All you need to know to make the most of one day in Siena: the best things to see, the best food to try, practical tips to see the best of Siena in a day.
The historical town of Siena is one of the most popular stops on any Tuscany itinerary and a place most visitors fall in love with.
A hilltop town of medieval origins, Siena is an extravaganza of tall towers, meandering streets, museums, shops and mouthwatering food and adds to this intoxicating mix a nice buzz coming from its dynamic university life
If you are looking to a Tuscan town with lots of history, food and views, Siena is the place for you!
We have been to Siena several times, at different stages in life, and the last visit was with our two kids, who embraced sightseeing and local food like real travel pros.
We spent a day in Siena as part of our family vacation in Tuscany, and these are our best tips to enjoy the city.
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Why visit Siena and what makes it special
Tuscany has many beautiful hilltop towns so you may wonder if there is anything that makes Siena special and stand our from the rest.
Indeed, there is!
Siena was founded in the XI century and for hundreds of years stayed as one of the most powerful cities in the region, rival to the prestige of Florence.
This important past shaped the city and gave this town some architectural gems that are unique in the world.
The most famous are Piazza del Campo and the Duomo of Siena, two examples of breathtaking Medieval art like no others!
One day in Siena: guided or self guided?
We visited Siena on our own and we felt it was easy and satisfying.
However, if you want more guidance, there are several guided tours and day trips from Florence, in particular, that you can take.
Here are some good ones (all with good cancellation options):
The best things to see in Siena in one day: itinerary
The best way to enjoy Siena is to leisurely stroll around its city center and let your inspiration guide you.
The city is compact enough that you will not get irremediably lost and part of its charm is being surrounded by its medieval past and discover how seamlessly blends with the demands of modern life.
Siena is very much a living and breathing city, where shops and cars mix with a strong Medieval atmosphere.
However, there are some things you should seek out in Siena, important monuments that are unmissable and unique in the world.
They are close to each other and they can easily be included in your one day in Siena itinerary
Piazza del Campo
Piazza del campo is one of the most famous landmarks in Siena and one of the most beautiful piazzas in the whole it Italy.
Located right in the heart of Siena is a vast piazza with a peculiar shell shape that fans out to embrace Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico, the focal point of the area.
The piazza is breathtakingly beautiful.
As you come from the small and sometimes oppressive small side streets, it suddenly opens in front of you in a triumph of light and space.
Its ground has a distinctive orange/biscuit color and so do many of the buildings surrounding it and this gives the square a welcoming, warm feel.
You will need a minute to process how big and beautiful Piazza del Campo.
When the awe subsides, you will be able to see some of the finer details and monuments in the piazza, each contributing to the appearance of this special place.
Palazzo Pubblico and torre del Mangia
The star of the show in Piazza del Campo, aside from the piazza itself ss Palazzo Pubblico, the large building at its base, completed by the tall and distinctive Torre del Mangia.
Palazzo Pubblico dates back to the XIII century and it is an incredible sight.
Outside, you will admire its elaborate portico and, inside, you have a lovely cloister and, up above you, the tower ‘Torre del Mangia’.
The building now hosts the city museum, which many works of art by local masters and the tower offers incredible views to those brave and fit enough to climb it.
It is 87 meters tall and has over 400 steps but the view from above they say is stunning (as a person with a fear of height, I didn’t go!)
The palazzo is open to the public, tickets can be bough on the day or from the official online ticket office.
Piazza del Campo is also home to a beautiful fountain called Fonte Gaia, itself unique.
The fountain looks like a large throne, the main seat being the water pool, and it is carved with beautiful sculptures decorating its frame.
The fountain has been restored several times and the history of the several phases is recreated in the museum in Santa Maria della Scala (see below), something art lovers will not want to miss.
The fountain is a magnet for tourists who love sitting here and filling their water bottle form the small drinking spout to the left of the monument.
Worth noticing is the detail of the water tray: it has the shape of a shell, the same as the square!
Italy travel tip: I always recommend bringing a reusable water bottle when traveling in Italy as it can save you money and help reduce the trash problem manhy tourist cities face. You can find our recommendations for eco-friendly travel products here.
Duomo di Siena
Only a short walk from Piazza del campo you will find the other jewel of Siena, the stunning Siena Duomo.
The Duomo of Siena is one of the most important examples of the Romanic-Gothic style in Tuscany and beyond and one of the most churches in Italy.
The very first thing you will notice from the outside is its tower.
It is decorated in white and dark green marble stripes, a color combination and a pattern that makes it almost unique in its genre, and it is sure to capture your attention (if you are visiting with young kids yes, they will scream ‘it’s a zebra!)
The duomo façade is equally stunning: it has beautiful golden panels decorated with intricate sculptures and it glimmers under the Tuscan sun.
The outside of the duomo is alone worth a visit to Siena but the real gems are inside.
Inside the duomo, you will find again the dark green and white pattern of the towers and you will also abe to admire the works of art of many artists of the caliber of Donatello, Nicola Pisano, Pinturicchio and Michelangelo.
The Duomo is also known for its incredible pavement.
The pavement is decorated with 56 marble panes with carved an equal number of scenes and is unique for the technique and look.
It is usually covered up and only revealed on special occasions such as the days of the Palio. However, in 2020 a new walkway and path has been created to allow you to visit from above!
It is worth taking the time to visit the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, inside the cathedral itself, to learn about the peculiar challenges and techniques this type of decoration posed to its creators.
Inside the duomo complex, art lovers may also like to visit the Libreria Piccolomini, dedicated to Pope Pius II, and with beautiful frescoes by Pinturicchio and Raffaello (1500O and also the crypt, with may frescos by artists of the Scuola Senese from 1200).
Worth a visit is also the battistero and especially its baptismal font, the result of the work of many artists such as Jacopo della Quercia, Lorenzo Ghiberti and Donatello.
Santa Maria della Scala
Just in front of the Duomo you will find Santa Maria della Scala, the old Siena hospital.
Hospital, in this case, means ‘place of hospitality’ and it was a location for the poor, abandoned children and the Pilgrims walking the Via Francigena to rest and regain strength.
Santa Maria della scala is now a museum and it is worth visiting for the incredible spaces, frescoes and treasure it contains.
The streets between Piazza del Campo and the duomo are filled with shops and make for a lovely break from sightseeing,
Here you will find a little bit of everything: bookshops (some with a decent English titles section), food and clothing.
Tuscany is famous for leather goods and Siena can be a good place for this type of shopping: like everywhere, compare process before committing to a purchase, you will have no shortage of good shops to choose from.
Orto dei Pecci
Siena’s city center is stunning but like all medieval towns tends to lack green spaces, unless you know where to look for them!
Since we had the kids, we made an effort to seek out some green spaces and a lovely area we found was Orto dei Pecci, which is both a wonderful place and a location with an interesting story.
This is a large, green park perfect for families to for a short break from the busy city streets and it is an area I recommend everyone to go and seek out as it offers stunning views over the city.
Fun fact: Orto dei Pecci used to be an inhabited part of Siena but was abandoned during the plagues of the XV century. For the longest time, the area was the property of the local psychiatric hospital and gave its residents the produce they need, before becoming a public space. Nowaday is managed by a local orhganization that strives to keep as an ‘open space for everyone’.
From Orto de’ Pecci, or even just from outside of it, you will see stunning views over the city and the surrounding countryside and you will fully appreciate the architecture and the stunning location that makes Siena so special
Siena’s history is marked by the neighborhoods that form the city, the ‘contrade’.
Each contrada is a district with a distinct identity, crest and flag and they are the protagonist of the most important of all events taking place in Siena: the Siena palio, still recreated every summer in Piazza del Campo (suspended in 2020)
If you visit Siena outside the time of the palio, you can still get a sense of the contrade if you look at the street names: beside the main street plaque, you are likely to see tiles with animals depicted on them, the symbol of each contrada!
What to eat in Siena
Siena s famous for gorgeous foods and the main things to taste here are:
Pici con il ragu di cinghiale – pici is a type of pasta typical from the city of Siena. You can taste it with Tuscan Ragout or Wild Boar Ragout, both super tasty and typical of the area
Antipasto tipico senese – the Traditional Siena’s Appetizer is usually a platter with a selection of cured meats, local cheese and bruschetta with vegetable and meat pates.
Cantucci col vin santo – at the end of a meal, cantucci col vin santo are a delicious treat. These are dry, rather hard biscuits with almonds served with a shot of sweet wine to dunk them in!
Colli senesi Chianti wine – siena is surrounded by wine regions and you cannot go wrong ordering local wine. You can have Colli Senesi wine or pick one from the area just to the South of Siena, such as Rosso or Brunello di Montalcino, Morellino di Scansano or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
Visiting Siena with kids: Siena playgrounds and need to know
We found Siena to be very family-friendly and a few things stood out for us as particularly fun for the kids.
The small yet lovely playground on Piazza San Francesco is a pleasant stop for the whole family and a nice place to meet local kids for a play on the see-saw or the climbing frames
Orto de’ Pecci is wonderful and has a nice family-friendly restaurant and pizzeria
The contrade and their names made for a fun scavenger hunt exercise. There are 17 of them and you can challenge your kids to design their crests and then see how many they can find!
The 17 Siena contrade are: aquila (eagle), bruco (caterpillar), chiocciola (snail), civetta (owl), drago (dragon), giraffa (giraffe), istrice (porcupine), leocorno (unicorn), lupa (she-wolf), nicchio, oca (goose), onda (wave), pantera (panther), selva (woods), tortuca (tortoise), torre (tower), Valdimontone
Siena is reasonably stroller friendly but some areas are pretty steep so do expect moment when you will want to carry your toddler or let them walk. You can find our recommended strollers for Italy travel here.
One day in Siena practicalities: where to park / how to get around
Siena is a hilltop medieval town and traffic access is restricted to permit holders only.
If you are visiting Siena for the day only and have a car, several pay and display parking lots are located just outside the city walls and offer plenty of parking opportunities.
The one we used is called Parcheggio San Francesco, in a perfectly convenient location, but there are several others and they are all very well indicated by local signage.
Coming from the motorway, follow the city center signs and follow the road until it reaches the city’s wall, then choose your parking of choice.
Once you leave the car, escalators and lifts connect you to the city center proper, a little farther uphill.
Once there, the best way to explore Siena is on foot and you will soon experience the first Siena characteristic: being a hilltop town means most of its streets are steep!
This doesn’t pose particular mobility problems but it can make walking around tiring if you are less than sure on your foot or are pushing a stroller.
My best advice to get ready for a day in Siena is to wear comfortable walking shoes with good support and take your time. You can find my recommended shoes for Italy travel here.
I hope you enjoyed this guide to spending a day in Siena and found it useful. Safe trave planning!