race is traditionally preceded by the Corteo Storico, a colourful costumed pageant.
Piazza del Campo / July & August each year
Learn about the local wine-making scene
Siena sits at the heart of Tuscany’s rich wine-producing landscape and fans of the fermented grape can learn all about it on this 3-hour educational wine tour. Held in an organic winery in the gorgeous Tuscan hills overlooking Siena, guests will discover the different stages of wine-making through the seasons, as well as enjoying wine samples in a sensorial tasting room and a light lunch combining wine and local fresh food. Information will be delivered in an inclusive way for a layperson, so no prior expert wine knowledge is required to get something out of the experience.
Pick up some local produce at a market
There are few better ways of getting under the skin of a place than by visiting a local market. Spread around Siena’s 16th-century fortress, La Lizza market is a bustling hive of friendly commerce when it takes place on Wednesdays each week. Featuring a wide array of vendors selling their affordable wares, the market is a veritable cacophony of sights, sounds and smells and a great place to pick up authentic Italian apparel, as well as some of the freshest fruit and vegetables you’ll find.
La Lizza / Weds 8.30am-1.30pm Closed Thurs-Tues
Take to the Tuscan hills on horseback
Cross the hills of Tuscany on this magical guided horseback tour from Siena. Roam the rolling hills, some clad in grapevines, others blanketed with olive groves, as you and your elegant horse calmly explore the region. Pass through rustic villages and see stunning scenery that you would not have had the chance to encounter on foot, all while learning about the region’s history courtesy of your experienced guide. All guests will be given a horse that is suited to their ability and confidence. The tour price is inclusive of round-trip transport from Siena to the Tuscan countryside by air-conditioned minibus.
Embark on a scenic hike
Siena’s natural surroundings include some exceptional hiking trails that stretch deep into the countryside – and some even further. Indeed, the region boasts a number of historic pilgrimage routes that span much of Italy. For those seeking a less arduous hiking adventure, there are a number to choose from that are suitable for all ages and fitness levels. Among them is the Montelescai to Strada di Colle Pinzuto route, a 7.4km trail that starts near Siena and takes you through a scenic forest setting. The hike takes around 2 hours.