Is Siena worth visiting? Wow, well there’s a question I can answer without even thinking about it. Without a doubt the answer is ‘yes’, and I believe I speak for many when I say that this charming city, so understated, yet elegant is a favourite among visitors to Tuscany. It is small in comparison to its counterpart Florence, yet what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in stature. Home to a stunning array of medieval buildings, boasting a wonderful collection of Renaissance focused museums, and laying claim to one of the most iconic cathedrals in the world, this is a city that, once visited, will never be forgotten. Strong traditions tie it to its 17 districts (called Contrade) and to the famous Palio horse race that takes place twice a year.
If you need a little more convincing about this gem of a city, however, let us be the bearer of all things incredible about this small, characterful and very beautiful spot in the heart of Tuscany.
Is Siena in Tuscany?
You may be forgiven for not realising that Siena is in Tuscany. Arguably overshadowed by its grander, bolder and more acclaimed neighbour, Florence, our favourite city and other equally pretty towns sadly often remain under the Tuscan radar. Located an hour south of Florence and nestled into the rolling Tuscan hills, you couldn’t ask for a more idyllic location. Even the drive from Florence or straight from the airport at Pisa affords you a picturesque, relaxing and highly photogenic journey.
Highlights and Must-Sees
When you’re considering whether or not this lovely place is for you, look no further than the main highlights. If these don’t convince you, nothing will.
Piazza del Campo
You will be taken here by your tour guide who will explain the history in more detail but, in short, this shell-shaped piazza is the venue of the world famous Palio, the horse race in which riders from the 17 districts of the city race madly round the edge. Super exciting and full of emotion, this event is a spectacle that if you ever get the chance to see, you should not pass up.
In the piazza you will also spot the Fonte Gaia. The biggest fountain in the city is decorated with sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia and is truly a beautiful feature. The one standing today is a replica made in marble from nearby Carrara, which is stronger than the marble used for the original fountain that now resides in the Santa Maria della Scala museum.
Set in the Piazza Pubblico, this museum is another haven for Renaissance art lovers. The imposing building made of brick and marble houses the famous ‘Good and Bad Government’ fresco, by Ambrogio Lorenzetti. This is the main fresco on display and it constitutes a series of informative aspects of local government. It is a wonderful insight into the history of this Tuscan city. Other features include the ‘Hall of the Globe’, the beautiful ‘Majesty’, by Simone Martini, and the ‘Madonna in Throne with Child’ fresco.
Torre del Mangia
If you fancy a bit of exercise rewarded with stunning views of the Tuscan landscape surrounding the city, then take on the 400 steps to the top of the Torre del Mangia. You will not be disappointed and if only for this photo opp it’s worth visiting Siena!
Piazza del Duomo and Duomo Santa Maria Assunta
Your Walkabout Florence guide will bring this place to life when you visit, but to give you a snapshot this piazza is home to a treasure trove of must-sees. Of course, the duomo itself is the main attraction and it is simply outstanding in its size, aesthetic and presence. The white marble on the exterior dazzles in the sunshine and is the main feature of this fine Romanesque-Gothic church – which is perhaps the most beautiful in Italy. The Cathedral is a museum in itself, boasting works by the likes of Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Michelangelo and Pinturicchio.
Inside, the white and almost black (it is actually dark green) marble create striped polychrome marble arches, which give way to the ornate golden dome and the beautiful frescos above the main altar. Look down to the ‘il pavimento del duomo di Siena’, the incredible carved marble floor made up of 56 squares representing different historical scenes that showcase its magnificence; this is a unique feature and a definitive highlight.
The Piccolomini Library
Another must-see is this library dedicated to Pope Pius II. The frescoes here were painted by Pinturicchio and his pupils, including Raphael Sanzio, in the early 1500s. Created using real gold, the art literally shines in parts, making the images even more spectacular. Your guide will point you in the direction of the library as it can be easily missed if you are not in the know.
Part of the duomo, the baptistry is dedicated to San Giovanni and dates back to 1300. While it may have an incomplete facade, the interior is exquisite. Frescos by local artists adorn the walls, but the main feature is the baptismal font that brings together sculptures by Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello.
Santa Maria della Scala
An old hospital, this was once a place that welcomed pilgrims making their journey along the Via Francigena pilgrimage route, which led from central Europe to Rome. It was also a place that offered a home to abandoned children and the poor. Inside are several exhibitions that depict local life at the time the hospital was operational.
These are only a handful of things you can do in the city, but when considering whether or not to visit, they certainly offer you an introduction. Of course (and I am sure your Walkabout Florence guide will agree), wandering the streets, browsing the shops, gazing down tiny alleyways with their ‘contrada’ flags blowing in the breeze above is the best way to get an authentic feel for what this place is all about.
Enjoy some people watching, chat to the locals, indulge in the local cafe culture and Siena will be brought to life in front of your eyes.
What is Special about Siena, Italy?
If you really want to discover this marvellous place for yourself, the best way is on a small group tour. Walkabout Florence does a fabulous tour that takes in Siena among many other highlights, and will leave you in no doubt that it is, indeed, worth your time.
After meeting your guide (we have a brilliant crew, who we will introduce later) and leaving Florence, your first stop is Siena. As you drive through the rolling Tuscan landscape, the city eventually comes into view over the horizon. The classic red and ochre coloured buildings with their green shutters enveloped by the defensive wall, all nestled into a sea of lush verdant hills, makes for the perfect photograph.
Once you have arrived, your guide will whisk you off on a guided walking tour through the medieval centre. Wandering the winding streets is the best way to take it all in, and as you make your way towards the main piazza, your guide will regale you with information about the history, culture and much more. You will learn about the history of the world’s oldest bank, discover the importance of the Piazza del Campo, famous for the 600 year old horse race, and enjoy a visit to the magical Duomo, which houses an array of magnificent artworks and a marble floor like no other.
Free time in the city offers you the chance to climb the Torre delle Mangia, visit the Santa Maria della Scala or simply sit back, enjoy a gelato or cappuccino in a hidden cafe and watch the world go by. Is Siena worth visiting? After this tour, you will definitely know the answer.
Walkabout Florence Guides
When visiting an Italian city you will no doubt want to make the most of every minute, which is why choosing a small group guided tour is a great option. We have some brilliant guides, who are knowledgeable, passionate and, above all, genuine. One of the most important aspects of a guided tour is the authenticity of the leader and we can’t recommend our incredible crew enough. Chomping at the bit to share their expertise and knowledge to bring the very best of the Tuscan cities to you, they are professionals through and through.
Our three guides that lead the Tuscany in One Day Tour are Ale, Stefano and Elisa. Ale fell into the job by chance but, as a professional sommelier, he is a chap who simply loves sharing the wonders of his home country. He revels in the opportunity to share his love of all things Italian and anything you want to know about wine – he is your guy!
Stefano’s experience is what makes him one of our stand out guides. He takes great pleasure in regaling you with his knowledge and just loves to see people happy. His charm, wit and wonderful warmth are sure to make a lasting impression.
Elisa is a lover of travel and, because she has travelled so much, she knows what it is like to be new in a place and to want to discover as much as you can. Her energy and enthusiasm for the job never wanes and she just loves to make dreams come true.
All of the guides want to show you the real Italy, and ask any one of them ‘is Siena worth visiting?’ and most will simply smile, knowing full well you will very soon realise that it most certainly is.
Inside Info – New Trip Coming Soon
We just love our Tuscany so much that we had to come up with a new itinerary, and we think this one is just perfect. Taking in San Gimignano and Siena, and including a delicious lunch and wine tasting, what more could you want?
Making the most of our experienced team we have hand crafted this tour to offer an unforgettable and authentic taste of these two wonderful places. The Siena visit will be guided, so you will be treated to a wealth of information from your guide, and the tour also includes entrance to the awesome Duomo.
Best Time to Visit Siena
Most definitely the best time to visit Tuscany is between late September and October and between April and May. That is not to say that the summer isn’t delightful too, but it can get pretty hot and crowded, plus everything closes for two weeks in August.
This is a gorgeous time to make your way to Tuscany. Like the autumn months, there are fewer visitors and the weather is perfect.
The Italian sun can be very hot and, while it is lovely if you want to sit by a pool all day, it is not so conducive to sight-seeing. Summer is also the busiest time for tourists, with school holidays dictating when many people can travel.
Fewer people and more pleasant temperatures make this the perfect time to travel to Tuscany. Not only is it cooler but the light changes at this time of year and the Sienese hills burst with rich gold, red and purple hues – offer some truly stunning photo opportunities.
Most people choose not to travel at this time of year. It can get cold and lots of attractions and sites close. On the other hand, there may be deals to be had and it is worth visiting Siena at this time of year if you fancy having the place almost to yourself.
What Food is Siena Known For?
One of the main reasons that Siena is worth visiting is for its delightful culinary offerings. With traditions reflecting the hearty tastes of Tuscany, the food in Siena shares its own twists on the classics. Most dishes are meat based and, of course, many feature the Sienese pasta, ‘Pici’. Pici is a long, fat spaghetti, which is perfect for soaking up rich and flavoursome sauces made with beef or mushrooms. Don’t worry if you’re a vegetarian, as there are lots of options for veggie sauces too.
While enjoying an aperitif before dinner, you may notice a ‘Crostini Neri’ on the counter top, free for you to help yourself. These tangy toasted breads smothered in liver pate are a sublime complement to a glass of Prosecco.
Hare is a popular meat in southern Tuscany, and ‘Papardelle con Lepre’ is a heartwarming pasta dish that is a staple on Sienese menus. Carnivores will love the ‘Scottiglia’, a mix of slow cooked meats served with a rich tomato sauce, and when you mop up the juices with a hunk or two of the traditional unsalted bread, ‘Sciocco’, you will be in food heaven.
For those with a sweet tooth, look out for the Ricciarelli, the melt in the mouth almond flavoured cookies that grace the windows of all the local bakeries. Or why not indulge in a slice of panforte, the classic Sienese fruit cake that is definitely more fruit than cake? A recipe with ancient roots, this nutty, spicy, fruity treat is given an extra lift by the addition of pepper. It is a lovely treat that is also easy to take home for a gift.
Many local restaurants in the city are members of the ‘Slow Food’ movement. This honours the art of cooking with local, seasonal ingredients and emphasises the awareness of what we are actually eating. Eating out in Italy, after all, is a big part of tradition. You will often see whole families of several generations enjoying time and food together at restaurant tables.
Italian Proverb: ‘A tavola non s’invecchia mai!’ – at the table you never grow old.
Siena, Italy: Facts
- The city’s population is around 54,000
- The centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – another reason that Siena is worth visiting.
- In 1861 the city joined the United Kingdom of Italy, which had recently formed
- It is pedestrianised inside the main walls of the old city
- It is home to the world’s oldest bank, Monte Dei Paschi, which first started trading in 1472
- The Palio is a traditional horse race run round the Piazza del Campo every year. It’s a crazy 90-second race that brings the whole city to a standstill.
Why You Should Visit Siena
Hopefully the introduction above has given you enough information to answer the question, ‘is Siena worth visiting?’ For some crazy reason this stunning place is rarely a priority for visitors to Tuscany who favour its bigger and bolder neighbours of Florence and Pisa, but we love it because it is not only full of wonderful sights, it is small enough to not overwhelm.
There is so much beauty in Tuscany, which most certainly is the heart of Italy, but Siena is a place that, once visited, people often cite as being their favourite. In even just a few hours you can leave feeling you’ve gained a real sense of what the place is about and, although we would always say a return visit should be on the cards, those few hours will have given you the chance to discover that Siena is worth visiting – and possibly even more than just the once!
We are Walkabout Florence
Taking great pride in the tours we provide, we want to share our love and knowledge of wonderful Tuscany with every client who books with us. Our team of expert guides are passionate about their job and make it their mission to offer you a tour that you will remember always. From wine tasting in the Chianti hills to riding a Vespa through Florence, and from cooking pizza in a farmhouse to discovering Siena, when it comes to Tuscany we are there for you. Get in touch now and let us help you choose the right tour for your Tuscan experience.