San Gimignano, a walled hilltop town in Tuscany, is an ancient community that differs from its larger neighbor, Florence. Located about 90 minutes from Florence by bus and just over an hour from Siena, San Gimignano makes for a great day trip or overnight destination. Despite having its share of touristy boutiques, this pedestrian-friendly city is definitely worth a visit during your tour of Tuscany, even if only for a few hours.

Arriving in San Gimignano

When you arrive in San Gimignano, you’ll be dropped off just outside the city wall. Enter through the main gate, Porta San Giovanni, and make your way along Via Francigena to the historical center at Piazza della Cisterna. As you walk, you’ll find yourself gazing up at the impressive buildings along the way.

The Historic Center

The historic center of San Gimignano is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the city’s skyline has been compared to that of Manhattan with its high-rises, though these towering structures aren’t nearly as tall. The towers of San Gimignano, much like modern-day skyscrapers, were a sign of economic power, built in the 14th century by the wealthiest local families. Of the over 70 tower houses built in San Gimignano, 13 (or 14, according to some sources) survive to this day, adding to the ambiance of this historical feudal village.

Points of Interest

Thanks to a period of economic decline, the medieval charm in San Gimignano remains intact. Despite being a small and compact community, there are quite a few things to see within the city walls. Here’s a quick list of some points of interest:

Piazza della Cisterna

Named for the town’s water well, a 13th-century underground cistern, Piazza della Cisterna is one of the main squares in San Gimignano. It was originally called Piazza delle Taverne. Here, you’ll find our recommended hotel and gelateria.

Palazzo Comunale

The former Town Hall, situated in a 13th-century building, is now a public museum and the historical seat of the Musei Civici (Civic Museums).

Torre Grossa

Torre Grossa is the tallest of the medieval towers and is open to visitors as part of the Musei Civici.

Piazza della Duomo

Piazza della Duomo is one of the two main squares, where you’ll find the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, Palazzo Comunale, Palazzo Vecchio del Podestà, and Torre Rognosa. This square is a great place for people-watching or simply sitting and enjoying a refreshing gelato.

Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta

Sometimes called the Duomo, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta is located in Piazza della Duomo, though it’s technically not a cathedral. Consecrated in 1148, the basilica features medieval frescoes, statues, sculptures, and paintings dating from the 16th and 17th centuries. It also houses the 15th-century Chapel of Santa Fina. Adult admission is €3.50 and is included in the Musei Civici combo ticket.

Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

The Chiesa di Sant’Agostino is a 13th-century church built in the Romanesque-Gothic style. Its interior is decorated with frescoes and paintings from the 13th to 15th centuries.

Rocca di Montestaffoli

The hilltop remains of a 14th-century fortress built by the Florentines on the site of a previous castle, Rocca di Montestaffoli now serves as a peaceful park and olive grove. It’s a popular spot for musicians and artists and is the setting for the local medieval festival. Climb the turret for a view of the surrounding countryside.

Vernaccia Wine Museum

Located in Villa della Rocca di Montestaffoli, the Vernaccia Wine Museum uses multi-media demonstrations to tell the story of Vernaccia di San Gimignano, the local white wine. This wine is said to have been enjoyed by Dante, and Michelangelo wrote about it in 1643, saying, “It kisses, leaks, bites, pricks, and stings” (“Bacia, lecca, morde, picca e punge”). Admission to the museum is free, but there is a fee for wine tastings.

Ornithological Museum

Housed in the 16th-century Church of San Francesco on Via Quercecchio, the Ornithological Museum consists of a selection of 371 ornithological specimens accumulated between 1866 and 1911 by the Marchesa Marianna Panciatichi Ximenes d’Aragona Paolucci, an avid bird collector. Admission is €1.50.

San Gimignano Medieval City Walls

The 13th-century city walls, the second ring of walls built around the city, measure just over one mile in length. Visitors to San Gimignano can walk along the top of the walls or follow the dirt path around the perimeter for picturesque views of the area landscape.

Exploring San Gimignano

While San Gimignano offers a variety of museums and historical sites, one of the best ways to experience the town is simply by strolling through its charming streets and soaking up the atmosphere. Take your time to wander, discover hidden corners, and appreciate the well-preserved medieval architecture.

Shopping and Souvenirs

San Gimignano has its fair share of touristy shops, but among them, you’ll find some genuine artisanal products. Look for locally produced ceramics, leather goods, and food items like olive oil, wine, and saffron. These make for great souvenirs or gifts to bring back home.

Gelato in San Gimignano

No visit to San Gimignano is complete without trying the local gelato. The town is known for its high-quality gelato, with several renowned gelaterias scattered throughout the historic center. Be sure to sample some classic flavors like stracciatella, pistachio, and hazelnut, as well as unique combinations featuring local ingredients like saffron or Vernaccia wine.

Getting to San Gimignano

San Gimignano is easily accessible by bus from both Florence and Siena. The journey takes approximately 90 minutes from Florence and just over an hour from Siena. Buses drop passengers off just outside the city walls, making it convenient to explore the town on foot.

If you’re driving, there are several parking areas located outside the city walls. Keep in mind that the historic center is closed to traffic, so you’ll need to park and walk into town.

Accommodations in San Gimignano

While San Gimignano can be visited as a day trip, staying overnight allows you to experience the town’s magical atmosphere after the day-trippers have left. There are several hotels and bed and breakfasts located within the city walls, offering a range of accommodations to suit different budgets and preferences.

For a truly authentic experience, consider staying in one of the converted medieval towers or historic buildings that have been transformed into charming hotels or apartments.

Final Words

San Gimignano, with its striking tower houses and well-preserved medieval architecture, is a must-visit destination in Tuscany. Whether you’re interested in history, art, wine, or simply soaking up the charm of a small Italian town, San Gimignano has something to offer. By taking the time to explore its streets, squares, and museums, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the rich cultural heritage of this unique “Town of the Towers.”

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