SIENA - TRAVEL TIPS & why you should visit this Charming Tuscan City
Siena… even the name is charming enough to entice a visit to this cozy Tuscan city. No? Need more validation? Well, perhaps this will help you make up your mind. The city of Siena is like a real life maze, set in medieval times. Winding streets and narrow cobbled alleyways, high gate structures, magnificent architecture from the 13th Century built upon hills with impressive lookout points. Siena is a dream, to say the least. You can’t help but feel like you’ve travelled back in time, especially when you find yourself lost down an ancient looking street that has probably been around for almost a millennia.
In comparison to other cities such as Rome, Florence and Venice - it is not at all hectic or crowded with tourists. During my visit in early May 2019, I did see many tourists around the main hotspots but not so much in the cozy, quaint side streets. It’s a very chill and tranquil city - probably one of the most charming Italian city I have ever had the privilege to visit. In this article, I will share with you my tips for some of the most beautiful and photogenic spots in Siena, along with some Cafe & Restaurant recommendations, accommodation options and transport in & around the city.
Best Sights and Spots in Siena
Duomo di Siena & Facciatone
Built in the 13th Century, this is probably the most stunning building in all of Siena and visible from many corners of the city. The Facciatone is the high tower like platform structure that allows people to walk on the top and see the beautiful city of Siena and the Duomo from high above.
Palazzo del Magnifico
This is the square beneath the church, I suppose you could call it the ‘entrance’ to the Duomo. Anyhow, it’s super stunning and you walk up the stairs to the Duomo (Cathedral).
Piazza del Campo & Palazzo Pubblico
You will find many (expensive) restaurants here and this square is bustling with tourists after midday. Twice a year (in July and August), the square sees thousands of spectators who flock to see il Palio di Siena Horseback Race. The horse run around the edges of the Piazza del Campo and this is a very famous event.
Fun fact: scenes from the James Bond movie - Quantum of Solace - was filmed here!
Fortezza Medicea - Fortress
Many locals like to exercise here but it’s also a very popular look out point over the city of Siena. Definitely worthwhile walking up here and seeing the city from a different perspective.
Every Wednesday, there is a huge local market in this area with Italian made goods from around the region.
Situated near the Fortezza, they have a few Opera shows a week. We went on a Tuesday night but I gather that every show is different. It wasn’t your typical opera show or opera house, but very intimate and small - tickets cost 20 Euros per person paid in cash (on location). The show goes from 9:15pm to about 10:30pm.
Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico
The Cathedral is also beautiful, but the main reason for coming here is the stunning view point looking out towards the city and Duomo! The streets around here are all so pretty and we basically stumbled across the lovely Piazzo S. Domenico.
Via Santa Caterina to Fontebranda
We took this street down via Santa Caterina and found an interesting pool of water with fishies swimming in there. Found near the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico, this is actually a 13th Century Fountain and the water funnelled through apparently comes from km away.
Costa S. Antonio Street
Just a very picturesque street that I thought was worth mentioning! If you go down this street from the top (let’s use Albergo Bernini as the location point) and then walk down, you will get a great view of the Siennese Houses and the Facciatone rising above. (Picture on the left)
Porto Salaria & Via Diacceto
There is a really nice look out point near the Porto Salaria along Via Diacceto towards the Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico and the steep streets below. There are some shops, cafes and restaurants along here. (Picture on the right & bottom)
Cafes & Eateries
Things you should know about dining in Siena: Most of the restaurants you see in the city centre will charge you a Service Fee of around 2-3 Euros (per person) - just to dine in. If you are not aware of this, it might be an unpleasant surprise when you receive your bill at the end, especially if you’re travelling as a family or large group.
Personally, I would recommend you avoid the cafes and eateries around the Piazza del Campo, purely because they tend to be very tourist targeted and the prices are highly inflated - coffee costs double what you would get just a few streets outside of the Piazza del Campo. However, with one exception: Cafe Sclavi.
This little cafe in the bustling Piazza del Campo, is the exception to my above tip. We stumbled across this perfect little cafe with very reasonable food and coffee prices, plus electrical sockets for charging your electronics! They also have some great panini with eggplant and zucchini for vegetarians - cost around 3-4 Euros. Coffee was ok, not great but good price for this area! They also do pasta and pizza for lunch for under 10 Euros. This is a little gem that isn’t even located on Google Maps! You’ll find it right between Osteria del Bigelli and Bar Manganelli - so just input one of those places into Maps.
Osteria il Vinaio di Bobbe e Davide
Located near the Porta Camollia, this small (and I think rather local) restaurant has a nice rustic Tuscan vibe to it. They didn’t have a whole lot of Vegetarian options, but the Spinach-Ricotta Ravioli with Sage and Butter was absolute heaven! They also have other vege options in the cabinet - I wouldn’t recommend ordering the Vege Platter from the menu as it was a cold platter and had very little substance to it. Expect to pay about 15-20 Euros per person including drinks.
Cafe Bar Le Terraze
This was the cafe near our accommodation, therefore a little out of town. But they make delicious fresh panini - one cafe latte + tomato mozerrella panino for just 4.60 Euros! Nice terrace to sit out on and friendly staff. A very local cafe, from what I gather.
Archivio del Gusto
Located in a cozy alleyway, this was a beautiful place to have lunch out on the terrace. Unfortunately, we didn’t realise that they charge an extra ‘Service Charge’ of 2 Euros per person. Add that on to the very expensive Cafe Latte, which cost 3 Euros each - it was a bit gutting because we can get coffee for 1.50 Euros in many other places. However, the food was good. We ordered a vege platter with bread and dip, plus a tiramisu to finish off of course. Total 26 Euros for two people.
Other Recommended Places:
Very highly recommended place, but was unfortunately full when we visited. Would recommend making a reservation if you want to eat here.
It’s a cafe and restaurant. Open from the early morning to the late evening. The prices here are very fair and the food looks good! The outdoor terrace has a nice atmosphere and it’s located right by the Porta Camollia.
Villa Piccola Siena
A small but very cute place. The room was clean, comfortable and cozy, but for the price… it was very small. Breakfast is also included but wasn’t really to my taste - I would recommend you go to Cafe Bar Le Terraze instead and pick up one of their delicious Panini’s there.
It was also quite a long way from town and the train station (30mins walk), which you need to factor in taxi/bus costs for if you have lots of luggage. Overall, we enjoyed our stay, but you could easily find places of similar standard for much much cheaper in Siena.
Here is the link to view and book this place: Villa Piccola Siena
Other Accommodation in Siena:
There are other accommodation options under 60-70 Euros per night much closer to the city. Here are the links to two other places I would recommend:
Bnb Residenza d’Epoca il Casato
Affiliate links: Feel free to use these links as a point of reference. If you book any other accommodations (anywhere around the world) through these links, I will still get a small commission from the company - but this won’t affect the prices for you at all. It’s simply an easy way for you to support this blog - Grazie mille! :)
I am normally not the sort of person who takes Taxis… like ever. But in this scenario, it actually made the most sense in terms of efficiency. For a 20 minute ride, it cost us around 15 Euros split between three people, which is quite ok.
Anyone who has tried to catch the bus in Italy will tell you how confusing the system is. They had a timetable displayed, we bought a ticket, went to the correct platform… and with 10mins to spare, we decided to ask around to make extra sure that we were in the right place. Now, each and every one of the 6 people we asked (including 3 bus drivers), pointed us in a different direction. I was baffled and confused beyond words. How can it be so difficult? 10 mins later, we never saw the bus and decided to just walk half an hour back. Tickets cost 1.50 Euros. Good luck to those hoping to catch the bus - and hats off to you clever travellers who managed to figure the bus system out! :D
Getting here by Train:
From Florence, you can catch a direct train to Siena for under 10 Euros and the journey lasts about 2hrs. The train station is about a 15-20 mins walk to the main city centre.
How long should you stay?
I would say that two to three days is enough to see what Siena has to offer. If you would like to stay longer, then perhaps I would recommend doing side trips out to the beautiful countryside of Tuscany.
Is it easy to get around with English?
In the centre, most people speak good English and it’s quite easy to get by. However, as always, I think learning a few Italian phrases go a long way and the locals really appreciated it. Plus it’s such a beautiful language! :)
Best Tip for Siena
Scout out the little side streets instead of hopping from one tourist hotspot to another. There are often much less people here and in my opinion, this is where you feel the real Siena. I still can’t get over these beautiful quaint alleyways!
Have you been to Siena before? If so, what did you think of it? If not, do you have any more questions for me? Let me know in the comments down below - I look forward to hearing from you :)