San Gimignano Tourist Information
San Gimignano is a busy tourist town, acting as a magnet to daytrippers from all around Tuscany as well as those choosing to stay longer in this attractive little town [San Gimignano hotels]. There are a handful of museums and galleries, but the town’s main attractions are its architecture and atmosphere. The unique collection of towers and the winding lanes make it a charming destination for those seeking the heart of Tuscany. The “Historic Centre of San Gimignano” is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
An important town in the Middle Ages due to its position on a trade and pilgrimage route, San Gimignano was full of tall towers built by competitive and quarrelsome Tuscan families. Warring, the Black Death and the aggression of nearby Florence put a halt to the town’s progress, and it remained a memorial to its 11th-13th century prosperity. There were once an incredible 72 towers rising above the town’s rooftops. There are fewer towers nowadays, but the fourteen remaining are still impressive in the misty distance. In the Museo Civico/Pinacoteca you can see various paintings depicting the town in the days when it bristled with warlike skyscrapers. One depiction shows a miniature town in the lap of St. Gimignano himself, who – to judgeby the illustrations of his life – seems to have been a very busy patron saint.
From the bus stop and car park outside the town walls, you enter through a gateway and ascend a tourist-fleecing tunnel of a street towards the central piazza. From the open space and civic buildings at San Gimignano’s heart, another shop-and-bar-lined street descends on the far side. These busy streets and shops aren’t unpleasant, and they’re (mostly) not too tacky. But for atmosphere, dive down one of the smaller alleys and you’ll find a charming, traditional town where almost every view is tranquil.
The principal museum is the combined attraction of the Palazzo Comunale, Pinacoteca and Torre Grossa – Town Hall, Art Gallery and Great Tower (5 admission charge, or 7.50 combined with the town’s other museums). In Piazza del Duomo, this historic building houses a few interesting paintings, including some rather fun frescoes of knights jousting and Charles of Anjou chatting to his falconers. The most impressive experience, though, is provided by the tower, unobtrusively signposted off a museum stairway. The tallest tower in town at 54m, it has been gutted inside, and the stairs are a modern structure. Visitors should note that it’s a stiff climb, and the very top section involves clambering up a ladder (mind your head at the top you have to duck under the framework surrounding a monster bell). The views are splendid in every direction: lovely Tuscan hills, dotted with villages, villas and groves of trees.
The Rocca, a ruined fortress on the highest part of the hill, is surrounded by green parks and olive groves where you can sit and admire the Tuscan panorama, while munching on a cheese roll made up in one of the town’s many shops. Alongside the Rocca is a charming little terrace where civilised foreigners sit sipping wine outside the Museo del Vino. This Museum of Wine is small, and of limited interest if you don’t understand Italian, but the adjacent shop/bar, where you can discuss and buy bottles of local vintages, or enjoy wine by the glass, is an ideal stop on a sightseeing tour. The local wine is a white called Vernaccia di San Gimignano, and was a popular choice in Renaissance Florence.
The town’s Duomo (3.50 admission charge) or collegiate church, is an imposing Romanesque building, simple outside and striped inside, decorated by bold frescoes. Among the artists commissioned to decorate the walls were Taddeo di Bartolo, Domenico Ghirlandaio and Benozzo Gozzoli.
San Gimignano also has a Museo Archeologico (3.50 admission charge, or 7.50 combined with the town’s other museums), where the town’s archaeological collection is displayed. Exhibits date from the Bronze Age onwards, and include Etruscan artefacts, funerary urns, and glassware and ceramics from the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The museum is open daily between April and the beginning of January, and the entrance ticket includes admittance to the modern art gallery (Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea) on the floor above, which exhibits works from the nineteenth century to the present day.
There are plenty of well-signposted restaurants and bars in San Gimignano where you can eat anything from a snack to a full Tuscan feast. One place you may want to visit is the Gelateria di Piazza, a colourfully-marketed ice-cream parlour in Piazza della Cisterna where the award-winning flavours include Vernaccia wine sorbet (see the website in our links column on the right).
San Gimignano Travel Information
If you are driving, you must leave your car in car parks outside the city gates: by the Porta San Giovanni to the south or the Porta San Jacopo to the north.
San Gimignano can be reached by bus from Siena via Poggibonsi. From Florence, take a bus or train to Poggibonsi, where you can change to the San Gimignano service. The buses leave from the Autostazione Sita in Florence – a slower Poggibonsi service follows a winding scenic route, while Florence-Poggibonsi-Siena buses race along the fast superstrada. In Poggibonsi, get off in the piazza above the railway station, where you can buy tickets for the San Gimignano service in a bus company office or at the station bar. The bus stop is on the main road above the station. Note that buses to and from San Gimignano aren’t that frequent – the timetable is on the bus stop, so check return times in advance, and be prepared for hordes of other tourists returning to Poggibonsi/Siena in the afternoon.
If you are exploring Tuscany by car, you may prefer to stay outside San Gimignano in one of the area’s enticing rural hotels, villas and agriturismi, such as the picturesque 16th-century Agriturismo Il Segreto di Pietrafitta. In San Gimignano itself there is a choice of hotels, B&Bs and a few holiday apartments, including the Casa Torre Margherita – bed and breakfast in a thirteenth-century building – and the three-star Leon Bianco, with modern facilities in an even more historic building.