5 Things to Do in The Tuscan Hill Town of San Gimignano
Another place I remembered fondly from my first trip to Tuscany as a teen was the beautiful Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano. When we decided to spend a few days in Tuscany, I knew I had to revisit this beautiful medieval town.
San Gimignano is a pretty little walled town situated halfway between Florence and Siena. Its historic centre has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and its striking medieval architecture is certainly a highlight of any trip to Tuscany.
Of course, in the summertime, this small village is often overrun with tourists, but we were lucky to visit at the start of April when the summer crowds were yet to arrive. Although it wasn’t quite as warm, after our experience of battling the crowds in Florence and Rome, it was nice to be able to enjoy San Gimignano without the hordes of tourists.
Here are five things to do in this stunning village of Tuscany:
1 – Visit the Piazza Del Duomo
The Piazza Del Duomo is the main square of San Gimignano. You can’t walk around the town without stumbling into it. A lot of the other sights are located on or around this square, so it’s a great place to begin your sightseeing.
2 – Climb up the Torre Grossa
You can climb the 214 steps to the bell tower of Torre Grossa, the tallest of the remaining medieval towers in San Gimignano. The spectacular views you’ll get from the top, over the village and the surrounding countryside, are worth the effort.
3 – Marvel at the Duomo’s frescoes
Although it looks rather plain from the outside, the inside of San Gimignano’s Duomo may well take your breath away. The interior is covered in frescoes, with each fresco telling a different story from the Old or New Testament. On the rear wall is a wonderful interpretation of the Final Judgement. Even if you are not a fan of churches you may well be impressed. Even Simon enjoyed it and he’s normally hard to get excited about church interiors!
4 – Soak up the atmosphere at Piazza della Cisterna
This is a wonderful place to soak up the late afternoon sun and engage in some people watching. Grab a gelato from the best gelateria in the world, then sit back and contemplate just how good life is in Tuscany!
5 – Sip some Vernaccia wine while enjoying the Tuscan countryside
The Vernaccia wine is a white Italian wine, made from the Vernaccia grape. This wine is only produced in and around San Gimignano. So the best place to taste it is of course in the town itself.
Inside the town walls at the Rocca building, you can enjoy a wine tasting experience and try up to sixteen Vernaccia wines. The entrance is free but if you want to taste the wine you’ll need to buy a card and load it with Euros. You can then use the card to help yourself to the wine stored in enomatic dispensers. We loved these dispensers – they’re basically vending machines for wine.
Out on the terrace, you’ll have incredible views of the surrounding countryside. Sipping a glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano while taking in those views was a perfect way to end an amazing day!
Where to eat in San Gimignano?
The prettiness of the village is not the only reason to go to San Gimignano. It’s also where you can find the world’s best gelatos! The owner of the Gelateria Dondoli has won the title of Gelato Champione twice! Some of its favours are totally out there and if you’re a little adventurous, definitely worth a try. I tried the Crema di Santa Fina (cream with saffron and pine nuts) and Vernaccia flavours and they were both delish!
Nestled in a quiet side street, it’s easy to miss this restaurant but it’s worth spending the time to find it. The food is very tasty, the wine list excellent and the staff are super friendly. Make sure you try the truffle risotto!
Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggio Restaurant
A five-minute drive outside of town, this restaurant is set in an agriturismo. It’s a very social restaurant where all the guests sit together for their meal. The owner will try and seat you with people who speak the same language. We met a lovely couple from Belgium and a family from South Korea!
They serve family-style Italian cuisine and self-produced organic food and wine. The menu is fixed and changes every day. It usually consists of five or more dishes with unlimited “home-made organic wine” and grappa to finish off. The rate is fixed at 35 Euros per person.
Make sure you book in advance and be sure to arrive with a very empty stomach! The owner will not be impressed if you don’t finish your plate! 🙂 They do cater for vegetarians with advance notice.
Where to stay in San Gimignano?
Agriturismo in San Gimignano
If you prefer a more Italian experience, why not stay in an agriturismo? What is an agriturismo? An agriturismo is basically a working farm or vineyard that also hosts guests for food (lunch and dinner), accommodation, or both.
There are many agriturismos around San Gimignano. We stayed in Agriturismo Montegonfoli which is a working vineyard. Enjoying the views over the vines from our terrace was the best way to end our days in Tuscany. Our host, Bruno was super friendly and helpful during our stay.
Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggio
Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggio (mentioned above under food options) also has accommodation and is right next door (a 2-minute walk) to Agriturismo Montegonfoli. Alternatively, you can head to Agriturismo Il Vecchio Maneggio for dinner and then stumble back to your room at Agriturismo Montegonfoli!
Hotels in San Gimignano
If you prefer a hotel to an agriturismo there are plenty of choices in San Gimignano itself. One benefit of staying in the town is that you can beat the crowds by starting your sight seeing early in the morning. Plus, you’re also only a short walk away from plenty of restaurants.
Guest house Palazzo Mari is a great option in the heart of San Gimignano.
If none of the above hotels takes your fancy, you can use HotelsCombined to search across all the top travel sites using the search box below. We use it all the time.
How to get to San Gimignano from Florence or Siena?
The best way to get to San Gimignano is by car. There are ample paid parking spaces outside the walls, including one right next to the Porta San Giovanni, the main entrance to the town.
If you want to travel by bus you will need to get the bus from Florence to Siena (or vice versa) and then change buses in Poggibonsi.
With an organised tour
If none of those appeals to you, there are numerous companies offering day tours to San Gimignano from both Florence and Siena.