Things to do in Siena
Nestled in the Italian countryside, surrounded by olive groves and lush green vineyards, the beautiful, historic city of Siena is the heart of Tuscany. Famous for being Italy’s best-preserved medieval town as well as a UNESCO world heritage site, the walled city center is constructed on top of three hills, and made up of steep, meandering pedestrian streets that all converge in the famous, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo. Almost unchanged since the 16th century, the entire town is a dramatic, outdoor museum of Gothic architecture and medieval art that’s both endlessly inspiring and likely to take your breath away. Here are our recommendations from our week-long trip to Siena.
Where to Stay
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of great places to stay in this lovely city, with options ranging from Airbnb rentals to hotels to camping. Try an Airbnb if you’re interested in getting a taste of the local lifestyle; If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Wednesday, you can visit the local market in the morning and whip up an Italian-style feast for dinner in one of the fully-equipped kitchens that most of the rentals offer.
On the other hand, a hotel is a great choice if you’re looking to escape daily household tasks like cooking and cleaning. There are numerous hotels in Siena, and we stayed a few nights at the beautiful Hotel Italia, which is a 3 stars hotel in Siena that offers an extravagant breakfast buffet featuring handmade pastries, vegan and gluten-free options, and even an automated pancake machine. They also have an outdoor pool available for use during the summer, and free Italian coffee all day every day.
As we mentioned on our previous Siena post, Adventurous spirits who enjoy the outdoors can try camping at the beautiful Camping Colleverde, an affordable, easily accessible campground located just 3 km from the city center. You’ll find a pool here too, as well as free wifi in all the public areas (which works pretty well!). We went camping here for a few nights and this was a great option for us, as we wanted to enjoy nature and the amazing views of the area, while still being in easy reach of city comforts.
Things to do
No matter where you chose to spend your nights, you’ll have no trouble filling your days with sightseeing and activities. Thanks to its well-preserved walls and soaring Gothic architecture, the city in itself is a work of art worthy of your attention, but you should pay special attention to the Piazza del Campo, the heart of the town, and the Palazzo Publico, which has been the city hall for over eight hundred years.
Art lovers can head to the Pinacoteca, a national museum full of Sienese paintings from the city’s medieval heyday, while finance aficionados can check out the Palazzo Salimbeni, which houses the main offices of one of the oldest banks in the world. If you’re interested in religion, you can visit the house where St. Catherine of Siena was born in the 14th century; she’s one of the principal patron saints of Italy.
One of the things Siena is best-known for is Il Palio, a showy, spirited horse race that occurs twice a year, on July 2 and August 16. Ten of the city’s neighborhoods are represented by a horse and jockey in each race, and the festivities actually start four days before the actual race occurs. Il Palio has been a tradition in Siena since the 11th century, so rivalry runs deep between the various districts. This is definitely one of the most electric – and busiest – times to visit.
Of course, a visit to Tuscany wouldn’t be complete without visiting an olive grove and at least one vineyard. If you have a car, you can head to the Montestigliano Olive estate located 12 km from the city, where you can taste and buy some of the best olive oil in the region. When it comes to visiting vineyards, the best approach is to take one of the many tours of the region offered all over the city; you’ll get to learn from an expert about the history of each wine you taste as well as what to pair it with.
If you do take a wine tour, there’s no better place to use your newfound knowledge than at one of the many spectacular restaurants found in the city. Few people would disagree that one of the highlights of a trip to Italy is the food, and in Siena you’re almost guaranteed to stumble across a trattoria serving authentic, delicious food at every turn. Try Gino Cacino di Angelo for amazing, reasonably priced paninis and cheese platters, or head to Osteria Le Sorelline if you’re looking to splurge on an elegant Italian feast. It’s almost impossible to make a wrong choice in a city where the people know this much about food, so pick a place and enjoy!