48 Hours in Siena, Italy – Must See Sights + Top Tips

Siena in Tuscany, Italy, famed for the Palio Horse Race which takes place twice a year.

The captivating city of Siena, nestled in the heart of Tuscany, Italy, is a medieval masterpiece and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It beckons you with its exquisite architecture and vibrant culture. During a visit here, you can traverse the historic centre’s charming streets, marvel at the iconic Piazza del Campo, and stand in awe of the magnificent Siena Cathedral.

What makes Siena a must-visit destination? Beyond its architectural splendours and the famous Palio di Siena, a world-renowned horse race held biannually in the heart of the city; you will be able to indulge your senses in local cafes and trattorias, where you can relish authentic Tuscan flavours and exquisite wines.

Throughout the ages, Siena has played host to distinguished figures, including the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci, whose presence left an indelible mark on the city’s artistic identity. Join us as we uncover the layers of Siena, where each cobblestone whispers tales of yesteryears, and every corner unfolds a piece of its captivating history.

The History of Siena

Siena’s origins can be traced back to the Etruscans in the 9th century BCE, and its name, rooted in mythology as Senius, son of Remus (as in Romulus and Remus), adds an enchanting layer to its historical tapestry. This historical gem became a strategic hub during the Roman era, emerging as a vital crossroads for trade routes and setting the stage for its enduring significance.

Siena’s true Renaissance unfolded in the Middle Ages, between the 12th and 14th centuries, when iconic landmarks like the Siena Cathedral and the Piazza del Campo were constructed, showcasing the city’s architectural and cultural prowess. The spirited rivalry with Florence during this period birthed masterpieces by artists such as Duccio di Buoninsegna and Simone Martini, contributing to Siena’s artistic legacy. As we navigate Siena’s labyrinthine streets, immerse yourself in the echoes of its past, where each cobblestone narrates tales of resilience and cultural brilliance. Discover keyword-rich Siena, where history, art, and mythology converge, leaving an indelible mark on this Tuscan jewel.

If you are interested in learning more about Siena, the history and the culture, then we have curated the perfect reading list to help with your planning.

48 hours in Siena Itinerary

Although Siena is only about 80 km from Florence, making it a popular day trip location, it is a city worth visiting in its own right if you have time to spare. Therefore, if you have a few of days to enjoy this city, we have created the perfect 2-day walking itinerary. We list of the top sights and the most effective way to cram as much as possible into your 48 hours.

Day 1 Itinerary

A slow start to the day

It is important to remember that whilst Siena is Tuscany’s second city, the pace of life here is more in tune with that of a town. Therefore, there is no need to hurry here; you have plenty of time to see the sights and enjoy the café culture as you go. Therefore, start your tour of the city at Torrefazione  Fiorella, a cafe established back in 1985 and serves some of the best coffee in the whole of Siena.  Get there early to nab one of the seats outside and enjoy your morning blend with a pastry while watching the world go by. Or, for a more Italian experience, consider standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the locals at the bar, who will start to appear mid-morning for their espresso fix.

The streets and houses of Siena, Tuscany, Italy.

Image provided by Unsplash (Héloïse Delbos)

Get to know the city on a Walking Tour

Whenever we visit a city, we love participating in one of the many walking tours often available, and Siena is no different. It may only be small in compared to Florence or Rome, but with the many narrow streets and the various piazzas, you could easily find yourself lost in the labyrinth.  This way, you can familiarise yourself with the area and also the culture and history that Siena is famous for before heading off to explore further on your own.

Lunch

For lunch today, head to Osteria Permalico, a restaurant that offers traditional dishes at very reasonable prices. Inside is warm and welcoming with its brick-lined dining space, reminiscent of a wine cellar, while outside, if you are lucky, there are a few tables where you can enjoy the fine food while watching the world go by. The Pici cacio e pepe here is fantastic, and the team will happily discuss a wine pairing to complement the tastes.

A view of the Piazza del Campo and the tower in the centre of Siena, Tuscany, italy, famed for its twice yearly horse race.

Image provided by Unsplash (Antonio Ristallo)

Head to the famous Piazza del Campo

As you wander into this square before you take in the sheer grandeur of this unique shell-shaped square right at the heart of Siena, you may be forgiven for feeling that the Piazza del Campo is smaller than you perhaps expected but rimmed by elegant palazzos and the impressive Palazzo Pubblico, it is a testament to their rich history and sense of community, and it is where centuries of tradition come alive! It is this very spot that hosts the exhilarating Palio horse race. This spectacle ignites the spirits of both locals and visitors alike, infusing ancient customs with modern-day excitement. It brings together the 17 Contrade (neighbourhoods), each identified with its colourful emblem, named after an animal or symbol.

The Fonte Gaia is an intricately carved marble fountain that graces the heart of Piazza del Campo. Crafted by Jacopo della Quercia in the 15th century, it embodies an artistic narrative. Its significance lies not just in its craftsmanship but in its historical mission—once heralding vital water’s arrival to the city. Visiting the Fonte Gaia unveils more than a work of art; it also reveals a fragment of Siena’s past.

Head to the Black and White Cathedral

Once you have looked at the Fonte Gaia and the buildings surrounding the piazza, head into the awe-inspiring Siena Cathedral (the Duomo) a testament to medieval artistry and Gothic architecture. Inside, you will discover the Piccolomini Library, adorned with vibrant frescoes by Pinturicchio, narrating the life of Pope Pius II. Don’t miss the Baptistery of San Giovanni, a gem showcasing intricate marble work and a font sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia. At this point, descend into the Crypt and wander through the Cathedral Museum, home to invaluable artworks and relics.

The Black and White Cathedral of Siena is very similar to the Duomo in Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Image provided by Unsplash (Alessio Patron)

As you explore, gaze upon the mesmerizing rose window boasting colourful stained glass. At this point, you can ascend to the unfinished façade for a panoramic vista, offering breathtaking views of Siena’s rooftops and surrounding countryside.

Finish Day One looking at fine artwork

Head to the Santa Maria della Scala, where you will finish sightseeing today. This historic complex once served as a charitable institution, hospital, and orphanage. Dating back to the medieval period, it is a testament to Siena’s commitment to social welfare and care. Initially established to aid pilgrims and people in need, it evolved into a multifaceted institution over the centuries.

This vast complex houses several museums today, including the Museo Archeologico (Archaeological Museum) and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo (Museum of the Cathedral’s Works).

The Pinacoteca Nazionale, or National Gallery, is also located within the historic complex of the Santa Maria della Scala. This gallery is a treasure trove of Sienese art, boasting a rich collection of masterpieces that offer profound insight into the city’s artistic heritage.

Visitors to the Pinacoteca Nazionale are greeted by a captivating array of paintings and sculptures from the medieval and Renaissance periods, showcasing the talents of Siena’s renowned artists such as Duccio, Simone Martini, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti. The gallery’s diverse collection encompasses religious art, portraits, and secular works, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in the evolution of Sienese artistry.

End your visit to the Piazza at Bar Il Palio 

After a full day of sightseeing it is time to get off your feet and enjoy some aperitivos with views of the square. The drinks come with a slightly higher price tag, but what better way to relax than a bit of people-watching in the main square?

Get ready for a wonderful dinner

Just 300m from the Piazza del Campo, Taverna San Giuseppe offers an unparalleled dining experience. This charming eatery, dating back to the 1100s, boasts a unique setting—an original Etruscan house carved from tufa stone, now repurposed as a captivating cellar.

Solid wood rustic tables, each with a distinct character, have been meticulously sought and curated, embodying the essence of history in this restaurant. The food is exquisite, and the wine pairings offered are fantastic. A night here will be a memorable one.

Day 2 Itinerary

Coffee and Croissants to start the day

This morning, head to Caffè 19zero3 in Piazza Mercato where this charming café invites you to indulge in a quintessential Italian breakfast experience. The menu offers buttery croissants and flaky pastries filled with creamy custard to freshly baked bread paired with locally sourced jams and spreads. Sip on perfectly crafted cappuccinos or a classic espresso prepared by skilled baristas who take pride in their art.

Inside the Palazzo Pubblico looking up towards the iconic tower of Siena in Tuscany

Image provided by Unsplash (Massimiliano Morosinotto)

Visit the Palazzo Pubblico and the Civic Museum to understand Siena’s history better

A visit to the Palazzo Pubblico and the Civic Museum promises an immersive journey into the city’s vibrant history and artistic legacy, providing insights into Siena’s civic pride and governance throughout the ages. Here, you will encounter an array of masterpieces, including the famed frescoes in the Sala della Pace by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, depicting the allegory of Good and Bad Government. While in the Civic Museum, a treasure trove of Sienese art is unveiled, showcasing sculptures, paintings, and historical artefacts that capture the essence of the city’s heritage.

Wander around the City gates

Now that you have a better feel for this small-scale city consider wandering around the city walls before lunch at your own pace.

The Porta Camollia, nestled within the northern precincts of the city, serves as a magnificent testament to Siena’s medieval heritage. Approach and behold the grandeur of this gate, its sturdy structure adorned with a crenulated parapet, evoking tales of ancient strife and the enduring resilience of the city. Each weathered stone bears witness to old battles, a silent testimony to the perseverance of Siena through the ages. Meanwhile, to the city’s south, the Porta Romana, boasts meticulous craftsmanship and enchants with intricate embellishments that celebrate the city’s rich cultural legacy. Delve into the gate’s ornate carvings and regal coats of arms, beckoning curious minds to explore Siena’s heraldic traditions.

Notice the symbolic motifs etched into the gates, embodying the city’s profound identity. Wander through these historic gates and absorb the nuances they present, each offering a unique glimpse into Siena’s extraordinary history and unwavering spirit.

Get lost in the streets looking for the tapestries of the neighbourhoods

Embark on a stroll through the historic labyrinthine in the heart of Siena, seeking out the distinctive 17 areas. As you meander through these ancient alleys, the streets weave a tapestry of medieval charm adorned with ochre-hued buildings that are a testament to centuries past.

Keep an observant eye out for the unique emblems adorning the corners, heraldic shields proudly displaying each contrada’s identity – a dragon, a tortoise, or a unicorn among the varied symbols. These symbols, woven into the city fabric, signal each contrada’s entrance, inviting you to unravel the stories held within. Venture forth, wandering these storied pathways, where every turn reveals architectural marvels and a sense of community preserved through time.

Keep an eye out for the Fontebranda

The Fontebranda, one of Siena’s historic and renowned springs, is situated in the southeastern part of the city. It’s positioned near the medieval walls, close to the Fontebranda gate in the Contrada of the Onda. This significant spring has been a vital water source for Siena for centuries, reflecting the city’s ancient engineering and water management systems.

Time for a quick bite to eat

For lunch today, head to Gino Cacino di Angelo, well-known for its locally sourced produce and offers paninis, delicious cheese and ham boards and sharing platters to enjoy with friends at excellent prices.

Visit the Church of San Vigilio

The Church of San Vigilio in Siena dates back to the 16th century. It is nestled away from the bustling city centre, offering a serene escape and inviting contemplation amidst its peaceful ambience. The church’s modest facade belies the treasures within; step inside to behold remarkable frescoes by Martino di Bartolomeo, an artistic spectacle adorning the walls with vivid colours and intricate details, depicting scenes from the life of San Vigilio and other religious narratives.

The Torre Del Mangia in Siena has views out across the city to the rolling Tuscan Hills beyond.

Image provided by Unsplash (Harry Robinson)

Climb the Torre del Mangia

It is time to climb the Torre del Mangia, which dates back to the 14th century. Its spiralling ascent stands at an impressive height of over 330 feet. Upon reaching the pinnacle, a sweeping vista of Siena’s terracotta rooftops, the undulating Tuscan landscape, and the iconic Piazza del Campo unfolds in a breathtaking display.

The Torre del Mangia isn’t merely a vantage point; it’s a testament to Siena’s historical prominence and offers a chance to behold the city’s beauty from an unparalleled perspective, making it an unmissable experience for anyone drawn to the allure of this captivating Italian city.

Visit the World’s Oldest Bank

The Palazzo Salimbeni stands prominently in Siena, an architectural testament to historical continuity and financial prowess. Positioned alongside the piazza, it represents an amalgamation of Gothic and Renaissance styles, and exemplifies the burgeoning Renaissance aesthetics.

The Palazzo Salimbeni in Siena is the World's Oldest Bank.

Image provided by Unsplash (Rahul Chowdhury)

Within the walls of the Salimbeni Palace resides the Monte dei Paschi, a venerable institution established in 1472, revered as the world’s oldest bank in continuous operation. These palaces symbolise architectural evolution and encapsulate Siena’s economic heritage, inviting exploration into the city’s intricate history and the enduring legacy of its oldest financial institution.

Head to the Basilica of San Domenico

The Basilica of San Domenico in Siena is a sanctum steeped in spiritual resonance and historical significance. Its unassuming exterior belies the treasure trove held within, housing revered relics, captivating artistry, and an intricate marble pulpit crafted by Nicola Pisano.

Within lies the Chapel of Saint Catherine, honouring the city’s beloved patron saint. The chapel’s sacred aura, adorned with intricate frescoes and the saint’s relic, offers visitors a profound glimpse into Siena’s spiritual legacy.

Make sure you visit a Saint’s House

The Casa di Santa Caterina in Siena serves as an immersive testament to the life and legacy of Saint Catherine, a revered figure in the city’s history. This unassuming house was once the humble abode of the saint, offering visitors a glimpse into her austere yet inspiring life.

It is a beacon of spiritual devotion, where each corner whispers echoes of the saint’s unwavering faith and altruism. The Casa di Santa Caterina transcends being a mere museum; it’s an intimate portal into the saint’s daily existence and her enduring impact on Siena.

Enjoy pre-dinner drinks in a cosy wine bar

Tonight’s aperitivo suggestion is Trefilari Wine Bar, where you will find owners who are passionate about wine. There are over 800 wines, cocktails and craft beers to try here, so everyone is catered for. Get there early as space is limited, and it may be standing room at the bar only if you are not careful.

A Traditional meal to finish your trip

End your trip to Siena at the understated Osteria La Sosta di Violante. It may not look like much from the outside but the food and not the decoration is what people come here for.  Spend the evening working through the antipasti, primi and secondi piatti before enjoying a dessert, all washed down with well-chosen wines and strong coffees.

Panoramic of the city of Siena in Tuscany, Italy.

Image provided by Unsplash (Alev Takil)

Final thoughts

Siena is not a large city, but that does not mean you should rush around it. Yes, you could see the major sights within a day, but Siena is more than a sightseeing location. Here, it is not just the monuments people come to see but the way of life. It is about exploring the backstreets of the neighbourhoods, chatting to locals over coffee and trying traditional dishes. This is not a place to rush around, but more a place to be savoured like a fine wine.

Recommended Tours

Top suggestions for something completely different while in Siena

Other recommendations

The Piazza del Campo in Siena Italy is well-known for its horse racing and fine buildings

Image provided by Unsplash (Paolo Bendandi)

How to get to Siena

If flying in, Florence-Peretola, 55km from the city, is the nearest airport. However, if you are flying from further afield, there may be no direct flights to Florence. Therefore, consider flying into Pisa, Bologna and Perugia, less than 2 hours away from Siena via car, or Rome, just under 3 hours from the city, especially if you are considering a multiple-city break. You can take the train directly to Siena or use the Flixbus system from any of these airports.

If you decide to drive into the city, ensure you know where the restricted traffic zones (RTL) begin and finish, which have been strategically implemented to safeguard the historic city centre. There are clear demarcated signs to guide you through the outskirts, signalling restrictions for non-residents.

Plotting your parking strategy becomes a pivotal element for a seamless day out. Amid the plethora of guarded and paid parking spaces, Siena generously offers pockets of free parking; however, get to these spots early as they are popular. The road adjacent to the Municipal Cemetery, stands out as a gem, a mere 15-minute walk from the iconic Piazza del Campo.

Further out, Viale Mario Bracci provides another free parking haven along one side of the main road leading to Le Scotte University Hospital, providing a gateway to the historic city centre via public transport like the 10 or 17 bus. For those entering from the east or south, Il Campino emerges as a frequently utilised free parking haven along Viale Vittorio Veneto, promising a brief 10-minute saunter to the Piazza del Campo and the Duomo di Siena.

Siena also has several paid parking spaces strategically located throughout the city, offering convenience, costing around 2 euros per hour.

  • Il Campo is one of the most convenient and closest options for those arriving from the south. Open 24 hours a day, this parking area is located on Via di Fontanella, near Porta Tufi.
  • The Santa Caterina car park has escalators that connect directly to Via Esterna di Fontebranda and the historic centre. This facility is open 24 hours a day, and unlike Il Campo, you can leave your car under cover here.
  • The Fortress car park is one of the car parks with the largest number of parking spaces, around 800. It is also close to the city’s most characteristic sights, such as the Medici Fortress.

Alternatively, you could pay to park at the train station for 0.50 euros per hour if you are happy to park slightly further away.

Travelling by Motorhome to Siena

For those travelling in their motorhomes, parking is difficult; therefore you are better off parking further away and travelling in to Siena. For those adamant that they wish to park nearby, we suggest the large car park located on Via Napoli (53100 Siena), which is free and has a bus stop nearby for easy access to the city.

Where to stay in Siena

If you are after historic luxury, look no further than the Grand Hotel Continental Siena, once an aristocratic residence built in the 1600s and now the only 5-star hotel in the city centre. You will find frescoed ceilings, original chandeliers, and an underground wine cellar offering daily tasting experiences. For those looking for a real splurge, they have some of the most beautiful suites in the whole of Tuscany.

For those looking for somewhere even older to stay, Il Chiostro del Carmine is a great choice. Dating back to the 13th century, this ancient convent, once used by the Carmelitani barefoot monks, was built in the oldest part of the city, known as  the Rione of Castelsenio. Rooms here are colourful and comfortable, but it is for the cloisters and the building itself that many visitors from around the world choose to stay for each year.

Our final suggestion is Il Battistero Siena Residenza d’Epoca, located in Piazza San Giovanni next door to the Gothic baptistery. It has welcomed a Pope, famous authors, artists and architects through its doors. This elegant hotel even has a secret pathway once used by Pope Alexander VII. No two rooms here are the same, and breakfast is served with a unique view over the baptistery. Plus, and for some, perhaps the biggest selling point, it has probably the best wine cellar in Siena, which sits underneath the Piazza and has been featured in several Hollywood films.

Motorhome Campsite Parking in Siena

While these are less convenient than a hotel in the heart of Siena, there are a couple of alternatives for those travelling in their motorhomes.

Camping Colleverde Siena is just 2km from the city, with views of both Siena and the rolling Chianti hills. There are frequent buses (routes  3 and 8) from the site, and it is ideally located in Tuscany for a longer stay should you wish to explore more of the surrounding area, including towns like Volterra and San Gimignano.

Camping Agriturismo Il Sambuco, just 4km away, offers a more traditional alternative to a larger campsite. It still provides all the comforts, including a swimming pool and an on-site restaurant offering local dishes with produce from their farm. Prices for a stop here start at 20 euros a night.

San Giorgio a Lapi is not a campsite, but it is a winery, and what better way to experience Tuscany than with a stop off for an evening sampling the local wines? Located 6km from Siena, you can relax amongst the vines and the olive trees here after a day of exploring. You do need to phone ahead to book a night here, and while parking here is free, guests must participate in one of their tasting experiences.

Have you visited Siena? What would you recommend others visit when in the city? 

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If you have 48 hours in spend in Siena, Tuscany, Italy then @tbookjunkie has provided the perfect travel guide, covering what to see, where to eat and places to stay both for those travelling and looking for a hotel and those travelling with their motorhomes.

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