A walled city situated in the heart of Tuscany, Siena is known for its medieval architecture and ancient brick buildings—one day here offers tons to see and do. It’s easy to spend several hours wandering through the contrade, or neighborhoods, stopping to admire the city’s historical landmarks. This isn’t some sleepy little town, though. The town bursts with sensation—as you take in the medieval sights, you’ll be greeted with the town’s chatter, now a combination of locals and visitors. The University of Siena resides here, and its student body comprises nearly half of the town’s population. Siena is also a popular destination for students studying abroad, which means even more opportunities for you to make friends with young strangers—both Italian and not. If you have 24 hours to spend in Siena, this itinerary can help you get the most out of your stay.
Morning: Visit the Duomo di Siena
A trip to Siena (read: and every other Italian city) wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the Duomo. The cathedral, built during the thirteenth century, is packed with elaborate patterns, reminding us of an indecisive interior designer who just couldn’t settle on one theme. White and greenish-black candy cane stripes of marble decorate the outside structure and inner columns. Inside, you’ll also find mosaic storytelling floors, religious busts on the upper perimeter, a marble altar, and a hexagonal dome adorned with gold stars. Make sure to check out the Piccolomini Library while inside; it would be a shame to miss it.
Next, soak in the sites in Piazza del Campo. We appreciate Siena’s creativity—most piazzas you’ll find in Italy are straight and rectangular, but this one breaks the mold and is fan-shaped, with regal red brick that slopes downward towards the radial center. At the base of the piazza is Palazzo Pubblico, the original location of the city’s government. Radiating from the center are nine lines of limestone that represent the nine government officials that presided over Siena at its peak. Once a marketplace, today the Piazza is still the hub of city life, hosting the biannual Palio di Siena, a steady influx of tourists, and young people lounging on the sloped terrain. A guided walking tour will offer an interesting behind-the-scenes look of Siena’s main square.
Lunchtime: Whip up some traditional Tuscan dishes in a cooking class
We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again—there is no better way to get to know a city than through its food. For lunch, take a cooking class. A local Siena chef will lead the way as you prepare several classic Tuscany dishes, including handmade pasta and bruschetta. When you sit down to eat, each course is paired with a delicious local wine. Yes, please!
Afternoon: Walk through the Museo Civico
Your cooking class will take up a large chunk of your afternoon, but make sure to leave some time to explore this attraction. It hosts a series of frescoed painted rooms in Palazzo Pubblico, the city hall where government officials met and worked (and still do today). The frescos were commissioned by the governing body rather than religious figures, an extremely unusual act during the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Many of the frescoes depict secular scenes, including the most famous, Allegories of Good and Bad Government, a three-walled masterpiece indicating that good government yields happy people and green hills, while bad government leads to sad people and brown hills.
Evening: Enjoy the sunset (and a gelato)
Siena is positively brimming with gelato shops, and it’s practically illegal to visit the city and not indulge in a cone (or two—don’t judge!). We recommend exploring the lesser-known side streets away from the busy city center and finding a little hole-in-the-wall shop—if you ask us, these local, lesser-known spots almost always serve up the best creamy treats. Snag a cup or a cone (be sure to mix and match your flavors) and find a spot to enjoy the sunset. It’s the perfect way to end your day.