Anyone who visited San Gimignano in Italy knows how beautiful this small Tuscan town is. Even though this walled town does not have a modern city skyline, it has a rich cultural heritage and gorgeous views. San Gimignano is fortunate that it escaped the influence of architectural innovation that might have destroyed its beautiful paintings and buildings. Travel back in time and discover the best things to do in San Gimignano. Let this be your guide to the city of beautiful towers.
Visit San Gimignano, and you will see why UNESCO put this gorgeous Tuscan town on its precious list.
Why is San Gimignano famous?
San Gimignano is famous for many things – UNESCO status, medieval architecture and locally produced Vernaccia wine and saffron. It’s world-famous as one of the best-preserved medieval towns in Europe and a gelato destination. San Gimignano is a time capsule of urban medieval life and has the nickname Medieval Manhattan.
Even though San Gimignano is small, this walled hill town halfway between Florence and Siena is well worth a visit. One of the reasons why we loved San Gimignano is because this town is very authentic – its appearance did not change much since the Medieval Ages.
San Gimignano fun fact:
Did you know that, many years ago, the wealthiest San Gimignano families fortified their palaces with towers?
Towers were a symbol of their wealth and power. San Gimignano once had more than seventy towers (72, to be exact). They dominated San Gimignano’s skyline and provided protection for uninvited visitors. The noble families built them in the 12th and 13th centuries. At that time, San Gimignano flourished because it was on the main pilgrim route from northern Europe to Rome.
Today only 14 towers remain because the devastating plague of 1348 and the diversion of the pilgrimage route led to San Gimignano’s decline.
It is easy to see why this pretty town has nicknames Medieval Manhattan and the city of beautiful towers.
Things to do in San Gimignano, Tuscany
San Gimignano is one of those beautiful places in Tuscany that is worth going to, no matter how much time you have. It simply must be on your Tuscan itinerary and your Italy bucket list. Here is a list of the best things to do in San Gimignano.
1. San Gimignano town hall
One of the first tourist attractions most people head to is the San Gimignano town hall, and there is a reason for that. This gorgeous building, located left of the Santa Maria Assunta, is, in fact, too beautiful to skip.
The locals call this town hall Palazzo del Pópolo or Palazzo Comunale. They built it in the 13th century and later enlarged it. The Palazzo del Pópolo is a famous attraction in the town because it was the seat of government for San Gimignano.
We suggest visiting the Palazzo del Pópolo because it houses the Civic Museum and the Pinacoteca – both worth seeing. You can even climb the Torre Grossa (the fat tower) here. The palace also has beautiful courtyards with coats of arms and frescoes by Sodoma.
Start exploring the Palazzo del Pópolo in a beautiful courtyard filled with frescos.
Exploring Palazzo del Pópolo is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano for art lovers because this town hall is home to the Civic Museum and Picture Gallery. You can discover masterpieces by famous Sienese artists, such as Filippino Lippi, Pinturicchio, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Taddeo di Bartolo.
You cannot visit the Palazzo del Pópolo without exploring the town’s Civic Museum. The Civic Museum (Municipal Art Gallery) occupies the upper floors of the buildings. The highlights in the museum are two beautiful rooms: the Sala Di Dante and the Camera del Podesta.
The Sala Di Dante, a room named after poet Dante Alighieri who visited San Gimignano, is the most famous room in the Civic Museum. This room contains various court wall paintings, but the most significant is a picture of the Virgin Mary. You are right to think that Sienese artist Lippo Memmi painted this famous fresco Maestà.
Maestà (Virgin and Child) by Lippo Memmi
Also, do not miss the other room – the Room of the Mayor, or the Camera del Podesta, as the locals call it. In this room are wall paintings illustrating Scenes of Married Life. The tales of love are educational because they show realistic scenes.
Pinacoteca in San Gimignano
Afterwards, explore the Pinacoteca, which holds masterpieces from both the Sienese and Florentine schools. The highlights are the altarpiece by Pinturicchio and two round paintings of the Annunciation by Filippino Lippi. Our favourites were also painted crucifix, Pinturicchio’s Assumption of Mary with Saints and Madonna and Child by Taddeo di Bartolo.
The part of the complex is also the Torre Grossa. It is the tallest tower in the town, and you can climb it.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The Palazzo del Pópolo is open every day from 10 am – 7.30 pm between the 1st of April and the 30th of September. If you visit it during the low season (1st October – 31st March), opening times are 11 am – 5.30 pm. The Palazzo Pópolo is open from 12.30 pm until 5.30 pm on the 1st of January.
Buy the San Gimignano Pass and visit the Civic Museum, Pinacoteca, the Torre Grossa, the Museum of Sacred Art, the Duomo of San Gimignano and the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte. The San Gimignano Pass is a single ticket valid for two days and costs 13 euros per adult (10 for children).
2. Torre Grossa
If you find yourself in San Gimignano, explore Torre Grossa. Torre Grossa is a popular tourist attraction because it is the symbol of the town’s pride. The tower with two-metre-thick walls is 54 metres (177 feet) tall, and you can find it in Piazza del Duomo.
Torre Grossa is the tallest of the remaining towers in the historical centre of San Gimignano. It is one of two public towers and the only tower you can climb. Because of that, climbing Torre Grossa is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano, Tuscany.
Maybe you do not know, but the construction of this tower started four months after Dante Alighieri visited this town. The local authorities built this 14th-century skyscraper because they wanted this tower to become the symbol of the city. It turned out well because today Torre Grossa is one of the most famous landmarks in the town.
Torre Grossa is the only tower open to the public. It offers beautiful views of the town and the countryside.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- Buy the San Gimignano Pass for 13 euros and visit all the Civic Museums, Torre Grossa and Duomo and Religious Art Museum. This combined ticket is valid for 2 consecutive days.
- Torre Grossa is open every day from 10 am – 7.30 pm from April until 31st October. If you visit the tower in the low season (November – end of March), it is open from 11 am – 5.30 pm.
- If you decide to climb the Torre Grossa, you should know there are 218 steps to the top of the tower. Some are steep, and you have to watch your head sometimes. There is also a ladder to reach the top.
A soft orange light illuminates everything if you visit it close to sunset.
3. Piazza della Cisterna, San Gimignano
One of the beautiful places to visit in San Gimignano is also the triangular Cistern Square. The locals call it Piazza della Cisterna because they built it around an old water well. The structure, which looks like a pretty stone fountain, is, in fact, the opening to an underground cistern from the 13th century. The locals later added a platform in the early 14th century.
Today visiting Piazza della Cisterna is one of the popular things to do in San Gimignano because medieval architecture surrounds this beautiful square. Many years ago, this square was the centre of all public performances, tournaments and festivals in the city. Piazza della Cisterna was even the hub for gathering pilgrims 1000 years ago. This square still witnesses markets on Thursdays and Saturdays.
The square has several historic buildings, such as the Palazzo Tortoli and the Casa del Podestà. They were once the residences of the town’s most powerful families. One of the reasons why we loved Piazza della Cisterna is that you can find shops, cafes and restaurants here. It is also an ideal spot to relax and soak in the ambience.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The open passage connects Cistern Square with Piazza del Duomo – the largest square in the town. You can also find the beautiful ancient city gate Arc of Becci at the southwest corner.
4. San Gimignano 1300 exhibition
If you want to better understand what San Gimignano looked like during the Middle Ages, we recommend visiting San Gimignano 1300. As the name suggests, this small historical museum shows a model of the city as it appeared 700 years ago. That is when San Gimignano was at the height of its wealth and power. It was a free town, and the noble families and upper middle-class merchants built many fortified tower houses. Also, the Pilgrimage route, the Via Francigena, led through this walled city and helped the city to develop and prosper. Back then, San Gimignano became an important economic centre. It had a population of 12,000 (today around 3,000).
Seeing San Gimignano 1300 is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano because it shows the perfect miniature reconstruction of the 14th-century town. This large reproduction 1:100 scale model of the city shows street life scenes, 800 buildings, forts and churches of San Gimignano.
San Gimignano 1300
The growth stopped when the plague hit the population in the 14th century. Many people escaped from the town, and its population drastically decreased. Also, San Gimignano lost its independence from Florence within a hundred years. This, however, prevented the city from urban modernization that transformed numerous Italian towns during the Middle Ages.
After 20,000 working hours, historians, architects, and artisans created a 3D model of 14th-century San Gimignano. This is how the travellers could see this town from a nearby hilltop.
One of the reasons why we loved this museum is that this exhibit gives a unique glimpse into life in San Gimignano over 700 years ago. The model is made by hand, and the project took over three years to complete. The team of ceramic artists used over a tonne of clay and the city’s oldest records to create a replica of the medieval town. The reconstruction also shows the convent of San Francesco, which you cannot see today. Florentine forces completely destroyed it when they wanted to expand the city walls.
San Gimignano 1300 exhibition also shows many towers with wooden balconies and platforms, which you cannot see today. They all crumbled over time – the only remnants of their existence are the large holes where the beams would support balconies.
GOOD TO KNOW:
If you want to visit San Gimignano 1300 exhibition, you should know there is no entry fee (you can donate). If you want to avoid the crowds, visit early morning or late afternoon before the bus tours with guides come to the museum.
5. Gelateria Dondoli
If you want to take a break from sightseeing, stop for a treat in Gelateria Dondoli. You can find it in the Piazza della Cisterna. As you already know, San Gimignano is a famous gelato destination. Join the line for the gelato and try traditional or unusual flavours in this world-famous gelateria. Do not worry, you will not miss it – there is always a long queue.
Catherine de Medici, the future wife of Henry II – King of France, introduced gelato from Italy to France in the 16th century. Legend has it that she created the first-ever gelato with alchemist Cosimo Ruggieri as part of a cooking contest.
Trying a gelato in Gelateria Dondoli is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano because it sells the best ice cream in the world. Gelateria Dondoli is world famous because it won the Ice Cream Championship of 2006/2007 and 2008/2009. You can see their certificates on their door. Master Gelato maker Sergio Dondoli also received other international awards.
His gelateria is famous for its unusual flavours. Try flavours, such as Crema di Santa Fina (cream with saffron and pine nuts) and Champelmo (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine). Other original flavours are Raspberries and Tuscan rosemary, Vernaccia Sorbet, Ricotta cheese and blueberries, Chianti wine or Gorgonzola and walnuts, and many others.
Gelateria Dondoli won several awards for its unusual flavours and top-quality ingredients.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Gelateria Dondoli is open every day from about 8 am until 11 pm in summer.
There are many places which sell ice cream in San Gimignano. Try also Caffetteria Gelateria dell’Olmo, which you can find on the same square.
6. Piazza del Erbe
Afterwards, stop at the Piazza del Erbe, which you can find just round the corner from Piazza del Duomo. Piazza del Erbe is one of several beautiful squares that decorate San Gimignano’s old town. This square with a café terrace is quieter than the other squares in the town. The square got its name from a market that takes place here every week (erbe means herbs in Italian).
Piazza del Erbe offers beautiful views of medieval brick houses with elegant shutter windows. This small marketplace also has gorgeous views of two impressive towers. The Torri dei Salvucci were originally part of the palace. One of the most powerful families in the town, the Salvucci family, owned them.
The Salvucci family bypassed the Communal Statutes of 1255 that limited towers to the height of the Podesta Tower. The wealthy family built two massive towers. They wanted to show their dominance over the town’s mayor. During that period, the mayor owned the second-highest tower in San Gimignano. Its name is Torre Rognosa.
The Salvucci constructed two towers instead of one, and they were both taller than Torre Rognosa. After that, the angry mayor ordered them to shorten the towers, and he could hold again his status of owning the tallest tower in San Gimignano.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Visit the Piazza del Erbe on Saturday and buy fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices from local traders. If you visit this square on Thursdays, you can purchase everything from clothing to antiques.
7. Torre Salvucci
You probably do not know it, but it is possible to climb Torre Salvucci for a small fee if it is not rented out. Do not worry, Torre Salvucci towers are shorter than Torre Grossa. It is also easier to get to the top. 143 steps will bring you to the top of the tower, which offers a slightly different view of San Gimignano.
One of the best things to do in San Gimignano is to stay in the tower house apartment and climb Torre Salvucci. This is a unique place to stay in the town that you do not want to miss. Moreover, climbing the Torre Salvucci Tower offers a unique opportunity to experience living in a tower house. You can visit different levels of the tower house and see the kitchen, living area, bedrooms and bathrooms all on different levels.
8. Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano
It is easy to see why many visitors put the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta high on their bucket lists. Santa Maria Assunta is 12th century Romanesque church which contains well-preserved frescoes. They are works of outstanding beauty, according to UNESCO. In fact, Santa Maria Assunta is a part of the UNESCO Historic Centre of San Gimignano because it has important cycles of Renaissance frescoes by Sienese artists, such as Benozzo Gozzoli, Lippo Memmi, Taddeo di Bartolo or Domenico Ghirlandaio.
Because of that, visiting the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta is one of the top best things to do in San Gimignano.
Many tourists exploring the streets don’t visit this church, but they should. Outstanding frescoes are as much a draw in San Gimignano as its tall towers.
This Roman Catholic church (minor basilica) stands on Piazza del Duomo next to the town hall. Many call it the Duomo, but this beautiful church is not a cathedral. The church with black and white marble and the ceiling painted with gold stars resembles the interior of the Siena Cathedral on a smaller scale.
WHAT TO SEE INSIDE:
As you already know, the Church of Santa Maria Assunta has some of the most important paintings of the Middle Ages. The magnificent frescoes completely cover the walls of this gorgeous church. The wall paintings illustrate stories from the Old and New Testaments. The church is also famous for the Last Judgement, the Annunciation frescoes and the Chapel of Santa Fina.
Wall paintings with stories of the Old Testament lined the walls of the Duomo on one side. On the other side, you can see the pictures with stories from the New Testament. Sienese artists painted them in the 14th century. Each of them is a masterpiece on its own.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta in San Gimignano has one of the most decorated church interiors in Tuscany. Many people say its 14th-century frescoes look like a vast medieval comic book. Many refer to its comic book-type paintings as the “poor man’s bible”. In fact, the pictures on the walls helped the locals to relate to Jesus. They illustrate different stories from his life and help with the teachings of the Bible for the largely illiterate population.
Before you enter the church, do not miss the Annunciation in the Baptistery Loggia beside the church. This beautiful wall painting is one of the major works in this church. Scholars think Ghirlandaio painted this picture.
New Testament cycle
The highlights of the Duomo are the frescoes of the New Testament, which have 3 different stories. The upper pictures in six bays show the Birth of Christ. You read those frescoes from right to left, which is unusual. The middle register shows pictures with scenes of the Life of Christ by Lippo Memmi. You need to read these 8 scenes from left to right.
The lower register shows the Passion of Christ, and you need to read these 8 wall paintings from right to left. You can see here scenes, such as the Last Supper, and how Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Also, you can spot Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Kiss of Judas and more.
Judas betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and the Last Supper from the New Testament by Lippo Memmi
Old Testament cycle
The opposite wall of the church features scenes from the Old Testament by Bartolo di Fredi. The upper pictures show the story of Creation. You can see here paintings of the creation of heaven, the creation of Man, and how Adam names the animals. Also, you can spot a picture creation of Eve and how God commands Adam and Eve not to touch the forbidden fruit. Do not forget, you need to read them from left to right. The middle and lower level shows the scenes where Cain kills Abel, Noah builds the Ark, animals enter the Ark and others.
Chapel of Santa Fina
The funeral of Santa Fina by Domenico Ghirlandaio
Many visitors turn back once they see the New and Old Testament paintings, but it would be a mistake. Before you leave this church, visit the Chapel of Santa Fina, which you can find on the right side.
The highlights of the Chapel of Santa Fina are beautiful paintings of Ghirlandaio. Ghirlandaio was an early Renaissance painter who was also Michelangelo’s teacher. The frescoes illustrating scenes of the life and death of Saint Fina in this chapel were his first known commission. We loved this small chapel because many scholars say that the Chapel of Santa Fina is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture, painting and sculpture. This chapel is dedicated to Saint Fina, who is a patron of the city.
Who was Santa Fina?
Serafina, or Fina, as the locals called her, was a young girl who lived in the 13th century. She became very sick and spent her last 10 years lying on a wooden board. According to a legend, 8 days before her death, Fina had a vision of Pope Gregory, who told her she will die.
When she died, the bells of San Gimignano rang spontaneously, and yellow flowers grew around her board. When her nurse laid out her body, Fina’s hand moved. She touched the nurse and healed her of paralysis. On the day of the funeral, another miracle happened. A blind boy touched her feet. After that, his sight was restored.
Pope Gregory announces the death of Santa Fina, by Domenico Ghirlandaio
The original wooden board on which Fina spent her final years.
The Last Judgement
Taddeo Di Bartolo painted scenes of the Last Judgement at the back. This great Sienese artist painted the figure of Christ accompanied by the Virgin Mary, St John and the Apostles. He also painted the image of Paradise on the right wall and Hell on the left side.
a fresco of the terrifying Hell for those sinners who commit the Seven Deadly Sins.
GOOD TO KNOW:
- Opening times:
Opening times from 1st April – 31st of October:
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is open Monday – Friday from 10 am – 7.30 pm, Saturday 10 am – 5 pm and Sunday 12.30 pm – 7.30 pm
Opening times from 1st of November – 31st of March:
Monday – Saturday 10 am – 5 pm, Sunday 12.30 pm until 5 pm.
The Church of Santa Maria Assunta is not open between the 15th – 31st of January and the 12th of March. You also cannot visit it between the 15 – 30th of November, 25th of December and 1st of January.
- Do not forget the last admission to the church is one hour before the closing time.
- The entrance ticket is a part of the San Gimignano pass, which you can buy in the Palazzo Pópolo.
9. Museum of Sacred Art in San Gimignano
One of the beautiful places to visit in San Gimignano is the Museum of Sacred Art because it houses a collection of religious art. If you explore this small museum with two floors, you will find the original 13th-century frescoes here. Also, the museum houses works from the nearby Collegiate Church and other churches. The works of art come from famous Florentine and Sienese artists. You can see everything from paintings on wood and canvas to sculptures, fabrics and objects made of silver.
the Madonna of the Rose by Bartolo di Fredi
One of our favourites was the wooden panel painting The Virgin and Child called the Madonna of the Rose by Bartolo di Fredi. This beautiful work from the Sienese painter comes from the parish church of San Biagio in Cusona. Other highlights are Benozzo Gozzoli’s detached Fresco Crucifixion and the Virgin and Child with Saints by Fra Paolino da Pistoia. There is even an unusual cross which contains fragments of the “True Cross”. Because of that, visiting the Museum of Sacred Art is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano for believers.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find the Museum of Sacred Art just next to the main attraction – the Collegiate Church on the main square. You do not need to buy another ticket because the entrance fee to the museum is a part of the San Gimignano Pass.
10. Church of Sant’ Agostino in San Gimignano
It is also worth visiting the Church of Sant’ Agostino, which you can find in the northern part of the old town near Porta San Matteo. The Church of Sant’ Agostino is one of the best places to visit in San Gimignano because it is the second-largest church in the town. The locals built it in the 13th century in Gothic style. The exterior of this brick church is quite plain because it was a usual style of the time. However, like the Duomo, the Church of Sant’ Agostino has an elegantly decorated interior.
The interior of the church is far from plain.
Exploring the Church of Sant’ Agostino is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano for art lovers because it has many colourful frescoes and ornate interiors. Famous Tuscan artists such as Benozzo Gozzoli or Lippo Memmi painted beautiful pictures inside.
Do not miss
Gozzoli frescoes in the choir behind the high altar are one of the highlights. You are quite right to think that the cycle of St Augustine was a popular theme of Tuscan narrative art from the mid of 14th century. These beautifully painted frescoes depict 19 scenes of the life of Saint Augustine.
Benozzo Gozzoli’s Saint Sebastian
Benozzo Gozzoli also painted Saint Sebastian fresco when the plague struck the town in the 15th century. The artist added an optical effect to the painting. He painted a false marble frame – it creates an optical illusion.
Lippo Memmi’s Madonna and Child with Archangel Michael and St John the Baptist
One of our favourite artworks is also Lippo Memmi’s Madonna and Child with Archangel Michael and St John the Baptist because it is the oldest fresco in San Gimignano. The famous Italian painter from Siena painted this fresco before 1317. This stunning artwork is part of a larger fresco cycle that once covered the entire wall of the nave in the 14th century.
Also, do not miss the Cappella di San Bartolo on the right of the entrance. This chapel with a marble altar contains the remains of San Bartolo da San Gimignano. It is also worth having a look at the attached 15th-century cloister.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The Church of Sant’ Agostino is open every day between 7 am – 12 pm and 3 pm – 6 pm.
11. Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte
Complete your fresco trail in San Gimignano and pop into this small church near the city walls. The Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte is one of the less visited attractions in the town but is well worth a visit.
If you have time to visit one more attraction in San Gimignano, make sure it is the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte. You can find it in the heart of San Gimignano, just one minute from Casa Santa Fina.
As the name suggests, this church once stood near a drawbridge, which once allowed access to the palace of the Bishop of Volterra to the Piazza della Cisterna. This small Romanesque Church is one of the oldest churches in the town. It dates back to the middle of the 13th century and has numerous wall paintings from the 15th century. It was the Florentine painter Cenni di Francesco di Ser Cenni who decorated the walls of the church.
Simone Martini drew Mary’s face.
The highlights are the frescoes depicting scenes of Saint Benedict and the paintings of demons of hell which show details of the Afterlife in hell and paradise. However, the main reason tourists flock here is the Madonna and Child in Glory. This large wall painting of the Virgin, the Baby Jesus and the angels is the most valuable work in the church. Simone Martini, the famous Italian artist who spread the influence of Sienese painting, drew Mary’s face.
Because of that, seeing the frescoes in the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You do not have to pay the entrance fee because it is a part of the all-inclusive San Gimignano Pass. The Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte is open between 10 am and 1 pm and 3 pm and 6pm. The last entry to the church is at 5.30 pm.
12. Church of San Jacopo
Just a short walk from the northern gate of Porta San Jacopo is a church with the same name. The Church of San Jacopo is a small Romanesque Church with a beautiful rose window and a Pisan-style doorway. The locals built it between the late 12th century and the first decade of 1200. Many believe that the Knights Templars built the Church of San Jacopo on their return from the First Crusade.
Originally this church was on the outskirts of the city. But in the 13th century, the second circle of walls enclosed the church and surrounding area. The Church of San Jacopo was not only a place of prayers but also a place of rest for travelling pilgrims along Via Francigena from and to Rome. Later the church lost its function. The Nuns from the neighbouring monastery built in the 17th century a linking bridge between the church and their convent.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Even though it is not possible to visit the inside of the Church of San Jacopo, it is a great short stop.
13. Museum of Torture in San Gimignano
Did you know San Gimignano is home to numerous museums, including the Museum of Torture? Yes, that is right, this small museum in the heart of the town houses a collection of authentic devices used for torture and execution during the Middle Ages. These nasty tools and devices helped to extract confessions and punish the convicted before execution.
If you visit the Museum of Torture in San Gimignano, you can see death penalty instruments of the past centuries. There are even figures and descriptions. They explain how they used those instruments on people.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The entry fee to the Museum of Torture in San Gimignano costs 10 euros for adults (as of May 2023). The museum is open every day from 10 am until 7 pm during the peak season. You can visit the Museum of Torture only on Saturdays and Sundays during winter.
Things to do in San Gimignano for the best views
14. Via degli Innocenti
Find the Panoramic viewpoint on Via degli Innocenti if you are after beautiful views. This balcony on the west side of medieval walls offers gorgeous views of the Tuscan countryside. There is even a restaurant with a few outdoor tables with a valley view. If you do not fancy snacks, you can only stop here and enjoy the vistas.
15. Rocca of Montestaffoli fortress
If exploring fortresses is your thing, then there is Rocca Montestaffoli. Even though this centuries-old fortress is in ruins, it offers gorgeous views of San Gimignano.
Look closely and see that this site is the highest of all in the city. That is why the Florentines built a fortress with thick walls in the 14th century when they took over in 1353. They wanted to protect San Gimignano from possible Siena attacks. 200 years later, Cosimo I and his people demolished this impressive structure with a pentagonal base. Today only a tower and fragments of the wall survive.
Visiting Rocca of Montestaffoli fortress is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano because it offers some of the best views in the town. The main reason we visited this crumbling ruins is its corner tower which offers beautiful views of the rising towers. The corner tower also has breathtaking views of the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
Climb the short staircase to the tower – it is one of the best viewpoints in San Gimignano.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find Rocca of Montestaffoli fortress just a short walk from the main square Piazza del Duomo. There is a beautiful public park next to the crumbling ruins – perfect if you want to escape the crowds. The path is easily accessible for almost everyone – there is a steady incline, and it is not too steep.
Rocca Montestaffoli is also ideal for a picnic because olive trees and wisteria provide much-needed shade. The fortress is also home to the Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine Experience, where you can taste the local white wine Vernaccia.
Visit San Gimignano on the third weekend in June and see the town in its typical traditional atmosphere. The locals celebrate a medieval festival Ferie delle Messi (Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day). There is also a tournament with Middle Ages games where knights challenge each other.
16. San Gimignano city walls
If you prefer something a little quieter, take a walk around the city walls. They are 2176 metres long and have five main gates. City walls were once a strategic checkpoint along the Via Francigena because they enclose the old town centre.
Many years ago, the locals built them as protection from their rivals. Today San Gimignano city walls are a perfect example of military architecture dating back to the 13th century. They are perfectly preserved and offer beautiful views of the surrounding hills and the town. Because of that, walking around the city walls is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano.
The second ring of the city walls dates back to the 13th century, but the first ring and some of the gates and arches are even older (10th century). The Medici – a powerful Florentine dynasty which controlled San Gimignano in the 15th century, built some bastions. The Fortress of Montestaffoli is also an addition from the 14th century.
17. San Gimignano viewpoint
Before you leave the town, enjoy fantastic views of San Gimignano and its towers. The best way to see San Gimignano with the skyline towers is from a short distance. If you have time, we recommend you walk to Poggibonsi Road. It is only about a 10-minute walk from the main square.
Seeing San Gimignano from Via Vecchia per Poggibonsi road is one of the best things to do in San Gimignano because it offers the best views of the town.
18. Walk in the countryside
San Gimignano’s viewpoint from the Strada Comunale di Santa Lucia offers some of the best views of the town from a distance.
If you have any energy and time left, walk in the countryside and find Panorama di San Gimignano. Panorama di San Gimignano on Strada Comunale di Santa Lucia road also offers beautiful views of San Gimignano. The walk is easy – it takes about 16 minutes to reach a San Gimignano viewpoint with vineyards. This spot is a few hundred meters outside San Gimignano.
Come here at sunrise, and you will get the yellow light illuminating the scenery. We came here before the sunset when the sun was right behind the town.
Now you know what to do in San Gimignano, Tuscany!
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