Siena is located in the rolling hills of Tuscany, and due to its Medieval history, it offers a variety of activities for tourists and its inhabitants alike. Whether you’re ready to cheer for your contrade in the running of the Palio or you’re ready for a full summer of festivals, you’ll rarely run out of things to do in Siena.
As soon as you get settled into your room or apartment in Siena, head straight to the main hub for activities in the city - the beautiful Piazza del Campo, which just happens to be one of the most famous landmarks of Siena, as well as all of Tuscany. From here, you can easily admire the architecture of the Duomo, or you can actually go inside and see the cathedral close-up.
The Piazza del Campo has a original shell shape with a bricked pavement, with all of the buildings arranged so that they face inward. When you stand in the center of the piazza, you can see so much of the city just from this one location. The Piazza del Campo also hosts the electrifying running of the Palio twice each summer, so this is definitely the place to be!
Also, be sure to take in the beauty of the largest fountain in the city, the Fonte Gaia, originally decorated with intricate sculpture work by Jacopo della Quercia. Today, the fountain has been copied in Carrara marble, which is much stronger than the original marble that was used by della Quercia. The original Fonte Gaia has been restored and can now be viewed at the museum complex of Santa Maria della Scala.
If you’d like to learn a bit more about Siena’s history without even leaving the piazza, stop in at the city’s town hall, the Palazzo Comunale, as well as the Torre del Mangia.
Constructed of brick and marble, the Palazzo Comunale is home to the Civic Museum, containing numerous masterpieces from Sienese artists, including the "Good and Bad Government" a series of frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and "Majesty" by Simone Martini.
Looming 87 meters high over the city of Siena, the Torre del Mangia affords amazing views, which can be quite helpful to a newcomer in getting a bit of insight into the layout of the city. To get to the top, you must climb 400 steps, which can be a bit steep and awkwardly placed at times. However, once you can marvel at the 360° view at the top, you’ll completely understand why it’s definitely worth the effort.
If you’d like to take in both the Torre del Mangia and the Civic Museum, there is a combination ticket that you can purchase at the tower for €13, making it an inexpensive adventure for even the tightest student budget.
When most people think about a visit to Italy, they can almost smell the food and taste the wine. So just imagine having six months, or even an entire year, to sample your way around Tuscany! Each region seems to have its own specialties, so here are a few good places to help get you started on your culinary quest.
Enoteca Italiana is actually located inside a 16th-century fortress, so the ambiance brings a lot of first-time visitors to this wine bar, but it’s the food and drinks that keep them coming back! If you want to sample a few of the local labels, this is the place to go, because they regularly serve more than 1,600 different wines from all over Italy. To top off your experience, you can even dine on the terrace in the warm weather, or take part in a wine tasting or a wine-pairing session.
Located right behind the Piazza del Campo, Pizzeria Poppi is very popular with students, primarily due to their tasty, moderately priced pizza. While you’ll have to try a few different combinations to find your absolute favorite, try the stuffed white pizza with tender ham and plenty of mozzarella cheese, for starters.
Of course, when in Italy, you must try the gelato, which can make for an inexpensive treat at any time of the day. For some of the best, try Caribia, located in the piazza and facing the City Hall. Another favorite gelato server is Grom, which first opened in Milan and changes its flavors every month with ingredients from all across the globe.
If you have something even sweeter in mind, then stop in at Manganelli for candied fruit, chocolates or a myriad of other confections. Locals swear by their peppery panforte, so be sure to grab a slice… or two. Plus, this shop has a real historical ambiance, so take it all in!
The nightlife scene is definitely an important part of student life in Siena. While the city has a rich historical background, don’t expect a sleepy weekend at the bars and nightclubs. Whether you want to dance the night away with your new classmates or discuss the day’s classes over a few drinks, you’ll find the ideal place in Siena, even if you’re on a tight budget.
Un Tubo is a favorite amongst the students. It has a cozy feel and is dimly lit, plus it offers drink specials on certain nights. Its walls are filled with contemporary art, and Jazz is the music of choice, played by some of the regions best musicians. It’s the perfect place to have a glass of wine after a long day.
Just a short walk from Siena’s historical center, you’ll come across Al Cambio, a popular modern club which can get pretty crowded on the weekends. It also stays open late, so it’s a great place to go unwind after a late study session. It is known for its wide selection of drinks, so get creative!
If you really want to experience some more of the area’s culture, and you like the idea of local products and ingredients, then definitely try Le Tre Rane. Nestled in the Chianti region, you can absolutely expect the best Italian wines at this small venue. Open all day, you can even stop in for a tasty lunch.
Siena hosts a wide variety of regular events, with something to please just about anyone’s tastes. You can experience brand new festivals, as well as events that have been around since the Renaissance or the Middle Ages.
Of course, the Palio is one of the first that comes to mind. This is not merely a horse race, but it completely symbolizes the entire culture of the Sienese people, as they come out twice a summer with pride to support their contrade, dressed in the appropriate colors and waving flags and banners. Around since 1644, the Palio has occurred each and every year, except for the time of hardship during both World Wars.
If you see Siena as a whole, it becomes more and more evident why the Palio is so symbolic. Split and then further combined into 17 contradas, each is run as its own state, governed by a Seggio with the Prior, and headed up overall by a Captain. Each has its own church and a museum, filled with mementos and souvenirs from the Palio. It definitely inspires a feeling of bonding as a region, yet all coming together as a whole during the races.
The days leading up to the Palio can almost be just as fun as the actual event itself. Students especially take part in large parties and other fun activities, as they gear up for the big day. Many student associations will also organize events during this time to add to the celebration.
When you are a student in Italy, each university has its own sports center for the students and faculty members to make use of, where they can take part in group classes and utilize the fitness equipment and a variety of sporting courts. The University Sports Center Siena (CUS) - Amateur Sports Association - is the sports center for the University of Siena, and you’ll find it close to the university’s main buildings so that you can easily pop in for some yoga after a stressful day or to work off a few extra pounds.
The CUS is also linked to many local, national and even international events, so there’s always something exciting going on.