Famous for its crazy horse race (Il Palio), Siena is one of Italy's most enchanting medieval towns. Its walled centre, a beautifully preserved warren of dark lanes punctuated by Gothic palazzi, piazzas and eye-catching churches, is a lovely place to get lost. The action centres on Piazza del Campo (known as Il Campo), the sloping scallop that serves as a communal sunbed to scores of day trippers.
Not to be missed
- Wine and food tasting tour
- A night at the Red Garter bar
Ever since the 14th century, Piazza del Campo has been the city’s focus. Forming the base of the piazza, the Palazzo Pubblico (or Palazzo Comunale) is a magnificent example of Sienese Gothic architecture. Inside, the Museo Civico houses some extraordinary frescoes. Soaring above the palazzo is the 102m Torre del Mangia, which dates from 1297. A combined ticket to the two costs €12 and is only available at the Torre del Mangia ticket office.
The spectacular Duomo is a Gothic masterpiece. Begun in 1196, it was completed in 1215, although work continued well into the 13th century. Inside, it’s the 14th-century inlaid- marble floor that’s the highlight. Other noteworthy features include Donatello’s bronze of St John the Baptist, and statues of St Jerome and Mary Magdalene by Bernini.
Behind the cathedral and down a flight of stairs, the battistero has a Gothic facade and a rich frescoed interior.
On the western edge of the walled city, the Chiesa di San Domenico is the last resting place of St Catherine’s head and thumb.
Festivals & Events
Siena’s great annual event is the Palio (2 July and 16 August), a pageant culminating in a bareback horse race round Il Campo. The city is divided into 17 contrade (districts), of which 10 are chosen annually to compete for the palio (silk banner). The only rule in the three-lap race is that jockeys can’t tug the reins of other horses.
(Via Banchi di Sopra) For the finest cenci (fried sweet pastry), panforte (dense fruit-and-nut cake) and ricciarelli (almond biscuits) in town, you need go no further than this Sienese institution.
(Costa di Sant’Antonio 4) With its rustic wooden tables and stone walls, this is an atmospheric spot serving earthy, filling seasonal food. In summer, there’s outdoor seating on a quiet pedestrian street.
(Via dei Rossi 79-81) Great food, big portions, no-nonsense red wine – the ideal recipe for a memorable meal. Service at L’Osteria is efficient and prices are right for this touristy neck of the woods.
For self-caterers, there’s a handy Conad supermarket (Piazza Matteotti 17) in the town centre.
Definitely come when the Palio di Siena is on. Be sure to book early.