I had never heard of the little town of San Gimignano until I began to plan this trip, but I had several people recommend we put it on our itinerary. It’s an adorable medieval city, known for its towers. Currently there’s about 20, but back in its heyday there were more than 70! This feels like a lot for a town so small it takes 15 minutes to walk the length of it.
After the hustle of Rome, San Gimignano offered a refreshing change of pace in the tourist crowd. While there were still visitors, the roads didn’t feel quite as choked as major cities do, and the tourists appeared to be mostly European.
Don’t let its size fool you – there’s plenty to do here for a weekend!
Most of these suggestions come from our host and hostess at the Palazzo Buonaccorsi. I cannot recommend staying here enough! It’s their home, which they’ve turned into a series of rooms and apartments for rent. We stayed in the apartment, which included a private kitchen and bathroom for a reasonable price. The other rooms don’t include a kitchen, but we didn’t end up using it all, so your call on if that’s important to you. Their inner courtyard was relaxing and lovely, perfect for lounging with a book or sharing a bottle of wine. I wish we’d had more time there, just to hang out in their place more!!
We arrived late one afternoon, and like many old towns, parking is a bit of a mess. There’s paid parking outside the city walls, but our host Luigi told us where to look for free parking a bit further out, near the school. It worked! It’s so nice to be able to ditch the car and not worry about racking up costs for parking.
We spent a little time wandering around the Piazza Sant’Agostino and the city walls in the late afternoon glow. San Gimignano sits on a hill and the surrounding views of Tuscan countryside are stunning. As the sun set, we turned our attention to dinner and again, Luigi had some great suggestions! He sent us to two restaurants side by side just outside the city walls. Owned by two brothers, they’re both known for local dishes and local ingredients! Our hosts told us to check them out. Ristorante Pizzeria Fuori Porta is more fine dining, so we opted for La Taverna del Granducato. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very nice place. Incredible food, too. We shared a plate of ravioli topped with cinghiale (wild boar) bolognese, which could’ve been a meal in itself, it was so good. Logan chose a black-salt-crusted steak and I had chicken scallopini. Both were fantastic: simple dishes prepared well.
Beyond the food (which we all know is the most important part of traveling), there’s lots to see here! We bought a Benozzo Pass, which gets you entrance to six museums and sights over two days: Museo Civici, Torre Grossa, Mostre Duomo e Museo D’arte Sacra.
The best part is the Torre Grossa: the largest tower in town. It’s attached to the church and used to be the where the church bells rang. From that tallest tower in the center of town, the views are fantastic! It’s high enough to bother anyone who doesn’t like heights, but I loved seeing the town from above and HIGHLY recommend climbing it.
On the way down the tower, you pass the art museum that the Benozzo Pass covers. Don’t skip it! Some beautiful carvings, frescoes and even some ancient weapons.
Next up: the central church and dome of San Gimignano, the Collegiate di Santa Maria Assunta. This cathedral had a unique beauty, separate from the opulence of the bigger city cathedrals but colorful and striking in itself. The colors are beautiful but faded, revealing its age in spite of itself. My favorite thing was the frescoes on the side walls which tell the stories on the old testament on one side and the life of Jesus on the other. I love that about old churches – regardless of the decisions medieval church leaders made, the art tried to tell the stories of the Bible in a way that everyone could understand.
A hidden gem is the 1300 exhibit: a one-room museum of sorts that built a miniature replica of what San Gimignano looked like that year! It’s free, too, so don’t miss it. They take donations at the entrance. We surprised ourselves with how much fun it was to see things we recognized from around town and how the area looked with so many more towers. I recommend going after you’ve gotten your bearings – it makes it more fun to be able to find your hotel or places you’ve already visited!
Another serious attraction of the town is shopping. San Gimignano is a shopping paradise (and I don’t consider myself a big shopper!). 70% of the main street was lined with alternating leather goods, pottery, and linen shops. Naturally, we needed souvenirs and spent a couple hours wandering through shops, breathing in the delicious leather and admiring all the hand painted pottery.
We absolutely loved San Gimignano! If you’re headed to Tuscany, don’t miss out.
Thanks for sticking with me on this marathon post!
Have you been to any small towns in Tuscany? What are you favorites?
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