Siena has one of the most beautiful, most complete medieval cityscapes in Europe, and it’s a surprisingly inexpensive place to stay, whether you intend to stick to the city or use it as a base to explore some of the Tuscan hill towns nearby. Here are our tips to help you visit Siena on a budget.
There are two main sights in Siena which you absolutely must see. The first is the Piazza del Campo, a sloping shell-shaped square beneath the grand Palazzo Pubblico and the tall, slender Torre del Mangia, which offers amazing views over the city. The other is the Duomo, or Cathedral, black-and-white-striped outside and inside. The interior is breathtaking, with its blue vaulted roof with gold stars, and the remarkable floor panels decorated with Biblical scenes.
Accommodation in Siena
True budget accommodation has always been pretty scarce in Siena, and this has been the case since I first visited the city in the 1990s. There is just one one-star hotel near the centre, the Albergo Tre Donzelle, which has a great location in the old city, and the city’s youth hostel, which is on the northern outskirts.
You get far more options when you start looking at mid-range, three-star accommodation, in the €60-70 price bracket. The Hotel Alma Domus is on the north side of the city, in a converted medieval wool works. Singles there work out as little as €40 a night, with rooms with the best views in the €80-90 region. These views of the Duomo sitting on the hilltop above the old city are stupendous, and get better the higher you go.
Eating Out in Siena
Wherever you go in Italy, the same rule applies. Eating on a main square like Piazza del Campo is great but comes with a premium. But as soon as you wander off into the backstreets, the prices plummet.
There is a cluster of restaurants close to the House of St Catherine of Siena, including the atmospheric Osteria La Chiacchera, and another concentration of places to eat along and around Via del Porrione, which is close to the University.
You can always improvise by calling in at an alimentari, or deli, and ask them to make you a panino, or sandwich, with whatever ingredients they have on display.
Sightseeing for free in Siena
Along with the Piazza del Campo and the Duomo, the other star attraction is the city of Siena itself, a fully intact medieval cityscape full of buildings from the 12th to 14th centuries. Although it’s small and compact, you could still wander the core of the city for days, looking around its labyrinth of lanes and alleyways. Some would call it an open-air museum. But it’s more than that. And the pleasure of exploring this magnificent city is free.
Walk – You Have To
Much of hilly Siena consists of narrow backstreets and staircases, and the old city is largely impenetrable to modern public transport. So no costs incurred there. You have to walk. You get fit and save money at the same time.
A Budget Base for Exploring Tuscany
Siena is located in southern Tuscany, and is the ideal base for exploring the famous Tuscan countryside of hills, olive groves, farmhouses and cypress trees, and the many Tuscan hill towns.
As well as being relatively inexpensive, it’s the best place in the region to hire a car.
It’s possible to get to some of the hill towns (Monteriggioni, San Gimignano and Montalcino) and back in a day on the bus, but travelling like this you’ll be limited to seeing one town per day. If you can drive, your options are much more flexible. This way you can get to see much more, including the Crete Senesi hills to the south of the city, the Val d’Orcia and other hill towns including Montepulciano.
Avoid Peak Times
Prices always rise for peak season, and in Siena they spike dramatically for the Palio, a horse race around the Piazza del Campo on July 2nd and August 16th each year. Getting to see the races themselves can be challenging and costly, but there is a way to get a taste of the action – dress rehearsal rides are usually held in the run-up to the races, and you can watch for free.