This most distinguished of historical towns with its stunning grand piazza and imposing awe inspiring tower is perfect for immersing yourself in medieval Italy
The beautiful city of Siena had its historic centre declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1995. It is easy to see why; its magnificent centre has maintained its lovely and unique appearance as if frozen in time from the 13th century. More intimate, and often less crowded than its other Tuscan counterpart, Florence, Siena is a delightful place to explore, discovering narrow back streets and hidden squares.
The city also plays host to the Siena Palio, Italy's most famous sporting event, where horses are raced, bareback, across the Piazza del Campo, an event that has been held here almost every year since 1644.
What to do
Head first to the Piazza del Campo, Siena's main square. It is one of the biggest medieval squares in the world, renowned for its beauty, and has been the centre of life in Siena since 1300. At the top of the square you will find the Fonte Gaia, one of the most beautiful fountains in Siena. Also fronting the piazza are the imposing buildings of Palazzo Sansedoni and Palazzo Pubblico. Also in the square you will find the Torre del Mangia, which when it was built was one of the tallest towers in Italy at 102m. If you're feeling energetic climb the 400 steps to the top of this impressive tower and admire the breathtaking views across the whole of Siena and the distant hills beyond.
Siena's breathtaking Cathedral is situated in a piazza just above the Piazza del Campo. Striking for its black and white marble interior and exterior, representative of the black and white symbolic colours of the city. Inside you will find a stunning interior housing important monuments and with an impressive mosaic tiled floor.
Make sure you don't miss the striking Piccolomini library, located inside the cathedral. Famous for the stunning, rich, gold frescoes that decorate its interior, the work of Pinturcchio and his pupils in the early 1500s. The library is a true gem, not to be missed.
Located on the south side of the cathedral is the Opera del Duomo Museum. A privately owned museum that houses some of the statues from the façade of the cathedral. Just behind the cathedral is the Baptistry, built in 1325, it is one of the most important religious sites in the city. Inside you can admire frescoes as well as an impressive bronze and marble font.
Right in front of the Duomo is the Complex of Santa Maria della Scala, Once home to a hospital caring for abandoned children, the poor, sick and pilgrims, it is now an impressive museum holding a vast collection of important works of arts and monuments. This enormous museum complex, of over 10,000 square metres on several different levels, is connected by a maze of tunnels and hallways. A must to discover the art and history of Siena through the years.
What to eat
Siena is a lively university city, packed with restaurants, cafes, bars and wineries. Enjoy an evening meal before taking a slow stroll, enjoying some of the many street performers you will find lining its busy streets and squares.
For one of the best pizzas in Siena head to the reasonably priced, Il Cavaliere Errante. The pizzas are cooked to perfection and the delicious house wine is served by the carafe. Located only minutes from piazza del Campo, it offers outside seating, a lively atmosphere and attentive staff. For seafood lovers, Tre Cristi, is a must. One of the few seafood restaurants in the area, this long established venue offers an elegant menu, a complimentary glass of prosecco on arrival and a chic and elegant interior.
If you're looking for the perfect wine bar head to Osteria Il Vinaio. This incredibly popular bar is buzzing with locals enjoying a bowl of pasta or two washed down by their highly quaffable house wine.
For the best gelato try La Vecchia Latteria. A favourite amongst locals you will find it near the Pinacoteca Nazionale. The owners use fresh ingredients to concoct fabulous gelato and frozen yoghurts recipes.
How to get there
From Florence there are hourly direct trains into Siena. There are also direct trains from Grosetto in the south. The train station in Siena is located approx. 2km north of the city centre. It's an uphill walk into town but all buses from the station pass through the centre and will only take about 5 minutes to get you there. If arriving by car, relatively cheap parking can be found near Fortezza Medicea, northwest of the city stadium, and around it.
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