Siena is located in the heart of Tuscany, located near numerous destinations and options for fun filled weekend trips. During my study abroad program through Lewis & Clark College, hosted by Siena Italian Studies, I was not allowed to travel outside of the country during the program. I took this “rule” as a chance to take advantage of my immediate surroundings – the one and only, alluring Italian region of Tuscany.
While in Siena, I saved all of my money by sacrificing going out for drinks with friends during the week, shopping only for necessities, and eating at home with my host family, all in order to travel during the weekends.
If you’re currently living in Tuscany and you need some help planning a weekend getaway (on a budget), here is a list of the best weekend trips, all of which can be traveled to by train.
This is a no-brainer. If you’re living in Siena, spend a weekend in Florence, located only about an hour north of Siena. Round trip tickets start at around €8 and there is an unlimited amount of things you can do once in Florence. If you’re one for art and history, or maybe you are like me and live with a “you’re only here once,” mentality, check out the Uffizi and the Accademia Gallery, both priced at €6,50. You could probably spend an entire day in the Uffizi, admiring the famous works of artists like Masaccio and Giotto, and the Accedmia Gallery is home of the world famous David statue by Michelangelo.
Honestly, just strolling through Florence is an experience within itself. If you would rather just walk around, walk through Ponte Vecchio, check out the most mesmerizing Duomo, shop your way through all of the markets, and eat!
2) San Gimignano
My classmates started referring to San Gimignano (San Jimmy-ya-no) as “San Jimmy Johns” because of the quirky Italian way to pronounce the letters “gn” together. Located about an hour bus ride away from Siena, up high on a mountain top, this town is the perfect epitome of Tuscany and the best place to relax for a while.
Whether you choose to explore its ancient structures, or just sit back and enjoy the view, SG is so great, you might need to visit twice (I did). SG is also home to the world’s best gelato, so you really can’t go wrong. Make sure to try the Vernaccia flavor – made from SG’s very own Vernaccia grape which they also make a white wine with 😉
3) Pisa and Lucca
If your’e a first time visitor to Italy, why wouldn’t you want a goofy picture in front of the Leaning Tower? Other than the Leaning Tower, check out the 11th-century Duomo. Unless you want to deal with the countless tourists at Pisa, venture on over to the nearby town of Lucca.
I added Lucca to this trip because this town will make your trip to Pisa worth it. Offering cobblestoned streets and elegant palaces, and surrounded by its Renaissance-era walls. Take a bike ride on Lucca’s ancient city walls, roam the piazzas, and hangout at a cafe to enjoy the view and talk to the locals.
4) Cinque Terre
The weekend I visited Cinque Terre was the weekend that the Italian coast stole my heart. I stayed in Riomaggiore with five friends in an awesome hostel which had its very own balcony! During our time there, we explored as many towns possible and really just loved walking along the coast. We even had lots of time to relax on the beach and read while laying out beneath the sun.
We got to visit four out of the five towns, Riomaggiore, Monterosso, Corniglia and Vernazza. While in Monterosso, I experienced jumping into the freezing cold Mediterranean Sea (the only other ocean I swam in was the Pacific). We also played frisbee along the shore, searched for sea glass, and climbed rocks. Cinque Terre is the perfect place to visit without a plan and to just take everything in stride.
While in Vernazza, we hiked to Corniglia. You need to go on at least one of the hikes! This was the only open hike while we were there and I’m just grateful to have been able to go on one. Hiking along the Italian coast is an incredible and breathtaking journey, and will definitely make you feel small and realize how lucky you are to be in such a beautiful place. Hikes are available for all levels of hikers. Our trip back to Siena was also an adventure! Cinque Terre would not have been completely Italian without a couple of train strikes.
5) Venice and Verona
A lot of people complain about Venice being too crowded with tourists, but that was not the case for me. I visited during February – sure it was pretty cold, but it was definitely worth seeing while close to no one was there. Venice is where I learned to get lost. Even with a map, all of its narrow streets and alleys are bound to confuse you. After stressing out about getting lost, I realized that there was no point to getting upset and to just appreciate my time there.
I also spent way too much money while in Venice – street markets will do that to you. I became obsessed with Venetian glass and wanted to eat everything from Nutella crepes to dinner at fancy restaurants. This is not to say that Venice on a budget is impossible, because there are a lot of free things to do there too.
We only had a few hours in Verona so the main attraction we visited was Juliet’s (yes, from Romeo & Juliet) house. My romantic expectations were crushed when I learned that the balcony was made out of part of a sarcophagus. Gross! Other than that there is a pretty wall full of lovers’ locks, similar to Pont des Arts – but I don’t know why anyone would want a romance like Romeo and Juliet’s.
Are you currently living in Tuscany? What are some weekend getaways that I should have visited?