If you’re planning a Siena day trip from Florence, here’s how I recommend making the most of your time there. Only one day in Siena isn’t really enough, but in reality if you’re doing a trip around Tuscany, you’re probably going to have to limit your time in some places. There’s a lot to see in this charming medieval city, but if you plan ahead you can cram quite a bit in.
Hop on a train from Florence bound south for Siena, and an hour and a half later (via lovely views) you’ll be there. Siena is the largest of the hill towns that are scattered among the region here, but it’s got its own distinct charm. As well as being famous for the huge Piazza del Campo, its main square, it’s also home to some stunning Gothic architecture, winding medieval streets, and a ridiculous quantity of delicious food and drink.
If you’re exploring the best of Tuscany, a Siena day trip is not to be missed. This is how I recommend doing it…
When to do your Siena day trip from Florence
I visited Siena in April and the weather was perfect. Siena was bustling but not too overcrowded.
I have to warn you though, if you’re coming from Florence, Florence itself is pretty much always busy due to how popular and touristy it is. The only time to go to Florence when it’s relatively calm is winter. But if you’re in Tuscany in spring or autumn, it’ll be busy (summer is generally too sweaty – avoid!).
And Siena is going to be a welcome break from that, because it’s never quite as heaving.
How to get from Florence to Siena on the train
The train from Florence to Siena costs about 10 euro one way (they don’t tend to do return tickets in Italy) and leaves around once an hour, with the journey taking an hour and 30 mins. Prices are fixed and you can’t book a seat, because it’s just a local regional train. So there’s no reason or need to purchase tickets in advance. If you buy your train tickets at the station rather than on your phone via Trenitalia, remember to validate them before boarding.
So, I don’t ever recommend driving – anywhere, full stop. I don’t drive at home and have never driven on holiday; I can’t think of anything worse than the stress of being in a car when I’m trying to enjoy myself. But I especially don’t recommend driving from Florence to Siena. Driving in Italy is a feat in itself, plus both cities are nigh on impossible to park in. And you don’t need a car once you’re in either of them. Just no. Get the train!
There’s also the option of a bus, which actually can get you there slightly quicker (an hour and 15 mins) but I’d never chose a bus over a lovely train journey generally. If you do want to get the bus, choose the Rapida (the fast bus) not the Ordinaria (not so fast bus). Line 131R goes non-stop between Florence and Siena. Check the timetable before you plan your day.
Organised tours from Florence to Siena
Another option is to book a tour that takes you from central Florence to Siena. If like me, you like lingering and doing your own thing on your travels, an organised tour will not be for you. But it is a good choice if you’re a nervous traveller or less mobile.
If you need to do an organised tour, here’s a good option: Siena half-day tour from Florence. This is a simple tour with a guide, straight to Siena for about £278 per group (up to 3 people). While I was looking for the best tour, I also found this: Chianti full-day tour by vintage Fiat 500. That looks really cool for £133 per person, and who doesn’t love a Fiat 500?! Cute.
Both of those tours I’ve picked out because they’re really well rated. Be careful not to get ripped off with a tour – especially as the public transport is such a good and affordable option.
What to do in one day in Siena on your day trip
Start off in the Piazza del Campo
Any day in Siena is best begun in the Piazza del Campo, so follow the road here as soon as you get off the train. It’s a good 20/25 minute walk, but you’ll get to see plenty of pretty streets on the way, and if it’s not too early you could duck into one of the many gelato shops to keep you going…
When you get to the Piazza del Campo, you’ll see why it’s so well known and well loved. It’s a semi-circular piazza, in a bowl-like shape, surrounded by beautiful red-brick buildings. This is the heart and soul of Siena, not to mention one of its most distinct landmarks. It was built with the intention of all the locals being able to meet there for events, games and socialising. It’s still doing its job of bringing people together, as you’ll see from the amount of people sitting on its curved base, eating, drinking and chatting.
Side note: The piazza is also home to Siena’s famous bareback horse race, the Palio de Siena, which is held twice a year. They do put sand on the tiled flooring of the piazza, so the horses aren’t galloping directly on stone, but the turns are still incredibly tight. As an equestrian, it doesn’t sit right with me, so I’d not recommend planning a trip while it’s on.
Have an ice cream by the Fonte Gaia
The Fonte Gaia fountain (also in the Piazza del Campo) has been watering the locals since the 15th century. The original is now held in the Loggia of the Palazzo Pubblico though and the fountain you see today was built in the 19th century. Still pretty old though. Watch out for aggressive local pigeons.
Visit the Palazzo Pubblico
The Piazza del Campo is where you’ll find the Palazzo Pubblico, the city hall, and within that, the Museo Civicio, civic museum. The latter houses a famous fresco called ‘Allegory of Good and Bad Government’, dating to the 14th century when it was commissioned by the secular government rather than the church – very unusual for its time and for Italy. Of course, there’s also a chapel inside with its own religious frescoes.
If this sounds like your cup of tea, you can buy a combined ticket that also lets you go up the following landmark…
See the Torre del Mangia
The crowning glory of the Piazza del Campo is the Torre del Mangia, which is probably the most instantly recognisable thing in Siena. You can climb up the tower, as mentioned above, if you really want to.
However, as you’ve only got one day in Siena and this can take up a fair chunk of time, I’d recommend saving your tower-climbing energy and time for later, when you absolutely must climb to the top of the cathedral.
Have lunch at Oasi Verde
If you eat meat and cheese, you’re probably going to be in your element in Tuscany, and in Siena. It’s home to a lot of dishes involving boar, sausages, hare, and of course the local pecorino cheese.
If like me, you don’t eat meat or cheese, don’t worry. There’s plenty of Chianti wine. What do you mean you need to eat as well as drink?
If you want a vegan or veggie lunch in Siena, I’d recommend Oasi Verde. At the time of both my visit and of writing this blog post, vegan options were thin on the ground in Siena. Much the same as the rest of Tuscany, you have to do your research. Such as by reading an excellent travel blog before you go… ahem.
This was the only central option. Luckily it was a good one. Oasi Verde is a little deli café and you can sit in or take some food away to eat outside if the weather’s good. Most of the deli options are vegan, and there are even vegan desserts.
If you’re in Siena with non-veggie friends and end up finding yourself in a very meat-and-cheese-based restaurant situation, a good option to look out for on any Tuscan menu is always ribollita, a tasty soup thickened with bread. Just be careful it’s definitely not had any meat added. Traditionally it’s just veg, but I noticed a few cafés around Tuscany had snuck pancetta on top.
Unfortunately all my photos of the lovely Oasi Verde came out very dark so here’s one of another deli where we were perusing the Chianti wine selection…
Don’t miss Il Duomo di Siena
Siena’s Gothic cathedral is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe. Even if you’re not into cathedrals, it’s worth seeing and is one of the highlights of the city. Its green-and-white-striped interior is even more impressive than Florence’s duomo, and the exterior is pretty snazzy too, with one of the most detailed facades I’ve seen on all my travels.
While you’re there, you can also pop into the adjoining Piccolomini Library, which has a very impressive ceiling. It was closed when I was there, so make sure you visit on a day it’s open if you want to see it.
Unless you’re there at a very busy time (like the middle of summer), you don’t need to book a ticket ahead. When I went, there was no queue to get in.
Go up the Porta del Cielo (Gate to Heaven) for the views
Siena has a good few viewpoints around the city, but if you only have one day there then I’d recommend prioritising the best one, which I reckon is the Porta del Cielo, on the rooftop of the duomo. The views here are unbeatable. Get your camera at the ready.
If you have time: explore the Santa Maria della Scala
This building is one of the oldest hospitals in Europe, but is now an unusual (and massive) museum. It’s full of frescoes, underground tunnels, relics and art – be warned, get a map of it when you enter or you may get lost and miss your train! So only venture in if you have an hour or so spare.
When I visited, there wasn’t much in English, so if you’re into reading about the history then you might need to brush up on your Italian. But it’s more about the atmosphere than anything else.
Some of the frescoes show daily life from when it was a working hospital, such as a surgeon sorting out some poor chap’s infected wounds and someone else giving a urine sample. Lovely stuff for just after your lunch.
Before heading back to Florence…
Keep your eye out for what contrada you’re in as you stroll round the city. Siena’s contrade (districts) are all marked by some kind of insignia. There’s an eagle, a wave, or a crested porcupine (obviously?!). These are on flags usually, so look up!
There used to be over 50 contrade but there are only 17 in the modern day. No excuse not to spot at least half of ’em.
If one day in Siena isn’t enough: where to stay to extend your trip
If one day in Siena isn’t enough, you can stay there. Imagine waking up and looking out of the window at all the beautiful rooftops and hearing the church bells pealing out. Actually no, scrap that last bit. Church bells waking you up first thing in the morning is enough to drive anyone to murder. But the nice image still stands.
There aren’t many affordable places to stay in Siena, but here are a couple of good options that won’t break the bank too mcuh. Prices are at the time of writing, as ever:
- Relais degli Angeli – Just a 10-minute walk from the cathedral, this swanky little number ticks all the Italian charm boxes. It’s not cheap at £97 a night (mid-week in April) but it’s highly rated.
- Hotel Palazzo di Valli – Slightly less painful at £88 a night, this one is just as lovely (again, mid-week in April prices). It’s bang in the centre, too – a stone’s throw from all the good stuff.
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You might also like my other Italy posts:
- A city guide to Rome for first-time visitors
- Two days in Venice: an itinerary and general city guide
- How to do a day trip to beautiful Burano island from Venice
- What to do in Lucca [coming soon]
- Two days in Florence: an itinerary [coming soon].
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