When it comes to impressive cities in Tuscany, Siena is a must-see. This historic spot is home to one of Europe’s most magnificent Gothic cathedrals and is lined with narrow medieval streets, which fan out from the scallop shell-shaped main square, Piazza del Campo. Distinguished as the heart of Siena since the 1300s, this expansive piazza is the place to go to get a true feel for the city’s spirit and enduring traditions. Here are some free-time suggestions for enjoying “Il Campo” on a tour of Siena.
Toss a coin into Fonte Gaia
The top portion of Piazza del Campo is home to the “Fountain of Joy,” or Fonte Gaia. It was commissioned to replace another fountain after its Pagan statuary was blamed for the Black Death, the plague that swept the city in 1348. While Fonte Gaia’s panels are only replicas of the 15th-century originals sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia, the depictions of Madonna and Child, Adam and Eve and the cardinal virtues are still just as lovely to look at. Walk to the upper part of the square to admire the artistry of the white-marble carvings, watch pigeons sip from gurgling spouts or make a wish and toss a coin into the turquoise water.
Pop into a cafe for an aperitivo
From wandering past red-brick buildings in the city’s UNESCO-listed historic center to admiring breathtaking frescoes inside the Piccolomini Library, there’s so much to do in Siena. If you’re looking for a spot to rest after a day of exploring, the many cafes surrounding Piazza del Campo are the places to go. Sit down under a maroon awning to sip a cappuccino or a glass of Tuscan wine as you watch the world go by. Taste some of the region’s famous pork, Cinta Senese, paired with soft marzolino cheese. Or, indulge in one of the city’s specialty dishes, which often feature wild game such as hare and boar—pici al ragú di cinghiale, or pasta with wild boar, is a must-try.
While Siena is bursting with amazing things to see (and eat!), Go Ahead Quality Control Specialist Arlena still found plenty of opportunities to slow down and appreciate the city’s beauty and traditions. “Siena isn’t too touristy and is so beautifully preserved,” she says. “I loved sitting in Piazza del Campo and people watching while sipping a coffee. It was also fascinating to see that each of the city’s 17 contrade, or districts, has its own symbol and heraldic flag, which are displayed year round outside people’s homes. It’s so interesting that something set up in the Middle Ages is still so central to Siena’s culture.”
Eat fried rice balls from Frittelle Savelli
If you happen to visit Siena between the beginning of February and the end of March, be sure to seek out the small wooden hut on the perimeter of Piazza del Campo. This quaint pop-up stand serves up one of the city’s most indulgent delights, frittelle, which are fried rice balls made to celebrate Father’s Day. While there are many variations of this treat, the rice version is traditional to Siena. The texture of these noshes is reminiscent of rice pudding wrapped in sugar-coated fried dough, making for a mouthwatering snack that is best eaten warm. If you have a sweet tooth, follow the scent of orange and vanilla to the popular stand, and then sit in the bustling square while you taste one of the season’s most decadent treats.
Climb the Torre del Mangia
If Siena’s famous cathedral has any rival in the city, this 14th-century bell tower is most certainly it. The “tower of the eater” stands almost 300 feet tall above Siena’s town hall, Palazzo Pubblico, and was specifically built to match the height of the duomo’s campanile to show that church and state were equal in power. Today, a climb up this soaring Gothic structure is an opportunity to take in stunning panoramas of the city and the surrounding Tuscan hills.
According to Go Ahead Social Media Marketing Manager Melissa, a trek to the tower’s peak is a perfect way to appreciate the city’s impressive scenery. “My favorite thing in Siena was climbing to the top of the clock tower (400 stairs!) to take in the surrounding landscapes and view Piazza del Campo from above,” she says. “It was only a few euros to enter, and is well worth the climb if you’re feeling up to it.”
What would you love to see on a tour of Siena? Tell us why it’s one of your must-visit cities in Tuscany in the comments below!