Tuscany is one of those destinations which makes you want to pack your bags immediately even if you just hear its name. The region in central Italy is one of the country’s most popular for international travelers to visit, in no small part thanks to wonderful cities like Siena. Full of romance and character, Siena is an ideal choice of destination in Tuscany that is sure to make a lasting impression.
But one of the really great things about a trip to Siena is how you don’t actually need a lot of time to experience it at its best. This Siena itinerary carves a route through the city, cleverly showing you all the best places to visit in Siena as efficiently as possible. By following it, all you’ll need is a day in Siena to see the main sights and understand its enduring appeal.
Best Time to Visit Siena
Your experience visiting Siena is going to depend on a few factors, but one of the most crucial is the time of year in which you go. Like so much of Italy, Siena is at its busiest with tourists during the summer, so from June through September you can expect lines at attractions and hotels to be at their most expensive and booked out. The one reason you might want to consider Siena in summer, though, is the famous Palio horse race that takes place twice a year on July 2 and August 16.
Otherwise, the best time to visit Siena is either side of the high season, in the months of April, May, and October. Falling squarely into the shoulder season, these months offer comfortable weather for sightseeing without the crowds you get during peak season. The winter months of December through March are the quietest when it comes to tourists, but cold, wet weather and reduced opening hours at some attractions make it a less desirable time to visit.
How to Get Around Siena
Siena may not be a large city like Florence or Rome, but you’ll still want to know your options for getting around. Many of the city’s most popular attractions are quite close together, but some are a little further out, as is the main train station. Factor in the city’s extremely hilly landscape, and sooner or later you’ll be looking for an alternative to walking everywhere.
The bad news is that Siena’s only real public transport option is its local bus network. Thankfully, the city’s buses connect the train station at the bottom of the hill with the historical center at the top, with bus stops comfortably close to most attractions. Bus tickets can be bought at the train station, newspaper kiosks, and tobacconists, with a single ticket costing €1.50.
Where to Stay in Siena
Something that can really make or break a vacation is accommodation, so it’s essential that you put thought into deciding where to stay in Siena before you get there. This is especially true if you plan on visiting during summer as you’ll likely find options few and far between if you leave booking a place to the last minute.
Most accommodation is found within the historical center of Siena, but the best places to stay in Siena are the ones closer to attractions like Piazza del Campo and the Siena Duomo. That’s because they’re found at the top of the hill, saving you the hard work of walking up the hill when you want to do some sightseeing.
Treat yourself with a night or two at the Grand Hotel Continental Siena, a stunning luxury hotel perfectly located in the heart of the historical center. The five-star hotel offers spacious and distinguished rooms with private terraces and suites that have frescoed walls and ceilings.
For a nice balance of comfort, style, and affordability, base yourself at B&B Il Corso. This elegant bed and breakfast sits inside a 16th-century building full of character and boasts rooms with exposed beam ceilings and a fabulous complimentary breakfast.
Tuscany isn’t the best place for budget-friendly places to stay, so the Casacenti bed and breakfast is one of the most affordable options. Located extremely close to the Duomo, this homely B&B comes with all the basics, including a tasty complimentary breakfast.
For more accommodation options in Siena check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 1-Day Siena Itinerary
Given how well known Siena is as a highlight of Tuscany, it may seem strange that we’re saying you only need one day to experience the best of Siena. However, while you can certainly spend more time there if you like, the city’s compact nature means that you quickly move from one place to the next. The best things to do in Siena all explore the city’s historic and religious character, allowing you to soak up its utterly delightful old-fashioned atmosphere.
However, before we get to our Siena itinerary, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
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Now that we have fully covered that important matter, let’s take a look at this Siena travel itinerary that highlights what to do in Siena in a day to see its most popular spots.
Recommendation: Discover the culture and traditions of Siena on a guided walking tour with a local. Visit some of the city’s most beautiful sites including the Piazza del Campo, Palazzo Pubblico, Basilica of San Domenico, and Duomo.
Piazza del Campo
There’s no better place to start your time in Siena than with the city’s most important square, the Piazza del Campo. Shaped a little like a saucer, the Piazza del Campo is the main piazza in Siena and home to the city’s famous Palio di Siena horse race, when it’s transformed into a race course.
The rest of the year the Piazza del Campo is still quite interesting to explore, as it’s lined with a collection of eye-catching landmarks. The two most noteworthy are the Palazzo Pubblico and Torre del Mangia, but there’s also the Fountain of Gaia opposite them, not to mention lots of cafés if you just want to sit and take in the space with a coffee.
The Palazzo Pubblico is hard to miss on the Piazza del Campo thanks to its distinctive Italian Gothic architecture. Dating from the 13th century, it has served as the Town Hall of Siena for centuries, but today it is also home to the Siena Civic Museum. Inside the museum, you can see a wonderful collection of historical artifacts, as well as the original frescoes that adorn the palace walls.
Torre del Mangia
Standing next to the Palazzo Pubblico at 102 meters (335 feet) is the almost awkwardly tall Torre del Mangia. It is said that the tower was built to be the same height as the Siena Cathedral to show that the state had just as much power as the church. No matter the reason, visitors will be grateful for its towering height as it offers some fantastic city views when you climb to the top.
Old Town Streets
Having seen the most important square in the historical center of Siena, it’s time to stretch your legs and go for a wander. It’s only by taking to the city’s streets that you’ll be able to appreciate the well-preserved historical character of Siena, with its narrow streets and secluded stairways.
If you’re looking for a little direction in your wandering, there are a few places worth seeking out. One is the Piazza Salimbeni, a small square lined with palaces on three sides, each with their own individual architectural style. Another is the Fontebranda, a medieval fountain from the 13th century set under grand Gothic arches.
As is so often the case in Italy, the city’s cathedral is a landmark not to be missed. The Siena Duomo sits at one of the highest points in the city and makes an immediate statement with its extravagant Gothic architecture. Inside and out, the Duomo features a gleaming white striped marble design, making it stand out from the many other monumental cathedrals in Italy.
Inside the 13th-century cathedral, you’ll find ornate tiles covering every bit of free space between its black and white columns. But even if the cathedral’s interior were empty, you’d have to marvel at the sheer amount of space it encloses. While visiting the Duomo, be sure to pay a visit to the Piccolomini Library, a beautiful space covered in frescoes and home to important church manuscripts.
Recommendation: Avoid waiting in long lines and book your fast pass entrance ticket to the Duomo in advance here. Or better yet, book a private guide tour to learn about the cathedral and the works within it from a professional art historian.
Santuario di Santa Caterina
From the outside, tucked away in the back streets of the historical center, the Santuario di Santa Caterina might not look like much. However, this sanctuary is quite important as it was built to honor St. Catherine of Siena, a patron saint of Italy and Doctor of the Church. It’s said that the Santuario di Santa Caterina was actually built on the site where St. Catherine was born. Inside the sanctuary, be sure to visit the Church of the Crucifix for its beautifully lavish design and frescoed ceiling.
Basilica of San Domenico
There’s one last religious site that needs to be visited in Siena, and that too has ties to St. Catherine of Siena. The Basilica of San Domenico is an enormous church from the 13th century with a decidedly plain exterior and interior. What’s special about it is that it hosts several relics of the saint, including her mummified head inside the St. Catherine Chapel.
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena
Those looking to get one last little dose of culture out of their visit will definitely want to make time for the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena, the finest museum in Siena. This national museum is home to a respectable collection of works of art by medieval and Renaissance Italian artists, including pieces by Domenico Beccafumi, Duccio di Buoninsegna, and Michelino Molinari da Besozzo. If you have an interest in art, you can easily spend an hour or two perusing its collection from the Sienese School, known for its particular use of gold backgrounds.
Have More Than 24 Hours in Siena?
Even though 24 hours in Siena is plenty of time to see its most popular sights, that doesn’t mean you can’t stay longer there if you like. With extra time, you could dig even deeper into what makes this city special (for example by taking an Educational Wine Tasting Tour or a Pasta and Tiramisu Making Class) or take the opportunity to see other great destinations in this part of Italy. Here are a few ideas for how you can spend your extra time if the idea of doing a day trip from Siena appeals to you.
One of the best places to visit in Tuscany that you can quickly reach from Siena is the breathtaking town of San Gimignano. This UNESCO world heritage site is famous for the many towers that create its signature skyline.
Start your visit with the Piazza del Duomo, the heart of San Gimignano, where you’ll find the town’s Duomo and Town Hall. Both landmarks are especially impressive from the inside, with the frescoes of the Town Hall particularly memorable. It’s there that you’ll also find the Torre Grosso, a tower that will grant you brilliant views of the surrounding olive groves and vineyards if you climb up it.
Elsewhere in the town, you’ll find the rest of San Gimignano’s 14 surviving towers, as well as several scenic panoramic points. The town’s streets are also home to plenty of medieval and Renaissance landmarks, including the Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà and the Porta San Giovanni.
Talking of famous places to go in Tuscany, it’s hard to not mention the Renaissance city of Florence. We’d usually recommend several days in Florence, but you can get a nice taste of the city and see the best spots in just one.
With no time to waste, head straight for the Piazza del Duomo, home to the city’s famous cathedral and baptistery. There you can see the gorgeous Renaissance architecture and interiors of these two buildings, before journeying up to the roof of the Duomo or neighboring bell tower for unbelievable views across the city’s rooftops.
The Piazza della Signoria is an excellent next stop, as it features more Renaissance gems like the Loggia dei Lanzi, the Neptune Fountain, and Palazzo Vecchio. Other attractions to seek out in the historical center include the scenic Ponte Vecchio over the Arno River and the famous art exhibits of the Uffizi and the Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze.
Another city in Tuscany that definitely deserves mention is the famous yet misunderstood city of Pisa. People from all over the world know of the incredible Leaning Tower of Pisa, but few realize that it is just one of many attractions around this pretty city.
Since it’s the city’s most iconic landmark, begin your visit by heading to the world famous Leaning Tower. Once you’re there, you’ll realize there are several other equally impressive places to visit, such as the Pisa Cathedral and Baptistery and the Piazza dei Cavalieri, surrounded by picturesque Renaissance buildings.
Pisa has its own pretty waterfront area along the Arno River to explore, with highlights including the Mezzo Bridge and the elaborate little Church of Santa Maria della Spina. For some culture, be sure to pop into Palazzo Blu for its exhibitions of Italian art. To learn more about the city, see our dedicated Pisa itinerary.
So there you have it – all that you need to know to get the most out of exploring Siena in a day. Hopefully you can now see how great a destination Siena is but also how with even just one day there is plenty of time to see its highlights.