Things to Do in San Gimignano, Tuscany

Tuscany is rich in charming medieval towns, which are full of history and picturesque corners. While driving around, you’ll surely spot several villages scattered among the hills that deserve a day trip, or at least a stop, to take a closer look at their narrow winding alleyways, their old buildings, and their artistic masterpieces.

San Gimignano is one of the most popular destinations in this area, and it’s located on top of a hill, just 43 Km away from Siena and 60 Km from Florence. Its location makes it one of the favorite spots of visitors planning a day trip in the countryside, and it’s always extremely crowded, especially in spring and summer.

San Gimignano is also called “the town of the 72 towers”, and it was packed with the old version of modern skyscrapers! During the Middle Ages, the noble families vied with each other to build the highest tower in town as a sign of power and wealth. Today, there are only 13 towers left, but they are enough to make the skyline of San Gimignano iconic!

Here’s a list of what you can see and do in San Gimignano:

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A Guide to the Best Things to Do in San Gimignano

Visit the Cathedral

It’s dedicated to Santa Maria Assunta, and it’s located at the heart of the old town. It’s simple and even plain on the outside, and it looks very different from the majestic cathedrals of Florence and Siena. Nevertheless, its beauty is inside! Its bright frescoes have never been restored since they’ve kept their colors and decorations almost intact!

Learn more about local history inside the Palace of the Podestà.

Another important building stands opposite the Cathedral: the palace of the ancient ruler of San Gimignano, and its tower, of course! It was the medieval headquarter of the local political power, and it now houses the civic museum. On the first floor, don’t miss the so-called “Dante’s Room” and its frescos: it was dedicated to the famous poet after his visit as the ambassador of the Guelph faction.

Spot the towers

In 1255, an edict prohibited the construction of any tower that was higher than 51m, which was the height of the Rognosa Tower belonging to the Palace of the Podestà. Anyway, locals didn’t comply, and the Grossa Tower (literally “Big Tower”) is now 54m high!

The main towers to be spotted in the old town are named Grossa, Rognosa, Ardinghelli, Salvucci (they are two twin towers), del Diavolo, Chigi, Becci, and Cugnanesi. Only the Grossa Tower is open for visitors.

Go back in time inside Campatelli House.

Campatelli House and its tower are a great example of bourgeois residence dating back to the 19th century. It belonged to a wealthy family of landowners who had bought this medieval palace to turn it into a luxurious villa that is still furnished with period furniture and decorations.

Have a stroll in the Old Town.

The pedestrian medieval old town is rather small, and it’s a great place for a stroll. It’s best to explore it early in the morning or at night to avoid the crowds of tourists. It’s also full of typical restaurants and shops selling local specialties.  

Take a picture of the old well.

One of the most iconic places in San Gimignano is Cisterna Square. It’s a typical medieval square dating back to the 13th century, and it takes its name from the old well that still stands right in the middle. It was once named “Tavern Square” because it was full of places giving shelter and food to the pilgrims who were traveling along the Francigena Way to get to Rome.

Enjoy the view from the fortress of Montestaffoli.

It’s easily reachable from the old town thanks to a steep staircase, and it’s a great place to enjoy the view of the countryside around San Gimignano. It’s not one of the most touristy places in town, and it offers some peace and rest from the hustle and bustle of the main streets and squares. Several art exhibitions are held in this picturesque location during summer.

Walk by the ancient walls.

Like any other medieval town, San Gimignano was surrounded by walls, bastions, and gates. The oldest walls date back to 998 AD, while the “newest” ones date back to 1251. The best-preserved gates are named San Matteo (giving access to the local stretch of the Francigena Way) and San Giovanni (the main one, which was used by the people coming from Siena).

Visit the exhibition named “San Gimignano 1300.”

Its highlight is a 27 square meters miniature reconstruction of the medieval town, exactly as it looked in 1300. It’s free, and it deserves a stop to watch all the details of the 800 buildings, the scenes of everyday life, and the 72 towers that crowded San Gimignano at that time!

Watch the frescos inside the Church of S. Agostino

An austere medieval façade hides some artistic treasures like some precious frescos dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries.

Visit the Apothecary of Santa Fina

This special exhibition tells the story of old pharmaceutical pots, recipes, and products. It’s the reconstruction of an old apothecary with its laboratory and its decorated and old-fashioned equipment.

Get scary at the Torture Museum.

If you like horror movies and creepy places, visit this museum telling the story of all the torture tools and techniques used from the Middle Ages onwards.

Visit the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte

It takes its name from an old drawbridge connecting Cisterna Square to the way leading to the Castle of the Bishop of Volterra. The highlight of this small church in Romanesque style is a fresco representing the Virgin Mary which was the object of great devotion in the 15th century.

Watch some contemporary art in the Continua Gallery

This art gallery was established in 1990 inside a former movie theater. You can see art exhibitions featuring the works of both Italian and international artists. Click here for more information.

Visit the Church of San Jacopo al Tempio

Legend has it that it was established by the Templars on their way back from the first crusade. It looks way more recent than that, but it shows some symbols that can be associated with the Templars, too, so nobody knows who built it.

Go souvenir shopping

Local specialties make the best souvenirs: wine, olive oil, cheese, and cold cuts can be found in many shops. You cannot miss some tastings too, and the old town is full of small restaurants and trattorie offering the best Tuscan food. If you prefer to buy some handicrafts, choose some leather goods which are famous worldwide.

Enjoy the vineyards and the local wines.

When in San Gimignano, you cannot miss a visit to the countryside! There are plenty of farms and vineyards to be visited, and you can either choose one while driving around or join a guided tour to experience some country lifestyle (ex: San Gimignano: Horseback Riding and Wine Tasting Tour). Among the best wine estates, you can visit Podere La Marronaia, Guardastelle Vineyard, or Il Piano Farm.

Attend the historical re-enactment named Ferie delle Messi

If you’re planning to visit Tuscany in the summer, choose the end of June to visit San Gimignano to attend this medieval festival. It’s an event aimed at celebrating the harvest season. It involves traditional dances, costume characters, parades, archery competitions, and medieval jousting.

Take a day trip to Certaldo.

If you’re staying in San Gimignano for a couple of days, don’t miss a visit to one of the villages nearby! Certaldo is only 20 minutes away, and it’s a picturesque destination offering several cultural events, especially during summer. It was also the birthplace of the famous poet Giovanni Boccaccio, and you can still visit his house museum – click here for more information. Certaldo is a lovely destination out of the beaten paths, and it’s a perfect place to spend some relaxing time in a quiet spot.

Take a day trip to Volterra.

Things to do in Volterra, Tuscany

A 40-minute drive among the hills will take you to this charming medieval town with Roman and Etruscan origins. It deserves a visit thanks to its medieval buildings, its lovely old town, and its many churches, but it’s also an unmissable destination to learn more about the Etruscan people while visiting its famous themed museum.

Check my post: Best things to do in Volterra.

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