I’ve studied for five years in Siena at the University. I would run in the morning to my classes, head down and neck tucked in my scarf in winter, a slower pace in summer, always in the shade to avoid the scorching sun. I loved Siena, as I love Florence, but I remain a country girl at heart.
I don’t belong to Siena as I don’t belong to Florence, but I learnt to appreciate their different characters: the first markedly Medieval, with its life revolving around the contrade and the Palio, the second shining in its Renaissance glory. I live happily in between Siena and Florence, there are days when I crave for the Florentine life, the walks along the Arno river and the lively life of Santo Spirito and San Niccolò, other days where I feel attracted by Piazza del Campo, the red bricks of Siena and the grilled meat feast you can enjoy during a dinner in a local contrada.
This is a list of personal favourites collected throughout the years, a food oriented city guide of Siena, something I’ve been meaning to share for a while.
How to reach Siena and where to park
It is quite simple to drive to Siena, a medieval town completely surrounded by the city walls with big gates, the ancient porte, which let you in. There are many car parks around the walls, most of them are payment parkings. My favourite one is the parking inside the Fortezza, next to the Stadium, which is the closest to the city centre. Visit this page for directions and tariffs, while here you find a list of more parking lots and rates in Siena.
Next to the Fortezza there’s also a free car park where you can leave your car for free for the whole day, if you are quite lucky or you are visiting Siena in low season. I strongly suggest you to check this car park first!
If you come from Florence, the bus is a good idea, too, as in slightly more than an hour it will leave you just a few steps from Il Corso, the main, mainly pedestrian, street which crosses Siena. Take the bus Siena Rapida from the Santa Maria Novella bus station in Florence. Check here the timetable.
The best period to visit Siena
I tend to answer October to this question for almost every area of Tuscany, as the countryside shines with its brightest colours, the weather is usually warm and sunny, with colder nights which cover the hills with a misty blanket in the morning. Most importantly, you get into the low season, so you are likely to find less tourists crowding museums, streets, shops and restaurants. Siena makes no exception.
Yet, if you are adventurous and if you can stand the summer heat, July and August are the months when you can enjoy the festive atmosphere of the Palio di Siena. Read more about it here.
My favourite cafés
Torrefazione Fiorella, in Via di Città, serves one of the best coffees in Siena. They have also remarkable pastries to transform your coffee break in a second breakfast: Italian croissants with several fillings, doughnuts and rice pudding tartlets if you have a sweet tooth, otherwise delicate sandwiches and tiny panini with salmon and butter, anchovy paste and butter and the more traditional prosciutto crudo and cotto. Here you can also buy coffee beans and coffee powder to bring home the toasted aroma of a breakfast in Siena. www.caffefiorella.it
Bar Pasticceria Nannini, Via Banchi di Sopra, 24. It doesn’t get more traditional than this. The Nannini family is part of the history of Siena, their name strongly connected to pastry art and coffee. www.pasticcerienannini.it
Pasticceria Buti, Viale Vittorio Emanuele II. If you search for the typical Sienese seasonal sweet treats as pan co’ santi, panforte, ricciarelli and cavallucci, this is the place to visit. Just outside Porta Camollia, it is also famous for their caramellato, a shell of puff pastry glazed in caramel and filled with chantilly.
Tea Room, Via Porta Giustizia, 11. Cookies and cakes baked daily, all with that genuine look of homemade desserts, are displayed on the counter, set against decorative backsplashes covered with glass bells. Ilario, manager of the Tea Room for twenty years, will guide you through the impressive selection of teas and herbal infusions—more than one hundred types from around the world. The Tea Room is also perfect for a late-afternoon snack or a slice a cake and cup of tea after dinner. Be sure to make a reservation if you’d like to sit at one of the small sofas or tables after dinner.
Where to have an aperitivo
Morbidi. A delicatessen and gourmet shop spread on three floors in Via Banchi di Sopra 75, a cave of wonders, where you can purchase speciality food and wine to take home. You can also enjoy a meal or an aperitivo at Morbidi Gourmet, where you can order wine, artisanal beers and cocktails accompanied by a generous spread of tastings of local recipes and products. Good quality and good prices.
Gino Cacino, in Piazza del Mercato 31. You’ll love dearly this deli where you can sit in high stools and enjoy enormous boards crammed with cheese, charcuterie, spreads and morsels made with the most unique products. The cheese is mainly from Tuscany, with a few incredible blue cheeses from France and England, the fruit compotes and spreads are all home made, the pairings imaginative, brave and impeccable. Their long list of panini can satisfy even the more curious gourmand. It usually closes down at 8pm: it is therefore the perfect spot for an aperitivo, even though I doubt you’ll be able to sit for dinner after one of Angelo’s taglieri!
Liberamente Osteria, Piazza del Campo, 27. When I want to enjoy a drink in the piazza, I go to Liberamente Osteria, a cocktail bar with a special view, ideal for watching the world pass by. They make excellent classic cocktails and mocktails, accompanied by platters of carefully selected local products. The same care is taken with the choice of wines, liquors, and mixers used in their cocktails. Try their weekly spritz options, inspired by the changing seasons: a great excuse to return to Liberamente Osteria often!
Where to have a quick lunch
Te ke voi, in Vicolo San Pietro 4, just a few steps from Piazza del Campo. A tiny spot with just a few tables, they do not accept reservations, so be there early in the evening for dinner. Te ke voi? is a transposition of the slang of young people and means literally what d’ya want? Burgers made with local chianina cow meat, local cheese, fragrant bread, real fried potatoes, cheese and charcuterie boards, fried dough and pizza. When local producers meet the take-away philosophy.
Osteria Il Grattacielo, Via dei Pontani, 8. Il Grattacielo is a rustic and lively Sienese osteria in operation since opening as a wine bar in 1840. Students, professors, working professionals, laborers, and tourists all come together here, especially at lunch time, when the place fills with folks on break from their jobs in the Siena town center. Don’t look for a menu. Rather, dishes are presented directly at the table by the three owners, with a detailed description of the care used in sourcing and selecting the finest local products. www.osteriailgrattacielo.it
Prètto Prosciutteria, Via dei Termini, 4. Prètto is an osteria, a prosciutteria and deli shop, a cozy place to stop for a glass of wine and charcuterie board, or a more substantial lunch. Here you can also try bruschette with a selection of organic olive oils. Definitely not to miss is the prosciutto platter, served with bread or focaccia, for a taste of various types including Nero dell’Amiata and Cinta Senese breeds. Also worth trying are two unusual dishes: Simmenthal and Chianti “tuna”. The first is veal served with a fresh and colorful salad, while the second is pork meat cooked until tender and preserved in oil, taking on the look of tuna. Among the noteworthy starters are the crostini di milza (spleen pâté) and anchovies in pesto. www.prettoprosciutteria.it
Where to sit down to enjoy a meal
Salefino Vino e Cucina, Via degli Umiliati 1. Grab a coffee in the morning, sit down for lunch or for dinner or pop in for an aperitivo, you won’t be disappointed. The atmosphere is elegant and modern, not the rustic feeling you would get from the classic Tuscan trattoria, but the food is honest and excellent ingredients shine in every course. You’ll be greeted with a gin and tonic, to start things off well. The dining room is run by young people who’ve grown up together at Salefino (they gladly define themselves as a family) who will explain the menu and ingredients. The menu here does not distinguish between starters, first courses, or second courses, but rather presents the chef’s selections, about twenty, to be paired with the daily specials (see the blackboard), and then the wines and craft beers. Salefino offers traditional Sienese cuisine, yet also features unusual, little-unknown ideas and ingredients—a modern, open philosophy. Fish and vegetarian dishes are also available, making this a restaurant everyone will find reason to love.
La sosta di Violante, Via Pantaneto 115. This is likely one of my favorite restaurants in Siena, my go-to when I’m craving traditional Tuscan cooking that is never boring, made with quality ingredients and good dose of comfort. If I had to choose one dish to order every time I come here it would be, without hesitation, the pici pasta with a knife-cut pork neck meat sauce— a hearty and filling dish that delivers immediate joy. Aside from the pici pasta, dishes like pappa al pomodoro with Cinta pork cheek and the cacio e pepe risotto with crumbled Cinta Senese sausage are two “comfort dishes” to definitely try.
L’orto dei Pecci, Via Porta Giustizia. It is not far from Piazza del Campo, though it’s like being in the countryside. L’orto dei Pecci is the perfect place for families with children who love to play outside, there are animals to pet and a medieval garden with herbs and vegetables. Simple honest food, incredible view and friendly atmosphere.
Osteria il Vinaio di Bobbe e Davide, Via Camollia, 167. Yellow paper napkins, wine by the glass, and the casual, loud surroundings will transport you to an authentic vinaio (an establishment where wine is both sold and consumed). The walls are decorated with images of the Palio and the Eroica bike race, cycling t-shirts, along with cured meats hanging from the ceiling, drawings and compliments left by customers. Upon entering, have a look at the counter as you begin to consider what to order from among the cured meats, frittatas, meat balls, and oil-preserved vegetables. If you’re not sure what to order, try the gran piatto, comprised of the very best of what Bobbe and Davide have to offer.
Try also Taverna di San Giuseppe, in Via Duprè 132, for an unforgettable dinner in an historical building which dates back to the 1.100, Osteria Castelvecchio, in Via di Castelvecchio 65, if you feel like having fish, Grotta Santa Caterina da Bagoga, in Via della Galluzza 26, for typical and historical dishes, and Osteria del Gatto in Via San Marco 8, where you can taste the famous bistecca fiorentina, the thick beef steak you are supposed to eat al sangue.
My favourite shops
Antica Drogheria Manganelli, in Via di Città 71. Founded in the 1879, it’s a shop to treasure where to buy spices, Sienese cakes and cookies, wine, liqueurs, dried fruit, pasta and specialties of the town and region.
Consorzio Agrario, in Via Giuseppe Pianigiani 9. It looks like a small supermarket, but it’s the place to go to buy most of the local products, from bread to wine, olive oil, pasta, cookies, charcuterie, fresh meat and other typical ingredients. It is the right place to buy also a slice of pizza or a satisfying panino.
La bottega di Solimano, in Via Delle Terme 19. A butcher shop and a deli, you can buy here also ready made dishes of the Sienese tradition such as trippa, baccalà and scottiglia.
My favourite markets
Each Wednesday morning there’s the market in the Fortezza area. It is a typical Italian market, with clothes, shoes, flowers, pots and pans, and food. On Friday morning in the same area you can find the local farmers’ market, with wine, olive oil, honey, fruit and vegetables, cookies and bread, fresh herbs and cheese.
Where to eat a good gelato
There are a few rules to recognize a good gelateria: ingredients must be in season (no strawberry gelato in September, for example), colours must be natural (avoid that blue gelato and that bright green pistachio, it look radioactive!), and the gelato must be kept in refrigerated, sometimes even covered, containers. Do not trust a gelato that has been piled high!
Gelateria La Mandorla, Via Camollia, 36. Located on via Camollia, this artisanal gelateria with Calabrian roots also makes pastries and granitas (slushies). Among the flavours to try are almond, of course, as well as pistachio gelato made with the special Bronte DOP-status variety, and ricotta with candied fruits and cannolo shell.
Kopakabana, Via dei Rossi, 52. A wide selection of gelatos and sorbets is on offer here, more than 200 flavors that vary from season to season, alongside always-present classics like pistachio, hazelnut, chocolate, and coffee. In summertime, the lemon and basil flavors offer relief against the hot Siena evenings. Trust their suggestions: You’ll be delightfully surprised at the flavor combinations. www.gelateriakopakabana.it
La vecchia latteria, Via S. Pietro, 10. A gelateria that uses the word latteria (milk shop) in its name immediately touches the tender places of my heart. I imagine a truly genuine-tasting, homemade gelato, reassuring like those from times gone by. Taste their fior di panna (cream) flavor, and tell me if I’m not right. Try also raspberry, coffee, crème brûlée, and salted caramel.
Bakeries and pizzerie
Panificio Il Magnifico, Via dei Pellegrini, 27. Locals love this historic bakery on account of their pan co’ santi and special Easter schiacciata, said to be one of the best in the city. Just as popular is their pan co ’santi, now available year round. At Christmastime it’s available fresh daily, along with a focaccia made from the same dough, while throughout the rest of the year it’s typically available Fridays only. Together with classic Sienese Christmas desserts, you’ll also find everyday breads, ciambelloni (donuts), cantucci cookies, and cakes like pinolata, panettone and colombe.
Menchetti, Via Pianigiani, 5 c/o Consorzio Agrario di Siena. Here you will find the true Tuscan DOP bread—the unsalted, naturally leavened version—next to 100% whole wheat bread, breads made with Verna wheat flour (a heritage soft wheat grown on their farm) as well as soft rolls, crunchy baguettes, spelt and rye flour breads, and breads typical of the Puglia region (pane pugliese). If you stop for breakfast, choose from a selection of classic sweet or savory croissants, some made whole wheat flour or vegan versions, and schiacciata flatbreads, either simple or filled with mortadella, prosciutto, or rigatino. There’s even one with raisins and walnuts, similar to pan co’ santi. Try ricciarelli, too.
Pizzeria Poppi, Via Banchi di Sotto 25. This pizza-by-the-slice establishment located on via Banchi di Sotto was my go-to spot during my uni days. Still today I’m unable to resist its call when I pass by, especially the ciaccino. Schiacciata, or ciaccino as its called in Siena and environs, comes as a simple flatbread seasoned with salt and oil, or as a version filled with cheese and prosciutto cotto, like they do it here. Together with their margherita pizza, Pizzeria Poppi owes its fame to this version of ciaccino. It’s best enjoyed while piping hot, wrapped in paper so you don’t drip gooey cheese all over yourself.
Pizzeria Alle Scalette, Viale Curtatone, 18. This small, simply decorated establishment is always packed. Reserve a table and indulge in their wood-fired pizzas. They use four different kinds of dough: a classic version, one made with kamut flour, one with spelt flour, and lastly a multi-grain. You can choose different combos when you order. Two of their pizzas in particular merit a stop here: the timeless classic margherita, light and fluffy, and the mortazza, topped with mortadella and pistachios.
Where to have a walk off the beaten track
Vicolo degli Orefici. You must look for this tiny back alley, as it is a cul-de-sac, so you won’t find yourself here unless you are specifically searching for it. It’s like being somewhere else, the alley is completely decorated with plants, quiet and slightly eerie. Listen to the people talking in the houses, smell what they are cooking and imagine how it would be to live here!
Vicolo delle Carrozze. Another tiny and charming back alley, it dues its name (carrozza is a carriage) to the fact that it was used as a parking for the coaches and carriages of gentlemen staying in a nearby hotel.
La Fortezza. On the top of the sixteenth century fortress you can enjoy a breathtaking view over the medieval city and the countryside that surrounds it. It’s a great place for a walk or a run. In summer there’s the cinema sotto le stelle here, an open air cinema.
Where to find a souvenir
Alvalenti is a local artist, illustrator and cartoonist. The shop and art gallery is covered with his colourful and happy drawings. Siena la città magica (the magic city) is my favourite drawing. Find his shop in Via Beccheria 7.
My favourite bookstores
In Via di Città 62, the Libreria Senese is an independent book store where you can buy art books, photography books, novels, books for children and a good collection of books in foreign languages and cookery books. Yes, you can find here also my book, I love Toscana (wink wink).
Libreria Mondadori, in Via Montanini 112, has a good selection of books dedicated to Siena and Tuscany, including many interesting cookbooks. Here you can buy all my recents cookbooks. Ask Filippo for advice!
A seasonal treat
From the beginning of Carnival to the 19th of March, St. Joseph, there’s a mixed smell of fried food and sugar in the thin winter air. This festive smell is due to the rice fritters stall, a wooden and mountain-like structure, which appears in the scenery of the Campo’s square for a month or so, selling those that to me are the most delicious rice fritters in the world. Read more about this here.
Outside the city walls
The countryside surrounds Siena and its medieval walls, you can see olive groves, vineyards and gardens all around the town. It is therefore easy to leave the paved streets and the red brick walls to lose yourself into the countryside.
If you don’t feel like driving and appreciate some light exercise, rent an eBike at Siena Bike Shop and ask them which is the best itinerary to enjoy the countryside around Siena. I’m not a sportive person, but I found the whole experience extremely enjoyable and liberating. They have also proper bikes for serious cyclists who are not scared by the Chianti ups and downs.
Ride to La Taverna di Vagliagli, in Via del Sergente 4, Vagliagli, a lovely restaurant we discovered almost by chance, with a super interesting Tuscan menu, chicken liver crostini to die for, a hearty serving of pici and, most importantly, a fireplace where to grill chicken, spiedini and Fiorentina steak.
If you feel like exploring the Chianti area by car, you might want to consider a wine tasting at Querceto di Castellina, a family-run organic winery and agriturismo high on a hilltop in the Chianti Classico.
Are you exploring Tuscany?
These mini guides might be useful!
- One day in Florence
- One day in San Gimignano
- Mini guide to Maremma
- Mini guide to the Etruscan Coast
- A weekend in Val d’Orcia
- A weekend in Gambassi
You find more itineraries in our page Discover Tuscany: foodie guides.
Siena WithGusto – A foodie guide
Siena is a town devoted to tradition, who was help to re-invent itself after the crisis of the last years. Forget about hipsters places and Instagram friendly faces with a fake shabby chic vibe, here still exist place dug in tuff caves, bakeries that mark the rhythm of the year with the alternation of typical sweets, and a Christmas market in Piazza del Campo that with its atmosphere brings you several centuries back.
This guide is a journey in a land of trattorias and taverns, of vinai (places where wine is sold and where you can also have a bite of something), of restaurants that carry on the local tradition: chopping of cheeses and sliced meats, pici, wild boar, Cinta Senese.
Our foodie guide to Siena made with Travel with Gusto is finally out in English. You can buy it on line on Kobo or on Amazon.
And if you’re planning an Italian trip, have a look at the Florence with Gusto guide, written by our friend Valentina, and the Rome with Gusto guide, written by our friend Rossella.