How to Give a Tour of Siena
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a slightly ridiculous number of friends come visit me in Siena – 4, in fact – which means that I’ve given 4 tours in the last 2 weeks. Since I now have my tour down pat, I thought I would jot down Siena’s highlights here for anyone who has yet to visit Siena/would like to visit/needs ideas for a tour.
Start off in Piazza del Campo – it’s the most obvious place to begin, seeing as it’s the center of all activity in Siena. You can talk about the Palio, since it is Siena’s biggest attraction, what with it being a bareback horse race in the middle of the city, dating from the Middle Ages. If you are starting the tour in the middle of the day, it’s nice to grab a panino (preferably from Armando’s, a deli that makes life-changing pesto) or gelato and sit on the Campo in the sun and people watch.
Once you’ve exhausted the Campo, head over toward the Duomo and marvel at the beauty of the architecture. You can either simply look at the pretty outside, or pay to go inside and see even more prettiness. That activity completed, head up Banchi di Sopra, Siena’s main street, and try to dodge past the massive groups of tourists that have now begun clogging up the street. You will pass Banca Monte dei Paschi, so stop and explain how this is the first European bank in existence, dating from 1472.
Now veer off in the direction of the Fortezza. The Fortezza has the distinction of being a 1000-year-old fortress, as well as offering prime views of Tuscany. Plus it’s a great place to see the phenomenon of Italian teenagers making out in public like it ain’t no thing. Take some pictures of the views and look at the cute old ladies gossiping while walking up and down, and then head toward San Domenico, a 5 minute walk away. San Domenico is fairly unremarkable except for the fact that it houses the head of Siena’s patron saint, St. Catherine. As in, her head is literally sitting inside a reliquary in a side chapel, for all to see. You’re going to want to stand there for a few minutes in order to gawk effectively, since it’s pretty weird stuff. After you’ve stared enough to satisfy your morbid curiosity, walk 2 minutes to St. Catherine’s Sanctuary, an airy white space with lots of gilded pictures of St. Catherine’s life.
You have now successfully hit most of Siena’s highlights! This will not take you more than an hour or an hour and a half, seeing as it takes 20 minutes to walk Siena’s diameter, so you will still have plenty of spring left in your step when you are done! Now you can treat yourself to a celebratory gelato. I recommend Kopa Kabana… I know that it has a silly name, but it has some of the yummiest gelato in Siena. Congratulations on completing a tour of Siena!