today i want to share one of the best cities in italy. i was lucky enough to live there for a few months in 2011, with the nicest grandma and best cook ever. i absolutely loved my time there. i know most people who visit will only be spending a day in the city, and i totally understand: there is so much to see in italy. siena is well worth the visit, even if it is only for a day.
most of you will arrive by bus at the piazza gramsci. i want you to first walk over to my favorite spot in the city. it was my secret when i lived there, but now that i am gone i am happy to share it with you. walk to the basilica san domenico. if you'd like, you can go in, but really it's nothing compared to the cathedral. if you're facing the basilica, walk down the step to your left. there is a little alley and the backs of some shops. there are two benches along the wall where you can sit an soak in the view. this is the best place to view siena. you get a great view of the cathedral, and can see some of the hills that the city was built on. take your time here.
after this, walk back up the stairs and down the street you see right in front of you. i want you to walk down some of the small and windy streets of siena. you will probably get lost and it will be awesome. look out for the flags hanging from the windows, they are symbolic of the 17 contrade (neighborhood/district things). the sienese love their contradas, and have rivals within the city. they hold the palio every year, which is a horserace in the campo. anyways, walk through the streets and head towards the siena cathedral, you should be able to see if from most places.
now go the the cathedral. this is probably the coolest cathedral in all of italy, i love the black and white interior and massive ceilings and beautiful brickwork. make sure you check out the floors too, they are all original and completely marble. at one time there were plans to expand the building to make it more competitive with the florence cathedral, but they got halfway through and ran out of money. however, you can climb up the part that they built and get some really cool views of the city. you can also check out the baptistry underneath the building, it is totally worth it.
now that you have died and gone to catholic heaven, you probably want to eat. (or you can visit the hospital-turned-museum across the street, it is one of the cooler museums you will ever see). you are going to walk to the best panini shop in the world. i am so jealous. from the cathedral walk down the via san pietro. the panini shop is tiny, but i have placed it on the map and the address is 82 via san pietro. i don't even know if it has a name. but trust me, it will be the best italian sandwich of your life.
here is the thing about italian panini's: they are on hard bread that cuts the top of your mouth, they do not toast them, and they generally only have meat and cheese. i'm not saying that they are bad sandwiches, i just want you to know what you are in for. my favorite was a salami with the buffala mozarella. there are so many choices though, and everything will be good. you can ask to have pesto put on your sandwich- they won't like doing it , but they will oblige.
take your panini and eat it on the church steps nearby, or in the park that is just around the corner.
walk back down the via san pietro to the via citta. this is the street with all of the cute little shops- the shopping is great but quite expensive. if you can buy some shoes, i will be infinitely jealous because that is all i ever wanted to do there. once you find the campo, take a look, maybe a picture, and head straight to get some gelato. there are a few gelato places in the city, but super panna is the best. it is on one of the streets right next to the campo (see the map below). don't be an idiot: get a real waffle cone and the panna cotta gelato. you can pair it with any of the other flavors, they are all delicious.
now that you have your gelato you can go back and enjoy the campo. sit down in the sun, eat the best gelato in the world, and delight in one of the best places you will ever visit. it may take a while for you to understand how great this place is, but sit there long enough and you will get it (but don't fall asleep, a police lady might wake you up and yell at you).
once you have spent a good amount of time in the campo, head over to the palazzo publico. make sure you see the allegory of good and bad government by ambrogio lorenzetti, you probably learned about this painting in your art history class. also, check out the maesta by simone martini. look for the jewels that were pasted on the wall, they make the fresco so much more interesting.
these are the main things that you should do. after the palazzo anything else is fair game. you can go behind that building to the piazza mercato and walk back through some pretty fields and wild life. you can visit the oldest bank in the world, or the home of saint catherine. you could head over to the pinacoteca, or walk along the city walls. just as long as you do the things listed above. and you probably need to get gelato as many time as possible. 3 servings a day is not unheard of.