10 Things to do in Siena at Christmas

Visiting charming Siena is always a treat, but the illumination, merry markets and festive atmosphere make Christmas a magical time to travel to this little corner of Tuscany.

Ana Caballero

Ana Caballero

10 min read

10 Things to do in Siena at Christmas

Christmas tree in siena | ©profernity

Despite its small size, if you travel to Siena you won't be short of things to see and do, because this medieval-looking city has so much to offer. If there is one time when the magic of the streets of this enchanting place makes it even more special, it is Christmas.

During this time of the year, the Christmas spirit takes over Siena and its streets are decked out in glittering festive decorations. In addition, special activities and a lively atmosphere invite locals and visitors alike to come out and enjoy the festive season.

1. Visit the Christmas market in the Piazza del Campo

Christmas Market| ©Stefano Panichi
Christmas Market| ©Stefano Panichi

Every year during the festive season, Siena hosts a spectacular Christmas market in the Piazza del Campo. The Piazza del Campo is located in the heart of the city and is one of the most emblematic places in Siena, as well as being considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

One of the characteristics that make this square so special is that it is home to some of the city's main attractions such as the Palazzo Comunale or the Torre del Mangia. For this reason, it is not surprising that this is one of the most important stops on guided tours of Siena.

Although the hustle and bustle of life never leaves this square, at Christmas time the atmosphere is multiplied and dozens of stalls reproducing an ancient medieval market are set up here. Among the countless products on offer you can find Christmas decorations, handicrafts and local gastronomic delights.

As well as immersing yourself in this enchanting Christmas atmosphere and buying souvenirs, you can take the opportunity to sample some of the typical Tuscan cuisine, either at the dedicated stalls or in the restaurants that surround the square and offer take-away dishes to enjoy during your stroll.

Book a guided tour of Siena

2. Taste Italy's most typical Christmas sweets

Panettone| ©Scott Ableman
Panettone| ©Scott Ableman

If there is one thing for which Italy is renowned the world over, apart from its impressive artistic heritage, it is for its exquisite gastronomy. As in many other countries, food is one of the main elements in the celebration of these special dates.

Therefore, if you visit Siena during the festive season, you should try some of the most typical Italian Christmas recipes. More specifically, one of its most popular sweets, Panettone, which consists of a spongy sponge cake with a base made of butter, eggs and flour.

According to legend, the recipe for this delicious sweet dates back to the 15th century and its creation was the result of a mistake, when during a Christmas lunch, Toni, the cook for the Dukes of Milan, accidentally burnt the dessert. As a result, he had to improvise a new sweet with ingredients from the pantry, resulting in Panettone or pan di Toni.

Nowadays, you can find Panettone in almost any supermarket or patisserie in Italy during the Christmas season, so if your trip coincides with these dates, I strongly encourage you to try it. An interesting option if you want to get to know the local cuisine in depth is to book a gastronomic activity in Siena.

3. Christmas shopping in Via Bianchi di Sopra

Via Bianchi di Sopra| ©. Ray in Manila
Via Bianchi di Sopra| ©. Ray in Manila

The best way to get to know a city is to lose yourself in its streets with a good walk, and thanks to the small size of its historic centre, it is possible to see the most emblematic places in Siena in just one day.

Although wandering around aimlessly can lead you to fantastic unexpected places, I encourage you to walk along Via Bianchi di Sopra, which together with Via di Città is the axis of the medieval city of Siena. As well as being one of the busiest streets in the historic centre, it is also home to some architectural gems such as magnificent palatial buildings.

This lively shopping street is even more alive during the Christmas season, when Siena's inhabitants, as well as tourists, take to the streets to enjoy the atmosphere, festive decorations and Christmas shopping.

So, if you are still short of gifts to buy, or if you want to take home a nice souvenir of your trip, I recommend you to stroll along the charming Via Bianchi di Sopra, where you can admire the Christmas window decorations and let yourself be enveloped by the explosion of colours, lights and illusion of this magical time of the year.

Book a guided tour of Siena

4. Join the Italian tradition of going to see Nativity Scenes

Nativity Scenes| ©Marco
Nativity Scenes| ©Marco

In Italy, as in Spain, one of the most popular Christmas traditions is going to see nativity scenes, or as they are known in Italy, the presepi. The presepi are representations of the birth of Jesus that are recreated by means of figures.

Traditionally, nativity scenes are set up in Italian homes as part of the Christmas decorations. However, it is also common to find them displayed in churches, squares or in different areas, generally in the historic centre of the cities. In Siena, it is also quite common to find these representations at the railway station.

The presepi are usually set up from the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, on 8 December, and remain on display throughout the festivities. A variant of this tradition is the living nativity scene, in which the characters are represented by real people instead of figures.

5. Stroll under the Christmas lights

Christmas lights| ©Jirka Matousek
Christmas lights| ©Jirka Matousek

If you travel to Siena at Christmas time, a stroll through the streets to see the Christmas lights is one of the essential things to do at night. The incredible beauty of this Tuscan city stands out even more under the thousands of multicoloured bulbs that decorate it every year at this time of year.

Although the Christmas lights decorate the entire historic centre, there are areas that are particularly eye-catching and not to be missed, such as Piazza del Campo, Via Bianchi di Sopra, Via di Città and Piazza Salimbeni, where there is usually a gigantic Christmas tree where you can take some Christmas photos.

In addition, in recent years a new attraction has been added as a video mapping that projects images and lights on some of the most important streets and squares of Siena, creating an unforgettable experience for those who have the pleasure of witnessing it.

6. Experience New Year's Eve like a real Sienese!

Zampone Christmas dish| ©Alpha
Zampone Christmas dish| ©Alpha

If you are lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in Tuscany, you will be able to experience Italian customs and traditions as you bid farewell to the year. Although the most common thing to do in Italy is to dine at home with the family, you will find a number of restaurants offering special dinners and events on this night.

Some customs may change depending on the region, but others are kept alive throughout the country, such as serving one of the Christmas dishes par excellence: Zampone and Cotechino, always accompanied of course by the traditional lentils, which according to beliefs symbolise luck and abundance.

Another Italian custom is to open doors and windows and make as much noise as possible in order to ward off evil spirits. For this reason, hundreds of firecrackers, fireworks and sparkling wines are set off at the stroke of midnight, so if you get the chance to experience this, be prepared for a big bang!

In addition, the streets of Italy are filled with concerts on the last day of the year. These shows usually start on the evening of 31 December and continue until dawn. In Siena, you can find them in various squares in the historic centre, especially in Piazza del Campo, Piazza del Mercato and Piazza della Indipendenza.

Many of these events also include food stalls that are open all night long. If your trip coincides with these dates, it is best to check the official programme of events as it changes every year.

7. Celebrate Befana Day

Befana Day| ©Norma D
Befana Day| ©Norma D

While in Spain we celebrate Three Kings Day, in Italy they have the day of La Befana. La Befana is a witch who appears every year in the early hours of January 6th to bring gifts to the children.

According to legend, the Three Wise Men got lost on their way to Bethlehem, so they asked an old woman, La Befana, for directions. Grateful for her help, they invited her to join them, but she declined the offer. Later, repentant, she decided to follow them, leaving gifts in the houses where there were children in the hope that one of them would be the baby Jesus.

In some parts of Italy, it is customary for the Befana to bring toys to the children, however, in the north it is more common for the gifts to consist of sweets and candies. If your trip to Siena coincides with Befana Day, you will have the opportunity to experience the lively atmosphere of one of Italy's most typical festivities.

Also, on this day it is common for families to gather to eat together, so you can join them by going out to eat at a good restaurant or go to a pastry shop to try the befanini, delicious biscuits that are traditionally served on Befana Day.

Here is a list of good restaurants for you to celebrate this special day:

  • Osteria Permalico: this magnificent restaurant is located in the heart of the city centre, just a few metres from Piazza del Campo and the Duomo. Its prices are quite cheap and its menu consists of the most exquisite dishes of Siena's traditional cuisine. In addition, all the products are local and of excellent quality.
  • La Taverna San Giuseppe: the prices of this restaurant are somewhat higher than the first option, but still affordable. This extraordinary restaurant combines traditional Tuscan cuisine with amazing creativity, resulting in some of the most delicious and innovative dishes.
  • Antica Trattoria Papei: Located in the Piazza del Mercato,Antica Trattoria Papei serves delicious Tuscan dishes and has a covered terrace where you can enjoy magnificent views. Specialities include fresh pasta and delicious grilled meats of the highest quality.
  • Osteria degli Svitati: this excellent restaurant is great value for money. Specialities include charcuterie and cheese platters, pappardelle and superb Tuscan wines.

8. Take a trip to Abbadia San Salvatore on Christmas Eve

Abbadia San Salvatore| ©Fabrizio Diletti
Abbadia San Salvatore| ©Fabrizio Diletti

Abbadia San Salvatore is a small town in the province of Siena and is especially known for its way of celebrating Christmas Eve with the Notte delle fiaccole, which translates as the Night of the Torches.

Every 24th December, a ritual takes place in this small town in which huge pyramid-shaped wooden piles are lit in every corner of the historic centre. This action marks the beginning of a night of festivities in which hundreds of people take to the streets to celebrate the arrival of Christmas.

Throughout the night, concerts and music take place, people gather with family and friends and typical sweets and wine are served. If you have the chance to take part in this age-old tradition, you will feel like you have travelled back in time and will live a unique and unforgettable experience.

9. Take shelter from the cold with a visit to the Duomo of Siena

Siena Duomo by night| ©Vegansoldier
Siena Duomo by night| ©Vegansoldier

Christmas in Siena can be cold, so if you decide to make your trip during this period, it is best to alternate outdoor walks with indoor visits where you can take shelter for a while and protect yourself from the low temperatures. Besides, you cannot leave Siena without visiting its most important icon, the Cathedral.

Entering the Duomo of Siena is a must on this trip, as this Romanesque-Gothic style temple is considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. Its imposing façade stands in the Piazza del Duomo and its construction is dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta.

Some of the most important artists of all times have worked on its sculptures, such as Donatello, Michelangelo, Giovanni Pisano and Bernini. Its interior is even more impressive if possible, especially the marble floor, in which different scenes are represented by means of inlays.

Other areas to highlight are the Piccolomini Library and the route along the roofs of the cathedral known as Puerta del Cielo (Heaven's Gate).

I recommend that you complete your visit with a visit to the Baptistery, the Crypt and the Opera Museum, where you will have access to a viewpoint where you can enjoy a sensational panoramic view of Siena.

Practical information

  • Where: Siena Cathedral is located in Piazza del Duomo, 8.
  • Opening hours: From 1 November to 31 March opening hours are usually from 10.30am to 5.30pm. However, the opening hours vary depending on the time of year, so please check the official website. Please note that opening hours may change on public holidays.
  • Price: it is best to buy the Opa Si Pass, which is a single ticket that allows access to all the museums in the complex. The Opa Si Pass is available from approximately €15.

10. Take a day trip to Montepulciano

Montepulciano| ©thy
Montepulciano| ©thy

Montepulciano is a town in the province of Siena whose fame comes not only from its beauty but also from its exquisite wines. However, the reason I have included this day trip from Siena in this list is because of its incredible Christmas atmosphere.

Every year at Christmas, Montepulciano is transformed into a beautiful winter wonderland. In and around the Piazza Grande, the heart of the town, there is an authentic Christmas village made up of quaint wooden market stalls.

At these stalls you can buy everything from Christmas decorations to seasonal food, hot drinks and local handicrafts. If you stroll through the historic centre, you can also find a beautiful carousel, a skating rink and many other attractions.

Another of Montepulciano's main Christmas attractions is Father Christmas' Castle which is usually recreated inside the Poliziana Fortress, where children can play games, attend workshops, attend shows and even hand in their letter to Father Christmas.