There are lots of hill towns in Tuscany, but San Gimignano gains a great deal of the attention. Why? A San Gimignano travel is particular in a few ways – all those towers make it incredibly picturesque from wherever outside the city and it’s not accessible by train which does help retain the huge crowds away.
It can still feel overrun during the day in the high season, mainly because big tour buses drop daily visitors off for a few hours at a stretch, so if you want to feel these medieval streets at their most charming view, you’ll want to sleep over at least one night.
San Gimignano: A town of fine towers
Arriving in this tower-topped town in central Tuscany is always going to be a visual treat, regardless of the season. While the warmer months provide much-photographed scenes of surrounding sunflower fields, arguably the best time to visit San Gimignano is in the autumn or spring, bypassing the summer heat and high-season hordes of tourists. However, visiting between January and March is likely to be disappointing, as many businesses close during the off-season.
Rising on a hill 334m above sea level, the town is visible from a considerable distance thanks to its skyline of towers, built by local merchant families during the Middle Ages. These mediaeval traders made a fortune by exploiting the town’s key position – between Sienna and Florence – on the heavily-trod Via Francigena pilgrimage route to Rome, about 300 km to the south.
Although constructed ostensibly to protect wealthy families from periodic invasion by marauding intruders, in reality the towers were status symbols of prestige and power. Due to the confines of the fortified hilltop town, merchants were unable to build grandiose palaces. Instead they looked to the sky, vying with each other to build the highest and most magnificent towers.
However, in 1348, San Gimignano suffered a devastating blow with the arrival of the Black Plague, which decimated its population and led to a swift reversal in its fortunes. With the once steady flow of pilgrims now re-routed through Florence, the town suddenly lost its core revenue and faded into obscurity before being rediscovered by 19th-century visitors on the Grand Tour of Italy.
The town’s authentic appeal was also helped by Cosimo I de’ Medici, Lord of all Tuscany, who in the mid-16th century decreed that San Gimignano could not be enlarged or restructured. This has resulted in the preservation of the pre-baroque state of the historic centre which is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What to Do in San Gimignano
Floating through the whole city will merely take you a couple of hours, so you’ll want to enjoy your walk. Get your time, gaze over the improbably typical Tuscan views extending in all directions, stop for coffee or gelato. There are a couple of churches worth spending a little bit of time in, and some museums as well. But the primary attraction of San Gimignano is without a doubt San Gimignano. If you’ve taken a car, it’s an ideal ground for exploring this part of Tuscany.
Things to See & Do
Although relatively small in size (both geographically and by population), San Gamignano has a range of things to see and do to warrant a half day visit; more if you want to immerse yourself in the lively night scene and book an overnight stay. Whilst most of these attractions you will stumble upon just by walking the narrow streets, this list will help you ensure you check off all the must see sites before taking time to wander at leisure, popping in to small wine tastings and boutiques as you pass the afternoon by.
Piazza del Duomo
As the main square of San Gimignano, it is nearly impossible to come here and not stumble upon it – making for a great central starting point. Surrounding the square are thousands-of-years-old towers, so be sure to set aside a few euros to climb the stairs of one and take in those mesmerising views of the rolling hills and terracotta roofs.
The most popular tower to climb (and the tallest) is the Torre Grossa, priced at a reasonable 5 euros for entry. The entrance fee includes a visit to Pinacoteca Civica, a small but worthwhile painting gallery.
If you chance your visit to coincide with market day (Thursdays), you will find yourself amidst a colourful and lively atmosphere with a chance to sample local fruits and delicacies as you wander from one store to the next. The market is held in Piazza del Duomo, the cities main square.
Walk the streets
But most importantly of all: task yourself with simply wandering the streets, meandering in and out of small alleyways off the main shopping streets and discovering the picturesque beauty of this small Tuscan town.
Getting To San Gimignano
If your departure is outside Europe, it’s in all likelihood that you’ll be flying into Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. From Rome to San Gimignano, you can rent a car and drive straight to San Gimignano, or you can take a train to a larger city like Florence or Siena and then get a bus (or rent a car there) to get to San Gimignano. If your point of departure is in Europe, Florence or Pisa is probably a more easygoing airport to fly into. Search for deals on airfare to Italy and take a look at the low-cost offers in Europe.
Hotels in San Gimignano
You can find many of the resources in San Gimignano are farm tourism, and most of those are outside the city itself. The good news with this is that you’re likely to have amazing views of San Gimignano’s legendary towers, but it implies that you’ll have to jump in your car or put your feet to good use to walk its pretty cobbled streets. There are a few San Gimignano hotels right inside the old city which is reasonably priced, so if you wish to have the medieval streets right next to your door, that’s the way to go. Start by researching these San Gimignano accommodations and San Gimignano hotels and book a room today.