Siena is a beautiful medieval city that has had a historical rivalry with Florence. Although it’s eclipsed by the fame and beauty of its neighbor, Siena is beautiful and interesting as well. You can breathe that ancient air while exploring its steep streets. I hope to return in the future because this time we could only make a quick visit to Siena from Florence. Meanwhile, I bring you some ideas of what to do one day in Siena.
Arriving in Siena from Florence
If like me, you are traveling to Siena from Florence, it’s better to take the bus because the bus station is closer to the center. If you take the train you will have to use public transport to get there and if you only have one day it’s a waste of time.
The bus station in Florence is just opposite Santa Maria Novella train station. The trip to Siena took about 2 hours and the ticket cost €7,80 ($9,25 USD). In Siena, the bus drops you at Piazza Antonio Gramsci on Viale Tozzi street. It’s less than 1 km from Piazza del Campo and it will take you about 10 minutes to reach it walking.
If you are in Florence or plan to be in Florence, you can check my post Advice about what to do in Florence: art and shopping
Piazza del Campo
Coming to Siena from Florence and having only one day, the first stop should be Piazza del Campo. It’s a spectacular fan-shaped square with a slight inclination toward the center. It is also surrounded by beautiful buildings, bars, and restaurants. Here we sat down to eat a slice of pizza that we bought in one of the establishments that surround the square.
In this square, in summer, they celebrate the famous festival of medieval origin called Palio. This festival is a horse race held between 10 of the 17 neighborhoods of Siena called Contradas. The word Palio comes from the Latin pallium which was a very precious woolen cloth in medieval times. Currently refers to the silk banner given as a prize to the winner of the race.
The celebrations last about 4 days including the preparations for the race. The first thing they do is the draw to know which Contradas will take part. Before the race, the participants go to mass and there is a parade from the Cathedral to Piazza del Campo. Their clothing is completely medieval and each Contrada has its badges and colors. It’s one of the most important events in Tuscany and a great pride to be the winning neighborhood of the Palio.
For more information, you can check this article on Wikipedia.
The main building in Piazza del Campo is Palazzo Pubblico which resemble Palazzo Vecchio in Florence. They call the bell tower Torre del Mangia and they built it to compete in height with Palazzo Vecchio’s tower. The construction of the palace began in 1297 in a medieval style with Gothic influences. Currently houses the Civic Museum and is also the seat of the City Hall.
The Civic Museum exhibits frescoes by Sienese artists such as Simone Martini and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The works presented date from the 14th century until the end of the 19th century. More details about this museum here. The entrance to the museum costs €9.00 ($10,68 USD) and to climb the tower € 10.00 ($11,86 USD). There is a combined ticket to enter the museum, the tower and the Santa Maria Della Scala museum for €20.00 ($23,73 USD).
The tower is the civic symbol of Siena, it measures 87 meters and there are 400 steps to climb to the top. At the bottom of the Tower is Cappella di Piazza. This is a chapel built in 1352 to commemorate the end of the plague which wiped out a large part of Siena’s population. Unfortunately, we did not have time to climb the tower because we arrived late in Siena.
The Cathedral, a must in your trip to Siena from Florence
Coming only one day in Siena from Florence, you can not miss the Cathedral or Duomo. Luckily, everything is close and most of the streets of the Old Town are for pedestrians. The Cathedral has a Gothic style although part of its structure was in Romanesque style. In 1339, enlargement works began but they could not complete them due to the black plague that hit Siena. Parts of this extension is still visible.
On the outside, the cathedral has a design of horizontal black and white lines. These are the symbolic colors of Siena. If on the outside is beautiful inside is even more spectacular. The design of horizontal stripes appears again on the inside walls. Golden stars on a blue background decorate the dome. On the floor, there are also beautiful mosaics with religious and pagan designs. Also, sculptures of renowned artists such as Donatello and Michelangelo stand out.
With the same entrance ticket to the cathedral, you can visit the Piccolomini Library. This library was built in 1492 by order of Pope Pius III when he was archbishop of Siena. Beautiful and colorful frescoes embellish its walls. They are works by Pinturicchio with the help of Amico Aspertini and a young Rafael Sanzio. The vault is also impressive and was partly made by Girolamo del Pacchia. Do not leave the cathedral without visiting this library.
The entrance to the Cathedral cost €7,00 ($8,30 USD) but you can also buy the OPA SI pass that includes the entrance to the cathedral, the baptistery, the crypt and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. They have two prices according to the season in which you visit. From March 1 to October 13 and from December 26 to January 1 it costs €13.00 ($15,42 USD). From November 1 to December 24 and from January 7 to February 28 it costs € 10.00 ($11,86 USD). The advantage of this pass is that it’s valid 3 days from the moment of your purchase. If you have more time in Siena, it is definitely worth it.
Other options to visit on a trip to Siena from Florence.
Piazza Salimbeni is on the way to Piazza del Campo so you might notice it anyway. The buildings around the square are Palazzo Tantucci, Palazzo Spannocchi, the Church of San Cristóforo and Palazzo Salimbeni.
Palazzo Salimbeni is the headquarter of Monte dei Paschi di Siena, a bank founded in 1472 and considered the oldest in the world. The statue in the center is Sallustio Bandini, an economist and religious man of Siena, made by Tito Sarrocchi in 1882.
Santa Maria Della Scala Museum
If you have more time you can visit the Santa Maria Della Scala museum. You’ll find it in Piazza del Duomo, in front of the Cathedral of Siena. This museum was before one of the first hospitals in Europe. Four of its five floors are open to the public. Inside, you can admire frescoes decorating their walls and other artworks and architecture. It also houses an archaeological museum and an art museum for children. Admission is €10.00 ($11,86 USD).
Basilica of Santo Domingo
Another interesting visit would be the Basilica of Santo Domingo. It belongs to the Dominican order and its style is mainly Gothic, although also presents Baroque elements. It suffered destructions and restorations on many occasions. It’s the church dedicated to St. Catherine of Siena since she used to come often here to pray. They also keep her relics in this church.
Above all, take the time to stroll through the medieval alleys which are part of the charm of Siena. You can buy your souvenirs in the area surrounding the Cathedral. There are many shops and street stalls here.
I hope these ideas are useful for you if you are doing a day trip to Siena from Florence. If you have been in Siena and you have any suggestions and memories, you can share with us in the comments below ⇓⇓. And if you liked this post please share on your social networks, thanks!