A day trip to Siena is always a good idea if you are headed to Tuscany. I absolutely loved this fortress-like town surrounded by olive groves and vineyards! Its gothic architecture, rich history and strange traditions make Siena one of the most fascinating and beautiful towns in Europe.
Although the city is attractive enough to keep you busy for a few good days, its landmarks and historic sites can be easily explored in a day.
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Day Trip to Siena – First Impressions
There are some very unique things about Siena that will stick with you long after you leave the city. Unlike Florence’s gray, somber tones, Siena’s red-brick buildings give the city a brighter and more attractive look.
Sienna also has the feel of an old and homey small town. The doors of the grocery stores are always open and wooden boxes of fruit spill out onto the street, advertising their prices in hand-written numbers. Expresso is served in glass cups which makes you take a moment to look at the beauty of the drink you’re about to have. Sausages are a staple in almost every grocery story, hanging from the ceilings in a very appealing way.
What to See in Siena on a Day Trip
Piazza del Campo
The best place to start your day trip to Siena is from the heart of the city, in the beautiful Piazza del Campo. This place is one of Siena’s most popular landmarks.
The shell-shaped piazza with its red-brick pavement is incredible! It is larger than life! You can’t get the feel of this large open space until you stand there. Photos can’t even begin to do justice to this spectacular place. The Piazza’s fame derives first and foremost from being the location of the world-famous horse race, Palio di Siena.
Among the buildings overlooking Piazza del Campo you can see the Palazzo Comunale that once hosted the headquarters’ of Siena’s council, but today is occupied by the Civic Museum. Built in red brick and marble, the Palazzo is decorated with Gothic windows and beautiful frescoes.
Torre del Mangia
The Torre del Mangia is 87 meters high and offers the most spectacular views of the region for those willing to climb its 400 steps. The climb is very tiring and is surely not for those who are claustrophobic. However, if you venture up there a view of 360° awaits you at the top of the tower. The Torre del Mangia is the only place from where you can get a bird-eye view of the entire city.
One of the must-see attractions not to miss on your day trip to Siena is the famous Fonte Gaia. This impressive water fountain which is also located in the Piazza del Campo, dates back to 1419. The water that feeds the fountain comes from a spring that travels through 25 kilometers of underground passages.
The name of the fountain (Fountain of Joy) derives from the great celebrations that took place when the people of Siena saw the water coming out from the fountain for the first time.
Piazza del Duomo
From Piazza del Campo you can continue to Piazza del Duomo, which is home to Siena’s famous Cathedral di Santa Maria Assunta.
Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta (Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption)
Also known as the Duomo di Siena, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Assumption is a true Gothic masterpiece. The Cathedral of Sienna occupies the site where once stood a temple of Minerva.
The present building dates back to the early 13th century, but the cupola was finished much later. The Gothic façade is absolutely magnificent, featuring white, black and pink marble.
Unlike the Duomo of Florence whose Baptistery is located in a totally different building, the Santa Maria Assunta’s Baptistery is in a lower level of the cathedral.
Adjacent to the Cathedral you’ll see a wall that stands alone, like some unfinished project. The wall was part of an enlargement plan for the cathedral that started in the early 1300s. However, the construction came to a halt in 1348, when the Black Death swept through the city.
After the Plague, Siena’s population dropped from around 42,000 to 14,000. The enlargement project was never resumed, hence the unfinished wall.
The wall has a great observation deck from where you can enjoy a wonderful panoramic view of Siena. The access for the wall is through the Museo dell’Opera, also located in Piazza del Duomo.
Loggia della Mercanzia
Loggia della Mercanzia (the Merchants’ Storehouse) is another icon not to be missed on your day trip to Siena. The loggia is in the commercial heart of Siena, on a narrow street which is usually very crowded. The building is difficult to photograph or even to observe. Therefore, you can easily miss it if you are not aware of its whereabouts.
Loggia della Mercanzia served once as the merchants’ storehouse. The superb structure includes a spacious gallery with three arches supported by beautifully adorned columns.
Piazza dei Salimbeni
This beautiful rectangular Piazza is formed by three buildings that were once Palazzo Salimbeni, Palazzo Cantucci and Palazzo Spannocchi.
The three palazzos in Piazza Dei Salimbeni are very beautiful examples of Italian architecture. Notice the beautiful façade of Palazzo Spannocchi featuring the heads of Roman emperors. Today the three buildings are home to the oldest bank in the world still in operation (1472) – Monte dei Paschi.
At the center of Piazza dei Salimbeni is the statue of the archdeacon Sallustio Bandini, the founder of the Library of Siena.
Chiesa di San Cristoforo
Cheesa di San Cristoforo (the Church of St. Christofor) was initially built in the 11th-12th century, but suffered severe damages during the earthquake of 1798. After the reconstruction the church underwent some changes. The red-brick temple façade that you see today was added in the 1800s.
How to Get from Florence to Siena
Independent Day Trip to Siena
Siena is an easy do-it-yourself day trip from Florence. The city is worth a full day. If you choose to see Sienna independently you can either take the train or the bus. You can also drive yourself if you have a car, but most visitors don’t usually rent cars.
You can catch a bus for Siena either next to the Santa Maria Novela train station, or pick it up at Porta Romana after getting tickets at a tabacco shop. The bus drops you off at the edge of the historic center.
Busses between Florence and Siena run very frequently. The journey takes anywhere between 1.3–1.5 hours, depending on what line you take (express or regular). You can check the bus schedule here.
The train from Florence to Siena also runs very frequently (two trains per hour). The journey takes a little longer than the bus, but it costs about the same (€8). This is a good option if you travel with kids and need more space. The train lets you off at the bottom of the hill in Siena. You can check the train schedule here.
Organized Tours to Siena
There are many tour companies that do day trips to Siena from Florence. Some offer stops in other cities as well, such as San Gimignano, Chianti, or Pisa. Almost every hotel or travel agent in Florence can recommend you a tour, and the prices are very competitive.
The guides speak fluent English and are very knowledgeable. They will also recommend good places to eat and tell you where to shop. When we do short day trips like this, we prefer using a guided tour.
Interesting Facts about Siena
- Sienese speak the purest form of the Tuscan dialect, which after the unification of Italy became what today’s modern Italian language.
- Basilica of Santo Domingo houses the head and thumb of Italy’s patron saint, Catherine of Siena. She played an instrumental role in bringing back the Papacy to Rome from its exile in Avignon.
- Siena is one of the richest cities in Italy. Restaurants never lack customers and the shops sell great merchandise. From fine silverware to aged wines and exotic meats and cheeses, you can buy very good quality stuff in Siena.
- People in Siena are famous of being law abiding citizens who follow the law to the letter! Streets are sparkling clean, people park only in designated spaces, and so do bus tours.
- Siena is home to one of the oldest universities in Europe.
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