Discover the top 12 things to do in Siena, one of the most beautiful Medieval towns in Tuscany, Italy. From exploring the impressive Piazza del Campo, to climbing the Torre del Mangia and walking through the town’s different contrade in search of a plate of pici cacio e pepe. Make the most of your trip to Siena!
12 things to do in Siena, Italy
1. SOAK UP THE ATMOSPHERE IN STUNNING PIAZZA DEL CAMPO
In Siena all roads lead to Piazza del Campo. A magnificent square flanked by Medieval buildings and paved with fishbone-patterned red bricks, this is the beating heart of Siena, where students and tourists come to sit, relax, and enjoy a cappuccino at one of the open air tables. If it wasn’t for the mobile phones you could be in the 13th century.
2. CLIMB THE TORRE DEL MANGIA
Once you’ve enjoyed your cappuccino, it’s time for a bit of excercise, and what better thing to do in Siena than climb a Medieval tower? The Torre del Mangia is the slender tower of the Palazzo Pubblico, the most handsome of all edifices in Piazza del Campo. Its bell was used to mark the time and call people in case of danger or important public events. Today you can get to the top (around 400 steps!) to enjoy infinite views over the red roofs of Siena.
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3. ADMIRE SOME FAMOUS FRESCOES IN THE PALAZZO PUBBLICO
While you are in the Palazzo Pubblico, dedicate an hour to visit its rooms that are alive with history. The highlight of this Museo Civico is the “Good and Bad government” series of frescoes (1338-9) by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, a fascinating example of the Sienese school of painting. You might recognise it as it is often used in political philosophy books. These allegorical frescoes were supposed to be reminder of the benefits of a just and peaceful government, and of the disgrace that befall a land left in the wrong hands, symbolised here by the horned figure of a diabolical tyrant. A few centuries ago, Siena’s political leaders would have looked at it constantly, as this was the government’s meeting room, a place they would be reminded of a lesson that is still valid today.
Have you got a day to spend in Siena? Check out our post about the perfect day in Siena.
4. VISIT THE DUOMO WITH THE ‘GATES OF HEAVEN’ TOUR
One of the most memorable things to do in Siena is explore its magnificent Cathedral. Its multicoloured marble exterior defies description, and is sure to leave you awestruck. A special way to appreciate this Gothic marvel is by joining the aptly named “Gates of heaven” Tour, that takes you up to the church’s roof level. A guide will lead you up narrow staircases to reach balconies from where you can admire the Cathedrals’ striped columns, stained glass windows and marble floor. In addition you’ll have a breathtaking view over Siena. (Official site).
→ See all Siena’s best attractions.
→ Top things to do in Siena in 2018 – events, exhibits and Cathedral Tours.
5. ADMIRE THE PICCOLOMINI LIBRARY IN SIENA CATHEDRAL
When you explore Siena Cathedral, don’t forget to dedicate some time to visit the Piccolomini Library, on the highlights of this church. An impressive room whose walls are covered top to bottom with vivid colourful scenes of the life of Pope Pius II (1405-1464) an impressive character more famous for his ambition than his devotion. This series of frescoes is a masterpiece by Pinturicchio, a Renaissance master highly regarded for his decorative work. You enter through a small door located on the left side of the nave.
Do you love frescoes? Find out about the best frescoes you can see in Florence.
6. TRY A PLATE OF PICI WITH PECORINO CHEESE
While in Siena you should definitely try a plate of Pici, handmade thick spaghetti that are typical of this area. They are made of flour and water (no eggs), a very simple dish that used to be the food of the country people. Fresh and delicious, one of the favourite way to eat them is with pecorino cheese and pepper (pici cacio e pepe), a real classic. If you’re up for something more elaborate, go for a wild boar or duck sauce.
Find out about more traditional Tuscan dishes.
7. EXPLORE THE INTRIGUING SANTA MARIA DELLA SCALA MUSEUM
This is not your average museum. Opposite the Cathedral, you find this former hospital founded in the 11th century, a place that used to care not only for the sick but also for orphans, pilgrims and paupers. As you descend into the belly of the Santa Maria della Scala huge complex, you discover the history of Siena through vivid frescoes, underground tunnels, Etruscan and Roman relics. Allow two hours for your visit, and don’t miss the evocative chapel where Saint Catherine used to come and pray.
8. LOOK FOR THE BEST SWEET TREAT IN TOWN
Don’t leave Siena without trying at least one of their traditional sweets. In Italy they are typical of the Christmas period, but in Siena you can savour them all year round. Almond biscuits ricciarelli, dried fruit and nut cake panforte and aniseed flavoured old-style cavallucci. These treats are as much a part of Siena’s history as its beautiful monuments. One of the top things to do in Siena is to visit the pastry shops in search of your favourite morsel: try Nannini or La Nuova Pasticceria, perhaps the most famous of them all.
9. SEE THE HEAD OF SAINT CATHERINE, THE PATRON SAINT OF ITALY
One of most peculiar things to do in Siena. In the vast San Domenico Church, that stands atop a hill in the west of the town, you find a very special though macabre relic, the mummified head of Saint Catherine. Born in Siena, she joined a religious order and went on to exert a strong influence on the papacy. An extraordinary character, she’s one of only four female doctors of the church and one of the patron saints of Italy and Europe. Nearby you can also visit the place where she was born.
10. GO CONTRADA SPOTTING
Siena is divided up into 17 contrade or districts. You’ll know which one you are in by looking up at the heraldic symbols on the side of the buildings. Eagle, Owl, Snail, Giraffe, Unicorn, Caterpillar and She-Wolf are just a few and each have their own stories and mythologies. These contrade still have great emotional significance for the residents today. Births, marriages and festivals are only celebrated within the area of one’s contrada. And the yearly horse race the Palio pits them against each other in a highly charged and colourful race that’s been running since Medieval times.
11. TASTE THE LOCAL NECTAR
Once you’ve seen the sights it’ll be high time for a glass of wine, and in Siena you can taste some exceptional locally produced reds. By far the most famous here is the Brunello from nearby Montalcino. Try one of the favourite Chianti wines or a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Have a glass in one of the city’s enoteche or wine bars, or even better take home a few bottles.
12. DIVE INTO MEDIEVAL ART IN THE PINACOTECA NAZIONALE
Your chance to see a great collection of Medieval paintings. There are many big names from the Sienese school of painters here, like Duccio di Buoninsegna, Simone Martini and Lorenzetti. This is a full immersion in Sacred art and the Medieval iconography of Siena, and a great way to pass a couple of hours. Definitely one of the top things to do in Siena for art lovers!