How to Spend a Perfect Day in Siena, Tuscany
Siena is a medieval city in the heart of Tuscany, just an hour south of Florence. Although you’re unlikely to get sick of Florence (how could you?), given that you’ve come all that way, you may still want to explore a bit more of Tuscany.
Siena is the biggest of all the hill towns scattered around the area and one of the most visited. Because its historic centre is so beautiful and well preserved, it was granted World Heritage status in 1995. As it’s a very compact city, it’s easy enough to visit Siena on a day trip.
Siena is famous for its winding medieval streets, Piazza del Campo (its huge central square), and the Palio, the historic horse race that takes place there during the summer months. Since we don’t support animal races, we didn’t care about missing out on the Palio but we did enjoy visiting Siena in April when the crowds were not quite at their peak.
How to get to Siena from Florence?
The bus station in Florence is located next to the Santa Maria Novela train station. From there you have two different bus options, the Rapida (fast bus) or the Ordinaria (ordinary bus). The Rapida takes an hour and fifteen minutes non-stop to get to Siena. The Ordinaria takes an hour and thirty minutes with a stop in Poggibonsi (where you could also switch to a bus to San Gimignano) and another stop in Colle Val d’Elsa.
The cost is 7.80 Euros per person one way. The bus terminal in Siena is just a 5-minute walk from the historic centre.
If you want to explore more of Tuscany, we would definitely recommend hiring a car. It’s a lot more convenient and you’ll save time by not waiting around for public transport. A car also makes it a lot easier to get to Tuscany’s smaller villages.
If you do hire a car, it takes an hour to get from Florence to Siena by taking the main highway. But if you want to take a more scenic route, the SR222, the ‘Chiantigiana road’, is probably the most famous of all scenic drives in Tuscany. It’s definitely one of the best ways to sample the beauty of Tuscany’s countryside.
If you decide to take the SR222, we recommend spending a night in Siena, so as not to rush through your journey. Instead, take your time and enjoy the wineries in the Chianti area in the morning and early afternoon, then head to Siena, walk around town, take in some of the sights and see a bit more the next morning.
There is lots of parking in Siena but some areas are more expensive than others. If you want dirt-cheap parking, you can park at the train station, a 20-minute walk from the historic centre. There you can park all day for only two Euros. Inside the shopping centre to the right is a series of escalators that take you all the way up the hill to the Old Town (about 7 escalators in total!). Once at the top, turn left and follow the road, you will eventually reach Siena’s Old Town.
It’s normally faster and cheaper to travel around Italy by train but in this case, it really isn’t. The direct train from Florence to Siena takes longer than the direct buses (an hour and a half). Sometimes you may even have to change trains at Empoli extending your journey to nearly two hours. Trains only leave hourly and the tickets cost €9.10 one way per person. It’s not great value really.
With a tour
If you don’t want to hire a car or worry about public transport, there are many tour companies that offer day trips to Siena from Florence.
What to do in Siena?
The Piazza di Campo
The Piazza di Campo is Siena’s main piazza and it’s renowned for its iconic shell shape and its exquisite beauty. It’s not hard to find the Piazza di Campo because there is signage for it all over town. It’s a good place to start your tour of the city. If you have the time you could easily spend hours just kicking back there, soaking up the sunshine, enjoy the surrounding historic architecture and, of course, doing some people watching.
The Palazzo Pubblico and its Civic Museum
The main focus of the Piazza del Campo is the Public Palace (Palazzo Pubblico), which is slap bang in the middle of the Piazza. Construction of the Palazzo Pubblico began at the end of the 13th century and finished in the first decades of the 14th century. One of the most important rooms of the Palazzo is the Sala dei Nove, the Room of the Nine. There, you can check out the work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
La Torre del Mangia
The huge tower above the Palazzo Publico is the Torre del Mangia. You can normally climb to the top of this tower but it has recently been closed for restoration. There are 400 steps to reach the top and it has the highest and best panoramic views of Siena.
The Siena Cathedral (Il Duomo) complex
Siena’s Cathedrale di Santa Maria, also known as Il Duomo, is a gleaming marble masterpiece of Gothic art, dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. With its striped walls of white and green-black marble, it almost looks like a zebra! Black and white are the colours of Siena.
Although you can marvel at the cathedral from the outside, we would recommend paying the fee to head inside. The inside of the cathedral is even more impressive than the outside, with amazing art by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Donatello. It’s like visiting a museum!
The Piccolomini Library
In one of the rooms on the left side of the cathedral is the Piccolomini Library. This library is filled with vibrant frescoes dating back over 500 years and old books that are kept behind glass. It’s pretty amazing to see how big books were back then. They were super heavy and being handwritten, they were very expensive.
The Museo dell’Opera e Panorama
Right next to the cathedral, the Museo dell’Opera e Panorama is a rather small but very interesting place to visit as well. This museum has many treasures that were originally in the Duomo, including the stained glass window and the main altarpiece.
Once inside the museum, you can climb the steps to the top of the Panorama dal Facciatone for a great view of both the Duomo and Siena. It’s especially worth doing if it the Torre del Mangia is still closed when you visit, or if you don’t want to pay for both.
The Bapistery (Battistero di San Giovanni)
Unlike the one in Florence, Siena’s Baptistery is situated behind the cathedral. It contains more breathtaking frescoes, an impressive baptismal font and a 14th-century altarpiece by Vanni. It’s a very good expression of Sienese Renaissance art. The crypt next door is also open to visitors.
The Porta del Cielo
You have to pay a bit more for your Duomo ticket to access the Portal del Cielo (see below for prices) but we recommend you do. This tour only takes a few visitors at a time. You’ll head up into the roof of the Duomo where you’ll get stunning views of the city and you’ll also get to see the inside of the cathedral from above.
To get there, you’ll need to climb a narrow spiral staircase and navigate a few narrow pathways. But it’s nowhere near as claustrophobic and exhausting as Florence’s Duomo.
Santa Maria della Scala
This huge complex is in the heart of Siena, right opposite the Duomo cathedral. Once a hospital that cared for abandoned children, pilgrims and the sick and the poor, it is now a large museum. This museum displays an extraordinary range of historical items, ranging from Etruscan and Roman times, through to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
Entrance fee to enter the Duomo Complex
You can choose between a few different passes, depending on how much you want to see and how much time you have.
- The Opa Si Pass covers the visit to the Duomo, the Opera Museum, the crypt and the Baptistery. Prices are €15 for adults and €2 for children.
- The Porta del Cielo All-Inclusive Pass includes the Opa Si Pass sites plus a guided tour to “The Door to Heaven” which gives you access to the rooftops of the Duomo. Prices are €20 for adults and €5 for children.
- The Acropolis Pass which includes the Opa Si Pass sites and the Santa Maria della Scala Museum. Prices are €20 for adults and €2 for children.
- The Acropolis Pass plus Porta del Cielo: This last one includes absolutely everything. Prices are €25 for adults and €5 for children.
Where to eat in Siena?
Osteria degli Svitati
This restaurant is not on the main square, nor does it offer any amazing views but, oh my, the food was so delicious and the best part was that it was really cheap! We had the yummiest pesto ever! We highly recommend it.
La Vecchia Latteria
After a long day spent exploring Siena, you’ll need that gelato break! The gelato at La Vecchia Latteria is definitely up to the task. Their ice creams are so tasty and are made freshly on site, with their flavours changing almost daily.
Hotels in Siena
If you want to spend more than one day in Siena, you won’t struggle to find accommodation. There are hotels all over town.
- Best reviewed on Booking.com: Fonte Gaia Experience
- Best value on Booking.com: B&B Quattro Cantoni
- Best location on Booking.com: Palazzetto Rosso
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.