One Day In Siena Itinerary, What To Do In This Tuscan Medieval Gem

Chic, compact, and rose-toned, it’s the Tuscan city you’ve dreamed of –Siena.

Gorgeous Siena is one of the best cities to visit in Tuscany for its rustic beauty, stunning monuments, tasty food, and luscious chianti. The hilltop town of Siena has barely changed in 800 years.

You’ll find a well-preserved burnt orange dream littered with cute cafes and shops. If you want to bask in medieval times, there’s no better place than Siena.

There is no shortage of things to do in Siena. My one day in Siena itinerary will help you make the most of your visit.

cobbled street in Siena

Overview of One Day In Siena Itinerary

Here’s a snapshot glance of what you’ll see with one day in Siena:

  • Duomo Museum
  • Siena Cathedral Complex
  • Il Campo
  • Palazzo Pubblico
  • Santa Maria della Scala
  • Torre del Mangia or Pinacoteca
  • Historic Center
  • Medici Fortress
  • Dinner or food tour

Before You Go: Best Tours & Experiences in Siena

Below are some of the top tours and experience in Siena. Donʻt forget to plan ahead, especially in high season!

pretty lane with flowers

Mini History of Siena

But first a touch of history to prepare for your one day in Siena itinerary.

Like other cities in Tuscany, Siena was first settled by Etruscan tribes. During the reign of Rome’s first emperor, Augustus, it became a Roman colony going by the name Sena Iulia.

At that time, Siena wasn’t near any main roads and wasn’t prosperous. Siena was then under the dominion of the Lombards, the Franks, and the Prince-Bishops.

In the 12th century, Siena cast off those yokes and set up a secular government to replace the clergy.

In the Middle Ages, when Siena was at its zenith. Siena became a powerful city state governed by the democratic Council of Nine.

street in Siena with a view of Santa Maria dei Servi Church
street with a view of Santa Maria dei Servi Church

Siena was a main pilgrimage stop on the way to Rome. It raked in money from manufacturing and banking.

Although Florence gets most of the glory, Siena was a co-equal and rival of Florence in the 14th and 15th centuries. The town had a flourishing culture of humanism and a progressive democratic government.

Artists such as Duccio, Simone Martini, and Ambrogio Lorenzetti were part of the important Sienese painting school, producing some of the best art in Tuscany.

But in 1348, the Black Death wiped out most of Siena’s population. Everyone was too busy dying to carry on with daily activities.

beautiful rustic yellow and orange homes in medieval Siena
beautiful rustic yellow and orange homes in medieval Siena

Siena was permanently weakened. After centuries of battles, Florence conquered the city once and for all in 1555.

Siena became a backwater for six centuries. It remained under the rule of the Medici until the unification of Italy in 1861.

On the upside, Siena’s loss became our sightseeing gain. Its obsolescence preserved its medieval architecture and setting.

Siena is also known for a crazy medieval horse race, the Palio of Siena. It’s a twice a year celebration held on July 2 and August 16. Siena’s gorgeous medieval piazza, Il Campo, is transformed into a medieval race track.

riders compete in the Palio
riders compete in the Palio

Bleachers are set up. For days, there are processions, medieval rituals, and Palio bands.

Then, it’s race time. 10 of the 17 neighborhoods of Siena, the Contrade, are represented by a horse and rider. The race is a frantic 3 laps, lasting 90 seconds.

There are no rules. It’s standing room only.

50,000 people usually attend the races, with bated breath and much screaming. It’s important to keep the race dates in mind when planning a visit to Siena. Either you’ll want to join the frenzy or, if you’re crowd phobic, visit in a different month.

Basilica of San Domenico in Siena
Basilica of San Domenico

One Day In Siena Itinerary

If you only have one precious day in Siena, here’s the step-by-step itinerary that I recommend.

1. 9:00 AM: Breakfast and a Stroll

Siena has some wonderful cafes. Start your day off with a strong espresso and pastry at either Caffe Fiorella on Via de Citta or Bar Pasticceria Nannini on Via Banchi di Sopra.

If you want to buy some traditional Sienese sweets to bring home, stop in at Pasticceria Buti on Viale Vittorio Emanuele II.

Now, fueled up, you’re ready to explore Siena’s Duomo complex. It doesn’t open until 10:30 am. But you can start with the cathedral museum, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, which opens slightly earlier at 10:00 am.

beautiful marble facade of Siena Cathedral, a museum visit with one day in Siena
beautiful marble facade of Siena Cathedral

2. 10:00 AM: The Duomo Complex

The Duomo complex is the top attraction in Siena.

I explain more about the pass below. You’ll need to dedicate a few hours to seeing this vast and amazing complex.

The Duomo complex isn’t just Siena Cathedral. It also includes the Baptistry, the Crypt, the Piccolomini Library, the Facciatone viewing terrace, and the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo Museum.

To see them all — and you should definitely see them all — you need the Opa Si Pass. Otherwise, you’ll be turned away when you want to explore beyond the cathedral nave and altars.

Siena Cathedral is one of Italy’s most beautiful churches, especially for lovers of all things Gothic. The Duomo is the symbol of Siena, clad all over in Siena’s trademark white and dark green marble.

dome of Siena Cathedral
dome of Siena Cathedral

Building a cathedral like this one in Siena was a clear sign of wealth and power, and Siena had plenty of both.

If you’re impressed by the exterior’s decoration, just wait until you see the inside – it’s even more elaborate.

True to the Gothic belief that ‘more is more,’ every inch of the interior is adorned with marble, mosaics, sculptures, and frescoes.

It’s so richly decorated, you might find yourself a bit dazzled. It makes you wonder if the architects were ever concerned about leaving any space undecorated!

As soon as you step inside, you’re greeted by the busts of 172 popes, watching from above, representing the lineage from St. Peter up to the 12th century.

pavement in Siena Cathedral
pavement in Siena Cathedral
facade of the Baptistry, in the back of the Duomo
facade of the Baptistery

And don’t miss the marble floors – they’re a masterpiece in their own right. Adorned with scenes from the Bible, allegories, and complex patterns, they’re nothing short of exquisite.

The greatest artists of the day contributed master works to Siena Cathedral, including Donatello, Pinturicchio, Baldassarre Peruzzi, Ghiberti, Pisano, Michelangelo, and Bernini.

The highlight may be the Piccolomini Library. The fresco-studded library is akin to visiting the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican Museums.

The frescos were created by Pinturicchio, who also created the Borgia Apartments in the Vatican Museums. You can see it’s gorgeous from my video below:

Pinturicchio frescos in the Piccolomini Library
Pinturicchio frescos in the Piccolomini Library

You’ll also want to inspect the pulpit created by Nicolas Pisano, which is made of marble and granite.

The octagonal pulpit was inspired by ancient Roman sarcophagi. It’s adorned with marble relief sculptures depicting the life of Jesus. 

This is Pisano’s most important work. It’s significant because it marked the transition from the Gothic period to the early Renaissance.

If you opt to visit the Duomo Museum first, you’ll see sculptures by Pisano, Donatello, and Bernini, along with a gorgeous rose window.

rose window and sculpture in the Duomo Museum
sculpture and rose window in the Duomo Museum

Plus, the museum is where you’ll find the Facciatone viewing platform. I think it provides an even better view than the Tower of Mangia in Il Campo.

I’ve written an extensive guide to the Siena Cathedral complex, so won’t repeat myself here.

It tells you exactly which masterpieces you can’t miss and describes them in detail.

Click here to pre-book a skip the line ticket for the cathedral. Click here for an amazing private guided tour of the cathedral complex.

panoramic view of Il Campo, Siena's beautiful medieval square -- one of the best things to do with one day in Siena
panoramic view of Il Campo, Siena’s beautiful medieval square

3. 1:00 PM: Lunch in Il Campo

Make your way next to Piazza del Campo, affectionately known as Il Campo. This spot is one of the most magnificent medieval squares in Europe and truly the heart and soul of Siena.

Il Campo is a unique, shell-shaped square framed by brick buildings, including Siena’s beloved Palazzo Pubblico (the town hall) and the towering Mangia Tower.

The square spreads out from the city hall in an amphitheater-like fashion. Its buildings and pavement share the same warm, earthy ‘burnt sienna’ color as the local soil.

The ground is beautifully paved in a herringbone pattern and is divided into nine segments with white stone stripes, a nod to the historic Council of the Nine.

Il Campo is the perfect spot to just sit back, relax, and watch the world go by.

aerial view of Il Campo in Siena
aerial view of Il Campo

Opposite the Palazzo Pubblico, you’ll also find the Fonte Gaia. It’s a monumental marble fountain with carved figures.

It was crafted by sculptor Jacopo della Quercia in 1419 and is considered a landmark of Siena. The original has been moved inside and there’s a copy in the square.

The restaurants are rather touristy in Il Campo, as you might guess. But because your next port of call is the Palazzo Pubblico, sit down and enjoy the lively atmosphere in the fine piazza.

The specialties of Siena are wild boar sauce, ribollita, porchetta, and chianti. Bar Il Palio has the best view of the piazza.

If you don’t want to eat right on the main square, the restaurant Te Ke Voi is good, and is just steps from Il Campo. For dessert, consider trying Siena’s delicacy, the local fruit cake called panforte.

restaurants lining the Piazza del Campo, the heart of Siena Italy
restaurants lining the Piazza del Campo
The Fonte Gaia, a monumental fountain located in the Piazza del Campo
the Fonte Gaia, a monumental fountain located in the Piazza del Campo

4. 2:00 Palazzo Pubblico

The Palazzo Pubblico is another landmark to carve out some time for on your one day in Siena itinerary. The palace was built in 1297-1308 for the Council of Nine, the governing body of Siena.

The palazzo is a harmonious example of early Renaissance architecture. It has a curved brick facade and beautiful triforate arched windows.

Beside the palazzo soars the slender Tower of Mangia, which you can climb for panoramic views. The complex is one of the seminal civic structures in Europe.

the Palazzo Pubblico in the Piazza del Campo, Siena's city hall and civic museum
the Palazzo Pubblico, Siena’s city hall and civic museum

The Palazzo Pubblico also houses Siena’s Civic Museum. That museum holds one of the world’s most important and intact secular fresco cycles from the middle ages and a famous Maesta by Simone Martini.

It’s often overlooked by tourists visiting Siena, possibly because the entry fee is fairly high. But if you’re an art lover, the Palazzo Pubblico is a must visit attraction in Siena.

In the Room of Peace, the city council met under an instructive painting cycle called the Allegory of Good and Bad Government. It’s a message that seems apt for today.

the Allegory of Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti
the Allegory of Good Government by Ambrogio Lorenzetti

Bad government and tyranny results in run down homes, friction, assassinations, and war. Good and virtuous government results in dancing women, peace, and booming commercial prosperity.

Here’s my complete guide to visiting Palazzo Pubblico, with a lengthy analysis of the famed fresco cycle by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Click here to pre-book an entry ticket to the palazzo.

Pilgrim's Hall in Santa Maria della Scala
Pilgrim’s Hall in Santa Maria della Scala

5. 3:00 PM: Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala

If you speed through the palazzo, head next door to the Hospital of Santa Maria della Scala.

It’s a beautiful building with mullioned windows and a gorgeous Renaissance wooden ceiling.

The 13th century palace was once one of the oldest hospitals in Europe. Siena took in orphans and cared for its poor.

Today, it’s one of Siena’s most important museums. There are frescos by Simone Martini, Ambogio and Pietro Lorenzetti, and Sebastiano Conca.

view of the Tower of Mangia, a must do with one day in Siena
the Tower of Mangia

6. 3:30 PM: Torre del Mangia | City Tower

Fancy a climb on your one day in Siena? If you need to burn off some carbs, the almost 300 foot Tower of Mangia is for you.

There’s no elevator. And it’s 400 steps to the top — a somewhat claustrophobic one way trek.

The Tower of Mangia is the same height as the steeple of Siena cathedral. And the tower is an exact 1:1 ratio with the Piazza del Campo.

The height of the bell tower is equal to the radius of the square, kind of a nifty architectural device contributing to the beauty of the piazza.

The Tower of Mangia was once the tallest one in Italy when built in 1338-48. But Florence’s Tower of Arnolfo in the Palazzo Vecchio has it beat. “Mangia” was the nickname of the tower’s first bell ringer, known for his debauchery, sloth, and interest in eating.

view from the Tower of Mangia in the Palazzo Pubblico
view from the Tower of Mangia in the Palazzo Pubblico
w from the Facciatone in the Siena Cathedral complex
view from the Facciatone in the Siena Cathedral complex

At the base of the tower is a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was a thank you for delivering Siena, finally, from the plague.

Once you’ve climbed to the first floor of the Tower of Mangia, you have to leave your bag in a locker (free). But you can bring your camera with you.

20 people are allowed up every 30 minutes. It’s best to buy your ticket early in the day and come back later, as the tower can sell out in high season.

If you want great views without a steep and cramped climb, there’s a great alternative I mentioned above — the Facciatone viewing terrace in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in the Siena Cathedral complex.

gallery in the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena
Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena

7. National Picture Gallery

If you don’t want to climb the tower, instead head to the National Picture Gallery. This is Siena’s best museum, housed in a stunning Gothic building.

It contains a large collection of pieces by Sienese artists from between the 12th to 16th centuries spread out over 30 rooms. You’ll see a lot of madonna con bambinos.

But there are some brilliant works form the early Renaissance — Lorenzetti’s Annunciation, Duccio’s Madonna of the Franciscans, Freei’s Adoration of the Magi, and Bartolo’s Nativity.

There’s even a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England by Federico Zuccari.

beautiful rustic sienna-colored homes in Siena Italy

8. 4:30 PM: Stroll Through the Historic Center

A day in Siena isn’t complete without a leisurely wander through its historic heart.

As you meander through the enchanting medieval streets, it feels like you’ve traveled back in time. The narrow alleys, charming and vibrant, are straight out of a picture book.

You’ll notice flags representing the Contrade (Siena’s historic neighborhoods) fluttering in the breeze, and old iron rings for tethering horses dotting the walls.

Balconies overflow with colorful flowers, adding to the city’s picturesque charm. It’s no wonder the entire city center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

So, take it slow. Shop around, grab an espresso or a glass of wine, maybe even an aperitivo at one of the cozy cafes. Don’t worry about getting lost – in Siena, that’s just part of the adventure

central nave of San Domenico
central nave of San Domenico

If you’d like to imbibe in style, stop in at Morbidi, Gino Cacino, or Liberamente Osteria. For some drinks and jazz music in a stylish setting, try Un Tubo, a short distance from Il Campo.

If your legs aren’t tired yet and you have time, take a hike up to another important church in Siena, the Church of San Domenico.

It’s not far from the historic core. A highlight is the pretty Chapel of Caterina, a patron saint of Italy.

The chapel is decorated with frescos and marble sculptures. There are two masterpieces by Il Sodoma. It also contains a relic of the saint.

Piazza Salimbeni
Piazza Salimbeni

From the church, you’ll be treated to some stunning views – definitely a highlight of your visit.

Make sure to take a walk through Piazza Salimbeni, which was beautifully renovated in the 19th century by Giuseppe Martini.

This square is a significant spot in the heart of Siena and was once the domain of the Salimbeni family, who were as influential as the Medici were in Florence.

The square is framed by historic buildings on three sides. Among them, the most famous is the Palazzo Salimbeni, home to the world’s oldest bank.

In the center of the square stands a statue of Sallustio Bandini, an esteemed economist of the 18th century

the Medici Fortress
the Medici Fortress

9. Medici Fortress

If it’s a hike you want in the late afternoon, head to the Medici Fortress in the western part of Siena. The fortress was built in the 16th and 17th centuries by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici.

After centuries of wars, Siena succumbed to Florence for good in 1555. Cosimo wanted to prevent any further uprising by the Sienese.

The fortress is built entirely of brick, with walls and four triangular defensive towers bearing the emblem of the Medici family.

In the 18th century, the fortress was transformed into a public space with a garden. Today there are concerts, markets, and other exhibitions.

 the restaurant Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena
the restaurant Antica Osteria da Divo in Siena

10. 8:00 PM: Dinner in Siena

Now is the time to indulge in an excellent Italian meal. There are so many great restaurants in Siena.

If you’re ready to splurge, your best option is either the Michelin starred La Taverna San Giuseppe or Antica Osteria da Divo. Be sure to make reservations.

Antica is very atmospheric. It’s partially housed in ancient Etruscan tombs. At both, you’ll have fine wine and fine Italian food.

Some other good restaurants that I tried on my last visit include:

  • La Campagnia dei Vinattieri (Italian food and a great wine cellar)
  • Osteria Il Rialto (cozy seafood spot)
  • Ristorante Guido (a great tagliolini and wine list)
  • Enoteca Ristorante Tre Cristi (fine dining amid Renaissance architecture)

Alternatively, you can have dinner in a vineyard around Siena. Or take a cooking class or food and wine tour.

cafe in Siena

Tips For Spending One Day In Siena

1. How To Get Around Siena

You can walk everywhere in Siena, with just a bit of climbing involved.

There are also taxis available at the train station and in town at the Piazza Matteotti.

The tourist office is in the Santa Maria della Scala complex near the Duomo. It’s open from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm. This is where you can purchase either the Acropolis or Opa Si passes, that I’ll describe below.

rustic homes in the historic center of Siena
rustic homes in the historic center

2. What Tickets Should You Get For Siena

The answer partly depends on how long you’re staying in Siena.

If you’re only there for one day, I would opt for the Opa Si Pass. Click here to purchase it online in advance.

Or, you get buy tickets at the ticket office just outside the Duomo. Expect lines in high season though.

The Opa Si Pass is an all inclusive 3 day ticket to the sites in the Siena Cathedral complex.

It includes entry to the cathedral, the Piccolomini Library, the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, the Baptistry, the Facciatoni viewing platform, and the Crypt.

the She-Wolf of Siena with the emblems of Siena's confederate cities
the She-Wolf of Siena with the emblems of Siena’s confederate cities

The pass gives you skip the line access and it’s much cheaper than paying for each site individually.

You can also purchase the Porta del Cielo Pass. It includes everything covered by the Spa Si Pass.

But it also gives you timed entry access to the rooms of the Gates of Heaven at the very top of the cathedral. You will have panoramic views both outside and inside the cathedral.

The Opa Si Pass and Porta del Cielo Pass give you one entry to each attraction. You can’t re-enter. So make sure you’ve seen everything you want before you exit.

Then, I would add on a ticket to the Civic Museum in the Palazzo Pubblico. It’s worth it just to see the stunning Allegory of Good and Bad Government.

If you’re not a fan of that period of art, then you can skip it and save the 10 euro entry fee.

Unless you’re crazy for views like I am, you might skip the rather hefty 10 euro charge for the Tower of Mangia. You can get a free view from the Facciatoni with your Opa Si Pass.

rustic homes in Siena
rustic homes in Siena

If you’re in Siena for more than one day, opt for the all inclusive Acropoli Pass. This pass gives you entry to all the Duomo sites listed above plus the Oratorio di San Bernardino, and Santa Maria della Scala.

3. When Is The Best Time To Go To Siena

I’d avoid going in July and August. This time of year is brutally hot. Only go then if you want to see the Palio.

Shoulder season, spring and fall, are the best times to visit. October is the best month to visit most of Tuscany, with sunshine-y days, great weather, and cooler nights.

tiny meandering lane in Siena

4. How To Get To Siena

By Car

If you’ve got a car, it’s easy to drive to Siena. Siena is a little over an hour from Florence. It’s 45 minute drive from San Gimignano.

Siena is surrounded by city walls with big gates. But there are plenty of car parks outside.

You can’t drive into the city center. Parking lots close to the city center are very expensive.

Click here for complete information. Be sure to keep your ticket and pay in the automated machine before exiting.

There’s one free parking lot next to the Fortezza, Siena’s 16th century fortress, which might not be full in the off season. You can also park for free at the train station.

historic center of Siena
historic center of Siena

By Bus

Siena is most commonly visited as a day trip from Florence. Rome is just too far away for a day trip IMHO.

If you are day tripping from Florence, the bus may be the best option. It leaves from the the Florence bus station, Firenze Autostazione, which is near Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Train Station.

In a little over an hour, it drops you off just a few steps from Il Corso, Siena’s main pedestrianized street. Click here to check the timetable.

By Train

You can also get to Siena by train from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella Station. There are 16 trains leaving daily. They take between 1:10-1:30.

San Domenico Church in Siena
San Domenico Church in Siena

Click here to check the official website, Trenitalia, for times and fares. If you arrive in Siena by train, you’ll be at the bottom of a hill.

You can take a bus into the city center. Or hike up, with escalators to help along the way. When you reach the top, it’s just a 5 minute walk to the old town gate.

By Guided Tour:

You can also visit Siena on a day trip from Florence. One popular day trip combines Siena, Pisa, and San Gimignano, giving you big bang for the buck.

5. Tours In Siena

There’s nothing better than your own personal Siena walking tour. There’s even a walking tour of secret Siena.

Naturally, you can take a food tour of Siena. Wine tours are also a staple of a Siena visit.

Borgo San Felice
Borgo San Felice

6. Where To Stay In Siena

Siena has some excellent accommodations. You can stay in luxe hotels, castles, or palazzos.

You should consider the Grand Hotel Intercontinental (vintage grandeur in a former palazzo), Hotel Certosa di Maggiano (converted 14th century monastery), or the Regio Relais (central location).

You can take a romantic mini-break in the beautiful Palazzo Ravizza. Or enjoy a boutique guest house in an unbeatable location, the Il Battistero Siena. The Relais degli Angeli is the epitome of Tuscan elegance.

The last time I was in Siena, I stayed at Borgo San Felice. It’s about a half hour away in the hills of Siena. It’s a resort situated in the old palazzi of a medieval village. It was stunning.

enjoying my time in Il Campo
enjoying my time in Il Campo

I have you’ve enjoyed my one day itinerary for Siena. You may enjoy these other travel guides and resources for Italy:

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