Siena is enchanting all the year round, but of course the town attracts most visitors in Spring and Summer, when daylight is long, temperatures are pleasant, the most important events like the Palio horse race take place and strolling along the medieval streets and squares of the centre is adorable under the bluest skies of the year. Here are 10 recommendations of mine for a daytrip, a weekend or a longer vacation in Siena, the town where I studied, I’ve been working and has a special place in my heart.
1) Visit Palazzo Pubblico and climb up to the bell tower “Torre del Mangia”: a visit to Siena normally starts from its heart: the main square Piazza del Campo, where the popular Palio horse race is run twice a year (on July 2nd and August 16th), has an unusual shell shape, is paved with brick and ringed by historic buildings. In particular, the square is dominated by Palazzo Pubblico, the gothic building of the Town Hall, and the bell tower called “Mangia Tower”, 102 meters tall. Walking up to the tower guarantees breathtaking views of Siena. Within the Town Hall you can visit the Civic Museum, where masterpieces of the Sienese school (XIV-XVI centuries) are exhibited: in particular, the Maestà by Simone Martini and the fresco “Good Government and Bad Government” by Ambrogio Lorenzetti must not be missed. Open daily from 10 am to 7 pm (6 pm in winter). Ticket 8€, reduced 4,50€ (students and pensioners). Combined ticket for museum and Mangia tower 13€.
2) Admire the Cathedral and “the Gate of Heaven”: the magnificent gothic Cathedral (in Italian the Duomo) is worth a visit itself and now visitors can have access to secret walkways and attic rooms in the vault of the Cathedral. This new section, called the “Sky of the Duomo” was under restoration for decades, and is now open to small groups of visitors. From these spaces, you can enjoy wonderful aerial views into the Cathedral, over the roofs of Siena, and get close to the vaulted ceiling, painted blue with gold stars. All visitors will receive the Roof map, a useful visit tool that becomes a gadget to take home, available in the following languages: Italian, English, French, German, Spanish and Russian.
And till October 29th, 2017, the Crypt under the Cathedral will host some precious masterpieces coming from Norcia, the town in Umbria devastated by the violent earthquake last October. A twinning of hope between the town of St. Benedict and that of St. Catherine, two of the most important spiritual figures of Europe, a sign of solidarity in the name of a “Wounded Beauty” that comes back to life.
3) Visit the Museum Complex “Santa Maria” della Scala: Constructed in the Middle Ages along the Via Francigena, just opposite the Cathedral, the Santa Maria della Scala was one of the first hospitals in Europe, with its own organization set up to care for pilgrims, assist the poor and provide for abandoned children. Between the late XIII and early XIV centuries, the Hospital began to divide and organise its own landed property into large agricultural estates known as grance. They represented a huge patrimony that covered extensive areas of the Val d’Orcia, Val d’Arbia, Masse, Crete and Maremma, and, as a whole, represented the largest concentration of land of the Sienese state. The Santa Maria della Scala also played a major cultural role and could be well regarded as Siena’s third artistic pole along with the Palazzo Pubblico and the Cathedral. Nowadays, the hospital has been transformed into a Museum, and visitors can admire significant masterpieces as the Pellegrinaio frescos (Pilgrim’s Hall), the Sagrestia Vecchia (Old Sacristy) with Lorenzo Vecchietta’s paintings, the Cappella del Manto (Chapel of the Mantle) with Domenico Beccafumi’s lunette, the Cappella della Madonna (Chapel of the Virgin Mary), and the church of the Santissima Annunziata. For information about opening times and tickets, click here.
4) Pay a visit to the Museum Pinacoteca Nazionale, where an incredible concentration of Gothic golden backmasterpieces from the Sienese school, flourished between the 13th and the 15th centuries. Many jewels of Duccio di Boninsegna, Simone Martini, the Lorenzetti brothers etc. can be admired. If yuo love arts, you shouldn’t miss it. Located in a reddish palace in Via San Pietro 29, it’s easy to get if you follow the central Via di Città till the end, and then turn left and walk for about 60 metres. The palace stands on your left. Open Monday 9 am-13 am, Tuesday to Saturday 8.15 am-19.15 pm, Sunday and most public holidays 9 am-1 pm. Closed May 1st, Christmas day and January 1st. Tickets 4€ (reduced 2€), free entrance for all the first Sunday of every month.
5) Stroll around the ancient town centre, that has preserved its medieval appearance and has been UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995. Don’t follow a specific itinerary, just walk around, admire streets, churches, medieval palaces, fountains and walls, and let this magnificent centre surprise you. The characteristic colour “Sienna” dominates the walls and the roofs, and makes the landscape harmonious and enchanting. After the walk, just sit or lay down on the ground in Piazza del Campo and admire the sky, enjoy seeing people come and go, and absorb the beauty you are surrounded by.
6) Have simple but tasty and characteristic lunch at Vinaio Trombicche, an old style tavern in the central street Via delle Terme. I have devoted to this nice place a post you can read here
7) Take a great coffee, cappuccino, caffellate, latte macchiato etc. at Torrefazione Fiorella, the bar with the best coffee in Siena (at least for me!). Also to this place I have dedicated a post, with some information about the coffee rituals is Italy. Just click here!
8) Eat a delicious ice cream and taste it either scrolling around or sit on Piazza del Campo. In the central Via Banchi di Sopra, you can find the popular Italian Gelateria (ice cream bar) Grom, present in several Italian towns and cities, and the recently opened Cioccolateria Venchi, offering delicious ice creams, but also delightful chocolates and delicacies. For something different, I recommend KopaKabana, a gelateria in Via dei Rossi, still in the town centre but a little bit away from the classic tourist sites. Many different and also creative flavours are offered, portions are generous and prices are reasonable (1,80 € for the smallest, but abundant cone). And finally.. my favourite one, La Vecchia Latteria, located in Via San Pietro just in front of the Museum Pinacoteca Nazionale. Very kind staff, not too many tastes but always fresh, creamy and savoury, open laboratory, just…perfect!
9) Buy fantastic Ricciarelli and delicious Panforte, the two typical sweets of Siena. Read this post for my recommended pastry shops where to buy one of the best souvenirs of this town.
10) Last but not least: enjoy a fantastic dinner at the Taverna di San Giuseppe, located in an impressive and charming ambience dating back to the XII century, at the end of Via Dupré (follow this street from Piazza del Campo for about 400 meters). Great food, top-quality ingredients, extended list of excellent wines, wonderful homemade pasta and mouth watering meat. Simply delicious! It’s not a budget-friendly place, but a valuable one for an unforgettable food experience. Reservation highly recommended: Tel. +39 0577 42286
Well…. there are many other attractions I would like to write about here, but I want to respect the title of the post: nevertheless, I’ll update it with new recommendations. Meanwhile, enjoy your time in Siena!