San Domenico Basilica, Siena, ItalySan Domenico Basilica, Siena, Italy
August 5, 2013

Siena – An enchanting day trip from Florence

by Joel Weickgenant in Destinations

All roads in Siena lead to Piazza del Campo, the square that has framed the city’s life for hundreds of years. Siena, Italy is easily reached on the regional rails, and it makes an ideal day trip from Florence. The Piazza defines Siena’s image in the world, since it hosts the city’s famous horse race, Il Palio, held every summer under the square’s iconic bell tower. Even when the horses are in their stables, though, Piazza del Campo is an everyday stage for the Senesi, an eccentric but cosmopolitan bunch who often define their city as being everything that Florence is not.

Scenic train route from Florence to Siena

The adventure begins the second the train pulls away from Florence’s central Santa Maria Novella station. The city soon gives way to hills covered in terraced vineyards overseen by stunning Tuscan villas. You’ll need to resist the urge to step off the train when it stops at Montelupo-Capraia, small cities made rich centuries ago by the manufacture of ceramics.

Despite the trackside temptations, you have made it to Siena and you find yourself ambling down Via Banchi di Sopra. Stained-glass windows enclosed in marble arches look down at you from the medieval buildings. At ground level, storefronts on Banchi di Sopra offer brands such as Sisley, Swatch and L’Occitane en Provence.

Top 3 things to do in Siena

Piazza del Campo, Siena, Italy
Siena cathedral, Italy
View of Siena, Italy

Siena isn’t only a historical gem. It’s also a college town, meaning there is a good mix of things to do in the city.

  1. The Duomo

    First, head to Grom for a tasty gelato and then waste no time finding the Duomo, one of Tuscany’s most spectacular architectural sights. You could spend hours staring at the exterior, clad in alternating layers of black and white marble and vaunting a façade with enough stone gargoyles, horses and saints to keep an art history student occupied for a semester or two. The 12 Euro all-inclusive ticket is also worth considering, though, because it is the interior of the church that truly moves.

  2. Take a stroll

    The best way to discover Siena is simply to walk. The city’s medieval core is far smaller than that of Florence, its streets narrower and more mysterious. Discover monumental buildings such as Palazzo Salimbeni and check out the works of art at the Pinacoteca Nazionale. Lounge at L’Incontro, on Via Giovanni Dupre, where for a few euros you can snack on a great panino and spend hours chatting with friends new and old. (The locale has long been a favorite among the many students visiting from abroad.)

  3. The piazza

    Before the shadows get too long, make a beeline for Piazza del Campo. Take your friends and a bottle of store-bought wine, find a wide-open spot on the sun-warmed bricks under the tower and ponder what you would have missed had you stayed back in the crowded streets of Florence.

No one will blame you if you decide to make Siena more than just a day trip.

Discovering Siena for yourself is easy. Regional Trenitalia trains from Florence to Siena run between one and three times per hour on weekdays after 7 a.m. and take about 90 minutes to arrive – 15 minutes more if your train switches in Empoli. Only regional trains service the route, so no reservation is required. Just pack your Eurail pass and climb on board.