If your idea of the perfect budget holiday is a weekend spent wandering medieval streets, looking for lost treasure and wondering (thankfully) why that castle hasn’t been mowed down and replaced by a shopping plaza, then you’ll want to consider the Italian city of Siena on your bucket list. Siena is in the north of Italy in the region known as Tuscany – and it is south of some of the other more popular cities in Tuscany. It’s busy, but perhaps less so than the other parts of the region.
The cheapest way to get into Siena is by catching a low cost carrier into Bologna and then the bus ride into Siena. Ryanair and British Airways both fly into Bologna. Oddly enough, Siena has an airport, but currently it’s only for private passenger planes – not exactly a budget friendly holiday, eh?
So once you’re in town, what is there to do?
Part of Siena’s atmospheric backdrop is related to is historic culture. The city was once an archrival to nearby Florence, and the two city-states fought during the Middle Ages, trying to one-up each other, until finallly overtaken by Florence. So while there is a similar abundance of art and culture as in Florence, the city has its own unique vibe – and many artists who are not Tuscan, but Sienese.
The heart of Siena is car free, other than the occasional taxi or police car, which is a relief, as you can roam the streets pretty freely, and you’ll want to, to try to get the best shots of the wonderful medieval architecture.
The most photographed sights are the Piazza del Campo, a shell shaped square at the centre of the city where the horse race is held every year. For a great view, head up to the top of the Palazzo Pubblico, built to be Siena’s city hall and a landmark on the skyline. Don’t miss the Siena Duomo, a wonderful black and white cathedral – and the next door museum is well worth the extra admission fee for some of its priceless collection of artwork.
For more art, also be sure to pop into the Pinacoteca, which has several typical Sienese style works.
Siena has two huge events during the year – the largest one being the Palio Horse Race. The race has been running since the 11th century, so understandably has amassed a pretty huge crowd in the meantime. The race is between July 2nd and August 16th, so this is high season here, and while the races are in the evening, you’ll see various smaller events such as professionals and exhibits happening throughout the day before the race. It’s worth reading more about this legendary event on the official website, because really the horse race is just the peak of a series of events that have a long history steeped in legend, mythology, and a bit of spirituality as well.
Siena is also known for its summer jazz series, which typically runs late June into July, so it is definitely hopping in town when there’s a touch of overlap between the horse race and the jazz fest. What’s so nice about the jazz in Siena is the atmospheric location – if you like jazz, you’ll love it in an old medieval stadium. And if you’re new to the genre, what better place to get acquainted?
Posted : Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 at 11:00
Andy Hayes is a travel journalist currently based in Seattle, Washington. When not soaking up the Pacific Northwest lifestyle or enjoying life on the road, he is spending time hanging out on his own travel lifestyle magazine, Sharing Travel Experiences.