Last Updated on June 5, 2023 by Haley Taylor
The region of Tuscany is filled with small villages and towns that make great day trips from the popular study abroad city of Florence, Italy. Siena and San Gimignano are small medieval-esque cities in the province of Siena in Tuscany. Siena, commonly known for its gothic architecture, is best known for the Siena Cathedral and its infamous Piazza del Campo. San Gimignano is best known for its medieval architecture and the tower which dates back to the thirteenth century.
Siena and San Gimignano are great cities to simply wander through and explore at your own pace. Finding the small alley roads and the winding paths make these cities what they are.
The easiest way to travel to both cities in via car and, as I did, by coach bus. There is public transportation available from Florence; it may just take a bit longer for each checkpoint.
Stop 1: Siena
Take the regional train from Santa Maria Novella station in Florence to Siena and arrive in just under two hours. There is a bus option (bus 131R) also available that only takes about 80 minutes that starts at BusItalia SITA Norda Autostazione and finishes in Siena at the Piazza Gramsci stop.
Upon arrival to Siena, I would recommend three places to visit while there:
1. Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
This cathedral dates back to the fourteenth century and is gothic; it is extremely unique to any other cathedrals I visited while studying abroad. The entire inside of the Duomo is made of black and white marble stripes, which represent Siena’s city colors. There are also carved marble heads of all the popes that had served since before the Duomo was built. There is also a unique pulpit that has storytelling pictures across the entire sculpture. The Piccolomini Library is also found within the Siena Cathedral, offering stunning frescoes, most notably on the ceiling. It’s genuinely on my top 3 favorite cathedrals in all of Europe, simply based on its uniqueness and complexity.
2. Siena’s Town Hall (Palazzo Pubblico)
I would start here simply because it gives a nice and simplistic overview of the province and city of Siena, as well as its history. It offers a good mixture of beauty, simply because the building in itself is a piece of art. The architecture of the building consists of medieval and gothic influences, and contain numerous frescoes to represent events of Siena history.
3. Piazza del Campo
Conveniently, the Palazzo Pubblico stands within the most famous and largest square of Siena, Piazza del Campo. This square serves as a great place to people watch. Grab some lunch or gelato and simply relax.
Stop 2: San Gimignano
After Siena, head back to the main bus station and take the 130 bus to San Gimignano (about 1 hour 15 minutes). There are other ways to get to San Gimignano, via train and bus, however the most simplistic way is to take the 130 bus. Talk with the employees at the bus and train station to find which route is the quickest at the time you’re ready to head to San Gimignano.
San Gimignano is a small medieval city that’s partly enclosed by a wall. The city is known for its vast number of towers that were built around the thirteenth century. During this time, this town was known as the Manhattan of the 13th century, because the towers represented wealth and security from the affluent merchants who lived here.
There are two main places to visit while in San Gimignano:
1. Town Hall of San Gimignano
They have a small art gallery of various frescoes, however more known for the tower that accompanies it. You have the opportunity to climb all the way to the top, which offers a beautiful view of surrounding Tuscany. I’ll warn you now, however, it is extremely windy at the top.
2. Piazza of San Gimignano
The main town piazza offers a relaxing and quiet place to relax. I highly recommend getting gelato here from Gelateria Dondoli. It has some of the best gelato I’ve ever had while in Italy — I highly recommend the blackberry lavender flavor.
Once you’ve finished exploring the city of San Gimignano, take the 130 and 131 bus back to Florence. Just remember when travelling to both cities: the beauty and essence of simplicity and calmness can rejuvenate you. These two cities are a delightful day trip to rejuvenate the body and leave the bustling city of Firenze.
This post was contributed by Haley Taylor, who studied abroad with AIFS in Florence, Italy.