San Gimignano is known as the city of towers. In the Middle Ages, each powerful family erected a tower as a symbol of its wealth and social standing in the city. At its apogee, San Gimignano counted 72 towers. On the via Francigena (pilgrim route connecting Canterbury to Rome), this fortified town stands on a high hill and can be seen from a distance. It is about 1.15 hour from Florence and well worth a visit.
Here are a few ideas of the top things to do on a day trip to San Gimignano:
1. Get lost in the historical center
Like all Medieval towns, the center of San Gimignano is a labyrinth of small streets and alleyways interconnecting oddly shaped squares. The best way to get a proper feel of the place is to walk aimlessly around the center, get lost and then find your way again. Every corner of San Gimignano is rich in architectural details that hint at its incredible past.
2. Go up a medieval tower
Torre Grossa (or big tower), is the highest tower in San Gimignano. The 54 meter tower stands near the Palazzo Nuovo del Podestà in the Duomo square and offers great views of the town. Of the 13 remaining square towers of San Gimignano, it is one of the few open to visitors. The town of San Gimignano gives visitors the opportunity to purchase one ticket to visit 6 monuments/exhibits including the Palazzo del Podestà (also called Palazzo Comunale) and the tower. Entrance fee is 9 €. The Palazzo Comunale has a beautiful internal courtyard and masterpieces from the Sienese and Florentine schools.
3. Visit the cathedral
The San Gimignano cathedral looks very simple from the outside. Its simple brick and stone structure is in Romanesque style. The inside of the church, though, is covered in frescoes from some of the best painters of the time. There is an entrance fee of 4 € to enter the church. Note that access could be bared during religious services.
4. Eat the best ice cream in the world
A trip to San Gimignano wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the Dondoli Gelateria in the Cisterna square. Sergio, a true gelato master, uses organic or locally sourced ingredients. His wide array of flavors range from the traditional to the completely original and daring. If you have time, why not do an ice cream making course?
5. Go to the Torture Museum
This museum, with its graphic explanation of torture implements, is not for the faint of heart. One ticket allows you to visit both the Torture Museum and the Death Penalty Museum on the same street. Tickets cost 10 € for adults and 7 € for children. The museum is open every day from 10 am to 7 pm during the high season but open only at weekends in winter.
6. Enjoy a coffee in piazza della Cisterna
The Cisterna square, seen from above, has an original triangular shape. Once the home of taverns and workshops, it now boasts a few boutiques, a hotel and two cafè-restaurants. It is named after its well, the center piece of the piazza that dates as far back as 1273. Tired from all the walking around? Piazza della Cisterna is the perfect place to stop for an ice cream or a coffee.
7. Medieval spring
If you head down from the Porta delle Fonti (Spring Gate), you will come across what used to be the public wash house and one of the water sources for the town. The original construction around the spring dates back to the 9th century; the Romanesque arches were added around it in the 14th century.
8. Walk around the city walls
In order to avoid the foot traffic during high season, why not enjoy a peaceful walk around the medieval city walls? There, you can enjoy the best views of the surrounding countryside and see most of the city gates: San Giovanni Gate (southern side), Quercecchio Gate (western side), San Matteo Gate (northern side), San Jacopo Gate and Fonti Gate (eastern side).
San Gimignano has retained its Medieval charm and is very much worth the detour. If you don’t want to spend the whole day there, make it a stop on your way to Siena or an opportunity to do some wine tasting in the area.