Siena is a stunning mediaeval city set within the heart of the idyllic Tuscan countryside. Its rich history is reflected in the unique architecture of its countless beautiful buildings, which are extremely well preserved and capture a long passed moment in time. Siena is connected by road and rail to all other major Tuscan towns and cities making it easily accessible for visitors – the city’s center is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a popular spot for tourists visiting Tuscany. The absence of cars in the city’s pedestrianized center, allows you to wander its cobbled streets and take in the beauty, romance and nostalgia of this wonderful place. Siena boasts many highlights, but here is a list of 5 unmissable experiences for visitors.
Watch the world go by in the centerpiece of Siena; widely considered one of the greatest mediaeval squares in Europe. Sip a coffee or go for a stroll and admire this bustling center of ornate historical beauty. The sloping square, paved with terracotta colored bricks, was constructed in the 14th century; developing from a focal point of main streets in which markets and fairs were held. Twice yearly, Italy’s most famous horse race, the Palio di Siena, takes place here. Horses must complete three full laps around the Piazza during this unique historical tradition dating back to 1633.
Next to the Piazza del Campo, this huge tower looms over Siena and the surrounding countryside. Standing at 88 meters tall and taking ten years to construct, the tower which translates to tower of the eater, is Italy’s third tallest building. Yet another prominent architectural feature in Siena, this ancient skyscraper is an important part of Siena’s aesthetic. Ascending the tower means climbing over 400 steps on cramped stairwells but the rewarding panoramic views of Siena certainly make the climb worth every step.
Siena’s truly spectacular gothic cathedral is stunning from the outside, while its interior is packed full of Italian masterpieces and priceless works of art. The building itself is an artistic masterpiece, with detailed mosaics, frescos and sculptures. If you are an art enthusiast, this is an absolute must while visiting Siena. The cathedral, dedicated to Saint Mary, was built over a 176 year period. Made up of different sections, you can explore the cathedral and get lost in its otherworldly energy as you gaze in awe at famous works of art from artists such as Donatello, Bernini and Michelangelo.
4. Wine tasting in the areas surrounding Siena
If you fancy a change from strolling through Siena’s narrow streets and admiring its beautiful art and architecture, take one of the many wine tasting tours on offer and enjoy the world renowned vineyards just outside Siena, in this wine rich region. Sampling some of Italy’s best wines in enchanting hill-towns like Montalcino, Montepulciano and San Gimignano (to name but a few) provides the quintessential Tuscan experience. Many of these tours operate from Siena, alternatively you can drive there yourself. Gazing out onto the rolling Tuscan hills, with ancient castles dotted in the distance, while you enjoy amazing food and wine, is certainly a wonderful way to appreciate this beautiful unspoiled landscape.
5. Experience Siena’s exquisite cuisine
It can be difficult to know where to start in a city boasting countless revered cafes and restaurants serving delectable traditional food, snacks and treats with a local twist. An excellent option is to take a food walking tour, which will give you the opportunity to not only learn about the city and its food culture but you’ll get the chance to sample multiple dishes from a variety of local eateries that are perhaps lesser known to tourists. Local gastronomic delights include; pecorino of Pienza—a delicious local sheep’s cheese, pici pasta—a long thick Tuscan spaghetti, and ribollita—a soup famous throughout Tuscany. Some local sweets include; berriquocoli—traditional cookies, and panforte di Siena—Siena cake which is made from a variety of nuts and dry fruit.
Siena really is a window into a rich cultural past, preserved and maintained as a prized artefact of true Italian tradition. As its ancient walls blend with aspects of modernity, it maintains an enchanted wonder and all the charm associated with its historical character and aesthetic. Whether you are there to wander its winding streets and admire its many architectural and artistic wonders, or you simply want to enjoy incredible food and wine amidst the city’s peaceful and romantic energy, Siena will certainly appeal to you and live long in the memory.