From visiting the stunning Cathedral of Siena and exploring the historic city center, to sampling delicious local cuisine and shopping at the lively La Lizza Market, there's something for everyone in this ancient city.
Sienna is undoubtedly one of the most underrated cities in Italy. Sitting in the middle of Tuscany, the city is surrounded by rolling hills and vineyards, rich in Italian history, and loaded with things to do and see, and popular accommodations to stay at.
Whether you are looking to indulge in tasty Italian cuisine, or explore beautiful architectural structures and museums, Siena has something for anyone who chooses to visit.
The city is a popular day trip location for tourists but deserves a longer stop all on its own. While the famous gothic Duomo is the center point of the city, there is so much more to explore and discover. To make the most of your time in the city, we have compiled a list of the 15 best things to do in Siena to help you plan the perfect itinerary.
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The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to the Assumption of Mary. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Siena and is known for its Gothic architecture and rich history, with parts of the building dating back to the 12th century.
It is a popular tourist attraction and an important spiritual and cultural center for the local community. The cathedral houses many works of art, including frescoes by artists such as Ambrogio Lorenzetti and Pinturicchio. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and is a popular site for weddings and other special events.
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The Biblioteca Piccolomini is a library named after Enea Silvio Piccolomini, who was Pope Pius II and a native of Siena. It is housed within the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta and is famous for its beautiful Renaissance architecture, and collection of rare manuscripts and incunabula.
The library was commissioned by Piccolomini in the 15th century and completed in the early 16th century. The Biblioteca Piccolomini attracts thousands of curious visitors each year and is also an important research center for scholars. Its walls are adorned with frescoes by the artist Pinturicchio, depicting the life of Piccolomini.
Housed within the Palazzo Buonsignori, a Renaissance palace that was once the home of the Medici family. The Siena National Gallery (Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena) is one of the best places in the city to visit to learn about the city’s culture and rich history.
The Gallery is home to an impressive collection of art from the 13th to the 18th centuries, including paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts. Highlights include works by artists such as Duccio di Buoninsegna, Giovanni Bellini, and Caravaggio. The Gallery also features temporary exhibitions, educational programs, and guided tours.
Photo: Un Tubo Jazz Bar
If you are a fan of jazz music or looking for a night out in Siena, visit Un Tuba Jazz Bar. Just a short walk from Piazza del Campo, the bar is known for its great live entertainment, cozy ambiance, and wide selection of Italian wines with the interior designed to allow patrons to get up close and personal with the performers. In addition to jazz, the bar hosts other genres of music, including blues, soul, and funk, alongside regular exhibitions and art installations.
The Palazzo Pubblico is one of the most iconic structures in Siena and is easily recognizable from its imposing tower and the large public square surrounding it. The palace was built in the 13th century and served as the seat of the Republic of Siena, which governed the city until the 16th century.
Today, Palazzo Pubblico is still Siena’s town hall but also houses the city’s civic museum, which displays a collection of art and artifacts from Siena’s history. The palace is also known for its beautiful frescoes by the artist Ambrogio Lorenzetti, which depict the virtues of good government.
Palazzo Pubblico is featured in James Bond’s Quantum of Solace with the rooftop chase while the horse race is happening on Il Campo, the main square in front of the building.
Sitting in the western part of Siena is the Fortezza Medicea. Built-in the 16th century by the Medici family, who were the rulers of Siena at the time, the fortress was designed to protect the city from potential enemies or internal uprising stemming from the Florentine rule and was equipped with state-of-the-art defenses, including walls, towers, and moats.
Today, Fortezza Medicea houses several cultural and recreational facilities, including museums, gardens, and a theater. It is also a popular venue for events, such as concerts and festivals. The fortress is also considered by locals to be an important symbol of Siena’s rich history and cultural heritage.
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If you visit Siena you can’t miss Piazza del Campo. Being undoubtedly the main square in the city, it is, not surprisingly popular among tourists. The plaza is known for its unique shape, which is reminiscent of a shell or a fan and is surrounded by historic buildings, such as the Palazzo Pubblico and the Torre del Mangia. Piazza del Campo is the site of the famous Palio di Siena, a traditional horse race that takes place twice a year.
The square is also a popular spot for outdoor concerts, festivals, and other events. There are a lot of restaurants around the Piazza to take your drink or eat your food, alternatively, you can just sit down and enjoy the view. However, consider going for your sit-down after the sun goes down as it can get very hot in the afternoon, especially during the summer months.
Photo: Siena Civic Museum
The Siena Civic Museum is an ideal place for visitors of all ages to learn about the history of art in Siena and the wider region. The museum’s collection includes a variety of paintings, sculptures, and other works of art from the Middle Ages through the Renaissance, as well as historical documents, manuscripts, and other cultural artifacts.
Notable works on display include the Fonte Gaia, a fountain sculpture by Jacopo della Quercia and the Maestà, a painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna depicting the Madonna in throne with the Child, surrounded by angels and saints.
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The Fonte Gaia, or “joyous fountain” is a famous fountain sculpture sitting in the center of the Piazza del Campo. The fountain was commissioned in 1419 by the city’s government and was completed by the sculptor Jacopo della Quercia in 1429. The fountain is made of marble and is decorated with reliefs and sculptures depicting scenes from the Bible and classical mythology.
The central figure is a depiction of the goddess Fortune, who is holding a cornucopia, a symbol of abundance. Fonte Gaia is considered one of Siena’s most important landmarks and is an important example of Renaissance art and sculpture.
While certain parts of the fountain have been relocated to the Santa Maria Della Scala museum, the majority of the structure is original and restored.
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Siena sits in the heart of Tuscany, and it’s no secret that the region produces some of the best wine in the country. It’s the perfect location for exploring winding vineyards, wineries, and taste-testing local creations. Visitors can gaze at the gorgeous scenery of the Tuscan hills, learn the process and various stages of winemaking, and return home feeling like a sophisticated Italian wine connoisseur.
There are numerous options for wine tours in Siena lasting from just a couple of hours to a full-day itinerary. For $80 you can reserve a spot on this three hours winery tasting tour of the vineyards surrounding Siena, organized by local sommeliers.
Palio di Siena is a traditional horse race that takes place twice a year in the Piazza del Campo, Siana’s main square, and involves ten horses and riders representing different neighborhoods (called contrade) of the city. The event dates back to the 16th century when riders rode buffalos and donkeys, rather than modern-day horses.
The race is held on July 2 and August 16 each year to honor the Assumption of Mary, and the Madonna of Provenzano, it is typically preceded by a series of pageants and parades. Palio di Siena is steeped in history and tradition and is an important part of Siena’s cultural identity. It attracts a large number of spectators from both the local community and tourists from around the world.
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Located inside the city’s Cathedral, a visit to the Museo dell opera Metropolitana is one of the top free things to do in siena. The museum houses a large collection of art and artifacts related to the cathedral, including paintings, sculptures, and religious relics. The collection includes works by artists such as Giovanni Pisano, Donatello, and Bernini, as well as a number of important medieval and Renaissance frescoes.
The building’s construction was halted during the Black Plague and was never fully completed as part of the cathedral as originally planned. The museum is open to the public and offers guided tours in a variety of languages.
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Standing at the end of Palazzo Pubblico is the imposing medieval tower, Torre del Mangia, named after its original bell ringer, Giovanni di Balduccio, who was nicknamed “Mangiaguadagni” (meaning “eats profits” in Italian) due to his love of good food. The tower was built in the 14th century and stands over 300 feet tall, making it one of the tallest medieval towers in Italy.
It features a two-tone design with a white stone crown and can be easily spotted from anywhere in the city. Climbing the tower’s 200 stairs will be a challenge for many but the beautiful panoramic view of the city from the observation deck, once you get to the top, is well worth the effort.
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La Lizza Market is the perfect place for those who love a good bargain and a bit of Italian charm. Located just outside the city walls in the Lizza Gardens, this monthly market is a must-see for anyone visiting Siena.
Here, you’ll find vendors selling all sorts of goodies, from handmade crafts and jewelry to clothing and other unique items. It’s the perfect opportunity to pick up a one-of-a-kind souvenir or gift for a loved one. And if shopping isn’t your thing, the lively atmosphere and festive vibe of the market make it a great place to just hang out and soak up some local culture.
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Learn how to cook Italian style should be among your list of fun things to do in siena if it isn’t already! with a mouth-watering cooking class taught by respected local chefs. Tuscany is strongly linked to cuisine and traditions, so a cooking class is ideal to learn about the country’s heritage, as well as a skill to take back home to your loved ones.
From sauces and spices to bruschetta and Sicilian Cuddura, you will have the opportunity to learn skills and techniques that some of the best Italian chefs are modeled after.