With its lively piazzas, Gothic monuments, and well-preserved city walls, the historic center of Siena is one of Italy’s most impressive medieval cityscapes. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, the old town is an open-air museum of striking historical architecture, including the Piazza del Campo and the Gothic cathedral.
The heart of Siena’s historic center is Piazza del Campo, home to the famous Palio horse races and landmarks such as the medieval Palazzo Pubblico (town hall), Fontana Gaia fountain, and Torre del Mangia tower. Nearby, the marble-fronted Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (Cattedrale Metropolitana di Santa Maria Assunta, or Duomo di Siena) is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture and one of Siena’s most impressive sights. Additional highlights include the Fort of Santa Barbara (Fortezza di Santa Barbara) and Palazzo Salimbeni palace.
Siena’s historic center is best explored on foot as part of a walking tour, and the town is a popular stop on day trips to the Chianti region of Tuscany from Florence and Rome. Tours often include either the city of Pisa or the picturesque villages of San Gimignano, Monteriggioni, and Castellina. Full-day sightseeing itineraries generally include a stop for lunch and wine tasting.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Siena is one of the most beautiful medieval centers in Tuscany, so be sure to bring your camera.
- The town is accessible to wheelchair users, but if your visit is part of a wine tour, wineries may not be. Check in advance.
- Tours of Siena and the villages of Tuscany require a fair bit of walking. Choose comfortable shoes and dress for the weather.
How to Get There
Siena is about 90 minutes directly south of Florence by car or train. The most convenient way to visit is by joining a small-group or private tour that includes transportation so you can also explore nearby Tuscan villages.
When to Get There
Home to one of the most famous and popular medieval festivals in Italy, Siena is either a destination to visit or to avoid during the annual Palio, held in July and August. The town offers little shade so is best explored in spring or fall when the temperatures are milder.
Siena’s Palio Festivities
One of the most raucous historical festivals in Italy, the Palio di Siena focuses around a bareback horse race held in Piazza del Campo each year on July 2 and again on August 16. Ten horses and riders representing 10 of the 17 contrade, or historical town districts, race along a track through the screaming crowds for honor and glory. The celebrations also include pageants, banquets, and religious events.