Florence to Siena: an Italian Day Trip
Florence is one of the most culturally rich cities in the world. In fact, I recommend spending several days in the city to make sure you find all the best things to do. But to get the most of your Italian vacation, you should take a day trip from Florence to Siena.
Siena is a stunning city in Tuscany known for its medieval architecture. Everywhere you go, you’ll see cobblestone streets and charming, brick buildings. Siena’s charm and beauty are so appealing that the city has been used in famous movies like the James Bond film Quantum of Solace. The historic center has also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The city began as an Etruscan settlement. By the 13th century, it had developed into a commercial and banking powerhouse. In fact, Siena is home to the oldest bank in the world, the Monte dei Paschi Bank. As an economic and cultural hub, a lot of people traveled from Florence to Siena. The two cities developed a rivalry in all spheres: artistic, economic, and political.
During the Italian War of 1551-59, Florence allied with Spain to conquer Siena. The city and its lands later passed to the House of Medici and then to the Habsburg-Lorraine Dynasty. Despite the political changes, however, Siena has preserved its vibrant beauty.
The Drive From Florence to Siena
You can take a train from Florence to Siena. It will only take a couple hours, leaving you with lots of time to explore the city. If your time is limited, this may be the best option for you. But I recommend driving.
Tuscany has one of the most beautiful countrysides in the world. During your drive, you’ll be surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, and fields of lavender. At every corner, you’ll want to get out of the car to take photos.
Driving also gives you the opportunity to stop at some lovely locations. You can visit San Gimignano, for example, to try the world’s best gelato. Or maybe you’d prefer to visit some of Tuscany’s best wineries. Wine always makes the day more interesting.
Things to Do in Siena
Whatever way you choose to get to Siena, you will have several things to do once you get there. And the great part is that Siena is a relatively small city. So you can get everywhere by walking. No need to worry about metro lines or bus routes.
Piazza del Campo
Piazza del Campo is the central square of Siena. The entire city revolves around the square, so you have to go there. Throughout most of the year, the square is a place to walk and hangout. But twice a year, Piazza del Campo hosts the fast-paced horse race, Palio di Siena. Thousands of spectators come each year to watch the event.
The most prominent building in the square is Torre del Mangia. At the time of its construction, it was the tallest tower in Italy. It was built to be the same height as the Siena Cathedral, symbolizing equality between church and state. If you want a nice view of the city, you can climb to the top. But be aware that it can get pretty busy.
Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
Coming from Florence to Siena, you’ll already have an image of the Duomo in your head. But the Duomo of Siena, also called Siena Cathedral, is just as ornate and beautiful as the Duomo in Florence. Both the interior and exterior of the cathedral are stunning. Inside you’ll see elaborate mosaics and gorgeous, marble floors, which took hundreds of years to create.
In addition to gawking at the Siena Cathedral’s beauty, you can visit their museum and crypt. But I highly suggest you visit the Piccolomini Library, which is only accessible through Siena Cathedral. Yes, there is some important literature in the library. But most people come to see the incredible frescos that cover the room.
Whatever you want to do, just remember to book your tickets ahead of time. There’s nothing worse than waiting in line on your vacation.
As you stroll through Siena, you should stop at Porta Camollia. The historical gateway is one of the guarded entrances that was used to protect the city in medieval times. Once it protected against dangers coming from Florence to Siena, but now you can peacefully walk through and admire the architecture.
Right next to Torre del Mangia in Piazza del Campo is the Pubblico Palace. It’s right at the center of everything in Siena, so you have no excuse to miss it. The palace was built in the 1400s, and it features stunning rooms with paintings all across the walls.
Booking a ticket to Palazzo Pubblico will also give you access to Loggia dei Nove, a 14th century gallery. You’ll definitely get your art fix here.
What to Eat
Italy is the culinary capital of the world. You can find incredible dishes in all corners of the country. So when you go to a new city, look out for the local cuisine. Here are some local favorites from Siena:
- Malfatti – called gnudi in Florence, malfatti is a handmade, spinach gnocchi. Malfatti means “badly made” since these little pasta balls are rarely uniform in shape or size.
- Ricciarelli di Siena – soft, almond cookies in the shape of lozenges. These were one reserved for Tuscan royalty because of how precious almond paste was in the past.
- Panforte di Siena – a traditional Italian dessert called Siena cake. The cake is dusted with powdered sugar and filled with dried fruit, nuts, and spices.
Where to Stay in Siena
If you’re taking a day trip from Florence to Siena, you probably don’t need a hotel. But travel can be exhausting, so maybe you’ll want to stay the night. If you do, I have a couple suggestions to get a great room in a great location at a great price.
The first is Borgo Grondaie. Built out of a Tuscan farmhouse, this hotel offers a traditional Tuscan experience. The rooms are spacious, the grounds are beautiful, and the pool is a nice touch. On the downside, the hotel is a mile from the historical center. But you get free parking, so it’s a great option if you’re driving into Siena.
For a hotel closer to the center, Il giardino di Pantaneto Residenza D’Epoca is the choice for you. The name is long, but the hotel has everything you could want. The look is traditional, the price is affordable, and the garden is gorgeous. Plus, you’re only a 3-minute walk from Piazza del Campo.
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