If you are spending any time in Florence, a day trip to Siena is easy-peasy. Both buses and trains make the trip — we recommend taking the bus there because if you take the train you will have to walk up a very big hill to get to the things you are going to want to see.
The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO world heritage site. The first thing you will want to see is the Piazza del Campo. This large square is the location for the running of the Palio horse race — one of the most insane (and corrupt) horse races ever — twice each summer. Ten horse/rider teams compete (representing the wards of the city). The riders wear colorful outfits and ride bareback. From the videos I have seen, there do not appear to be much in the way of rules other than the first horse to cross the finish line wins (regardless of whether or not that horse has a rider). As I understand it, using your whip to hit other riders is allowed, if not encouraged. And, paying off other jockeys is the rule, not the exception. Sadly, we weren’t there when the Palio was running.
The Piazza is bordered on one side by beautiful curved buildings. On another side is the Palazzo Pubblico. It was built in the 13th century and was once the town hall. The building has some cool carvings on the outside and, apparently, is full of frescoes on the inside. The Torre del Mangia (or bell tower) was the third tallest tower in medieval Italy. It stands about 290 feet tall and was built to be the same height as the Duomo of Siena to basically tell everyone that the state was just as powerful as the church. Not sure how that message was received….
There is also a pretty interesting fountain in the Piazza del Campo called the Torre del Mangia or Fountain of Joy, When it was built in the 14th century, it brought water to the center of Siena from about 15 miles away.
Your next stop should be the cathedral. Normally, religious buildings don’t really float our boats. But, the cathedral complex in Siena is out of this world. We were even willing to pay to get in (and we almost never pay to visit a church).
The cathedral was built back in the 13th century and it is absolutely stunning.
While many churches in Italy are pretty on the outside and kind of boring on the inside, the Siena cathedral is pretty on the inside too.
Don’t miss the Piccolomini Library inside the cathedral. The walls and ceiling are painted in the most vivid colors.
The baptistry is also worth a visit. Of course, we were drawn to the skulls in the marble floor, but the rest of the baptistry is a bit more traditional.
The carvings on the outside of the buildings are also pretty cool.
As you are walking around town, watch out for glimpses of the Tuscan countryside.
Our day trip to Siena was pretty much the perfect way to spend the day — but I’m pretty sure all you need for Siena is a single day.