Siena, Italy | A Mini Travel Guide

Siena, Tuscany. A mediaeval city in the heart of Tuscany. Only 1h15 from Florence, Siena is an obvious and easy day trip. However, I urge you to spend a night or two to experience Siena in all its unexpected glory.

Siena, Tuscany rooftops and duomos

I have just returned from a turbo trip to Tuscany with a friend. We spent 5 nights in interior Tuscany traipsing city walls, peeking behind doors and gobbling up ridiculously good pasta. 

I’ve shared our itinerary here:

5 DAY TUSCANY ITINERARY BY CAR (coming soon)

I decided Siena deserves a special mention because it surprised me more than any other place we visited. We spent two nights here and it is the one place I felt like I needed more time in. It is also the only place I am confident I will return to. 

As I already mentioned, we spent only two nights here so I cannot and do not claim to know everything about this magical place but I hope you can use this as a starting travel guide for Siena. I’ll update it with future visit(s).

HOW TO GET TO SIENA

Siena is easily reachable by train, bus or car from Florence (1h15) and Pisa (1h45). A little further but still doable is Rome (3h). 

We hired a car using my go-to broker Zest. If you’ve read any of my other travel guides you’ll be sick of hearing about them because I use them for all my car hire in Portugal, Spain and Italy and because road trips are my travel style of choice I use them alot!

HIRE A CAR IN TUSCANY

WHERE TO STAY IN SIENA

Inside the city walls. Airbnb and Booking have plenty of options. We stayed in the Nicchio area which is one of the outer areas and still only a 10 min walk from Piazza del Campo. This two bed apartment is in a great location and has a gorgeous terrace view. See some different options here.

 

WHEN TO VISIT SIENA

I’m giving you this information as someone who has only visited Siena in April but from my research spring and autumn are ideal seasons. The festive season would also be a pretty time to be in Siena with all the twinkly lights and red wine. Summer temps reach scorching and crowds can be stifling in July and August but it is these months you also have the famous Palio di Siena (more below). This bucket list worthy event books up super early so plan in advance if you want to be a part of it. 

Siena Piazza del Campo

WHAT TO DO |  BEST EXPERIENCES IN SIENA

I was not expecting to find some much to see and do in Siena and I found myself buzzing with excitement at every corner. Siena, like any town in Tuscany has the usual tourist style attractions; a big busy square with inflated prices, a tower to climb, souvenir shops with colourful pasta etc, but besides that is also has some rather gorgeous city walls to wander, partnered with a lively atmosphere. Siena is not solely enjoyed by tourists, it has real local life which is sometimes lost in historically important towns in regions like Tuscany. We were there during a national holiday so the bars were perhaps a little busier than usual but because Siena is also university town the city stays awake later. It isn’t only tourists that roam the streets and frequent the bars and restaurants. The streets really come alive during the evenings (weekends and holidays especially) which makes a nice change from some of the smaller, sleepier Tuscan towns. 

For me Siena has the perfect size and energy level; sitting somewhere between the bigger, more hectic Florence and the smaller, quieter villages like Lucca (also worth a stop!).

Coffee on the steps at Piazza del Campo

Pick up a take-away coffee and drink it right on the steps. We grabbed ours from the traditional and popular Torrefazione Fiorella.

After coffee you can climb Torre del Mangia (€10) for a better view. We skipped this s the weather wasn’t great, but I’ll be back to take it on next time.

Piazza del Campo is the main piazzas in Siena and follows the same rule as most main piazzas, very busy and with inflated prices. There are a few lively bars just off the piazza with small balconies such as Bar San Paolo

Visit a Palio museum

If I’m being honest, even if I knew there was a palio museum before my visit, it wouldn’t have been something I made a priority. However, our accidental discovery of the Contrada Tartuca  Museum turned out to be my favourite activity during our time in Siena. This was the most unexpected experience while in Siena, and in some ways what made the city feel so special. 

Siena is home to 17 Contrade (areas) which are like small villages within the city walls, each with its own emblem, animal and colours. The 17 Contrade are part of the famous palio race that happens each year. The Contrade are…


Aquila (eagle)
Bruco (caterpillar)
Chiocciola (snail)
Civetta (owl)
Drago (dragon)
Giraffa (giraffe)
Istrice (porcupine)
Leocorno (unicorn)
Lupa (female wolf)
Nicchio (shell)
Oca (goose)
Onda (wave)
Pantera (panther)
Selva (wood)
Tartuca (turtle)
Torre (tower)
Valdimontone (ram)

Once you know this you’ll start noticing them all over the city. Each Contrada has its own museum showcasing banners painted by famous artists worldwide, fabulous costumes and intricate decorations from the palio throughout history. The passion the locals have for this event is unrivalled. I cannot stress enough how impressive the museum we visited was.

I definitely recommend you carve out an hour of your itinerary to visit a Palio museum while in Siena so that you can understand how important this tradition is. I would go as far as saying that without a visit to a contrada palio museum you have not seen Siena, because Siena is the Palio. 

We only visited the Tartuca Contrada museum but there is a choice of 17 so it’s worth a bit more research if you want to visit a different one.

To visit the Contrada di Tartuca head here.

What is the Palio di Siena?

The Palio di Siena is a bi-annual horse race that takes place in the main square Piazza del Campo. The historical event has been running since at least the 6th century. 10 horses and jockeys (out of a possible 17) are selected for the race. The 17 contrade represent 17 areas of the city of Siena, each with their own elaborate decoration, emblems and costumes. 

The Contrada selects the jockey they want to race but the horses are only drawn 4 days before the race. The Palio di Siena is the only horse race in the world where a horse can win without a jockey. The hectic 3 lap race is unlike any other.

Without visiting one of the museums it is impossible to know the work that goes on behind the scenes for these two short races. The Palio is deeply rooted in the city and its people. Read more about the Palio here

Contrada Treasure Hunt

After visiting the museum we had a lightbulb moment and realised why we kept noticing shells around the area of the city we were staying. We were staying in Nicchio, one of the 17 contrade. The Nicchio contrada’s emblem is a shell.

It was surprisingly fun spotting the different contrade emblems as we wandered around the streets. Once you are familiar with the 17 contrade you’ll start noticing the emblems all over the city – see how many you can find. This “game” helps you notice all the beautiful details of Siena and will leave you feeling a little closer to the city.

Go Fountain Spotting

If you haven’t got enough to look out for, Siena is also home to a wondrous array of weird and wonderful, sculptured fountains. The beautiful wolf fountain in Piazza del Campo is worth a glance but also look out for the brass heads with protruding tongues.  

Tartuca Contrada Turtle fountain in Siena Tuscany

Eat, eat, eat (but book in advance)

I don’t think anyone needs convincing that Tuscan dining is delicious. Italy, after all, is one of the best cuisines in the world. My one regret leaving Siena (and the main reason I’ll be returning sooner rather than later) is that I missed out on so many amazing restaurants. We passed by an obscene number of restaurants full to the brim with locals devouring steaming bowls of homemade pasta and other delightful delicacies. As we were there during the national holiday many places were fully booked, but even on an average day I recommend booking evening restaurants in advance because Europe only appears to be getting busier.

WHERE TO EAT & DRINK IN SIENA

There is no shortage of fantastic traditional restaurants in Siena. We loved poking our heads in all the tiny, loally run establishments.

Restaurants and Bars we visited…

Osteria degli Svitati Open for lunch & dinner. Closed on Sunday. Book in advance.
After much Google research I found this little gem of a restaurant. This was actually one I booked in advance and I’m so glad i did buecause the ragu was to die for.

Osteria La Sosta di Violante Open for lunch & dinner. Closed on Sunday. Book in advance.

Cute traditional restaurant in the Nicchio area. We stopped here for lunch and enjoyed a tagliatelle and risotto dish with one of my favourite wines of the trip.

Birra Bader Open evenings all week. Lunchtime Saturday and Monday.

We didn’t eat here but spent our first evening in Siena drinking great wine at this packed to the rafters beerhouse with live music. We were there on a holiday which likely made it busier but you could tell this was a popular spot amongst locals and it had a fun vibe.It also has an interesting history!

Caffè Le Logge Head here for aperitivos. Two spritz (try the Hugo if you haven’t already) for €10 with aperitivo (we had a whole pizza). Looks like they have a great cocktail menu too.

Pasticceria Gelateria Nocino Open from 6:30am. Closed on Mondays.
Located just outside the city walls. This local coffee and pastry shop turned out to be one of my favourite coffees in Tuscany. Local vibes and excellent croissants. 

Restaurants and Bars I’m going back for….

La Prosciutteria Crudi e Bollicine We actually had a table booked here but sadly had to cancel the booking. This spot is known for Tagliere, which are huge boards of cured meats and cheese. This would be a great aperitivo place before a later dinner. The atmosphere is cosy yet busy with strange but fun decor.

Osteria Quattro Venti We poked our head in here and it looked like a gorgeous place for dinner. Candle-lit tables indoors and a few tables spilling out onto the street.

Osteria Nonna Gina Traditional dishes and amazing prices. The food looks rustic and delicious and it has great reviews. First on my list when I return!

Trefilari Wine Bar This wine bar has two locations on the same street and both were bustling. 

So there you have it! A quick roundup of one of Tuscany’s crown jewels – Siena! 

I’m already planning a stop off here during my next trip to Tuscany so I’ll update this guide then.

If you have an upcoming Tuscany trip don’t forget to drop by my Tuscany 5 day Itinerary guide here.

Need help planning a trip to Italy? I’m an independent travel consultant and trip planner – I’d love to help you craft the perfect itinerary based on my in depth knowledge and your travel style. Email me your requirements or book a call here.