Tuscan treasures: what to do on a day in Siena

“Romantic Siena”

Discover a city packed with palaces, piazzas and renaissance art…

  • Tuscan treasures: what to do on a day in Siena

    Packed with Gothic architecture and Renaissance art, romantic Siena should definitely be on your travel radar. Its historic centre is a UNESCO-protected maze of winding streets that link palaces, piazzas and authentic eateries. Here’s how you can make the most of your day in one of Italy’s loveliest cities.

    How to start the day

    Kick things off by visiting the Duomo, Siena’s 13th-century cathedral. It’s one of the finest Gothic buildings in the country, decorated with white and green marble and filled with statues by artists like Michelangelo and Donatello. As you wander through, make sure you look down too – the floor’s made up of 56 ornate panels that show scenes from the Bible.

    Head further inside the Duomo to admire the colourful frescoes in the Piccolomini Library. It was built in the early 1500s and is decorated with some great examples of Renaissance art. And before you leave, take some time to look around one of the oldest private museums in Italy, the Museo dell‘Opera. Its three floors are filled with stained glass windows, tapestries and religious treasures.

    Italian Cathedral

    The ‘Duomo’.

    Opposite the cathedral, you’ll find the Santa Maria della Scala. One of the earliest hospitals in Europe, it sheltered the poor and sick, as well as pilgrims travelling to Rome. These days, it’s a museum that records a thousand years of history, from religious art and vivid frescoes to ancient artefacts. Venture down into the vaulted basement and you’ll find the archaeological collection, which includes elaborate Etruscan funeral urns and a large collection of gold Roman coins.

    Where to eat lunch

    Feeling hungry after all that history? Visit La Taverna di San Giuseppe, near the Monastero di Sant’ Agostino, for platefuls of pici – this thick, hand-rolled spaghetti is a regional speciality. Or swing by Pizzeria Poppi for a slice of ciaccino, Siena’s take on the classic cheese toastie.

    What to do in the afternoon

    Work off your lunch by climbing the 400 steps of the Torre del Mangia – the bell tower of the Palazzo Pubblico. When it was finished in 1344, the 102m tower was one of the tallest in Italy, and today you can still enjoy impressive views over the city and surrounding hills.

    Back at street level, you can stroll around the Piazza del Campo, the shell-shaped plaza at the heart of Siena. Dating back to Roman times, it now hosts one of the city’s most famous events. Twice a year, on 2nd July and 16th August, 10 jockeys don colourful costumes to take part in the Palio horse race. The whole piazza is decked out with banners and flags, and thousands of people come to cheer on their favourite rider.

    Piazza del Campo

    Piazza del Campo.

    The piazza is a prime spot to settle down outside a café for a drink and a bite to eat. Tempt your sweet tooth with local treats like ricciarelli (a chewy almond biscuit) and panforte (a moreish Tuscan traybake, packed with fruit and nuts). Or just sit back with a coffee and admire the Gothic architecture all around you.

    Close up of panforte

    Close up of panforte.

    After seeing the main sights, slip down a side street and explore the back alleys of Siena’s old town. Stroll along cobbled lanes that weave between the squares and courtyards of the city’s 17 districts. Each district has its own community, churches and celebrations – and even a unique symbol, which you can spot on flags, fountains and doors. South-west of the Piazza del Campo, keep your eyes peeled for a double-headed black eagle holding an orb, a sword and a sceptre. Or if you’re in the northern streets of the city, you might spot the emblem of a crowned caterpillar crawling on a rose.

    Flags on a city street

    The flags of the different city districts.

    Where to go for dinner?

    Round off your time in Siena with a meal at Antica Osteria da Divo. Tucked down a side street, this down-to-earth restaurant is known for its unusual setting, inside an ancient Etruscan tomb. Their menu is filled with inventive dishes like truffle risotto, pumpkin ravioli with lemon and almonds, and octopus and pecorino soufflé.

    Before you leave, don’t miss out on a passeggiata – the Italian tradition of taking a leisurely evening stroll is the perfect way to end the day.

    Spend a day in the historic city of Siena, or visit the cradle of the Renaissance,  Florence, on a Lakes & Mountains holiday to Tuscany.

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Author: Mathew Robinson