If you’re looking for a stunning Tuscan town to explore in just one day, look no further than Siena. Not so crammed with art and architecture that it’s overwhelming, not so small that after a couple of hours you’re wondering what else there is to do, Siena is that Goldilocks-sized town that will forever cement your love for Tuscany. Read on to discover how to make the most of one day in Siena!
The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The major sights are clustered close together. So if you have one day to spend in Siena, you can see all the highlights without feeling rushed, soak in the medieval charm as you wander, and sample the local cuisine. Perfect!
HOW TO SPEND ONE DAY IN SIENA
Arrive early in the morning, so you have the full day for your explorations, and plan to spend the night here after a late dinner and a post-dinner passeggiata through the lit streets.
Take a stroll in the Piazza del Campo
Start your one day in Siena with a walk around the historic Piazza del Campo. This gigantic shell-shaped piazza is Siena’s pride and joy, and one of the most magnificent town squares in all of Europe. In size, it is reminiscent of Seville’s Plaza de España.
From the Piazza del Campo, streets fan out in all directions into the town. As with most other Italian squares, you’ll find lots of restaurants, cafes and shops on the perimeter. In the early morning, the piazza is not as crowded, and you can appreciate the palazzos in pleasing shades of rust, beige, and brown that line the vast medieval square.
Gaze up at the Torre del Mangia (Bell Tower) as it rises up gracefully into the sky. At the time it was built, it was the tallest structure in Italy. Then admire the grand facade of the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) right next to the Torre del Mangia. If you’re feeling energetic, you can climb to the top of the tower for panoramic views, but be warned, it’s a tight fit in parts.
Pause at the Fonte Gaia (Fountain of Joy), originally built by Jacopo della Quercia. The sculptures currently at the fountain are replicas: the originals can be seen in the Santa Maria della Scala Musuem. The story goes that the citizens of Siena were overjoyed when water from a spring several miles away was brought to this site, hence the name!
Twice each year, once in July and then again in August, the Piazza del Campo hosts the Palio di Siena, a famous horse race where jockeys race around a track created along the edges of the piazza. Before the race, a ceremonial pageant that celebrates the different contradas (districts) of Siena is held.
From the Piazza del Campo, a five-minute walk will bring you to the Duomo complex. Here there are a number of sights you will want to explore, including Siena’s spectacular Duomo.
Climb the Facciatone for views
At the Duomo complex, buy a combination pass that will allow you entrance to all the buildings in the complex. Then head to the Panorama dal Facciatone, to climb the spiral staircase to the top of the facade for gorgeous views of the Duomo, the rooftops of Siena and the surrounding countryside. Access to this viewpoint is via the Museo dell’Opera. You have limited time at the top, so be prepared to make good use of it, both for gawking at the views and taking photos.
This site is actually the facade of a new, bigger cathedral extension that Siena had planned. Construction came to a stop when the Black Death destroyed the population of the town in the middle of the fourteenth century, and was never resumed.
Feast on art at the Museo dell’Opera
Spanning three floors, this museum houses many of the original works from the Duomo, including the stained glass rose window by di Buoninsegna, made to fill the oculus of the cathedral, and his altarpiece, Madonna and Child Enthroned. The colors in his works are bright and gorgeous. You will also see works by Pisano and Donatello as well as sculptures created by Jacopo della Quercia. The museum actually occupies the partially-completed New Cathedral. Don’t miss the Tapestry Room, with its gigantic hangings and beautiful fabrics.
Take a quick walk around the Crypt
The Crypt has only come to light in the last twenty years. You can walk through the Crypt and view the frescoes, which are of astonishing quality, with well-preserved colors. You can also see the structural elements on the walls that are painted in rich colors.
Enjoy a Tuscan lunch
Emerging back into daylight once more, you can take a well-deserved break for a Tuscan lunch. Try ribollita, the famous Tuscan soup made with vegetables and beans in a rich broth and thickened with bread…yum! Or pasta with tartufo. After lunch, head back to the Duomo complex, where you’ll spend the afternoon at the Duomo itself.
Gawk at the facade of the Duomo di Siena
In a country filled with spectacular Duomos, the Duomo di Siena still managed to make me go weak in the knees when I first laid eyes on its stunning facade. A combination of Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical architecture, the facade has three portals. Mosaics adorn the three gables, and there is a large rose window below the center gable. The sculptures and architectural detail on the facade are stunning.
The rest of the exterior is striped in striking dark green and white. The dome and the bell tower make for a perfect picture.
Explore the interior of the Duomo
The interior of the Duomo is equally impressive with dark green and white stripes on the walls and columns. The dome is done in a beautiful blue and gold pattern, with gold stars. The pulpit is made of Carrara marble and brilliantly painted with scenes from the life of Christ and the Last Judgment.
The Duomo houses works by Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo. The richly decorated Chapel of St. John the Baptist holds a bronze statue of St. John by Donatello and eight beautiful frescoes by Pinturicchio.
The pièce de résistance in the interior of the Duomo is the marble mosaic floor, which is covered end to end with art work. Dozens of artists contributed to the floor art. The entire floor is uncovered only for a few weeks each year in the fall. The rest of the year, a few panels are still on display but the rest are covered to protect them.
Don’t forget the Piccolomini Library!
There is a door to the left of the Duomo as you enter. If you go through that door, you will be well rewarded. The ornate Piccolomini Library does not have any part of its walls or ceiling that is not covered in beautiful art. Also on display are beautiful illuminated choir books. The frescoes on the walls were painted by Pinturicchio and relate the story of Enea Piccolomini, who later became Pope Pius II. The frescoes, and the panels in the ceiling, are gorgeous. The detail is masterful, and the colors vivid.
You will not want to leave the Library, so allow yourself at least an hour to appreciate its beauty and take a million photos.
Wander the streets and alleyways
One of the most enjoyable things you can do in Siena is just walk its streets and narrow alleyways. The historic center is not open to traffic. The warm brown buildings are stunning, and each district (contrada) is decorated with its flag. Little shops and cafes and gelaterias beckon invitingly. You’ll come across little piazzas where you can stop for a bit and enjoy a glass of wine, and churches that you can admire as you walk by.
Enjoy a Tuscan dinner!
For a special meal to end the perfect day in Siena, opt for an establishment that offers quality local favorites. Antica Osteria da Divo is highly rated and located not too far from the Duomo. You dine in ancient Etruscan rooms carved into the volcanic rock on which the hill town of Siena is built. La Taverna di San Giuseppe is another fine dining option. At either place, you should reserve your table in advance.
When to visit Siena
The shoulder season months, April-May and September-October, are ideal, because the temperatures are relatively pleasant. In September, you will have the additional joy of seeing the entire floor of the Duomo uncovered. We spent a day in Siena in late September and the weather was perfect. It was not excessively crowded either.
Where we stayed
We stayed at the Villa del Sole, a bed-and-breakfast/boutique hotel just a five-minute walk from the Piazza del Campo. Our room was large and very comfortable, and we had views of the town as well as the Tuscan countryside.
Getting to Siena by Public Transportation
Most people visit Siena from Florence. We did, too. We took a direct bus, which is the most convenient option. It takes a little over an hour to get from Florence to Siena.
From Rome, you can take either a train or a bus. The fast train takes a little less than three hours and you have one train change at Chiusi. The bus takes a little under four hours.
So that’s my guide to Siena in one day! Have you visited this spectacular hill town in Tuscany yet? What did you like best about it? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below! If you haven’t yet visited, I do hope you will add it to your itinerary for your next trip to Italy.
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