In the heart of Tuscany, lies beautiful Siena. This hilly town is home to a magnificent Duomo and iconic Tuscan delicacies (think panforte and pici pasta.) It deserves to be on your list of must-see places in Italy and is easy to visit in just a day.
While lacking some of the grandeur of the Duomos of Milan and Florence, the Duomo of Siena is truly beautiful. The basic ticket will give you access to inside the cathedral, the cathedral museum, the baptistry and the crypt which is a decent deal. Inside the cathedral, make sure you explore the Piccolomini Library, as it contains some of the most beautiful, artistic books I've ever seen. Plan to spend a couple of hours going through everything here, even though your ticket is good for three days you don't need that much time to enjoy everything the Duomo has to offer.
Piazza del Campo
This bowl-shaped Piazza is perfect for people watching, but also hosts some of the most stunning architecture in the city as well. Depending on the time of year that you visit, you may find yourself entertained by horse or bicycle races that take place in and around the Piazza. Unless you stop to have a drink at one of the many restaurants surrounding the Piazza, this spot won't take up much time during your trip but your day in Siena itinerary wouldn't be complete without it.
Torre del Mangia
Connected to the town hall, the Torre del Mangia extends regally towards the sky. Built to be as tall as the cathedral to show the equal towers of church and state, this bell tower is now a well-known tourist attraction. If the thought of climbing a bunch of old narrow steps surrounded by other tourists doesn't send you running the opposite direction, then you will be rewarded with stunning views at the top.
If climbing towers is something you believe is better left to the princes in fairytales, don't despair. Thanks to the many hills of Siena there are fabulous photo opportunities all around the city.
Hidden behind lush green vines just down from Piazzo del Campo is the perfect place to have lunch. Simple but classic Italian sandwiches are served in this small deli/restaurant. You might have to wait a bit to be served, but it is so worth it.
After lunch, stroll down past Piazza del Mercato (which if it has a market going on is worth a detour) to arrive at a stunning view of the south of Siena.
Assuage your Sweet Tooth at Bini
Make sure you check the hours before heading over, as this pastry shop observes the classic Italian lunch break. If you do manage to find them when they are open, you are in for a treat. They make the best versions of the traditional sweets of Siena. Get your hands on as many ricciarelli and panforte as you think you can stomach, and then buy a few more for the unfortunate souls back home who won't be able to make the trip themselves.
Shop in the historic center of Siena
Walking away from Piazza del Campo towards the train station, you will run across a couple of great shopping streets in Siena. Via Bianchi di Sopra pleases both the window shoppers and the real shoppers with a collection of classic Italian brands, local souvenirs, and other interesting finds.
A sixteenth-century fortress now turned park and recreation area, this offers one of the better views of Siena. It offers a nice walking path around the outer wall of the fortress with several benches so you can stop and enjoy the view. Within the fortress is an amphitheater which is host to various events throughout the year, including free movies during the summer months.
On your way out of town, make sure to stop at the specialty grocery store of Siena. This store has an impressive selection of local products, each of great quality. I was excited that I could pick up some handmade pici pasta here to cook at back at home in Florence. Their wine and beer selection is also impressive and worth checking out.
Now Siena has much more to offer than just these attractions, but if you only have time for a day in Siena, these are the not to miss sights.
Have you been to Siena? I'd love to hear what you think are the best sights in the comments below!