San Gimignano is a beautiful little walled town that was declared by UNESCO to be part of the World’s Architectural Heritage. Its striking architecture is straight out of the 1200s, and is “the epitome of a Tuscan hill town.” Clearly, I had to go. That also means that in the summer, the tiny place can be overrun with tourists, so I was lucky that it was the off-season.
The short walk to the main Piazza della Cisterna is lined with shops selling leather crafts, wine, specialty foods (boar is big in Tuscany) and tourist t-shirts. The piazza itself is small, and a large old well is at its center.
Beyond the main piazza, there are several nice sites in San Gimignano, including the Civic Museum and the 900-year old Duomo that has amazing frescoes. But the real beauty is the town itself.
I spent the afternoon taking in the views of the rolling hills of Tuscany from the town walls and enjoying the city’s most distinguishing features — the 14 medieval towers throughout the city.
The town and the surrounding countryside only has 7100 residents, and the small town feeling is palpable. Of all the beautiful small Italian towns, this may well be my favorite. There was a funeral taking place in the Duomo during my visit, and I definitely felt like I was getting a glimpse into people’s personal lives as the foot processional left the piazza.
The great discovery of the trip happened to be wine. While enjoying a slice of pizza and gelato, I discovered the local white wine: Vernaccia di San Gimignano. This crisp, fresh wine was delightfully refreshing. It’s also historic. It traces its roots back to the mid-1200s and was the first Italian wine to be given origin protections. The bonus is that it is offered at many of the shops for only about 5 euro/bottle!
During the day, the streets can be packed with day-trippers from Siena and Florence. But at night, the town is magical. I was able to wander the small lanes completely alone. It also gave me a chance to do a little shopping for some of the leather goods the town is known for in the early evening.
The town also makes a great base to explore the rest of Tuscany. Surrounding the town are hundreds of small wineries, which can be fun to explore. This village also makes a great jumping off point to visit hot springs of Saturnia.
This is is arguably the most beautiful of all the Tuscan hill towns and an important site in this country. It’s certainly one of the most magical. This is a place to just be in the moment and enjoy the best of Tuscany.
Visiting San Gimignano
How to Get There
It’s possible to get from Florence to San Gimignano as a day trip. From Florence, grab the SITA bus, which is located next to the Santa Maria Novella train station. There is a brief, easy transfer in Poggibonsi, and the whole trip takes just over an hour. The bus drops you off right in front of the main town gate.
Parking in San Gimignano is very limited, however, the location is ideal for renting a car and driving yourself. Consider staying at a B&B or hotel on the outskirts of the city that has parking and then walking into the center of the city. Also, don’t attempt to drive on the narrow little streets in town (trust me on this one!).
Where to Stay
Rather than visiting on a tour or as a day trip, we recommend staying in San Gimignano, either in the town itself or at an agriturismo within walking distance of town. In the evening, the city is magical! There are number of great hotel and B&B options in town. (Check current prices for accommodations here.)