San Gimignano needs no introduction. It is one of the most known and most beloved towns near Siena. Precisely, 45 minutes by car from Siena. I assume the majority of you know it already. So I will not bore you with a thorough description. On the contrary, I am going to draw up a list of things to do in San Gimignano.
San Gimignano is mostly famous for its towers, representing the power of the families who built them. It is in fact nicknamed the Medieval Manhattan. The will to possess the highest tower unleashed in the aristocrats a fever to build higher and higher towers. With consequent stability problems.
That’s why in 1255, a law forbade to erect towers higher than 51 meters (the height of the highest tower, called Rognosa, mangy. Yes, that’s the name). Two families, in order to circumvent the rules, built not a higher tower, but two adjacent towers. Later, the highest of all was built any way, the Torre del podestà, nicknamed Torre Grossa (big).
But let’s go to the list of things to do in San Gimignano!
10 Things to do in San Gimignano
1 Take a beautiful photo of the entire San Gimignano
I suggest you to park in the Giubileo parking lot, south of town. It the biggest parking of all. Even if you have to walk uphill for 10 minutes to reach the Porta San Giovanni. I think it’s the most suggestive entrance to the town. Moreover, you will have the chance to see a beautiful panorama of the entire burg. How? From the parking lot Giubileo, walk towards the town. Once reached the small garden, instead of proceeding left at the curve, turn right downhill along via Vecchia per Poggibonsi (old street to Poggibonsi). Three minutes walk, the turn left and wow! If you walk for another 5 minutes, the view is even better.
I preferred not to climb one of the towers, since I find more interesting the view of the entire burg from the outside, rather than the view of the burg from above. OK, also because I’m a couch potato. Address: via Vecchia per Poggibonsi.
2 Learn the history of San Gimignano
You can visit the Tower and House Campatelli. It is along via San Giovanni. If you have followed my advice already, and parked in the Giubileo parking lot, you will enter San Gimignano precisely from via San Giovanni. At the number 15 (on the right), stands this beautiful tower. The visit starts with some videos explaining the history of San Gimignano and some background of the Campatelli family. For example, you will learn that the towers were once 72. Now only 13 remain. After the videos, you will see the fine rooms of this wealthy family, including the dining room with a view over the surrounding countryside.
The house is open and well maintained thanks to FAI, Italian Environment Found, an association of volunteers who safeguard and promote Italian art, nature and landscape. PS you don’t get to go on top of the tower. Address: Via San Giovanni, 15.
3 Eat local cold cuts or panini
Right in front of the Tower Campatelli, there’s a tiny spot, called in fact Buca (hole) di Montauto, where you can buy pasta, wine and local cold cuts, including wild boar salame, made by the owners in their farm just out of town. Address: Via San Giovanni, 16.
4 Have a yummy gelato
In piazza della Cisterna, which is one of the most beautiful spots of the whole burg, you will find two gelaterie: Dondoli and dell’Olmo. Dondoli was Gelato World Champion two times. I had merenda with raspberry and Michelle (a cream of cantucci, the local Tuscan biscuits, and they were both very good). Gelateria dell’Olmo on the other hand displays the sign: The best ice cream in the world. I didn’t try the latter. But many people say it is just as good ad the first one. Address: piazza della Cisterna.
5 Buy handmade ceramics
You will find lots of shops selling ceramics objects. But Ceramica Artistica Balducci is a true gem. Detached from the main touristy roads, you will find it going left from the foot of the Duomo’s staircase. I saw the artisan while working in the shop. And a shop window full of lovely blue and brown works. Address: Piazza delle erbe, 5.
6 Buy the perfect Pecorino cheese
There’s the perfect place, conveniently called Forme d’Arte Cacioteca. It means forms of art. But forme is also the name for cheese wheels in Italian. Cacioteca is Cheese Gallery, like an Art Gallery. So this name caught my eyes and the smell caught my nose. Here you will find 14 different pecorino versions. Address: Via San Matteo, 66.
7 Admire wonderful frescoes
I was surprised by the beauty and the richness of the Cathedral’s frescoes. You have to purchase the ticket first. So, climb the staircase. Turn left and on the left there’s the ticket office. Included, the audio guide. I hate audio guides. I took it and I tried to listen for a while. Too many dates, facts, names and with that usual super slow and bedtime-story-tone voice. I can’t do it. I resist the first minute. But, if you’re interested it gives you all the info you may need… and more. Much more. 😉 Anyway, vivid colours and exquisite decorations surround you while you’re inside the church. Fantastic. Address: Piazza Duomo.
Also Sant’Agostino Church preserve extraordinary frescoes, worth a visit. Address: Piazza Sant’Agostino.
8 Buy the local gold
San Gimignano produces saffron since the Middle Ages. Many families became rich exporting it. And now you can find the product in many shops of the town or in local farms.
9 To see the local nonni chatting in piazza
Right before sunset, under the Loggia in Piazza del Duomo, a bunch of men arrived. They were armed with chairs and positioned them at the limit of the Loggia, side by side. Chatting and watching people come and go is a great hobby. Address: Piazza Duomo.
10 Taste the local wine
The highest point of the town is the Rocca di Montestaffoli. Here you can admire a beautiful view of the towers and the valley. In the Rocca you can also visit the Vernaccia (local wine) Museum. The museum tour includes a tasting. Sadly, the man who once poured the wine for the visitors, has been replaced by some automated tasting machines.
There are two more things to do in San Gimignano, but just if you’re lucky like we were.
- See a wedding in piazza. So romantic. Plus, the bride car was the cutest ever. A old white Fiat 500, all “dressed up” for the occasion. So nice. 🙂
- Attend to a concert in piazza. Year ago we saw Il Barbiere di Siviglia (we had booked in advance). The second time we stumbled upon a free classical music concert. Very suggestive.
This is my list of things to do in San Gimignano. Do not forget to explore it at your own pace, and then let me know! 🙂