There are many day trips from Florence you can take. Some of the most popular destinations are the medieval town of Lucca, the quaint San Gimignano, the beloved Chianti wine region. But while for most of these you might need to book a private tour, a day trip from Florence to Siena is an easy one to do on your own.
We all know that there are plenty of things to do in Florence, but if you are treating yourself to a longer stay in Tuscany, you can go beyond the capital and take a charming excursion to Siena as well as a lovely trip from Florence to Pisa, both easy to reach by train.
How to plan a perfect day trip to Siena from Florence
A medieval jewel that gets less attention than other more important hubs such as Pisa and the walled city of Lucca, Siena is not to miss, especially if you are spending more than two days in Florence and can afford a day out.
How to get to Siena from Florence
There is a regional train from Florence to Siena departing roughly every hour and starting around 5.30 am. It takes an hour and a half and costs €9.50. It’s operated by Trenitalia, the state-run Italian company, and you can check prices and timetables and book your ticket from Omio (formerly GoEuro).
We boarded the train early morning to have a whole day in Siena, and on the way there we passed some gorgeous villages and areas of the legendary Tuscan countryside where we would love to go someday and spend some time.
If you decide to drive, you can rent a car in Florence and follow the signs Raccordo/Firenze/Siena. Merge onto the Raccordo Autostradale Firenze-Siena and continue onto SS674 (Strada Statale 674). After some 45 minutes, depending also on the traffic, take the exit Siena Ovest and follow the signs to Siena Ovest/Centro. If your rental car has a navigator, it’s presumable up-to-date (ask the rental company) and you can follow that one, otherwise, Google Maps is usually pretty reliable.
Of course, both in Florence and Siena check the ZTL as both cities have limited traffic zones in and around the historic center. To rent a car in Florence, check out prices and availability in advance on Discover Cars.
How to get to Siena’s Duomo from the station
When you arrive at Siena train station, you are confronted with two options to reach its medieval heart: on foot or by bus? Taking a bus right at the exit of Siena station will get you to the city center in a matter of minutes while walking it can take you some half an hour, but if you ask me, it’s all worth it.
The train station in Siena (Stazione Ferroviaria di Siena) is located right in front of a big shopping center. Once you enter, on the left you will find the escalator to reach the top of the hill (7 minutes of escalators). When you are out of the series of escalators, walk to the left side of the exit on Viale Vittorio Emanuele II. After some 10-15 minutes of straight walk, you reach the medieval walls and gate that once enshrined the palaces of the nobility, the government, and the church.
Step over the threshold of the ancient walls and you will quickly realize that Siena is easily one of the most beautiful and authentic medieval towns around the world that maintained its premises almost untouched throughout the centuries.
Once in Siena’s historic center, enjoy the blue sky, drink in the medieval street scene and brace yourself: there’s a lot to climb.
Places to visit in Siena on a day trip from Florence
Head to Piazza del Campo
Start your tour right from the historical Via Camollia, a central road lined with shops and boutiques selling clothes and shoes, cafes and restaurants. Via Camollia goes through the town and connects to the beautiful shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, a wide square paved with red bricks with a white marble fountain in the middle. Here, twice a year takes place the famous horse race known Palio di Siena that sees the people of the 17 local neighborhoods compete against each other.
This is the heart of the city and its secular power through history. Cafes and restaurants are aplenty and serve visitors anything food and drink-wise. The city is to be enjoyed without rushing to avoid overlooking semi-hidden treasures like the chapel of the square located below Palazzo Pubblico and built by Siena citizens after the deadly plague killed thousands in the 14th century.
Visit Palazzo Pubblico, “Civic Palace”
Outstanding example of Gothic secular architecture, Palazzo Pubblico was originally built in the 13th century and hosted the offices in charge of Siena customs and taxes. Later it became the seat of the Government of the Nine who made it big enough for all the Nine ruling city councils compelled to stay within the premises and allowed to leave only during holidays. The works on the different floors of the palace were completed in the 17th century.
Currently, Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico houses the offices of the town’s administration. The first floor houses the Museo Civico, which is open to the public and displays many artworks, among all particularly worth it are the frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti portraying an allegory of the Good and the Bad Governance in the Hall of the Nine.
- Single ticket 7€, family ticket 15€, joint ticket per person including also Torre del Mangia and Santa Maria Della Scala 20€.
Climb Torre del Mangia, “Tower of Mangia”
Dominating the view on the Piazza del Campo, 88-meter-tall Torre del Mangia takes its name from the first person who rung the bell in the 14th century, Giovanni di Duccio, nicknamed Mangiaguadagni, “money eater”. Unlike the Giotto Bell Tower in Florence, that is erected independently a few meters from the Cathedral, Torre del Mangia is connected to Palazzo Pubblico.
Walking up its 400+ steps is not easy as the steps get pretty narrow but at the end, the 360% magnificent view of this Medieval town is totally worth it and can’t miss it in your one day trip from Florence to Siena. You need to leave you bags in the cloakroom on the first level.
- Single ticket: 10€; joint ticket with also Palazzo Civico and Santa Maria della Scala: 20€.
Duck into Santa Maria Della Scala, “Saint Mary of the Staircase”
First public hospital in Europe, Santa Maria della Scala was built in front of Siena’s gorgeous cathedral in Piazza del Duomo. Santa Maria Della Scala was one of the first hospitals ever to give shelter to pilgrims, the poor and orphans. Much of the hospital expenses were paid through the lands donated by the noble Senese families and by the municipality.
Santa Maria Della Scala is now a museum displaying artworks including beautiful frescoes, chapels and former working areas like the hospital reception where men and women were divided and sent to their respective areas. From time to time, it also hosts temporary modern art exhibitions.
In one of the four floors of this large complex, a man’s skull will welcome you to a 13th-century church with the somehow disturbing reminder “COME TU SEI FUI ANCOR IO: COM’IO SONO SARAI ANCOR TU”, that translates roughly like this: How you are I was, how I am you will be.
We were probably expecting to see some of the old beds and equipment used in this hospital but there weren’t any. The sculptures and decorations, however, make your visit worth it.
Located right in the heart of Siena city surrounded by many other historical buildings, the complex of Santa Maria Della Scala is hard to miss. Make it part of the itinerary of your day trip from Florence to Siena and you won’t regret it.
Pay a visit to the Duomo di Siena, “Siena Cathedral”
One of the highlights of your trip to Siena, the city’s cathedral dates back to the 13th century. Designed after a project by Giovanni Pisano and Giovanni di Cecco to be built on top of another church of this hill town.
Both exterior and interior are no less than spectacular, the stripes of white and black marbles receiving the effects of stained glasses that make it even more beautiful. The round colorful stained glass made in the 13th century by native painter Duccio Di Buoninsegna is an admirable work, so is the marble mosaic floor that creates a unique pavement, some part of which is covered most of the year to preserve it.
On the left side of the church, 15th-century Piccolomini Library houses a precious collection of illuminated manuscripts. Some of the highlights of this stunning library are the bright-colored frescoes by Perugia painter Pinturicchio and a young Raffaello Sanzio (Raphael).
The Gate of Heaven, above the Duomo, offers a panoramic view of inside and outside the cathedral. This can only be visited with a separate ticket.
- Joint ticket to Duomo di Siena, Cripta Del Duomo, Battistero di San Giovanni, Museo Dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo and Facciatone: 13€.
See the Duomo’s Crypt
Built in the 13th century alongside the cathedral, unlike many other crypts, this was never used for burials. Some believe it might have simply functioned as a porch leading into the Duomo. The Crypt was closed and remained untouched for nearly 700 years and the people of Siena didn’t have the chance to enjoy this part of the history until it was discovered in 1999 during an excavation in the Siena Duomo itself. Frescoes mainly done by unknown artists are the interesting part in the Crypt. Cripta Del Duomo is included in your joint ticket.
Enter the Baptistery of St. John
Built in the 14th century, between 1316 and 1625, Siena’s Baptistery of St. John (Battistero di San Giovanni) has been serving as a baptism church for centuries. Adjacent to the cathedral, the interior of the Baptistery is stunning.
Finely decorated and boasting a collection of masterpieces, one of the most important artwork is the gorgeous Renaissance-style baptismal font designed and realized by Jacopo della Quercia with the contribution of other important names such as Donatello, Lorenzo Ghiberti, Giovanni di Turino and Turino di Sano. Among the other artwork you can see are sculptures from the school of Giovanni Pisano and the frescoes by Vecchietta.
Enter the Battistero from the staircase in Piazza San Giovanni.
Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo
The Museo dell’Opera, founded in 1869, is located behind the Duomo and inside what is now called the New Cathedral. The ground floor of the museum houses a collection of 14th-century statues of philosophers, prophets, and sibyls done by Giovanni Pisano. Among the other important works by 15th-century artists are the statues of an enthroned Madonna and Child with the Cardinal Casini portraying the Madonna and Child with four cherubs by Jacopo Della Quercia, and Donatello’s tondo of the Madonna with Child.
Another colorful important piece is the round stained glass window, 6 meters in diameter located at end of the hall and created by Duccio di Buoninsegna between 1287 and 1290. The center of the window tells three stories from the life of the Virgin, the Assumption, the Burial and the Coronation. The aptly studied lighting of the ground floor of Museo dell’Opera gives life to the statues and the window.
The first floor of the museum houses some precious altarpieces from the 14th-18th centuries. Some of the artworks by Duccio di Buoninsegna are the painting of Madonna and Child enthroned (Maestà), another one is the painting of Christ on the donkey entering into Jerusalem. The Treasury, also on the first floor, houses hundreds of precious sacred objects and reliquaries, while the top floor house is home to a precious collection of paintings and tapestries.
- Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana del Duomo Opening hours: March – November 10.30 am-7 pm; November – 28th February 10.30 am-5.30 pm.
Il Facciatone, “Viewpoint”
Built in the 14th century, the Facciatone can be accessed from the Museum and is an excellent spot for panoramic views of Siena and its medieval rooftops. You need to climb up some 130 narrow steps but in the end, it’s totally worth it and should definitely be included in the to-do list of your day trip to Siena.
Practical tips for a day trip from Florence to Siena
Where to eat in Siena
All along Via Camollia you will find many traditional restaurants, while around Piazza Duomo they are more touristy and very likely the dishes have been adapted to a more international taste.
One of the restaurants in Siena you can try is Osteria Boccon del Prete (17, via San Pietro; phone +39 0577 280388) for great food and affordable prices. Among their popular dishes are the sausage polenta (cornmeal mush) and the pici pasta with sage and almonds.
Right in Via Camollia (n. 49) is the excellent Ristorante Enzo (phone +39 0577 281277) with dishes from Tuscan and Siena tradition, while Osteria Castelvecchio (65, via Castelvecchio; phone +39 0577 47093) promises great food and service in a modern design.
For a great pizza, pasta and street food like dishes try Cavaliere Errante (3, Piazza Provenzano; phone +39 0577 222496).
Best time to visit Siena
Siena is a perfect travel destination all year, but if you are into festivals, traditions, and anthropology, don’t miss the two horse races Palio Della Madonna di Provenzano on July 2nd and Palio dell’Assunta on August 16th.
During summer it might be quite hot, while spring and fall are perfect for their mild temperatures. Winter can be pretty cold and humid but it’s not very long, in March spring already makes all flowers blossom.
Independent travel vs. guided tour: Which one to choose?
As I mentioned at the beginning of my guide, traveling to Siena from Florence independently is very easy and doesn’t even require much planning. Just get to Florence Santa Maria Novella station and buy your ticket from the ticket office or one of the machines. Also once you get to Siena it’s not difficult nor too long to get to the city center on foot.
Booking a private tour makes a difference when you know you don’t have much time and want to optimize as much as possible, or when you want to visit more than one city in Tuscany maybe including also the countryside and don’t feel like renting a car yourself.
Private day tours to Siena from Florence, in fact, often include other fascinating areas like the Chianti wine region and San Gimignano, along with a private, comfortable vehicle that in summer has the much-appreciated air conditioning. Like this tour from Take Walks. On Get Your Guide, you can also find day trips to Siena from Florence that include also Pisa, like this one or this one.
Just like single city tours, also a full-day guided tour to Siena guarantees more in-depth knowledge of the place and your tour leader squeezing the most important landmarks in one day only.