12 Reasons Why Siena, Italy should be on your travel list
Siena, a picturesque city in the heart of Tuscany that looks like it came straight from a medieval painting.
Whether visiting for a day or a week, here are 12 reasons why I believe you should put Siena, Italy on your travel bucket list.
1. Siena has an incredible history
The city of Siena dates back to the time of the Etruscans (between900-400BC), and like many parts of Italy, it has been conquered and controlled by different rulers who all left their stamp on the town.
However, it was not until Siena was invaded by the Lombards in the 4th Century that it became prosperous. To avoid attacks by the Byzantines on the normal trade routes, the Lombards created a more secure road from the north of Italy through Siena towards Rome. Quite literally putting Siena back on the map.
2. Siena is the perfect base to explore Tuscany
Siena really is located in the centre of the Tuscan region, and you can easily see its skyline from the hills surrounding it.
Hire a car or a bike and spend some time exploring the countryside. You can even take a train to the main cities of Tuscany (like Florence, Pisa and Lucca) making it ideal for those who want to see tick off their Tuscan bucket list items without checking into a new hotel every other day!
3. Visit the Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the town centre of Siena. Shaped like a giant shell with a slight slant to it, the Piazza is considered one of Europe’s greatest medieval squares and is a UNESCO heritage protected site.
There are plenty of little cafes and restaurants where you can have a break from your exploring and do some people watching in the square.
4. See the Siena Cathedral (Duomo of Siena)
A stunning example of Romanesque-Gothic architecture, the construction of Siena Cathedral began in the 12th Century with the intent to make it the largest Basilica in the world (at the time). However, it was not to be, money was in short supply due in part to war and the Black Death pandemic which was sweeping through Europe at the time.
You can walk up the Duomo’s tower and gaze over the city or stay on ground level and admire the 13th Century pulpit with its intricate marble floor which is considered one of the most elaborate mosaics in Italy.
5. Experience the Palio di Siena, a horse race like no other
Twice a year (2nd July and 16th August) Siena hosts a horse race in the Piazza del Campo. Ten horses representing the various ‘Contrades’ (or neighbourhoods) race bareback around the square to win trophy – a painted banner (Palio).
The Piazza del Campo is turned into a giant sand track for the event, but you need to get in early – the event is extremely popular and the crowds start early! Or if you are not a fan of crowds, you can book a hotel room overlooking the square and watch it from above.
6. Climb the Torre del Mangia for breathtaking views (literally)
The Torre del Mangia is part of the Public Palace in Piazza del Campo.
There are 400 steps to the top so the climb might not be for everyone, but if you are up to then you will be rewarded with stunning views of Siena and the surrounding areas.
7. Shop the local markets
Depending on what you love to shop for there are three main market days in Siena. Every Wednesday there is a standard market day at La Lizza, near the old fortress. From 8.30am-1.30pm you will find everything from food, clothes, souvenirs, jewellery, household items and more. If you are prepared to be patient (and vigilant!) you are sure to find something here.
For those wanting to taste the best local produce, freshly baked bread and cheeses then Friday mornings head to the same location at La Lizza and you will find everything you need for the perfect picnic.
Antique lovers need to be a bit more patient… on the third Sunday of every month there is an antiques markets in the Piazza del Mercato, just behind Piazza del Campo.
8. Buy a leather from some of the world's best
Tuscany is famous for its leather products, and the largest leather production area in Italy can be found not far from Florence. But being so close to the source also means an overwhelming range of leather goods to choose from!
You can find dedicated stores in the centre of Siena along Via Banchi di Sopra and Via delle Terme 20 and 32. Otherwise check out the Wednesday market and antique day for something vintage or second-hand.
9. Visit one of the first examples of 'hospitals' in Europe
Before ‘hospital’ meant home for the ill, it stood for hospitality.
The Santa Maria della Scala is one of these first such ‘hospitals’ whose purpose was to welcome pilgrims as they made their way through the centre of Italy to Rome. Now it is a museum, and it hosts temporary exhibits all year round.
10. Try local Sienese Food
Tuscan food can be a feast for the senses, but even the different regions of Tuscany have their own personal touches to the local delicacies!
Some local Sienese dishes worth trying include pappardelle con lepre (sauce made from hare over ribbon shaped pasta), or pici (a type of extra thick spaghetti covered in a rich sauce or simply cheese). If you want to get truly traditional there is a ribolita, which is a very dense type of soup made from bread, beans and vegetables which takes 3 days to cook.
And not to forget the desserts – try ricciarelli (almond flavoured cookies that taste like heaven) or the panforte (a dense cake made from honey, dried fruit, nuts and spices).
11. Savour Sienese wine
Because Siena is located between the Chianti region and Montalcino, wine lovers will be absolutely spoiled for choice… Don’t be afraid to take a break in a local bar and ask the staff to recommend a local wine.
I have never been disappointed when asking a local for their opinion, especially in small towns – you may even find yourself taking a few bottles for the road!
12. Step out of time and explore Val d'Orcia
Just outside of Siena is the fairytale region known as Val d’Orcia. Like something from a medieval story, the region is filled with picturesque Medieval castles, ancient villages, rows of vineyards and olive trees, and fields of grains. And if that it not enough, soak the day away in one of the many thermal hot springs hidden away in the hills.