It’s been almost five years since I was last in Siena, but I remember it being a wonderful escape as I made my way through the Tuscan countryside. It’s also one of the few places where it’s not always overrun with tourists. You could spend several days there, but most usually end up seeing it only for a day or for a few hours.
One thing you will want to make sure you get to is the impressive Siena Cathedral. Designed between 1215 and 1263, the church has Medieval elements to it and an outstanding inside. The interior is unlike any other church I have been inside while in Italy. The the variation of black and white marble is stunning—it harkens back to the time when Siena was a dominant city competing with Florence and Rome until the plague broke out. The facade is also unique in the way where each cardinal point (North, South, East, West) has a unique design. A bronze door later replaced the main wooden one at the center of the facade.
Works by Michelangelo and Donatello are all located here. It’s a great way to see some beautiful pieces of art by the Renaissance’s greatest artists without the lines and crowds you’ll find in larger cities. The baptistry is also located right onsite, as well, and is worth checking out.
What Siena is probably most famous for, however, is the unparalleled city center. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the clam-shaped center square has held fast-paced horse races here since Medieval times. The palio is held every year in June or July (sometimes August depending on the year) in the Piazza del Campo. If you are thinking about heading to the events this time of year, you’ll want to book your hotel or hostel room far in advance. All of Italy tends to head to Siena this time in order to celebrate.
Of course, there are other Italian charms here, as well. I found some of the best gelato I had every had (and I’ve had a LOT of gelato) here. It’s also the home of the legend of Pinocchio, and you’ll see shops selling wooden puppets all over the place. Also, like any other Tuscan town, the pasta is amazing. Be prepared to pay a little more than you would in other small cities in Europe since it borders the line between being touristic and local.
It’s not a spot I think most Generation-Y travelers would head to, but if you have a love of history or horses, it’s definitely worth making a day trip from Florence or Pisa.
Have you ever been to a location a bit out of the way that you would recommend?