Whether staying for eight days in Florence or travelling around in Northern Italy, you may want to include some of the finest Tuscan towns in an itinerary for a one-day trip. Here is how to get a taste of Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra in one long day.
Ainnelise Niyvold Liundbye UPDATED: 18 JAN 2020
To throw yourself into this one-day itinerary in Northern Italy, you will first of all need to have a car. You are therefore encouraged to rent a car for one day – if you haven’t already got one. Secondly, you should be ready to have quite a long sightseeing day in Tuscany – because it will be! As a reward you will get an amazing and unforgettable day in medieval settings in Tuscany in Northern Italy!
Itinerary in Northern Italy:
Siena (9 – 12)
Start your itinerary from your overnight location in Northern Italy in due time, such that you will arrive in Siena around 9 a.m. in the morning. When you arrive, leave your car in one of the numerous car parks. For the next 3 hours you will be sightseeing in one of the truly charming, medieval towns in Tuscany.
1. Visit the Cathedral
Take your time to visit the Duomo, Siena Cathedral, which is world-famous for its architecture (entry fees apply).
According to the legend, Siena was founded by Senius and Aschius, sons of Remus (who together with his brother Romolus were suckled by a she-wolf). They fled from Rome on a black and a white horse – which then became Siena’s colours. This is the reason that Siena Cathedral has marble bands all the way up in alternating black and white symbolic colours. The black and white campanile is strikingly beautiful towards a blue sky!
The facade is a real masterpiece by Giovanni Pisano and one of the finest Gothic examples. Just as impressive as the outside is the interior of the Cathedral: black and white banded columns, a picturesquely painted ceiling, bright stained-glass windows as well as stunning mosaic floors. As a highlight the Cathedral features both an outstanding carved marble pulpit and unique statues by Michelangelo and Bernini.
Do notice the statue of the she-wolf with Romolus and Remus on display on a column in front of the Cathedral.
This is really a top sight in Northern Italy
2. Walk the Piazza del Campo
Next, twist through the narrow streets and alleys to get to the very heart of Siena, the Piazza del Campo from before the 13th century. It is a fishbone-patterned square with 8 lines of travertine which divide the square into 9 sections, each representing one of the 9 rulers of medieval Siena.
Today, the plaza is known for its biannual horse race, Palio di Siena, an olden tradition in Siena. Riders and horses compete to complete 3 laps first – it is a great and festive show which attracts a multitude of spectators each year.
The piazza contains the Gaia Fountain (Gaia means joyful) from 1346 which is a lovely Gothic and Renaissance fountain with decorations by the artist Jacopo della Quercia. Moreover, the piazza also features the beautiful Palazzo Pubblico next to the tower Torre del Mangia. It is the highest tower (102 m / 335 ft) in Tuscany – and once one of the highest secular towers in Italy. The tower had the same height as Siena Cathedral to symbolise that the state and the church had equal power!
The square is the perfect place to do some people-watching!
3. Find the hidden gems
It is now time that you got a bit lost in the ancient streets to experience the soul and the charm on your own. Enter a couple of shops to have a look at the local products (and maybe some tasting?), look straight up in the narrow passages to notice the old, quaint structures and view how the light penetrates the massive stone constructions and creates a unique setting.
Around noon it is time to find your car again and be off to continue your itinerary in Northern Italy with the next stop: San Gimignano.
San Gimignano (12:30 – 15)
You have by now probably got a bit hungry, so first thing after arriving in the UNESCO World Heritage Site San Gimignano is to look for a restaurant to have lunch.
San Gimignano is the remarkable village at 334 m (1,100 ft) where wealthy families during the 12th and 13th centuries built the most incredible towers to show their position in society. At the peak the number of towers in San Gimignano reached 72, but now there are only 14 left. Anyway, it is the most amazing skyline you catch sight of when approaching the ancient medieval village.
The small town is today unique since it still contains urban structures like squares, wells, houses and palaces dating back to medieval times. It is a walled town with two rare concentric rings of walls from the 10th and the 13th century, respectively.
4. Have a Tuscan lunch
Have lunch in one of the Tuscan restaurants in San Gimignano – maybe accompanied by a glass of Vernaccia, the first Tuscan white wine to earn the DOC, Guarantee of Origin.
5. Climb a tower
Stroll around the streets to see how many of the 14 still existing towers you can catch a glimpse of. There are quite a few around the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Cisterna. You may visit the Torre Grossa from 1311 which is the tallest tower at 54 m (177 ft) and which has remained unchanged all during the years. It is open to the public – and allows for a 200-step climb. You enter it just off the Piazza del Duomo. The views from the top over the rolling green hills in the landscape are absolutely breathtaking.
Other towers of interest include the Torre Campatelli from the 12th century. It has an entirely hollow structure. Another tower, the Torre Chigi from 1280 on the Piazza del Duomo is regarded one of the most beautiful towers in San Gimignano. Moreover, the Torre Rognosa from around 1200 is one of the highest and also best preserved towers in San Gimignano which has even been used as a prison!
Wandering around San Gimignano and the historic centre full of fascinating quaint towers, you will also come across intriguing local shops selling saffron, white wine, leatherware, ceramics, olive wood utensils and tons of other local products.
A must for your Italy itinerary
6. Try one of the very best ice creams
The icing on the cake in San Gimignano is to try the world-famous ice cream in Gelateria Dondoli at the Piazza della Cisterna. It is a delicious homemade ice cream – a fine Italian gelato. If you feel like trying a new flavour, go for the saffron gelato! Don’t be surprised if the line is long – it is definitely worth the wait! You may enjoy it right on the picturesque square with a spectacular view of a handful of San Gimignano towers – absorbing the medieval ambiance.
Mid-afternoon it is now time to continue your itinerary in the Tuscan Northern Italy and explore the scenic countryside towards Volterra.
Volterra (16 – 21)
After a breathtaking drive through the hilly Tuscan landscape full of cypress alleys, olive trees and winding roads, you will finally arrive at the ‘flying city’ – Volterra – abruptly elevated above the surrounding terrain.
It is said to be one of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany with an intriguing Etruscan history. The town is enclosed with stone arches as gates dating from ancient times. To be here is like travelling to a true time warp full of enigma from its Etruscan past.
7. Explore the Archeological Park
(open mid-March – beginning November. Check the exact dates)
Immediately after arriving in Volterra you will cross over to the Archeological Park. Go here as the first thing you are doing since the park closes around 17:30 (check the openings hours and price)
On the site you will get to see the remains of an ancient Etruscan acropolis. In 1926 excavations were undertaken to uncover the remains of an ancient Etruscan settlement dating from the second century BC. The excavations comprise a bath complex, an ancient cistern and a plumbing system, as well as 2 temples with a podium and colonnades. In particular, the site is renowned for its layering of Etruscan, Roman, and even medieval constructions.
Alternatively (or if you have more time), you may view the ancient Roman Theatre nearby – dating from the first century AD. It features 19 tiers of seating perfectly built into the sloping ground. You will notice an orchestra pit here as well.
(The Roman theatre closes at 17:30 and earlier in winter. Check the opening hours)
8. The Etruscan Guarnacci Museum
(Probably open until 18:45. Closes earlier in winter. Check the hours)
Don’t deprive yourself of visiting the Etruscan Guarnacci Museum which is next. It is one of the most important museums in town.
This Etruscan museum contains a treasure of tombs, urns and alabaster sarcophagi from the Etruscan period in Volterra. It was a burial custom to put the ashes of the dead in a cinerary urn / a sarcophagus. The museum displays a multitude of outstanding examples of such cinerary artifacts on its ground floor. It is one of the best collections in Tuscany of the Etruscan burial customs.
Additionally, the first floor features rare examples of Roman mosaics from buildings in Volterra, Etruscan gold, silver and bronze coins, as well as unique Roman Republican and Imperial coins. Most of the displayed objects are found inside the city walls.
After seeing the museum, you will have a much better understanding of Etruscan life!
Volterra in Northern Italy
9. Soak up the ambiance in Volterra
Now it is time to relax and enjoy your evening and stroll a bit around to absorb the ambiance. Sit for a while at the old city walls together with the locals, admire the ancient gates and visit a few of the small shops selling local products like alabaster items, olive wood cutting boards and local wine.
Decide on which restaurant to go to for your Tuscan dinner. There are many small, popular places hidden inside the massive stone buildings. You may even be here at the right time to enjoy the sunset on the horizon towards the Mediterranean!
This is where your one-day Northern Italy itinerary ends.
But … this is one of the prime, authentic Tuscan towns – so you could also consider staying for the night in a hotel here!
Read more about day trips in Tuscany: Visit Volterra – One of the Authentic Villages in Tuscany and Try out the Thermal Hotspot Montecatini in Italy
Check also our Best Things to Do in Florence – What to See in 3 Days out!
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