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Last updated: 04 July, 2023
Expert travel writer: Nicky Swallow

According to many of its citizens, Siena is the most perfect medieval city in the world. A glorious ensemble of red brick buildings and exquisite monuments, it’s famous for its fan-shaped Campo and the twice-yearly Il Palio horse race.

Any visit to the city should begin in the sloping Piazza del Campo, the city’s main square, fringed with cafes that are perfect for a doppio espresso and a spot of people-watching. The square is dominated by the Mangia Tower and the Palazzo Pubblico – and climbing the tower is a great way to start your visit, giving wraparound views of the city and surrounding countryside.

Art lovers should dip into the Civic Museum (Museo Civico) for its dazzling array of paintings by Lorenzetti, Simone Martini and other Sienese masters. There’s another fabulous collection in the National Art Gallery (Pinacoteca).

The ex-hospital of Santa Maria della Scala is another must-see for its brilliant archaeological museum and frescoed Pilgrim’s Hall. The Gothic, zebra-striped Duomo houses a celebrated polychrome floor; usually covered for protection, it’s normally visible in August and September.

Siena is famous for its sweet delicacies; almondy ricciarelli biscuits, aniseed-flavoured cavallucci and the solid, dried fruit-based panforte. One of the best places to sample them is the Antica Drogheria Manganelli in Via di Citta 71-73.

Travel advice

When to go

Unless you specifically want to see the Palio, avoid visiting around the two annual race dates, July 2nd and August 16th, when the worst of the crowds jostling along the streets close to Piazza del Campo.

May to September is always extremely crowded. Winter is a wonderful time to visit, but if that’s not possible try and make an early morning start.

Getting there and away

Siena lies around 70km south of Florence, down the toll-free superstrada. Parking is forbidden in the city centre but there are large car parks around the edge. There are good bus and train links; the train station is 1.5km from the city centre, but there is a frequent bus service. The bus station is closer in Piazza San Domenico.

Wandering on foot is the best way to discover the secrets of the Palio; keep your eyes open for the little ceramic plaques with symbols of the 17 contrade (districts) on street corners and buildings.

The main tourist office is in Piazza del Campo; they have details of tours in and around the city plus maps and information brochures.

Getting around

The old town is relatively compact and the best way to explore is simply by strolling through the ancient streets and alleyways.

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