Siena || creative commons photo by Phillip Capper

Siena || creative commons photo by Phillip Capper

Sweet, sweet Siena – one of the Italian cities that regularly makes visitors coo adoringly, and with good reason. The historic center, inside the old city walls, is almost exactly what you imagine an old Italian city to be like, as if they pulled the description right out of your dreams.

While many people choose to stay in Siena for a day or two, most end up visiting the city on a day trip from nearby Florence. That’s fine, except that Siena suffers from the same day-trip-destination maladies as Venice or Pisa – it’s teeming with tourists during the day, and much quieter in the early mornings and evenings. In other words, if you can spare the time, you’ll enjoy the city more if you can spend at least one night.

How to Get to Siena

The nearest airports to Siena are in Pisa and Florence. The Pisa International Airport (PSA) is the largest in Tuscany, but depending on where you’re flying from, you can also look into flying into Florence-Peretola Airport (FLR).

Siena is actually better-served by buses than trains – partly because the bus station is inside the city walls, whereas the train station is further from the historic center in the more modern part of the city; and partly because trains from Florence require a change midway. You can take the train, of course, and get a taxi from there to your hotel (if you’re staying the night), but if you’re only going on a day trip you’ll save time by taking the bus.

What to Do & See in Siena

Siena’s historic center is ideal for strolling without any real agenda, though it’s good to know that it’s not a flat city. The Duomo is at the top of the hill in the old center, so almost anywhere you’re walking you’re either going uphill or downhill. In other words, wear good walking shoes.

If you’re visiting during the summer, make note of the dates of the famous Palio di Siena, the bareback horse race held twice each summer (July 2 and August 16). It’s quite the internationally-known spectacle, which means hotels get booked up months in advance and the city is especially crowded. Plan accordingly.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of Siena’s most popular attractions:

  • Duomo
  • Il Campo
  • Baptistery
  • Basilica di San Domenico
  • City Hall Tower
  • St. Catherine’s House
  • Pinacoteca Nazionale
  • Civic Museum

Guided Tours in Siena

Where to Stay in Siena

As far as I’m concerned, there’s not much point in spending the night in Siena if you’re staying in the modern part of the city. Choose accommodation within the old city walls, and you’ll really get to enjoy the charms of Siena before the day-trippers arrive and after they’ve left in the evening.

Here are a few things to keep in mind about Siena accommodation:

  • Star ratings for hotels in Italy don’t correspond to the ones you may be familiar with. Historic buildings that have been converted into hotels naturally have smaller rooms, and this means they have fewer stars – even if they’re top quality and have a good location. Don’t be afraid to check out two- and three-star hotels if the location looks good.
  • There are hostels in Siena as well as hotels, and some have private rooms, which is another great way to save money on lodging.
  • For those staying longer than a few days or traveling with a group, you might want to consider an apartment rental instead of a hotel room. These can be an especially good idea if you’re keen on having your own kitchen – either to experiment with Italian cooking or to save money by making some of your own meals.

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