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Siena is symbolised by incredible Gothic architecture and a lively ambience that makes it unforgettable. Finding your feet is easy – the city is centred around the enormous, shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, often considered one of Europe’s greatest squares. Duck down one of its many exits and join the tangle of cobbled streets and steep lanes.
Virtually every building in the centro storico is medieval Gothic, so it’s no surprise that the city’s centre is now a designated UNESCO zone. Most of Siena’s top attractions are found in this section of the city, including the vertigo-inducing Torre del Mangia, which legend says was built to stand at the exact same height as Siena Cathedral, in order to show the harmony between religion and the state. Regardless, the impressive 289-foot height means that this 14th-century tower soars high over the city, acting as a reminder of Siena’s rich medieval heritage. The tower’s counterpart, Siena Cathedral, is another revered sight, and rightly so – its black and white facade dazzles in the midday sun, and the mosaic floor inside is one of Italy’s finest.
Local flavours here include the simple yet delicious panino con porchetta (porchetta-stuffed panini), which can be found at the local Fortress Market held each Wednesday, and Chianti wine cultivated in the neighbouring Chianti hills. Of course, there are hundreds of different dining options across the city so we recommend exploring the winding streets to find your favourite. As well as the remarkable history, incredible architecture and wide array of eateries, one of the best things about Siena is the location – it’s situated just over an hour’s drive from Renaissance gem Florence, and only 45 minutes from the lofty towers of San Gimignano, making it easy to see much more of one of Italy’s finest regions.
Piazza del Campo is a popular first stop. A circuit of this medieval square will whisk you past the 13th-century Palazzo Publico, curvy Palazzo Sansedoni, and Torre del Manga – home to the best bird’s-eye views in the city.
Order a cappuccino or Chianti at the one of the osterie that edge the square. They offer front-row seats to the festivals that pop up here year-round, including the Palio di Siena horse race.
Next, wind your way downhill from Piazza del Campo, towards Siena Cathedral. Follow the streets around the hillside, and you’ll come across another 13th-century church called the Basilico of San Domenico. It’s surrounded by a circlet of cypress trees and hosts a curious relic – the mummified head of St. Catherine.