Home Destinations 13 BEST Things to do in San Gimignano, Italy 2024 // The Manhattan of the 14th-Century

13 BEST Things to do in San Gimignano, Italy 2024 // The Manhattan of the 14th-Century

From climbing medieval towers to eating the 'Best gelato in the world', here's what to see and do in San Gimignano

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Best Things to do in San Gimignano with Map and Travel Tips
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With a nickname as grandiose as the “Manhattan of the fourteenth century”, it’s no wonder that San Gimignano ranks among the top places to visit in Tuscany. Not only does it exude an undeniable charm that transports you back to a bygone era, but it’s also been honored with the prestigious UNESCO World Heritage status.

This medieval hilltop town will greet you with an exceptional architectural ensemble from the 1200s, with towering stone towers, red-bricked noble palaces, and perfectly preserved walls. As you wander through the winding streets and admire the views from atop one of the many lookout points, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a magical fairy tale.  

So, let’s explore the best things to do in San Gimignano and a top choice for a day trip from Florence.

Table of contents

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide:

Map of the best things to do in San Gimignano

13 BEST things to do in San Gimignano

Despite its small size, San Gimignano’s charms and character make it a great place for exploration. As you meander through its beautiful streets, keep an eye out for hidden gems around every corner – you never know what you might stumble upon in San Gimignano, whether it’s a quaint building with a fascinating history or a charming gelateria serving the best gelato you’ve ever had! And not only does this town exude an undeniable charm that’ll transport you back to the 1300s, but it’s also been recognized by UNESCO with its coveted World Heritage status.

1. Climb the tallest tower in town – Torre Grossa

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - View from Torre Grossa

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Torre Grossa - View of Tower in Piazza del DuomoBest Things to do in San Gimignano - Torre Grossa - View of Piazza della Cisterna

As the “Manhattan of the Middle Ages” for its skyline filled with towers, one of the first things to do in San Gimignano is to explore this magnificent architectural heritage. These medieval skyscrapers were built by local families to flaunt their wealth and prestige. The taller the tower, the more important the owner was considered to be. In the 14th century, at the height of its prosperity, San Gimignano boasted 72 towers, but only 14 remain today. Among them, the Torre Grossa is the star of the show.

As the only tower open to the public, the Torre Grossa offers visitors a chance to climb its 218 steps and be rewarded with a breathtaking 360-degree view from its towering height of 54 meters (177 feet). Initially built in the 13th century as a watchtower, it has since become a beloved town symbol. 

The climb to the top is an unforgettable experience, surrounded by walls two meters thick that have withstood the test of time. At the summit, you’ll be greeted with sweeping vistas that stretch as far as the Apuane Alps and the Chianti vineyards.

How to visit: Torre Grossa is on Piazza Duomo and is open every day from 10 AM to 7:30 PM between April and October, and from  11 AM to 5:30 PM between November and March. Tickets cost €9 (or €7 for kids between 6-17 and adults over 65).

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Torre Grossa - Viewing area

Watch your head as you reach the viewing area

2. Sleep in a medieval tower 

If you’re looking for a memorable experience in San Gimignano that goes beyond just climbing to the top of a tower, then how about sleeping in an authentic medieval tower from the 1100s? 

The Salvucci Maggiore Tower, at an impressive 42 meters high, is the only historic tower in town that’s still habitable. It’s located in the heart of the historic center and once belonged to a family of rich spice and fabric merchants. Originally reaching a height of nearly 52 meters, local authorities later imposed a law that no other tower could be higher, causing the tower to be cut down to its current height of approximately 40 meters.  

Today, the tower is divided into 11 floors, each no bigger than 12 square meters and equipped with everything you need for a comfortable stay. But the real highlight is the stunning panoramic terrace at the top, which provides the perfect setting for dining under the Tuscan sky. With 143 steps connecting the floors, you’ll have a unique opportunity to experience vertical living in a way that’s truly unforgettable. Check availability and book your stay here.

3. Admire famous fresco cycles at Palazzo del Popolo

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Palazzo del Popolo - Palazzo Comunale courtyardAlong with the Torre Grossa, the Palazzo del Popolo is home to the Palazzo Comunale and Pinacoteca which historically served as the seat of the municipal government since its construction in 1288. Today, the palace houses the town’s Civic Museum, where you can admire magnificent frescoes that offer a glimpse into the town’s medieval past. Before stepping foot into this enchanting world of medieval art, rent a pair of augmented reality glasses at the entrance: they superimpose digital medieval characters onto the frescoes, so you can engage with each artwork on a whole new level.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Palazzo del Popolo - Palazzo Comunale - Sala di Dante - Frescos

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Palazzo del Popolo - Palazzo Comunale - Dante statuesA must-see is Sala di Dante, the room where Dante Alighieri addressed the town council during his trip as an ambassador for the Guelph league in 1300. As you take in the stunning frescoes depicting scenes from medieval court life, you’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back in time. One of the highlights here is the majestic Virgin and Child by Lippo Memmi, who was inspired by the artwork that his brother-in-law Simone Martini created in the Hall of the Globes at Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico.

Upstairs, the Chamber of Podestà hides a sensational group of frescoes by the talented Memmo di Filippuccio that capture amusing scenes of profane love. But that’s not all. On the same floor, visit the town’s Pinacoteca, which boasts an impressive collection of painted panels by some of the most celebrated Sienese and Florentine artists from the 13th to the 15th century, including Filippino Lippi, Benozzo Gozzoli, Pinturicchio, and Taddeo di Bartolo. 

How to visit: Palazzo del Popolo is on Piazza Duomo and is open every day from 10 AM to 7:30 PM between April and October, and from  11 AM to 5:30 PM on Monday-Friday and from 11am to 6pm on Saturday-Sunday between November and March. Tickets cost €9 (or €7 for kids between 6-17 and adults over 65).

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Palazzo del Popolo - Palazzo Comunale - Palazzo del Popolo

4. Visit the Duomo (Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta)

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Duomo - Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta

Also called Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta, the Duomo of San Gimignano stands out as a masterpiece of artistic expression. As you step inside, you’ll be struck by grand walls adorned with breathtaking frescoes depicting the timeless stories of the Old and New Testaments. These masterpieces were painted by renowned artists from the fourteenth-century Sienese school, showcasing their unparalleled skill and creative vision. 

What’s truly astounding about these works of art is that they never really underwent any restoration work, except for a bit of cleaning for the movie “Tea with Mussolini” by Franco Zeffirelli, which was partly shot in San Gimignano. So, what you see today are the same colors and vividness they had when they were painted in the 1300s. This may be due to the fact that the side windows remained closed, thus limiting the amount of light and potential damage. 

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Duomo - Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta - Santa Fina Chapel

Santa Fina Chapel

Look for the little chapel dedicated to the town’s cherished saint, Santa Fina, an exquisite Renaissance masterpiece that also saw the hand of Domenico Ghirlandaio. If you have time, visit the Museum of Sacred Art nearby, showcasing an impressive collection of paintings on wood and canvas, sculptures, bas-reliefs, fabrics, and silver objects from the churches and convents in the region. Among the museum’s most prized possessions is the stunning wooden painting by Bartolo di Fredi, depicting the Madonna of the Rose, considered one of his most sophisticated works. 

How to visit: The Cathedral of San Gimignano is located in Piazza delle Erbe and has different opening times depending on the day of the week and the season, so be sure to check the website for the most up-to-date information. Entrance is priced at €5 for adults and €3 for kids between 6 to 18, as well as students and invalids. Children under 5 and persons with disabilities can enter for free. Tickets include an audio guide in various languages.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Duomo - Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta - Facing entrance Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Duomo - Collegiata di Santa Maria Assunta - Frescos

5. Have a glass of Vernaccia

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Drink Vernaccia wineYou may think that wine in Tuscany is all about Chianti, but in San Gimignano, you’re in for a delightful surprise. The vineyards surrounding this picturesque town are home to the exclusive Vernaccia, which is the only D.O.C.G. (Italian: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, English: Controlled and Guaranteed Denomination of Origin) white wine amidst a sea of robust reds.

This exquisite white wine is made from the Vernaccia grape, which is unique to San Gimignano and dates back to the 13th century. So significant is its heritage that it is the only wine mentioned by none other than Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy! 

The Vernaccia is characterized by its crispy and intense flavor profile, and its vibrant yellow hues are sure to catch your eye. There are two varieties to try: the Riserva, which is processed for an extended period of time, resulting in a structured and strong taste, and the d’Annata, that’s perfect for those who prefer a lighter and more vibrant wine. 

The town’s medieval streets are dotted with cute wineries that offer you a chance to grab a glass of their famous Vernaccia, which you can also sip it on the go while exploring one of the scenic viewpoints around town. For a truly authentic and immersive experience, you can consider visiting a family-owned winery in San Gimignano to see the vineyard, indulge in a delightful tasting session and savor a lovely lunch that perfectly complements the flavors of the wine.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Bottles of Vernaccia

6. Visit Galleria Continua – a cinema-turned-contemporary art gallery

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Galleria Continua - Theatre

As you meander through the quaint, narrow alleyways of this picturesque town, you’ll stumble upon a unique space of modern art that’s earned global acclaim: Galleria Continua. This prestigious gallery, housed in a former cinema, was established in 1990 by three friends who shared a passion for contemporary art and sought to create a platform for dynamic dialogue and creative fusion between different cultures and geographies.  

Since then, Galleria Continua has expanded its reach to seven locations across the globe, showcasing the works of some of the most illustrious artists of our era, such as Ai Weiwei and Michelangelo Pistoletto. With a revolving roster of exhibitions, it’s worth checking their website before your trip to San Gimignano to see what’s on display during your visit. You never know what extraordinary showcase of art you might be able to visit.

How to visit: Galleria Continua website says thats it’s open Monday to Sunday, 10am-1pm and 2pm-7pm and to book your visit, you can send an e-mail or fill in the booking form on their website. However, when I visited, I didn’t need to book ahead or send an email, I walked right in. There are also two entrances: Via del Castello 3 and Via del Castello 11 (located right in the piazza). This second address was closed so perhaps this is the one mentioned on the website.  

7. Relaz in Piazza della Cisterna

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Piazza della CisternaSan Gimignano bursts with medieval charm at every corner, but Piazza della Cisterna truly stands out from the rest with its charming ensemble of noble brick houses, majestic medieval towers, quaint shops, and patterned brick pavement. 

Dating back to the 13th century, the piazza was built at the intersection of two main roads, Via Francigena and the road between Pisa and Siena, and boasts a unique triangular shape, adding to its allure. What’s more, it has retained its original medieval layout, giving you a glimpse into the past when it served as the town’s marketplace.  

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Hotel La Cisterna BuildingAt the center of this charming square stands a beautiful octagonal well from which is gets its name. Plus, each building that frames the square boasts a unique story waiting to be discovered. Take, for example, Casa Silvestrini, which was once the seat of the local hospital and is now a hotel (Check availability and book your stay here). Or the twin towers of the Ardinghelli, the most prominent Ghibelline family in the area. These towers were built to rival those of their arch-enemies, the Salvuccis, only to be cut down as they exceeded the height limit set by a new ban in 1255, which prohibited buildings being taller than the municipal tower. Can you imagine the intensity of the rivalry back then? It must have been quite a spectacle!

But the excitement doesn’t stop there! For those with a taste for the dark, visiting the Torture Museum is a must. Here, you’ll find a collection of exhibits that offer a glimpse into the dark and fascinating world of crime and punishment during the Middle Ages. The museum is open daily 10am – 5pm, however, during winter it’s only open on the weekends.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Relax in Piazza della Cisterna

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Medieval arches

8. Take a picturesque stroll with a historical twist at Rocca di Montestaffoli

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - View Rocca di Montestaffoli from Torre Grossa

A delightful walk uphill from Piazza delle Erbe leads to the Rocca di Montestaffoli. This area was owned by the bishop of Volterra in the early Middle Ages and served as a hub for local trade. Today, you can see the remains of the fortress that the Florentines built in 1353 after the people of San Gimignano offered their city in exchange for protection following the devastating epidemic and famine of 1348. 

Although the once magnificent fortification now only exists in fragments, visiting the site remains a delightful thing to do in San Gimignano. You can take a stroll or enjoy a picnic while basking in the breathtaking views of the town and the surrounding countryside. Rocca di Montestaffoli is also a hub for cultural activities, ranging from concerts and outdoor cinemas to historical reenactments. In particular, the town’s famous La Giostra dei Bastoni tournament occurs here every year on the third weekend in June as part of the Ferie delle Messi medieval festival. 

The site is also home to the Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine Experience, a center dedicated to the town’s beloved wine, where you can indulge in tastings while enjoying the serene ambiance of the Tuscan countryside.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Rocca di Montestaffoli - Gate with view

9. Explore the life of the Tuscan bourgeoisie in the 18th century at Casa Campatelli

The Torre e Casa Campatelli offers a welcomed break from the town’s medieval charm by taking you on a journey through time to the 18th century. This historical gem was once the residence of the Campatelli family, prominent Florentine entrepreneurs and landowners who transformed a medieval complex into a lavish bourgeois abode. The great thing about this site is that it’s immaculately preserved, exuding the same grandeur and sophistication that it did centuries ago.

Casa Campatelli boasts a rich tapestry of narratives that embody the opulence and charm of Tuscan middle-class life during a bygone era. A video projection recounts the captivating history of San Gimignano while original artifacts and furnishings immerse you in the daily lives of the former occupants. The palace features one of the few remaining towers in San Gimignano. Inside, the space is completely hollow except for the beautiful balconies that grace each landing of the stairs. 

How to visit: Torre e Casa Campatelli is located in Via S. Giovanni 15. Check the website for the opening times.

10. See an unusual fresco in the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Chiesa di San Lorenzo in PonteBehind the facade of the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte lies a remarkable series of frescoes that’s one of the most remarkable examples of religious art in San Gimignano. The theme is centered around the afterlife, showcasing vivid depictions of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Among the stunning imagery, one particular iconography stands out: the depiction of a saved soul being rescued from the fiery depths of Purgatory. However, what makes this piece unique is the savior depicted, none other than San Lorenzo, who is granted the power to save souls in Purgatory, rather than the traditional figures of Christ or the Virgin. 

This little Romanesque jewel was constructed in 1240 and got its name from its proximity to a drawbridge that once provided access to Piazza della Cisterna. Look at the small portico on the left side of the church: it shelters what remains of a beautiful fresco that’s believed to be the work of Simone Martini during his youthful years.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Chiesa di San Lorenzo in Ponte - Simone Martini

How to visit: the Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte is in Via S. Stefano 8, a 2-minute walk from Piazza della Cisterna. Opening hours vary depending on the day of the week and season. To get the most accurate information, be sure to check the church’s website. The admission fee is €9 for adults and €7 for kids aged 6 to 17 and adults over 65. Children under 6, residents, and persons with disabilities can enter for free.

11. Admire Benozzo Gozzoli’s masterpiece in the Church of Sant’Agostino

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Chiesa di Sant'AgostinoNestled near the northern perimeter of San Gimignano’s age-old walls lies a church that even the most seasoned travelers may overlook. The unassuming brick exterior of the Church of Sant’Agostino may fail to captivate your attention, but once you step inside, you’ll find yourself in awe of the beautiful decorations that make a visit here one of the best things to do in San Gimignano.

The main highlight of this lovely single-aisled church is the breathtaking display of cycle frescoes painted by the renowned artist Benozzo Gozzoli, who arrived in San Gimignano seeking refuge from the plague that hit Florence in 1463. Painted with intricate details and in a great narrative style, these frescoes showcase scenes from the life of St. Augustine and are considered Gozzoli’s most prestigious work. Another notable artwork adorning the church is Lippo Memmi’s Madonna and Child with Archangel Michael and St John the Baptist, which is believed to be one of the oldest frescos in town (1317). 

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Chiesa di Sant'Agostino - Courtyard and plants

12. See what the city looked like in the Middle Ages at San Gimignano 1300

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - San Gimignano 1300 - Model RecreationBest Things to do in San Gimignano - San Gimignano 1300 - Model of Medieval city To truly immerse yourself in San Gimignano’s fascinating past and get a glimpse of what life was like back in the Middle Ages, make sure to add the San Gimignano 1300 exhibition to your itinerary. This remarkable exhibition offers a faithful recreation of the town as it once existed, complete with intricate details and stunning visuals.

The main attraction is a stunning 27-square-meter scale model that faithfully recreates the town as it looked back in the 1300s. It’s a marvel of craftsmanship, meticulously researched and entirely handmade using clay sourced from nearby caves. Natural pigments were used to create historically accurate colors, resulting in an impressive artwork that showcases the city’s medieval street life and architecture, including its original 72 towers. The model also provides excellent reference points, making it a must-see during your visit.

How to visit: San Gimignano 1300 is located in via Costarella 3 and is open every day from 10am to 5pm (6pm between May and November). Tickets can be purchased at the town’s tourist office.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Visit San Gimignano 1300

13. Taste the world’s best gelato in San Gimignano

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Gelateria Dondoli - GelatoTaking a break from sightseeing with refreshing ice cream is a great thing to do in San Gimignano. And not just any ice cream, but “the world’s best gelato”, found at Gelateria Dondoli. Tucked away in the charming old town, this small ice cream parlor boasts an impressive collection of awards, thanks to the owner Sergio’s experimental flavors. Whether you’re in the mood for something classic or daring, this gelateria has something to satisfy every sweet tooth. 

Gelato here is made from the freshest milk from nearby farms. Besides the usual suspects, you can expect flavors that are out of the ordinary, such as the Crema di Santa Fina with saffron and pine nuts, or the Champelmo with a tangy twist of pink grapefruit and sparkling wine. And if you’re feeling adventurous, go for the white chocolate infused with Grand Mariner. You’ll also find a series of gelato-making classes catering to kids and adults and leaving you with a deeper appreciation for this beloved Italian dessert.

How to visit: Gelateria Dondoli sits in Piazza della Cisterna 4 and is open every day from 9am to 6pm.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Gelateria Dondoli

4 tips for visiting San Gimignano

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Piazza del Duomo.jpg

Despite being a small town, San Gimignano offers many activities and sights, making it an ideal destination for a day trip from Florence. To fully enjoy everything the town has to offer, plan to spend the day here and take your time exploring. In addition to its well-known highlights, Sam Gimignano is also home to charming corners filled with intriguing stories and fascinating facts. 

This enchanting medieval town attracts visitors from all over the country, making it a popular destination year-round, especially during the sunny summer months. To avoid the crowds and make the most of your visit, try planning your sightseeing early in the morning or later in the afternoon. This way, you’ll have more time and space to take in the charming historical landmarks without the crowds.

If you plan on seeing all the main sights, consider purchasing the San Gimignano Pass, which grants access to the circuit of the Civic Museums (including Palazzo Comunale, Torre Grossa, and Church of San Lorenzo in Ponte) as well as to the museums of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. The pass costs €13 for adults and €10 for children between the ages of 6 and 17.

If you want to experience San Gimignano to the fullest and miss nothing, you might want to join this private walking tour in San Gimignano led by a knowledgeable local guide or try a fun Tuscan cooking class to take your cooking skills to the next level.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Laundry drying outside

How to get to San Gimignano from Florence

San Gimignano is conveniently located between Florence and Siena, making it an ideal destination for a day trip. The best part? There are various modes of transportation to get there, whether you prefer to drive or sit back, take public transport or relax on an organized tour.

By car 

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Fiat500Driving is one of the most enjoyable and convenient ways to reach San Gimignano. The journey from Florence covers a distance of approximately 60km and can take around an hour, depending on traffic. As you drive, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of the picturesque Tuscan landscape outside your window, and if you have time, you can even make stops at other charming villages along the way. 

When you arrive, you’ll find four car parks available, with rates ranging from €1.50 per hour to €15.00 for the entire day. These car parks are outside the town center, as no traffic is allowed within the city walls. However, a convenient bus line, Line 1, connects the car parks to the center for just €1.20 one way. For more information, visit the San Gimignano parking page on the town’s website 

By public transport

If you’re traveling to San Gimignano by public transport, taking the bus is your best option. The Autolinee Toscane bus line 131 departs from Florence’s Santa Maria Novella bus depot near the train station and takes you to Poggibonsi, where you can catch bus 130 to San Gimignano. Remember you’ll have to purchase your ticket from the machine before boarding and validate it on the bus. The overall journey takes around two hours and is perfect for budget-conscious travelers. However, keep in mind that bus timetables can be unpredictable at times, so it’s essential to double-check the schedule beforehand.

San Gimignano doesn’t have a train station; the nearest one is Poggibonsi. If you’re up for the adventure, take a Trenitalia train from Florence to Poggibonsi. Then, make your way to San Gimignano by bus 130 from the bus stop right outside the station. However, be warned that this option requires a good dose of patience and flexibility, as you may experience delays along the way and you’ll also need to factor in the time to buy your bus tickets at the ticket machine before boarding the bus.

By guided tour

Another great option is joining a guided tour of San Gimignano from Florence, so you won’t have to worry about buying tickets, figuring out timetables, or navigating unfamiliar roads. Instead, you can sit back and enjoy the scenic journey in air-conditioned comfort, knowing that someone else is taking care of all the details. Plus, you’ll have a local guide who will share with you a wealth of insider knowledge and tips about San Gimignano. There are lots of options to choose from. If you’re a wine lover, consider taking a full-day tour to the picturesque Tuscan countryside with stops also in Siena and the Chianti hills. Or if you prefer to see multiple Tuscan highlights in one day, join this small-group tour or this private day-trip tour that includes San Gimignano along with other must-see destinations.

Best Things to do in San Gimignano - Photo shop in front of Duomo

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