The Best Things to Do in San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano's skyline is famous for its many towers
San Gimignano's skyline is famous for its many towers | © agefotostock / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Celia Topping
8 October 2021

Known as the Manhattan of the Middle Ages because of its 14 imposing towers, San Gimignano is one of the many jewels in Tuscany’s crown. Visit the Duomo di San Gimignano before stopping for a glass of vernaccia at Tenuta Torciano winery – here are the top attractions in the city.

There are many reasons to include this pretty hilltop town on your Tuscan itinerary, not least the ancient frescoes and murals adorning the walls of the churches and cathedrals in the city. Spend a day wandering the quaint winding streets, browsing the many boutiques and sampling the fine food and wine of this prolific region.

Visit the Piazza del Duomo San Gimignano

Cathedral, Historical Landmark
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HFPKWR Piazza del Duomo and towers of San Gimignano at twilight, Tuscany, Italy
© Brian Jannsen / Alamy Stock Photo
The namesake of this Medieval square is the Duomo, or Cathedral, of San Gimignano, commanding your attention from its elevated position at the top of an imposing staircase. The other buildings of note here are Torri Gemelle dei Salvucci and the Palazzo Nuovo del Podestà. You can’t miss the Torre Grossa, the tallest tower in town, looming 54m (177ft) above, a symbol of the town’s wealth and power since the Middle Ages.

Peek inside San Gimignano Cathedral

Cathedral, Historical Landmark
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2G2084C Inside of the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta, San Gimignano
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Famed for its murals, frescoes and paintings of the Old and New Testaments, the Unesco World Heritage site of Duomo di San Gimignano (also known as Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta) was a major draw to pilgrims on the Via Francigena. Enter through one of the two front doors on Piazza del Duomo, and enjoy exceptional works by the likes of Taddeo di Bartolo, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Lippo Memmi.

Explore the Town Hall, Picture Gallery and Great Tower

Historical Landmark
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KRRWN8 Maesta by Lippo Memmi in Sala di Dante in Palazzo Comunale in San Gimignano
© Wojciech Stróżyk / Alamy Stock Photo
Standing on the south side of the Piazza del Duomo is the Palazzo Comunale (Town Hall), which was once the residence of the town council. The building remains one of the most important in the town, as it houses the remarkable Sala di Dante, which is ornately decorated with courtly frescoes, and the Picture Gallery with works dating back to the 13th century. From here, you can also climb up the Torre Grossa for an amazing view over the town and the whole Valdelsa region, as far as the Apuan Alps.

Admire artwork at the Galleria Continua

Art Gallery
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This contemporary gallery, housed inside a former cinema, was opened in 1990 by Mario Cristiani, Lorenzo Fiaschi and Maurizio Rigillo, bringing the very best of the modern art world to this small hilltop town in Tuscany. The idea was to continue the ancient artistic legacy of the town through to the modern day. To that end, this delightful gallery has more than triumphed. 30 years later, and the gallerists have now opened in Paris, Les Moulins, Beijing, Havana, Rome and Sao Paulo.

Tenuta Torciano

Wine Seller, Wine
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2D9BXFG the towers of San Gimignano stand tall above an autumn vineyard with a puffy cloud floating in the blue sky
© andrea bonfanti / Alamy Stock Photo
Riding horseback through the vineyards of Tenuta Torciano on a golden afternoon has got to be one of the best ways to experience the Chianti Valley. This is just one of the many activities on offer at this beautiful vineyard. Expect exceptional service and the finest of wines at this family-run business. If you don’t fancy truffle hunting, pasta-making or grape-harvesting, you can simply relax with an excellent meal and a glass of fine wine amid the vines.

Dare yourself to enter the Museum of Torture

Museum
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What finer way to spend a sunny afternoon in Tuscany than checking out instruments of torture and death? A curious mixture of the London Dungeons and Amnesty International, the museum more than delivers on the grisly front while being an ardent advocate of human rights. For the macabre-minded, you can enjoy classic devices such as the iron maiden and the rack, alongside grotesque pieces of lesser-known torture tackle, such as the gruesome heretic’s fork and women’s only spanish spiders. We suggest you delay lunch until after your visit.

Slurp ice cream at Gelateria Dondoli

Ice Cream Parlour, Italian, $$$
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BBR3YT Famous ice-cream shop Gelateria Dondoli in San Gimignano, Italy
© Christine Webb / Alamy Stock Photo
Flavour sensations are what Sergio, the Master of Gelato at Gelateria Dondoli, is all about. Sure, you can find all the classics, such as stracciatella and pistachio, but why not try one of his innovative specialities? The Santa Fina Cream is a favourite (vanilla, saffron and pine nuts). Football fans should sample the Curva Fiesole, dedicated to ACF Fiorentina, a combination of sheep’s milk ricotta and bilberries, to represent his favourite football team’s distinctive purple shirts. Drop a pin at Piazza della Cisterna, because this is one treat you won’t want to miss.

Learn about the city's history at SanGimignano1300

Museum, Historical Landmark
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In 1300CE, San Gimignano was at the height of its wealth and power. 72 towers proudly studded the sky above the walled city, and retractable ladders offered the only way into this impregnable fortress. This intricately recreated 1:100 scale model of the town was the brainchild of brothers Michelangelo and Raffaello Rubino. Over a tonne of clay and 20,000 working hours by a team of ceramic artists made their dream a reality. This remarkable exhibit-cum-artwork gives a unique glimpse into life in San Gimignano over 700 years ago.

Buy pottery at Balducci Ceramica

Art Gallery
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This unassuming ceramics workshop, tucked around the back of the Piazza del Duomo, has been run by the husband-and-wife team Franco Balducci and Esther Vogeli for over 30 years. Drop by to watch master ceramicist Balducci at work on the potter’s wheel, while Esther skilfully recreates Tuscan landscapes with bas-relief techniques. Whether you choose sculptural artwork or a charming little clay animal, a piece from Balducci Ceramica is a joy forever.

Book a traditional lunch at Locanda Di Sant'Agostino Osteria

Restaurant, Italian, $$$
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Located just south of the Church of Saint Augustine, this local inn delivers exactly what you need for lunch – a typical rustic Tuscan ragu, a super-thin margherita or a plate of pesto pasta with shaved parmesan cheese, all washed down with a glass (or two) of good local wine. If it’s too hot at the outside tables in the midday sun, there’s something quite special about the cosy museum-esque interior.
These recommendations were updated on October 8, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh. This article is an updated version of a story created by Celia Topping

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