Travel to Siena

View of Siena Duomo and the city

Luckily, due to work, I have had the opportunity to travel to Siena three times. Hopefully, I will be back again each year to teach Epidemiology on the University of Siena Masters in Vaccinology course. Siena is a beautiful city in Tuscany, and it is very popular with tourists. The old town is surrounded by walls with beautifully-preserved gates. It is wonderful to walk and wind your way through the town. Of course, Siena is famous for the Palio, a horse race in the Piazza del Campo. Every time I pass the piazza, it doesn’t look big enough to host a horse race, and I hope one day to witness this event.

As with most places in Italy, there are local food and wine specialties. Personally, I love the pasta called pici cacio e pepe. It is a simple dish with cheese and pepper on a round noodle that looks like thick spaghetti. I’ve written a separate post on the Siena food scene, because there are too many great restaurants to recommend!

Palacio Salimbeni
Palacio Salimbeni
View of Siena Duomo from Facciatone
View of Siena Duomo from Facciatone
Porta Camollia
Porta Camollia

Highlights

  • Strolling through the small streets of the old town
  • Duomo di Siena
  • Battistero di San Giovanni Battista
  • Fortezza Medicea
  • Porta Camollia
  • Porta Ovile
  • Porta Romana
  • Basilica of Saint Francis
  • Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico
  • Palio horse race
  • Loggia del Papa, Siena Renaissance arcade
  • Fontebranda
  • Museo Contrada Priora della Civetta
  • Facciatone – great view
  • Palazzo Chigi-Saracini
  • Pinacoteca Nazionale di Siena
  • Universit√† di Siena – Palazzo del Rettorato
  • Castelnovino food festival in Castelnuovo Berardenga just outside Siena
  • San Gimignano
  • Enjoy Tuscan food and wine

Before you go

  • Siena does not have a major airport so the closest places to fly into are Florence, Pisa or Bologna
  • The Palio horse race in Piazza del Campo is a famous event held twice a year in July and August
  • Pam and Conad are two of the local supermarkets
  • Most people speak English, but a little Italian for Good day (Buongiorno) and Thank you (Grazie) will be appreciated
  • Italians says that beer goes better with pizza than wine! There are plenty of good pizza places to have a snack or meal
  • Wear good shoes for walking as many roads have cobblestones
  • Although some narrow streets look like they should be pedestrian-only, most are not so be aware of cars and motorbikes
  • Most places accept credit card even for small items like gelato
Sculpture of a Young Woman Peeking Out of Window
Sculpture of a Young Woman Peeking Out of Window
Streets of Siena
Streets of Siena
Archway to the Siena Duomo
Archway to the Siena Duomo

Transport

  • Siena does not have an international airport so the closest ones are Florence and Pisa. I tend to fly to Florence from London, as there are more flights. However, there are often weather-related delays due to wind. At times, passengers and flights are diverted to Pisa.
  • There is a slow train from Florence to Siena. However, I advise to spend the extra money and take a taxi as that takes less than an hour
  • It’s easy to walk around the old city as that is small
  • There are buses and taxis available. The taxis are few and in demand so it is recommended to book in advance

Accommodation

  • Since I have mostly been to Siena for work, I have always been hosted at the Hotel Garden Siena
  • It is about 30 minutes walk from the old city centre
  • The rooms are spacious and the decor is very unique, classic style
  • Breakfast is wonderful with a lot of selection, especially the cakes and tarts
  • The bar has great snacks in the evening and on a nice day or evening, it is lovely to sit outside on the terrace
Siena panoramic view
Siena panoramic view
Siena Duomo
Siena Duomo
Hotel Garden Siena
Hotel Garden Siena
Pizzeria Poppi Ivano
Pizzeria Poppi Ivano
Two types of pici and tagliatelle with ragu at Osteria Da Gano
Two types of pici and tagliatelle with ragu at Osteria Da Gano
Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Il Biondo
Bistecca alla Fiorentina at Il Biondo
Ilginus Gin
Ilginus Gin
Vinsanto and cantuccini at Caffe A. Nannini
Vinsanto and cantuccini at Caffe A. Nannini
Ricciarelli biscuits from Pasticceria Peccati di Gola
Ricciarelli biscuits from Pasticceria Peccati di Gola
The Masgalano Gelateria
The Masgalano Gelateria
Food festival in Castelnuovo Berardenga
Food festival in Castelnuovo Berardenga
Mastro Janni Rossi di Montalcino 2017
Mastro Janni Rossi di Montalcino 2017

Food

The Siena food scene is amazing, especially for Italian food. In fact, I’ve only ever eaten at one non-Italian restaurant called Ravioli Wong. That was when I needed a brief break from having Italian food for every meal. Of course, it is quite a treat to same the local cuisine and wines from Siena and the surrounding region of Tuscany. I will write more information in the separate post. For now, I will highlight some of the local dishes and wines to try!

Snacks

First and foremost there is pizza! Although Siena is not the original home of pizza, there are some great places. The slices are usually squares or rectangles rather than a triangular slice.

The Siena Agricultural Consortium is a fantastic shop for ingredients and snacks. Highly recommended are the meats, cheeses, crackers, pizza, focaccia, and more. It’s also a good place to buy high quality pastas, mushrooms, truffles, etc.

For sweet snacks, see the dessert section below.

Meals

In general, Italian pasta is delicious and loved all around the world. And in Siena, my favourite is pici, which is like a thick spaghetti. Pici cacio e pepe is a simple dish with cheese and freshly ground pepper. It’s always the first thing I order when I arrive to Siena. There are other varieties of pici but, in my opinion, the classic is the best!

Another popular pasta is tagliatelle. I’ve often seen it served with a ragu. Having fresh pasta makes a difference!

In addition to pasta, the Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a specialty of the region, as might be guessed from the name. The cut is large and usually shared by two or more people. Another local favourite steak is the tagliata.

I’m not sure if fish is a specialty of the area, since it’s not near the sea. However, I have often ordered dorade, sea bass, sea bream and other white fish and all have been excellent.

Finally, cinta sinese is a local breed of pig and the pork is use to make various dishes including pastas.

Dessert

Of course, gelato has to be on this list. It can be a dessert or a snack. There are countless places to try in the city. Usually, I order pistachio as one of the flavours as that is my comparison between places. In 2023, my favourite was Gelateria La Mandorla.

Very typical cookies, or biscuits, from Siena are ricciarelli. They are made of almonds and are like a chewy macaron. Delicious! Another typical dessert, though less to my taste is panforte. It’s a fruit and nut cake that can last a very long time unopened.

Cantuccini are small almond biscuits, that are usually dry and hard. They are great with coffee or with vinsanto. This leads to the next section about drinks from the region.

Finally, one can also find typical Italian desserts such as tiramisu, pannacotta, tarts, and more.

Drinks

First, most would agree that the wines from this area are wonderful and varied. Second, they are often named by the local area of origin, such as Chianti, Montepulciano, and Montalcino. I have enjoyed mostly the red grape varieties such as Sangiovese. However, there are also tasty white wines such as Vernaccia and Moscatello. And the sparkling wine, Franciacorta which is like Prosecco.

Finally, there is a sweet dessert wine called Vinsanto, which is often served with dessert or with cantuccini (hard biscuits). It has to be good when it translates to Wine of the Saints, right?

In addition, I was recently introduced to a local gin called Ilginus from Montalcino. It’s a London dry gin from the region that comes in a beautiful bottle.

Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico
Basilica Cateriniana San Domenico
View from Siena Cathedral
View from Siena Cathedral
Crypt of Siena Duomo
Crypt of Siena Duomo

FAQs

Q: Do I need a tour guide?

A: No, it is easy to find your way around the city

Q: Do people speak English?

A: There are many tourists so most people speak English

Q: Is it a walkable city?

A: Yes, especially in the old town

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