San Gimignano is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany, Italy, famous for its historic centre with beautiful towers (inscribed on UNESCO World Heritage List) and great art. It is small enough to be effectively visited as a day trip from nearby cities like Siena and Florence, but it has a different, more peaceful atmosphere at night that many travelers find it worthwhile to experience.
San Gimignano is a very small city, more like a town in the countryside, but it punches way above its weight in beauty and draw for visitors. Known as the "Town of Fine Towers", San Gimignano is famous for its medieval architecture, unique in the preservation of 14 of its tower houses, which, with its hilltop setting and encircling walls, form an unforgettable skyline. Within the walls, the well-preserved buildings include notable examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Just visiting to walk through, experience the intact centro storico and admire the view of the lovely Tuscan countryside from its high perch is worthwhile, but what makes this place special is the very high quality of its attractions. In a town too small to have a duomo, its Collegiata and the Church of Sant'Agostino both have great frescoes, and the small museum in its little Palazzo Pubblico also contains great art.
For these reasons, San Gimignano attracts many tourists every day. At night, when the day trippers have gone back to Siena and Florence, some of the few visitors who decided to stay hang out on the steps of the Collegiata and relax, appreciating the quiet and the clear air.
It was used as a filming location by Franco Zeffirelli as a stand-in for the town of Assisi in his 1972 film Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and for Tea with Mussolini, a 1999 drama. San Gimignano is also featured in the video game Assassin's Creed II.
Buses leave from Florence's bus station (next to the train station) hourly, and take 1.25 - 2 hr including a change in Poggibonsi, costing €6. From Siena take bus #130, which takes 1 hr and costs €5.20, operated by Tiemme SpA. Volterra has 4 buses to San Gimignano every day, that take 2 hours and change in Colle di Val d'Elsa. Sunday buses are fewer and more crowded.
Buses leaving San Gimignano depart from Porta San Giovanni, with tickets sold at the bar just inside the gate or at the Tourist Info.
You may also arrive by car. You can't drive inside the town walls, but there are several pay parking lots just outside the town walls, with free places further away. The handiest lot, Parcheggio Montemaggio, outside Porta San Giovanni, fills quickly, but they let 1 car in for every one that leaves, so you can wait (€2/hour). There is free parking on the side of the road going down from the turnabout.
The historical town of San Gimignano on the hill has no train station, but you can easily reach San Gimignano by taking a train to Poggibonsi (labelled "Poggibonsi-S.G.") and then a bus from the Poggibonsi train station to San Gimignano. These buses cost €3.60 (2007) each way, leave every 30-40 minutes, and you can inquire for information, schedules, and tickets at the tourist information office which is located ahead toward the right as you walk out of the train station. As of November 2018, there is construction: buses leave from the main road and do not stop at the station.
If you are going from Florence (Firenze) to Poggibonsi, direct trains are not so frequent but you will find many connections to Poggibonsi via Empoli.
San Gimignano is very small (you can walk from the gate to the other side of town in 20 minutes), and you must disembark from your car or bus outside the city walls, in any case.
By shuttle bus
An electric shuttle bus goes all day from Porta San Giovanni to Piazza della Cisterna to Porta San Matteo. The fare is €1, 2 per hour, and you can buy a ticket at Tourist Info or the Tabacchi shop.
The Piazza del Duomo, the town church's square, is surrounded by thousand-year-old towers. The town's 14 towers are all that remain of the original 72, which were owned by the rich to stay safe when the town was sacked. After Florence took control of San Gimignano, most of them were torn down. The Piazza della Cisterna is a beautiful piazza with an old stone well (no longer used) in the middle. This is where a Thursday market gathers.
- 1 SanGimignano1300, Via Berignano n. 17, ☏ . 10:00-19:00. The visit to the museum is an ideal opportunity to learn about the architectural, social, and historical aspects of the Middle Ages in Tuscany. The museum has a massive reconstruction of the city of San Gimignano dated between the 13th and 14th century. Audioguides available. Adults €3, children free.
- 2 Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, Piazza Duomo, 2. M-F 09:30-19:30, Sa 09:30-17:00, Su 12:30-17:30. The nearest to a duomo (cathedral) in this small city. Beautiful and contains a splendid series of frescoes on Old and New Testament subjects. €3.50, €5.50 combo ticket includes Religious Art Museum.
- 3 Museo Civico and Torre Grossa. Apr-Sep 09:30-19:00, Oct-Mar 10:00-17:00. The Museo Civico (civic painting gallery/museum) in the Palazzo Pubblico is small but has beautiful art inside. Includes Torre Grossa, which is the tallest tower in the city at 60 m (200 feet). You can climb the tower and get a good view of the city. €9, €2 audioguides, €13 pass includes admission to the Duomo.
- 4 Porta San Giovanni. A gate at the southern end of the town's 13th-century walls.
- 5 Sant'Agostino. English mass at Sunday at 11:00, open daily 07:00-12:00 & 15:00-19:00. The church of Sant'Agostino in the northeastern part of the city contains a set of great frescoes on the life of St. Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli and friendly, English-speaking friars to tell you about the church. Free, but €0.50 inserted into a coin box will light up a painting.
- 6 Rocca di Montestaffoli. Literally, a big rock, but a ruined fortress in actuality. A panorama of the Tuscan countryside can be seen from it.
- Thursday is market day in Piazza del Duomo
- Tourist Information is also in the Piazza del Duomo, which is open March to October 09:00-13:00 & 15:00-19:00, November to February 09:00-13:00 & 14:00-18:00. They offer free maps, a room-booking service, bus tickets, a free bag check, & €5, 2-hour audioguides for exteriors only. This is also where a walking tour starts from at 15:00 daily except Sunday, in English & Italian, March-October, for €15
- If you want to escape the crowds of tourists, there is a footpath that runs around the outside of town that is peaceful and affords some nice views of the countryside. It doesn't seem to go all the way around town, but it's long enough to work up a good thirst. Look for the signs with an icon of a hiker.
You will notice shops where free wine tastings are offered. If you consider the wines a good value, buy some bottles. You may find the wine expensive.
- Pantani Arte, Via San Matteo, 74 / Via San Martino, 32, ☏ , email@example.com. Two small studios full of the works of two brothers that use wood, watercolor and oil painting to tell the stories and carry on the ancient tradition of their region, Tuscany.
- Galleria iSculpture, Via San Giovanni 56, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Contemporary art gallery featuring only art works of 24 Italian sculptors.
The main piazzas are crowded, but there are small alleys which have much cheaper restaurants.
- 1 Trattoria Chiribiri, Piazza della Madonna, ☏ . Daily 11:00 to 23:00. Cheap, homemade pastas and desserts. Cash only.
- 2 La Mangiatoia, ☏ . W-M 12:30-14:30 & 19:30-22:30. Wild game served by candlelight. Outdoor seating, near Porta San Matteo at Via Mainardi.
- 3 Locanda di Sant'Agostino, ☏ . On a square at Sant'Agostino Church. Cheap & cheery for lunch & dinner daily (closed January), usually filled with locals and away from all the daytrippers.
- Co-op Supermarket is great for picnic food, open Monday to Saturday 08:30 to 20:00, closed Sunday, at parking lot below Porto San Giovanni
- Casa di Giovanna. Located on the main street, 100 metres from the main gate of the town. Double ensuite with breakfast €72.
- Hotel L'Antico Pozzo, via San Matteo 87, ☏ . 18 rooms, historical residence within the city walls. Wi-fi, air conditioning, garage on-demand, sky-TV, elevator. Single €95, Double €120-140, Superiors €180; Tax, service, buffet breakfast included.
- Hotel la Cisterna, Piazza della Cisterna, ☏ . With 49 rooms, some with panoramic views from the terraces. Buffet breakfast, elevator, restaurant with great view, discounts off season, closed January & February. Single w/bathroom €70, Double w/bathroom €98, Double w/bathroom & terrace €122.
- Hotel Leon Bianco, Piazza Cisterna 53037, ☏ , email@example.com. 3-star hotel that offers rooms with panoramic views over the Chianti Hills and a panoramic terrace where the complimentary breakfast is served every day. It also features a Jacuzzi on the terrace.
- In-town Rossi Apartments Owned by same family as Ponte a Nappo, in town center. Double w/bathroom €55, fancier double w/bathroom overlooking town square €85. Same contact info as Ponte a Nappo farm
- Locanda il Pino Clean, quiet, & small with only 5 rooms, is run by a family over their restaurant inside Porta San Matteo. Double w/bathroom €55, no breakfast, parking right by gate on via Cellolese, far from bus stop, but fine if you have a car. Telephone: 0577-940-415
- Palazzo al Torrione Inside Porta San Giovanni, is quiet & handy, with 10 rooms but no full-time reception. Double w/bathroom €70-110, breakfast €5-€10, family suites, cheap parking, at Via Berignano. Telephone: 0577-940-480 or Mobile: 338-938-1656
- Ponte a Nappo Run by Carla Rossi, who doesn't speak English, but her son does, has comfortable rooms in a farm outside town. Double w/bathroom €70, apartments for 2-6 people €90-180, breakfast €8. Air-conditioning, parking, 15-minute walk or 5-minute drive from Porto San Giovanni, on Via Vecchia. Telephone: 0577-955-041 or Mobile: 349-882-1565
- 1 Relais Santa Chiara Hotel (Relais Santa Chiara), Via Matteotti 15 (400 metres from the historic centre), ☏ . Check-in: 12:00, check-out: 12:00. On a hill just below the city walls. Set in private grounds with garden and swimming pool. €110-270.
- Le Terre Rosse Hotel San Gimignano (5 km from San Gimignano's historical centre), ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Hotel with 55 rooms and 4 apartments surrounded by a large park with pool. Wi-fi, air conditioning, sky-TV, safe. Double €95-120, Superiors €120-140; Tax, service, buffet breakfast included.
- 2 Villasanpaolo Spa Hotel San Gimignano, Strada provinciale per Certaldo (Outside the walls), ☏ , email@example.com. Resort spa hotel overlooking San Gimignano with inner spa and pool.
- Florence, the city of the Brunelleschi Dome of the Duomo, the Ghiberti Doors of the Baptistery, the Palazzo Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Bargello, the Ponte Vecchio and so many other things to see and do
- Siena, a larger walled hill city than San Gimignano though much smaller than Florence, is the city of the Palio and the Piazza del Campo, with its own spectacular Duomo and Baptistery and unique style of art
- Volterra, another of the ancient Etruscan cities, with Etruscan, ancient Roman and Medieval sights
- Monteriggioni, the small walled hill town that was Siena's diehard Medieval ally in the wars with Florence