If you’re looking for a stunning Italian town to explore in just one day, look no further than Siena: it definitely deserves a top spot on your Tuscany itinerary!
Siena is a Goldilocks-sized town with just the right amount of things to see and do in one active day. It is one of the most beautiful towns in Italy. 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, plus soak in the medieval charm as you wander, and sample the local cuisine. Perfect!
One Day in Siena Itinerary
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.
Most sights open at 10 a.m. (or thereabouts), but you can stop for coffee and a croissant at one of the many cafes, and start your day in Siena’s magnificent piazza, Il Campo.
If you enjoy guided walking tours (we love them!), consider this 2-hour Siena walking tour that includes skip-the-line entry to the Duomo di Siena. You’ll enjoy the historical facts and anecdotes that your local guide will impart as you stroll.
Book this tour now!
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 the Plaza de España in Seville.
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.
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 Museum.
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.
Visit the Civic Museum of Siena
The Museo Civico di Siena is housed in the Palazzo Pubblico, and is worth a quick visit if you enjoy art. The palace itself contains the municipal offices.
In the Civic Museum, the pièce de résistance is the fresco cycle The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.
The three panels cover three walls in the room, and the secular rather than religious subject matter is not something you’ll see in many places.
There are lots of other frescoes to admire in the museum, such as Simone Martini’s Maestà and Guidoriccio da Fogliano at the Siege of Montemassi, a stunning fresco of a knight seated on a horse.
Climb the Torre del Mangia
The Torre del Mangia dates back to the 14th century. It rises 289 feet into the sky, and the views from the top are phenomenal.
Look down at the rooftops and streets of Siena far below you, and admire the panoramas of the surrounding countryside.
There are 400 steps to get to the viewing area at the top of the tower. The passageway is narrow, and it only gets narrower (and steeper) the higher you go.
But if you are up for the climb and don’t mind the tight fit, the views, especially on a bright clear day, are extremely rewarding.
You can buy tickets online in advance (recommended in high season), or you can buy them at the Palazzo Pubblico on the day of your visit.
If you plan to visit the museum and do the climb of the tower, a combination ticket will save you some money.
And if the climb up the tower is not for you, there’s another, less challenging climb for fabulous views over Siena.
Climb the Facciatone for views
From the Piazza del Campo, a five-minute walk will bring you to the Duomo di Siena. Here there are a number of sights you will want to explore, including the interior of Siena’s spectacular duomo.
At the complex, 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.
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.
We ate at the Osteria il Ghibellino, just steps from the cathedral.
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, some 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 plenty of time to appreciate its beauty and take a million photos.
Visit the Baptistery
The Battistero di San Giovanni in Siena is located in the namesake square. It was built in the 14th century, and has an unfinished facade.
Step inside to admire the baptismal font, designed by Jacopo della Quercia. The font is decorated with bronze panels carved by many famous artists, including Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Donatello, Turino di Sano, and Giovanni di Turino.
The baptistery contains many sculptures and frescoes.
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 can shop for olive oil, cheeses, pastas, and wine.
You’ll come across lively 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. The steak is highly rated, and the pastas we had were excellent.
At either place, you should reserve your table in advance.
With More Time in Siena
If you have more than one day in Siena, or you have some time to spare on your one day visit, here are some additional sights in the town you’ll want to consider!
Santa Maria della Scala, also called the Hospital, is now a museum complex, but used to be a civic hospital. It is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe.
Located steps from the Duomo di Siena, the Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala features many lovely frescoes in the interior. Sadly, the frescoes on the exterior aren’t there any more.
From altarpieces to sculptures and frescoes, there’s a lot to see here, so allow at least 2-3 hours if you love art.
The Basilica of San Domenico has a beautiful tranquil setting. Inside, look for the Chapel of Saint Catherine, where you will find the reliquary dedicated to the saint, including her head. Note that photos are not allowed inside.
With one full extra day in Siena, you can explore the beautiful Val d’Orcia, one of Italy’s most beautiful regions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out our detailed one day itinerary for the Val d’Orcia!
Getting to Siena by Public Transportation
You can, of course, drive to Siena if you have a car. Park outside the historic center and explore the town on foot.
We took a direct bus, which is the most convenient option. It takes a little over an hour to get from Florence to Siena.
There are several departures each day in both directions.
You can take a train from Florence to Siena as well. The train takes slightly longer, and from the train station you can take a local bus or escalators plus walking to get to the historic center.
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.
Visiting Siena by guided tour
If you have limited time in Tuscany, consider this highly-rated guided tour from Florence that combines a visit to Siena with visits to Pisa and San Gimignano for a fabulous day trip. The tour includes a Tuscan lunch and wine tasting.
Book this tour now!
Where to Stay in siena
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.
Book a stay here!
The Grand Hotel Continental Siena is located in the city center, just 800 feet from Il Campo. The luxury hotel is housed in a gorgeous 17th century building. Rooms feature frescoed ceilings and traditional furnishings.
Book a stay here!
The Best Time 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.
If you want to experience the Palio di Siena, you will want to time your visit to coincide with the dates of the race, either in July or in August.
The Palio is popular, so book accommodations well in advance. And be warned, July and August see high daytime temperatures in Siena.
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.
And if you enjoy spending time in small towns, check out our guides to some other charming Italian towns!
MORE INFORMATION FOR YOUR TRIP TO ITALY
Italy Itinerary: The Perfect 3-Week Itinerary for your First Visit to Italy!
Florence: 10 Best Things to Do on Your First Visit to Florence
Venice: How to Spend Two Perfect Days in Venice
Campania: The 10 Best Day Trips from Sorrento
The Amalfi Coast: What You Must Not Miss on the Amalfi Coast Drive
Rome: 25 Fun Things to Do in Rome for First-Timers
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