Siena Italy: things to do with kids in a day
A visit to Siena is a must when you are in the Tuscan region of Italy. I set foot in this beautiful Italian city for the first time in March and was wowed by the medieval architecture, its incredible yet unfinished Cathedral and the symbology on every street corner which speaks of the fierce neighbourhood rivalry that has echoed down the centuries. It would be the ideal place to return for an indulgent couples city break or with the Tin Box girls. Here’s some of the things I spotted to do with kids in Siena, Italy during my solo visit.
Siena, Italy: 5 things to do with kids
Wander Piazza del Campo
If your kids are old enough for the James Bond films they may recognise Siena’s central piazza Il Campo from a scene in Quantum of Solace which features the famous horse race, Il Palio. This happens in the square in July and August and is fiercely contested by Siena’s 17 neighbourhoods. Only 10 horses and jockeys can race each time because of the size of the piazza – they are decided by a lottery. However, 20,000 spectators cram into the area and there are a further 15,000 straining for a view from the buildings and streets around.
Aside from the race, the piazza is a good place to let kids burn off some energy as you admire the Palazzo Pubblico, which was built in the 13th Century to house the Siena government, and its 102 meter Torre del Mangia tower. You can also find the Fonte Gaia – or Fountain of the World – in the piazza. This was the end point of a system of conduits built in the 14th Century to bring water into the city.
Visit Duomo di Siena
One of Siena’s pride and joys down the centuries is its Duomo. Its architects’ aim was to make it the biggest in Europe giving Siena power over its rival, Florence. However, the Black Death struck and the Cathedral could not be completed as planned. One wing of the great church stands roofless to this day.
After the plague the Sienese decided to refocus their efforts on the marbled floor of the Duomo, making it an unparalleled masterpiece. And, of course, as art is in the eye of the beholder who is to say it is not the best Duomo floor in Italy? It is pretty stunning though. As is the Piccolomini Library which is a room off to a side with incredible frescos depicting the life of Pope Pius II. Imagining how the artists managed to create these colourful and detailed works will entertain even the youngest of visitors.
Tickets for the Duomo cost between € 8 and € 15 per adult dependant on the time of year and € 2 for children aged seven to 11-years-old. Entry is free for children aged under six.
It’s not just the ceilings of the Duomo for which it’s worth craning your neck. As you wander the medieval streets of Siena there’s plenty of reasons look to the skies. On the same piazza as the oldest bank in the world, Monte dei Paschi, you’ll spot Siena’s Men of the Renaissance.
Search for signs
Look closely and Siena is a treasure trove of signs denoting the city’s 17 historic neighbourhoods. Each family belonged to a neighbourhood based on their profession or status. Today many families still live by the code of their neighbourhood, especially in the weeks leading up to the Il Palio horse race. In this time they do not mix with their rivals, even if it means moving out of their marital home.
Your kids will enjoy spotting signs of these neighbourhoods – caterpillars, geese, wolves, porcupines and dragons included – on every street corner, door and wall in Siena.
Meet St Catherine…well, her head and thumb
Siena has its own Saint: St Catherine. She was born a year before the Black Death and decided from a young age to live the life of a nun. The Basilica San Domenico became her home at the age of 14 and it was here that she regularly had conversations with God. People pilgrimaged to see her, bringing wealth to Siena and the Dominican church. She also had the ear of the Pope who had left Rome to return to his native France but returned under instruction from Catherine. Her political influence was huge.
When she died parts of her body were sent all over Italy, but her mummified head and thumb can be seen in the Basilica today. Aside from the ornate reliquary and alters the interior of the building itself is quite simple with wooden beams, white-washed Siena marble walls, and modern stained glass windows.
However, before the Black Death there would have been colourful frescos. These were painted over to purify the building after the plague. Today some have been uncovered. Hanging from the walls are the flags of the different neighbourhoods of Siena – more reminders of the Il Palio race as the horse and rider of the Dragons are brough to the Basilica for a blessing ahead of the competition. Photography is not permitted inside the Basilica.
Handy information for visiting Siena with kids
- We booked and paid for a tour with Arianna and Friends. They arranged a meeting point outside the city centre, close to the sports stadium where there was plenty of parking. There were also bus stops. Our lovely guide adapted our private tour to our interests and needs.
- Expect to pay to pee in city centre toilets. 50 cents was the going rate at the public toilets next to Basilica San Domenico. If you prefer, simply order a drink in a cafe and you will be able to use their facilities.
- Siena does have some hills but the streets are suitable for pushchairs. If you go slow for little legs the distances between Basilica San Domenico and the Duomo would be doable with young children. The city centre is pedestrianised.
- If your kids tire of sightseeing the Piazza del Campo is the ideal place to let them run around in the open. Here you’ll also find souvenir stands, restaurants and gelato parlours. However, do expect to pay higher prices here than in some of the city’s quieter side streets.
Have you visited Siena, Italy? What else would you recommend seeing in Siena with kids?
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