Siena by foot in four hours

A complete walking tour and guide

Siena opens its heart to you' (Cor magis tibi Seni pandit) reads the inscription above the city's camollia Gate, and so it does, this lovely jumble of gracious Gothic buildings and twisting car-free streets, The centrepiece is the glorious campo, the scallop-shaped piazza that, twice a year, hosts the famous Palio, a madcap horse race with medieval origins. Siena can only be explored on foot: leave your car at one of the lots on the periphery (we recommend the one at the Stadio, or if that's full, the Fortezza). The town is generally busier in the mornings than in the afternoons; your best option may be to begin your visit with a good lunch...

siena walking tour

14:00 pm

Begin your walk downhill on Via della Sapienze ('Road of Wisdom) and turn right into Costa Sant'Antonio (a fairly steep downhill). Turn right near the bottom to visit the Sanctuary of Santa Caterina, otherwise continue straight uphill. Costa Sant'Antonio becomes Via della Galluzza. When it flattens, turn right into Via Diacceto, then left into Via dei Pelligrini to enter Piazza San Giovanni, which faces the entrance to the Baptistery at the rear of the Duomo. Santa caterina, Siena's patron saint - and since 1999 co-patron saint of europe - was born in a wool-dyeing shop on this site in 1347, now a series of lovely chapels. Beyond the usual saintly activities caterina mediated an end to the Western Schism, when the catholic church was torn between two popes.

The much befrescoed Baptistery lies, unusually, under Siena's duomo; the star attraction is the baptismal font by Florentines Ghiberti and donatello. The black and white striped duomo with its frothy marble façade is simply glorious inside and out, in no way austere. The heads of 172 scowling popes gaze over a riot of frescoes, stained glass windows, striped columns and a madly decorative floor, not to mention sculptures by Bernini and young michelangelo. next to the duomo is the Museo dell'opera, which occupies a corner of a never-completed extension of the duomo and where the star attraction is the Maesta by duccio (plus the views). The final building in this cluster is Santa Maria della Scala, Siena's hospital for 800 years until it closed in 1995. The beds are long gone but the frescoes and chapels, including subterranean ones, remain.

15:30 pm

The much befrescoed Baptistery lies, unusually, under Siena's duomo; the star attraction is the baptismal font by Florentines Ghiberti and donatello. The black and white striped duomo with its frothy marble façade is simply glorious inside and out, in no way austere. The heads of 172 scowling popes gaze over a riot of frescoes, stained glass windows, striped columns and a madly decorative floor, not to mention sculptures by Bernini and young michelangelo. next to the duomo is the Museo dell'opera, which occupies a corner of a never-completed extension of the duomo and where the star attraction is the Maesta by duccio (plus the views). The final building in this cluster is Santa Maria della Scala, Siena's hospital for 800 years until it closed in 1995. The beds are long gone but the frescoes and chapels, including subterranean ones, remain.

The campo (italian for 'field') was born of an enlightened bit of urban planning in 1293 by the city's reigning fathers, the council of nine. Siena's hilly topography required that the lower half of the piazza, and the Palazzo Pubblico, be supported by an enormous buttress. The project was finished in just over 50 years (by comparison Florence's Duomo took 130 and Arezzo gave up after 700). The Fonte Gaia - the aquaduct-fed fountain at the highest point of the Campo was added in 1349, an engineering feat for its day. The city council still operates from the upper floors of the Palazzo Pubblico, with the Museo Civico below. The Torre del Mangia, named for its first watchman whose nickname was Mangiaguadagni ('eat what you earn') and whose statue stands in the courtyard, offers a magnificent view, 388 steps up, of Siena and its surroundings. Its bell once marked the opening of the city gates at dawn, lunch time, sunset and the end of the working day, and the closing of the gates three hours after sunset.

16:30 pm

Leave the Campo by Via Rinaldini with the Palazzo Piccolomini on your right, then turn left into Banchi di Sotto. About 300m/330 yards along, turn right into Banchi di Sopra. Continue past the Palazzo Tolomei to the Piazza Salimbeni, then veer left onto Via Pianigiani into Piazza Matteoti and left again into Via del Paradiso to regain the parking lot. The Piccolominis, in spite of their diminutive name (both 'piccolo' and 'mini' mean small), were one of the great families of Siena. Many Italian surnames reflect the characteristics of the head of the family at the time when surnames came into common use; 'Belliocchi' means 'beautiful eyes;' 'Mangiavachi,' less poetically, means 'eats cows.' These names are still very much in use, often to the embarrassment of their modern bearers. There is no indication that Aenus Sylvius, the Piccolomini who built the lovely travertine palazzo off the Campo, was vertically challenged but he was certainly not one to shrink from public view: the façade of his palazzo in Siena is plastered with the family crest (five crescent moons) and he went on, as pope Pius II , to build a city - Pienza - according to his personal utopian vision. Before you turn into Via Banco di Sopra, note the beautiful Loggia dei Mercanzi straight ahead on your left. Along the Via Banchi di Sopra is the Piazza Tolomei, where a statue of a female wolf is suckling two small boys atop a column: the boys are Romulus and Remus, mythical founders of Rome, and it is the son of Remus, Senius, who is said to have founded Siena in the 8C BC. Further along Banchi di Sopra is the very pretty Piazza Salimbeni, where three adjoining palazzi, each built a century apart, now form the headquarters of what claims to be the world's oldest bank, the Monte dei Paschi di Siena, established in 1472 (a statue of the founder stands in the centre). The Nannini family has been making coffee and more in Siena since 1911; stop at their pretty caffè at Banchi di Sopra 26, or a gelato at their outlet opposite the Piazza Salimbeni.

Restaurants & caffès

Book ahead. Lunch is generally served 12:30-2:30pm.

Antica Osteria da Divo Updated Tuscan dishes in an updated medieval interior. Via Franciosa 29 - 0577 286 054. Open daily.

Le Campane Via delle Campane 6 0577 284 035. Sienese specialties and fish. Closed Monday.

Cantinetta Antinori 0577 48 013. Updated Tuscan dishes in a converted medieval pharmacy. Closed Sunday.

Osteria Le Logge Via del Porrione, 33 Light meals and a long wine list with wood panelling and a bread oven. Bookings not accepted. Via dei Tavolini 18-20 055 268 590. Open Monday-Saturday non-stop 8am-9pm.

Gallo Nero Via del Porrione 65 0577 284 356. Medieval cuisine in a vaulted room. Closed Monday November-February.

Taverna San Giuseppe Via Giovanni Dupre 132 0577 42286. Local favourite. Closed Sunday.

Antica Trattoria Botteganova5 Modern Tuscan. on the road to Montevarchi . SS408/ strada Chiantigiana 29 - 0577 284230. Closed Sunday.