The Top 10 Things To Do in Siena, Italy

© Costanza Maremmi / Culture Trip
© Costanza Maremmi / Culture Trip
Photo of Niall McGrade
3 August 2018

Siena is defined by its medieval brick buildings, a beautiful Tuscan city out of a different era. Seventeen city wards fan out from Piazza del Campo, and the winding streets are enticing to even the most aloof of visitors. You could get lost in them for days, but if you only have a limited amount of time to spend in Siena, here’s our list of what not to miss.

© Costanza Maremmi / Culture Trip

Piazza del Campo

One of the most spectacular medieval squares in all of Europe. The shell-shaped space was built some time before the 13th century, and provided a site for merchants and market-goers to convene and hawk their wares. The tiling on the floor is divided into nine different sections, representing The Nine who governed Siena at the apex of its medieval glory. The Piazza remains the city’s focal point, even after all these centuries, so it makes sense that it provides a nice hub to see the other items on this list.

Watch out for: The great people-watching opportunities

Famous City Hall on Piazza del Campo | © Michal Sikorski / Alamy Stock Photo

Siena Cathedral

This black-and-white construction looms large over the surrounding buildings, and rightly so. Combining elements of French Gothic, Romanesque, and Classical architecture, it’s one of the most impressive buildings in all of Siena. It has one of the most interesting façades in Italy, with each of the cardinal directions getting a turn in the spotlight with its own separate work. Take a walk around the cathedral to soak it all in, before entering it and seeing the spectacular marble mosaic flooring, alongside works by Donatello and a young Michelangelo.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30am-5pm, Sun 1:30pm-5pm

Watch out for: The exterior gargoyles

Italy, Siena, the Duomo | © giuseppe masci / Alamy Stock Photo

Biblioteca Piccolomini

This library is housed inside Siena Cathedral, built by Pope Pius III for his uncle, the eponymous Piccolomini (better known as Pope Pius II). It was built to preserve the rich heritage of the tomes, but now all that remains are choral books. However, despite the fact the books are mostly gone, the library itself is a work of art. The walls are decorated with frescoes by Pinturicchio, depicting the life and death of Piccolomini. Likewise, there is a sculpture in the centre of the space, a copy of an earlier Hellenistic work depicting the Three Graces.

Opening Hours: Mon-Sat 10:30am-5pm, Sun 1:30pm-5pm

Watch out for: The ceiling

Piccolomini Library, Siena Cathedral, Italy | © Tasfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

Historic Centre of Siena

An area centred on Piazza del Campo, The Historic Centre of Siena was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995. The integrity of the streets has been looked after over the years, and it’s a good thing it has, because it would be a shame to let these streets fall into disrepair. Walking these streets is like walking back in time. Somehow, getting lost doesn’t feel like being lost at all, but feels like an adventure.

Watch out for: The array or shops and restaurants in the streets

© Costanza Maremmi / Culture Trip

Torre del Mangia

Torre del Mangia is one of Italy’s tallest secular towers. It was built to be the exact height of the Siena Cathedral, as a sign that Church and State possessed equal power in Siena. Torre del Mangia literally means Tower of the Eater, and it’s named after Mangiaguadagni, the “profit-eater”, so called because he was very liberal in the amount of money he would spend in the inns and taverns of Siena. Mangiaguadagni himself would be proud of the views that the tower provides.

Opening Hours: 10am-7pm

Watch out for: The statues on the loggia atop the tower

The Mangia Tower, Siena, Italy | © Beppe Arvidsson / Alamy Stock Photo

Battistero di San Giovanni

The Battistero di San Giovanni is another beautiful religious building in Siena, this time with a fully Gothic façade. Inside, there is a rectangular hall with a wonderful hexagonal font. The font is by several of the main sculptors at the time, including Donatello, and is in bronze, marble, and enamel. Each side of the font has its own panel, representing stages in the life of John the Baptist. Add this to your itinerary of sights.

Watch out for: The Feast of Herod by Donatello

Baptistery of San Giovanni font, Siena | © Sérgio Nogueira / Alamy Stock Photo

The Civic Museum of Siena

This museum was commissioned by the city’s government, instead of the Church. As a result, many of the frescoes depict secular subjects in lieu of religious ones. However, the highlight of the museum is still the beautiful Virgin Mary in Majesty, from 1315. After picking up a ticket, a whole host of rooms are open to the visitor, including the Sala dei Nove, where the governing council of The Nine was based. This town hall and museum is a great addition to any Siena trip, and is worth visiting for both the history and spectacle of the thing.

Opening Hours: 10am-7pm daily (10am-6pm in Winter)

Watch out for: the Sala del Concistoro

Fonte Gaia

Out of all Siena’s fountains, we’ve chosen this one for our list. Fonte Gaia is either named after the emotion of joy or the Virgin Mary, and these together provide a nice secular-religious split, much like the rest of Siena. Underground pipes bring water to the font from 25km away, which is a pretty stellar feat of engineering for the time. The decorative frame was constructed in 1419, but was replaced with marble copies in the 19th century. Nonetheless, even the copies are a sight to behold, and this is much more than just a fountain.

Watch out for: The left panel, The Creation of Adam

Fonte Gaia monumental fountain located in the Campo Square of Siena, Italy | © Dmytro Surkov / Alamy Stock Photo

Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala

A former hospital, parts of this building date back as far as the 13th century. Nowadays, it’s no longer in use as a house of medicine, but houses three museums. The best of the three is the archaeological museum, an atmospheric journey in the tunnels below the hospital. There are more frescoes to be seen above ground, dripping with history as they depict scenes of good work by the hospital and its patrons.

Opening Hours: Wed-Mon 10:30am-6:30pm (10:30am-4:30pm in winter)

Watch out for: The medieval hayloft

The Palio di Siena

This horse race is held twice yearly, once in July and once in August. Ten horses and riders, representing ten of the city wards, circle the Piazza del Campo three times. The race is over quickly, usually well within two minutes, but the crowds, the vendors, and the race itself make it something not to miss if you’re in Siena at the time. The Corteo Storice, a world renowned pageant, takes place beforehand, so the race isn’t even the only thing on offer.

Watch out for: The banners sold by street vendors beforehand

© Costanza Maremmi / Culture Trip

This post was originally written by Monica Burns, and has been updated.

Cookies Policy

We and our partners use cookies to better understand your needs, improve performance and provide you with personalised content and advertisements. To allow us to provide a better and more tailored experience please click "OK"