A Quick Guide to Siena, Italy
Hello again, friends! Today I’m sharing part three in our five-part Tuscany travel series: A Quick Guide to Siena. To recap, our first post was An Ode to Florence, and our second post dished the deets on spending 24 Hours in San Gimignano.
Boyfriend and I have visited Siena twice together over the years and simply adore it. It has all the good things that come with a Tuscan city – food, views, culture – but with half as much tourists as in bigger cities like Florence. Honestly! It’s truly the best of both worlds.
You might think my list of recommendations is a bit sparse in some parts, but that’s just because we know which places are worthy of your time and which aren’t. Recommendations are listed below!
Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that can trace its existence back to Etruscan times. Like c.900-400 BC. One of the restaurants recommended below informed us that we were dining in a room that dated back to around 600BC. If the history alone isn’t worth a visit, then please consider visiting Siena for the food scene – it boasts some mighty fine restaurants, one of which is one of our all time favourites.
before you visit
Some of the things you should take into account before setting off!
* Siena is an extremely hilly town, which is definitely something to keep in mind if you suffer from bathmophobia.
* if you’re planning to visit the attractions within the Duomo complex, be aware that some of them require a combo ticket. The prices range a bit, but the tickets last for three days, giving you plenty of time to explore.
* Siena is home to the Palio, an insane horse race that takes place twice a year. The whole city books out & becomes much more expensive during these times, so be sure to check the dates before you travel.
The bus is the best way to travel into Siena – it’s cheaper, quicker, and more convenient. I’m a train gal myself, but every piece of advice I read said the same thing: take the damn bus. This is the route we took from San Gimignano:
* there are limited number of bus tickets available, so it is best to purchase them in advance. We bought ours at the tourist office in San Gimignano, where we were also given a timetable. The buses are, unsurprisingly, rather rare. Be sure to double-check the timetable to avoid disappointment.
* from the bus stop in San Gimignano – which is just outside and to the right of the main gate, Porta San Giovanni – you’re looking for bus #130 to Siena. Ours was at least 20-minutes late, so don’t panic. When you do get onboard, it’s important to validate your ticket, although ours were never checked.
* on the bus, you’re waiting for the last stop, which should take about 65-minutes. This leaves you right at Piazza Gramsci, the main bus station in Siena. From there, it’s just a short walk into the city centre or to the hotel suggested below.
Again, for a more detailed guide with extremely helpful pictures, I found this post very useful.
where to stay
Hotel Alma Domus // we’ve stayed here twice and still love it! The location is wonderful – not right in the city centre, but the perfect distance away. It is located near the main bus stops, and only a short walk to the main attractions. On our last visit we splurged for a room with a city view and it. was. insane! We barely wanted to leave the room! The staff are lovely and helpful, it’s clean, and there’s breakfast included. Would definitely recommend. Dates back to the 1300s!
what to see
Piazza del Campo // the shell-shaped heart of the city! Twice a year the piazza gets kitted out to play host to the Palio horse race, where 10 riders & horses battle it out to make their neighbourhood proud. It sounds like absolute madness, to be honest.
Basilica of San Dominico // the church of St. Catherine. The relic of the Saint’s head is housed within a bronze bust in the church, which the Sienese people smuggled out of Rome after her death. It’s a rather bizarre and lovely story – they wanted to return at least some of her remains to her hometown. An otherwise vast, empty church.
Saint Catherine’s Sanctuary // just around the corner from both the hotel & the church above. The birthplace of St. Catherine, where she lived and prayed. A quiet and peaceful building, filled with objects from the time of her life.
Fontebranda // a medieval fountain very near the hotel. A beautiful cave like room, with colourful koi swimming around.
Il Duomo di Siena // such a feast for the eyes! I even love the look of it from the outside, where the marble has a subtle pink tinge. Inside, striking black & white striped columns line the way to the altar. The floor of the cathedral is especially fascinating, so don’t forget to look down. The space is filled with sculptures by the likes of Michelangelo and Donatello. And make sure you visit the Piccolomini Library within – the ceiling of which is stunning. A must visit.
Crypt // only discovered in 1999, the crypt is wonderfully preserved. There are large colourful frescoes lining the walls, and sections of the floor have glass entrapped to allow you to see even further underneath. It was Boyfriend’s idea to go here & it was so worth it – very unusual. Warning: you cannot buy a ticket into the crypt alone, you must buy a combo ticket to visit. For more information, see ‘before you visit‘ above.
Baptistery of Saint John // perhaps my favourite building in the Duomo complex. The baptismal font is decorated with bronze sculptural reliefs, many of them done by Donatello. We sat inside in the shade for ages, taking it all in.
where to eat dinner
Taverna di San Giuseppe // we visited one night on our first trip to Siena and loved it so much we went back the next night. Now we visit every time we return to the city, it just keeps getting better! The draw is half the amazing staff, half the delicious food. The staff are amazing, friendly, and extremely knowledgeable. We feast every time we visit, because it truly is the best food in Siena. Obvious highlights include the ragu and wild boar pasta dishes, the potatoes al forno, and the fagioli – no seriously, the fagioli are divine. However, what stole the show for us was the secondo recommended by our waiter. It was beef as we’ve never had it – tender, pink on the inside, crispy on the outside, and wrapped in colonnata lard from a nearby town. Don’t miss: the light-as-air cheesecake for dessert, it’s perfect! A must visit.
a very close second
Da Divo // another return visit. We were seated in the lower part of the restaurant this time ’round, down steep stairs into a cavernous room. Apparently it dates back to the times of the Etruscans – around 600BC – how cool is that? Our meal, as always, was delicious. Before our shared antipasto to start, we were given tasters of a local tomato soup; both delicious. A series of mouth-watering courses followed: saffron risotto served from a drum of pecorino, picci ragu, rolled pork stuffed with chard & local paese cheese on a bed of gratin potatoes. We nearly couldn’t fit it in, but persevered to share a baked custard dessert. The ambiance in the cave was wonderfully romantic, perfect for a date. The only downside is the slow service – it’s hard to get the attention of the busy waiters running right by! A must visit.
where to eat snacks
Pizzeria Alle Scallatte // a casual pizza place, filled with locals. It’s very close to the hotel, a perfect pit-stop on your way to/fro the bus stop. We found the service to be really slow, but the pizza was delicious and inexpensive.
where to get coffee
Nannini // from what we understood, this is a local institution. Located conveniently near the main piazza, they focus on traditional Sienese pastries and baked goods. I do believe we had a wonderful bomboloni here.
Bar 4 Cantoni // we stumbled inside here after smelling the coffee wafting out the door. It is one classy place for a morning coffee! We had ours Italian style – standing at the bar – but there was also table service available if you wanted to pay triple the price.
where to drink
Osteria la Chiacchiera // conveniently close to the hotel, this is such a nice spot to stop for a drink. It’s perched on the steep hillside into town, giving wonderful views in the evening, with fairy lights twinkling above. We frequented for a good ole’ Aperol Spritz or two, which were only 4euro! Here, or similar nearby, a must-visit.
Bar Osteria il Bargello // I do believe we only stepped in here because we got slightly lost on our way out to dinner, but still. The place was jammed with people, squished in along the bar, etc. We had a quick beer before locating ourselves on the map again.
Caffetteria Magnifico // this is by no means a nice bar, but hear me out. Yes, the service is slow and the prices are a little high, but it sits literally right in front of the baptistery, so the views are worth it.
That pretty much sums up everything we know and love about Siena! If you found this helpful or have any thoughts at all, please let me know in the comment section below. The next post in this Tuscan travel series – Castellina in Chianti – will be coming to the blog in just a few short weeks, so be sure to check back!