When you think of Italy, Siena in Tuscany may not be the first place that comes to mind. But it is the place you should definitely visit when exploring this part of the country. This city with gorgeous architecture was once a capital to rival Florence. Today it is one of the most visited towns in Italy because Siena has all the ingredients you need for a relaxing break. Whether you come here on a day trip or spend a weekend in Siena, there is no shortage of things to do in Siena. You will find plenty of attractions here to keep you occupied for two days at least.
Siena is a popular day trip destination in Tuscany for many visitors. A visit here feels like a time machine to the past.
What is Siena in Tuscany known for?
Why is Siena famous? Because Siena is rich in history and art. It also has 1,000-year-old walls and one of the best-preserved historical centres in Europe. Siena has a UNESCO status and is famous for hosting the Palio horserace, which takes place twice yearly.
Siena is also worth visiting because it is one of the best places to visit in Tuscany. This gorgeous city has a beautiful shell-shaped square, art museums and unusual traditions. Today Siena is one of the best day trips from Florence because of its stunning architecture, cuisine and valuable paintings.
Best things to do in Siena, Tuscany
You’ve made an easy decision to explore historic Siena. Now comes the hard part – you need to make a decision on what to do in Siena in Tuscany. Here is our list of the best things to do in Siena that you cannot miss.
1. Piazza del Campo
One of the first places most people head to is the Piazza del Campo, and there is a reason for it. The Piazza del Campo is the main square in Siena and the focal point of the city. The locals call it il Campo (field in Italian) because they built it at the intersection of the main roads that lead to the town. This shell-shaped square is one of the reasons why Siena has a UNESCO status.
Maybe you do not know, but the Piazza del Campo occupies the site of the Old Roman Forum. It was the city’s main marketplace for much of Siena’s early history. The Piazza del Campo got its present shape in the 13th century. This is when the Council of Nine (Siena’s ruling body at the time) obtained the land to create this large square.
The square got its famous red brick paving with sections in the 14th century. It was a popular setting for executions, bullfighting and the Palio festival.
When you look closely you can see that this shell-shaped space consists of nine parts. They reflect the authority of the old government of the Nine and point directly to Palazzo Pubblico – it was the city’s headquarters. At that time, Siena had one of the most stable and peaceful governments in Italy.
Visiting the Piazza del Campo is one of the best things to do in Siena because it is one of the best medieval squares in Europe due to its architecture. What’s more, the curved lines of the buildings on the Piazza del Campo provide an enclosed feeling. Beautiful architecture from the Middle Ages and a lively atmosphere make the Piazza del Campo a popular attraction. This wide open sloping square is home to the iconic Torre del Mangia, the Palazzo Pubblico and the Fountain of Gaia.
the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena with the Torre del Mangia
2. Gaia fountain
Before you leave the square, stop at the Gaia Fountain on the piazza’s northern edge. You can find it directly opposite the Palazzo Pubblico and the iconic tower. Many people who stop briefly at this square miss it – do not make the same mistake.
The Fonte Gaia is the centrepiece of the piazza and the largest fountain in the city. A 500-year-old aqueduct brings the water to the fountain from 24 km (15 miles) away. The Fonte Gaia, with statues of Madonna and Child and Old Testament reliefs, has a beautiful decorative frame. You can even spot here the wolves, representing the mother wolf of Remus and Romulus.
The ornate fountain which you can see today is, in fact, a 19th-century copy of the fountain. Jacopo della Quercia carved the first fountain in the 15th century. The locals had to restore it because the original marble wasn’t strong enough. You can find the original statues in the Santa Maria della Scala.
3. Palazzo Pubblico in Siena
Afterwards, explore the town hall, which the people from Siena call the Palazzo Pubblico. This elegant building with an Italian Gothic design and two types of stone is hard to miss. The locals built this beautiful structure at the beginning of the 14th century during the Government of the Nine.
You are quite right to think that the Council of Nine used this town hall. What you do not know is that it was made up of 9 representatives of the people from the middle class. They were not from noble families and served two months at the time. They did not have external influence as they would not leave the town hall during the period they were in the office.
The Palazzo Pubblico served as the house of the Republican Government of Siena. The rooms they met in have beautiful wall paintings. They commemorate the rulers of the Sienese Republic. Today they are home to the Civic Museum.
Exploring the Palazzo Pubblico is one of the best things to do in Siena in Tuscany because it is home to the Civic Museum. The Civic Museum houses several masterpieces of the Sienese artists. Beautiful wall paintings and ornate decorations cover every major room in the building.
The highlights are the Hall of Nine and the Hall of the Globe, named after a map of the world. Do not miss a wall covered by Simone Martini’s Maesta fresco portraying the Madonna with saints and angels.
Maesta by Simone Martini
The Good and Bad Government series of frescoes are also valuable because they are an excellent example of the Sienese school of painting. These famous paintings are reminders to serving political leaders of a just and peaceful government. The other pictures helped them to remember what can happen if the land gets into the wrong hands.
Allegory of Good and Bad Government form one of the most important series of non-religious paintings from the Middle Ages.
Also, do not miss the chapel, which has beautiful paintings of the Life of the Virgin by Taddeo di Bartolo. There are also lovely choir stalls decorated with wooden panels with biblical scenes.
GOOD TO KNOW:
If you want to visit the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena, buy a ticket at the ticket office. Unfortunately, it is not possible to purchase tickets online in advance.
Get a combined ticket with the Torre del Mangia (and/or) Santa Maria della Scala to save some money. Otherwise, the entry fee to the Palazzo Pubblico in Siena is €9. The opening times of the Civic Museum are every day 10 am – 6 pm.
4. Piazza del Duomo in Siena, Tuscany
You cannot take a day trip to Siena without visiting the Piazza del Duomo. The Piazza del Duomo is one of the most famous squares and one of the best places to visit in Siena in Tuscany. It offers beautiful views of the cathedral and its front façade.
This large Cathedral Square, which is the heart of Siena, is a result of excellent urban planning. Piazza del Duomo contains beautiful works of art and numerous attractions. You can find on this square the iconic Siena Cathedral Monumental complex and the Santa Maria della Scala.
Also, do not miss the column of the She-wolf suckling her twins Romulus and Remus. According to legend, the sons of Remus were the original founders of Siena. You can find this symbol in different parts of the town.
She-wolf is a symbol of this city.
5. Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta in Siena
It is easy to see why exploring the Duomo is one of the best things to do in Siena. This magnificent cathedral is, in fact, one of the greatest cathedrals in Italy. It is one of the most impressive buildings in the city and one of the most important Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals in Italy.
But that is not all – Siena’s Duomo is one of the city’s most valuable art treasures. It houses works by famous artists, such as Pisano, Donatello, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio. Because of that, the Siena Cathedral is one of the most popular attractions in the city.
Siena’s gorgeous cathedral showcases the talents of many architects and artists. Giovanni Pisano designed the marble façade, and Nicola Pisano carved a beautiful pulpit. Michelangelo, Donatello and Bernini are responsible for sculptural works and Pinturicchio for frescoes in the library.
ABOUT THE DUOMO:
The work on the cathedral started in the 12th century and took almost 250 years. There was even a plan to create a new nave in the 14th century. They wanted to enlarge the cathedral and make it even bigger than St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Unfortunately, the plan came to nothing because the Black Death ended this plan. The half-finished walls of the new cathedral are a reminder of this large plan.
White and dark green marble decorated the interior and the exterior of Siena Cathedral. Striped columns, marble arches, mosaics and beautiful wall paintings are works of art.
Siena Cathedral mosaics
When you visit the cathedral, keep your eyes peeled for beautiful mosaics on the floors. The mosaics are one of the most impressive works inside the cathedral. 40 Siena’s top artists designed them over several centuries. The famous artist Giorgio Vasari described the floor of Siena Cathedral as “the largest and the most magnificent floor ever made”.
The most precious marble panels are covered for the majority of the year for protection. It is possible to see them only for a few months in honour of the Palio. It is usually possible to see the mosaics between the end of June and July and from the middle of August and October.
GOOD TO KNOW:
If you want to see Siena Cathedral, buy OPA SI PASS, which entitles you to visit the Siena Cathedral Monumental Complex. The Siena Cathedral Monumental complex includes the entry to the cathedral, Piccolomini Library, the Facciatone viewpoint, Crypt, Baptistery and the Museo dell Opera.
An all-inclusive ticket is valid for 72 hours (3 days) from the time and date of your cathedral visit. It allows you to visit every monument once.
There are 3 types of tickets:
- SIENA CATHEDRAL MONUMENTAL COMPLEX covered floor season €15 for adults
- SIENA CATHEDRAL MONUMENTAL COMPLEX SPECIAL uncovering floor season. It is from the 27th of June 2023 until the 31st of July 2023, and from the 18th of August until the 18th of October. This special ticket costs €17 for adults.
- GATE OF HEAVEN (Opa SI Pass and Cathedral roofs) €22 for adults
Also, your pass includes a free digital smartphone audio guide and skip-the-line tickets to enter the cathedral.
Do not forget to book your ticket to Siena Cathedral in advance, as they sell out quickly. It takes 2 to 3 hours to visit everything on the list. If possible, go for the Gate of Heaven OPA SI PASS, where you can see the Cathedral roofs.
the Gate of Heaven
OPENING TIMES OF THE SIENA CATHEDRAL:
From 1st of April 2023 – 31st of October 2023:
10 am – 7 pm (9.30 am – 7.30 pm Opera Museum). If you visit the cathedral on Sundays and public holidays, the cathedral is open between 1.30 pm – 6 pm.
From 1st of November – 31st of March 2023:
10.30 am – 5.30 pm. If you visit the cathedral on Sundays or public holidays during this season, the Duomo is open between 1.30 pm and 5.30 pm.
From 26th December 2023 – 6th of January 2024:
10.30 am – 6 pm, 1.30 pm – 5.30 on Sundays and public holidays.
While the Cathedral mosaics are on view (27th June – 31st of July, 18th August – 17th October):
10 am – 7 pm (9.30 – 7.30 pm Opera Museum). If you visit on Sundays and public holidays the cathedral when the Cathedral floor is on view 9.30 am – 6 pm.
6. Piccolomini Library
Many visitors who do not know about the Piccolomini Library miss it when exploring the Duomo, but it is worth checking out. It is a part of the Duomo complex in Siena. You can access it through a small door on the left-hand side of the nave.
Why is this library famous?
You might be surprised to hear the Piccolomini Library is not just an average library. The walls of this small room are, in fact, a hidden treasure.
The Piccolomini Library is famous because it has beautiful frescoes full of bright colours and gold details. The wall paintings portray the life of Pope Pius II. 10 scenes represent important stages in his life. There is also a lovely copy of the Three Graces from Roman times.
Pope Pius III dedicated this library to his uncle Pope Pius II. He commissioned room decorating to house the books Pope Pius III collected on his travels.
Seeing the Piccolomini Library is one of the best things to do in Siena because this small room has some of the most impressive frescoes in Tuscany. The famous Italian painter Pinturicchio and his pupils decorated the walls of the gorgeous Piccolomini Library. The detailed frescoes are full of bright colours, and the ceiling with gold details.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The Piccolomini Library is INSIDE the cathedral. Do not miss it – it is one of the highlights of the Duomo.
7. Crypt in the Siena Cathedral
After exploring the Duomo, consider visiting the crypt in the Siena Cathedral. The crypt is, in fact, one of the most significant archaeological discoveries in the city in the past 25 years. They discovered a buried room beneath the cathedral during the renovation works. This part of the cathedral dates back to the 12th century.
Visiting the crypt is one of the best things to do in Siena in Tuscany because you can see extraordinary frescoes of the Sienese school from the 13th century. The bright paintings cover the walls, the columns, pilasters and also supports from a wall. The wall paintings represent scenes of the Old and New Testaments.
The crypt, filled with debris in the 1300s, remained hidden for almost 700 years. Pictures once covered all 180 square meters of the walls.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find the entrance to the crypt on the right side of the Duomo, just a few steps from the door to the Cathedral Museum. The crypt is small, and the visit lasts approximately 5 to 10 minutes.
The opening times to the crypt are 10 am – 7 pm from April – until the end of October. You can visit the crypt between November and the end of March from 10.30 am until 5.30 pm. The last admission to the crypt is 30 minutes before the closing time.
8. Cathedral Museum in Siena
If there is one more attraction you should visit when exploring the Siena Cathedral complex, it is the Cathedral Museum. The locals call it the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo. The Cathedral Works Museum is one of the oldest private museums in Italy. You can find it in an extension of the cathedral on the south side of the Duomo.
Visiting the Cathedral Museum is one of the best things to do in Siena because it houses some of the greatest masterpieces of the 14th century. Also, the second floor of the Cathedral Museum is the entrance to the Panorama del Facciatone, which offers beautiful views of the cathedral.
WHAT TO SEE INSIDE:
As the name of the museum suggests, the ground floor rooms of the Cathedral Works Museum house the original statues from the cathedral façade. They are works of Giovanni Pisano. You can also find a beautiful large stained glass rose window by Duccio. It measures six metres in diameter and contains the stories of the life of the Virgin. It is one of the highlights of the museum.
Maesta is a perfect example of the religious art from the early 14th century.
One of the top attractions of the Cathedral Museum in Siena is undoubtedly Duccio’s huge Maesta. If you do not know, Maesta is one of the Sienese School’s finest works. This painting shows the Virgin and child surrounded by saints. Maesta by Duccio is a world-famous artwork because it marks the beginning of the transition from Byzantine art towards a more realistic presentation.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Admission to the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo is part of the OPA SI Pass.
We also recommend you to check out the black and white marble Baptistery of Siena Cathedral. This religious building dedicated to San Giovanni dates back to the 14th century when there was a plan to extend the Duomo. If you look closely, you can see that the baptistery has an unfinished façade.
When you step inside, you can see the detailed paintings of the Sienese artist on the walls and the ceiling. The main attraction – the baptismal font is in the centre of the building. It is a result of the cooperation of the best sculptors: Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The Baptistery of San Giovanni stands in the piazza of the same name, just behind the Duomo. The entry to the baptistery is a part of the OPA SI Pass.
10. Siena National Gallery
the Madonna and Child by Duccio
We also recommend you to visit Siena National Gallery which the locals call Pinacoteca Nazionale. This recently renovated fine gallery occupies two elegant palaces on Via San Pietro in the historic town centre.
Siena National Gallery is one of the most important museums in Italy because it has outstanding works of art. Pinacoteca Nazionale is one of the best places to visit in Siena because it has a collection of paintings by artists of the Sienese School. They are in chronological order in 30 rooms from the 13th century until the 16th century.
Blessed Agostino Novello by Simone Martini
The highlights are works of the golden age by Duccio, Simone Martini, Lippo Memmi, Taddeo di Bartolo and the Pietro brothers. Do not miss Simone Martini’s Madonna with Child and Blessed Agostino Novello and Four of His Miracles. You can also see here Lippo Memmi’s Madonna with Child and Duccio’s picture with the same name.
From the top left: the Annunciation by Taddeo di Bartolo,Lippo Memmi’s Madonna with Child and Simone Martini’s Madonna with Child at the bottom.
GOOD TO KNOW:
The opening times of Siena National Gallery are from 9 am – 7 pm (Tue – Sat) and 9 am – 1 pm on Mondays and Sundays. The entry ticket to Siena National Gallery costs 6 euros for adults. Alternatively, buy a combined ticket with Museo Civico and the Torre del Mangia for 18 euros.
Things to do in Siena for the best views
11. Climb the Torre del Mangia
Are you not scared of heights and do not experience a panic attacks in high places? If yes was your answer, add the Torre del Mangia to your list of places to visit in Siena, Tuscany.
You probably do not know, but the elegant Torre del Mangia is 102 metres (334 feet) high. When the locals built it in the 14th century, it was the tallest tower in Italy. Today the Torre del Mangia is the third tallest ancient tower in the country. More than 670 years old red brick tower matches exactly Duomo’s height. This was to show that the church and state in Siena were equal in power.
Locals call this iconic tower the Torre del Mangia, or the Tower of Eater in English. According to the legend, the tower got its name from its first bell ringer. Giovanni di Balduccio had the nickname Mangiaguadagni (eat the earnings). He spent most of his money on food in the inns and taverns of Sienna.
The tower topped with a white marble bell tower has a similar design to the palace.
Climbing the 400 steps up to the Torre del Mangia is one of the best things to do in Siena because it offers gorgeous city views.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Climbing the Torre del Mangia requires planning because you cannot buy a ticket online or in advance. You also cannot book a time slot as it is on a first-come, first-serve basis. You will need to visit the ticket office in the courtyard of the Palazzo Pubblico.
Tickets sell out quickly during the busiest months. When we visited Siena in April, we joined a long queue at 9.45 am, and the tickets sold out by 11 am. Hence, buy them first thing in the morning when they open the ticket office at 10 am. They have time slots every 45 minutes and only a few time slots.
- OPENING TIMES: Hours vary during the season. The tower is open on weekdays and holidays from 10 am – 7 pm from March 1st – October 15th. If you visit between the 16th of October and the 28th of February, the tower is open only until 4 pm. Also, the ticket office closes earlier, at 3.15pm, instead of 6.15 pm. Do not forget, the ticket office is not open between 1.45 pm and 2.30 pm.
- ENTRY FEE: Expect to pay 10 euros if you only want to climb the Torre del Mangia. The Torre del Mangia and Civic Museum combined ticket costs 15 euros. If you also want to visit Santa Maria della Scala, the entry fee to all 3 attractions costs 20 euros.
12. Facciatone viewpoint
If you have any energy left, climb 131 spiral steps in the Museo dell’ Opera del Duomo to the Facciatone viewpoint. This unusual structure is the remains of the plans to build the New Duomo, which plague stopped in the 14th century. Today this unfinished section of the church attracts tourists from all over the world.
The biggest draw is the view from the top – no wonder the Facciatone viewpoint is the second most popular viewpoint in Siena, Tuscany. As a result, climbing the steps to the Facciatone viewpoint is one of the top things to do in Siena because it offers the best views of the cathedral. Make sure you do not miss this unusual viewpoint.
Facciatone viewpoint – the Panorama of the New Cathedral
GOOD TO KNOW:
Facciatone viewpoint is one of the most popular attractions in Siena. Only a limited number of people can visit its terrace. As a result, there is usually a long, slow-moving line.
Visit the Cathedral Museum first thing in the morning when they open and get to the line to the Panorama viewpoint after that. This way you can save a lot of time (hours) and explore different places in the city.
Unique things to do in Siena, Tuscany
13. Palio of Siena
Did you know that Siena has a unique tradition which dates back to the Middle Ages? Yes, that is right, Palio of Siena is the most important event in the Sienese calendar. The locals take this event which takes place twice a year very seriously. They have challenged each other in a historic horse race in the Piazza del Campo for hundreds of years. The winner gets a silk banner and can display it in the winning district.
Probably you do not know, but everybody born in Siena automatically belongs to one of the 17 contradas and remains loyal to it for the rest of their lives. Every year, 10 of the 17 neighbourhoods who have won the chance to compete in the current year join the race. During the race, ten horses with riders in traditional costumes circle the famous square three times. This horse race is over quickly. It usually lasts only about 90 seconds.
Visiting Siena on the 2nd of July and the 16th of August is one of the best things to do in Siena because you can experience the famous Palio event. Palio di Siena attracts crowds from all over the world, and the festivities for the winners last for weeks. It is something you do not want to miss when in Tuscany at that time.
14. Go Contrada spotting
If you want to do something different, walk the narrow streets and go Contrada spotting. Contrada districts have a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. Even though they lost their military and administrative functions, they still have great significance for the residents.
Every contrada has its own colours and symbol named after an animal. They usually feature beside the street names. Each of Siena’s 17 neighbourhoods has its own flag, fountain, and church.
These districts are the most colourfully active during the famous Palio horse race, which takes place on Piazza del Campo. But once you train your eyes, you will see small symbols or flags on the side of the buildings.
15. Basilica of San Domenico, Siena, Tuscany
If there is one more church you should visit in Siena in Tuscany, it is the Basilica of San Domenico. This 13th-century Gothic church is one of the most significant churches in the city. Even though it is not as ornate as the Duomo, it is well worth a visit.
Many people refer to it as St. Catherine’s Basilica because she spent most of her life here. She was one of only four female doctors in the church and became the patron saint of Italy and Europe.
Probably you do not, but Saint Catherine was also behind the return of the Pope from Avignon to Rome. She carries numerous missions entrusted to her by the pope. This was something unusual for a woman during the Middle Ages.
Visiting the Basilica of San Domenico is one of the quirky things to do in Siena because this church on the hill is home to relics of Saint Catherine. You can find the preserved head and finger of the city’s patroness in the chapel dedicated to her. These types of items were very valuable during the medieval times. Via Francigena pilgrimage route passed directly through Siena. This church was a popular stop for pilgrims.
The chapel also features Sodoma’s frescoes to the left and right of the altar. They show scenes from Catherine’s life. Also, the Basilica of San Domenico has the only portrait of St Catherine considered authentic. You can see this picture (painted by her friend) in the Chapel of the Vaults.
GOOD TO KNOW:
You can find the Basilica of San Domenico in the western part of the town, just a 7-minute walk from the Piazza del Campo.
After exploring the Basilica of San Domenico, find Porta di Fontebranda – one of the remaining ancient city gates. Just a short walk from there is Fontebranda – one of the fountains from the Middle Ages. It dates back to the 11th century, but the locals enlarged and rebuilt it with brick and travertine in the 13th century.
Finding Fontebranda is one of the quirky things to do in Siena because this is the oldest fountain in the city. It is probably the most famous fountain in Tuscany because Dante Alighieri mentioned it in the Divine Comedy.
Fontebranda had three different tanks: one for drinking water, another for animals and the third for laundry. It was a popular meeting point for the locals – even Saint Catherine of Siena lived near the fountain.
Fontebranda and Fonte Gaia at Piazza del Campo have one thing in common. The same pipeline feeds both fountains with water and brings the water from 25 km away. These underground tunnels once supplied the entire city with water.
17. Sanctuary of St Catherine
If you want to follow Saint Catherine’s footsteps, visit the Sanctuary of St Catherine. This religious complex was once where Catherine’s original house used to be. She lived there with her 23 siblings.
Today the Sanctuary of St Catherine is a museum dedicated to St Catherine of Siena. It is also a popular stop on the pilgrim’s trail. This peaceful complex has several chapels, a cloister and a marble well. The highlight is the Church of the Crucified which has beautiful wall paintings. Also, you can see here the wooden crucifix from which the saint received the stigmata.
GOOD TO KNOW:
Entry to the Sanctuary of St Catherine is free.
18. Piazza Salimbeni
Not many would place the small Piazza Salimbeni on the list of the places to visit in Siena, but it would be a mistake. Did you know that this prominent square is home to the oldest bank in the world? Yes, that is right, the yellow Palazzo Salimbeni was home to the first bank.
The headquarters of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena is still in the original building. This building is also home to a collection of historical documents. Unfortunately they are not publicly accessible.
Pay attention to the figures at the top of the building on the right-hand side of the square. You can find here figures of important people, including Michelangelo.
Now you know what are the top attractions in Siena, Tuscany!
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