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Historic Centre of San Gimignano

By Paige Watts

What is the Historic Centre of San Gimignano?

San Gimignano is a walled medieval hill town in Tuscany, just south of Florence. It is known for its impressive skyline of towers that juts out from the Tuscan countryside. Within its walls are notable examples of medieval architecture, as well as several masterpieces of 14th and 15th-century art.

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Simple buildings with tile roofs and several very tall square towers.

Why is the Historic Centre of San Gimignano a UNESCO World Heritage site?

The town remains a testament to medieval Tuscan towns that you can’t find in Florence, Sienna, or Bologna. Stepping into San Gimignano is truly like taking a step back in time. UNESCO’s website describes the town as “a shining example of medieval architecture with influences of Florentine, Sienese, and Pisan styles from the 12th to the 14th century.”

At the same time, the towers of the historic centre show how “public institutions prevailed over personal power” because the 14 towers of public buildings stand taller than the private towers of the wealthy families – which were actually reduced in height from time to time.

Another reason for the UNESCO designation is the exceptional 14th and 15th-century artworks in architectural settings in the Cathedral and the Baptistery.

Almost intact and still bright frescoes showing people in medieval dress.

What can you expect on a visit to this medieval town?

For such a small town, there is a lot to see. A major highlight is climbing one of its famous towers. Only 14 of the town’s original 72 towers still stand, and one of the few you’re allowed to climb is the Torre Grossa (the Great Tower) at City Hall. It’s the tallest tower and the climb up 218 steps provides unparalleled views of the Tuscan countryside. It’s a difficult climb, but it’s definitely worth the effort!

View from the tower showing 2 of the towers and the cluster of buildings of the historic center, with green agricultural areas beyond the town.

You’ll also want to visit Piazza del Duomo and the Romanesque cathedral. Here, you’ll find important 14th and 15th-century Sienese Gothic art, known for its decorative style and rich color. Spend some time admiring the frescos by Taddeo di Bartolo, Benozzo Gozzoli, and Domenico Ghirlandaio.

All of the town within its double walls retains the original patterns of streets and original medieval buildings, squares, towers, palaces, churches and even wells and fountains.

A plaza with a flat-fronted Romanesque church at the far end, with people sitting and standing on the steps.

Is San Gimignano worth visiting?

San Gimignano is absolutely worth visiting, and it’s not difficult to make a special trip for. Many wine tours of Tuscany have a stop here built into the itinerary. This was what I did when I visited, and we were lucky enough to have a tour that brought us to San Gimignano later in the day after most of the crowds had left.

Take a short walking tour of the town, or you can make the day trip from Florence or stop while you’re making your own tour of Tuscany as well.  For most visitors, a short stop in San Gimignano is plenty of time to see the main sights. You likely wouldn’t need more than a day.

On the other hand, it could be pretty magical to stay overnight and experience the city when there are fewer tourists around. Use the map below to find accommodations inside the walls:

What sorts of travelers would like San Gimignano?

San Gimignano is perfect for almost any traveler. The town is full of history, art, architecture, shopping, restaurants, and scenery.

If you enjoy San Gimignano, you might also like to visit Pisa, another UNESCO site not very far away. Or take some rest and relaxation at Montecatini Terme, part of the Great Spas Towns of Europe UNESCO site.

Text: Historic Centre of San Gimignano, Italy. Images: above, a view from the tower over the town; below, some of the buildings with their towers.

Tips for visiting San Gimignano

Be aware that the beauty and history of San Gimignano brings in a lot of crowds. Tour buses bring in hundreds of people right at midday, and pretty soon this walled town starts to feel very small. If you want to avoid the tourist crowd, then aim to visit later in the afternoon or even plan to stay overnight.

Wear comfortable walking shoes as there is a lot of uphill walking in this Italian hill town. You may also want to climb the steps of the Great Tower and walk the town walls.

To avoid crowds, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.  Tour buses typically stop here at mid-day, so that is when the town is the busiest.

A trip to San Gimignano can be combined with a wine tasting in Tuscany’s Chianti region. This makes for a great day trip from Florence.

A view from the tower showing the cluster of buildings in San Gimignano and the agricultural areas around it.

Where is San Gimignano?

San Gimignano is located in Tuscany, southwest of Florence.

By car: The drive from Florence to San Gimignano is about 58 km (32 miles) and will take about 1 hour. The drive from Siena to San Gimignano is about 42 km (26 miles) and will take about 45 minutes. Parking will cost €1.50-€2.50 per hour, or €6-€15 per day, depending on which lot you park in.

By public transportation: You can also get to San Gimignano by train and bus. Take the train from Florence or Siena to Poggibonsi. From Poggibonsi, take the bus to San Gimignano. If you’re coming from Florence, you can also take the bus to Poggibonsi and catch the local bus to San Gimignano. From Siena, you can take the bus to Poggibonsi; sometimes it continues on to San Gimignano and sometimes you will need to change buses.

For more information about the Historic Centre of San Gimignano, opening hours and admission fees to its attractions, see its official website.

Text and photos provided by Paige Watts of Paige Minds The Gap. Paige and her husband travel extensively, exploring historical and cultural destinations close to home and around the world. Check out her website, Facebook, or Instagram for more travel inspiration.

Have you been to San Gimignano? If so, do you have any additional information or advice about this UNESCO World Heritage site? Please add your comments below!

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