If you’ve only got enough time to do one thing in the classic Tuscan city of Siena make it the Duomo. This may seem obvious – it’s a major city in Italy, of course the cathedral at the top of the hill is going to be on your list. But, this complex is filled with some unique features from its odd black stripes, to its beautiful floor frescoes, and even up to the wonderfully painted ceilings.
If you take the train into the city you’ll have quite a hill to climb. Fortunately, the views from the top are worth the effort.
As you wind your way through the narrow old streets towards your goal you’ll get the feeling that this is a very old city.
You can’t miss the Duomo in Siena. It’s on top of the highest point in the city and stands out against the landscape with its striking black stripes. There are a few more stairs for you to climb, but you’re almost there.
The front of the cathedral and the start of your tour through beauty and history.
The standard tour of the thirteenth century building starts off in the spacious cathedral. Here you’ll be able to admire the black striped column and walls as they ascend to the top of the ceiling. The black and white go hand in hand with the colors of the coat of arms of the city itself.
If the stripes didn’t stand out from the exterior they really hit your eyes once you get inside. The black bands immediately draw your eyes up the columns towards the ceiling.
Once you’re done looking up you’ll start to notice that there are a number of roped off sections of floor. Take a look at each and you’ll see some beautiful works of art.
The bird at the center is just one of the abundance of animals that you’ll find throughout the building.
The carvings and art in the cathedral are home to a lot of animals. They’re in almost every detail of the interior.
The art and sculptures around the church display a number of biblical themes.
Even the little details, like this post, are decorated and beautiful.
After you’re done taking in the impressive interior of the main cathedral make sure to seek out the adjoining library. This isn’t a typical library with books, but instead a series of powerful and colorful frescoes depicting the story of Pope Pius II.
The mirrors around the library room can be used so you can see every little detail in the walls and ceiling. Here it looks like a portal to another world.
Here you can see some of the frescoes lined up along the wall. In the mirror you’ll notice the ceiling across is very colorful and alive.
If you bought the all-inclusive pass (you should, it’s only 12 euros) you’ll move your tour along across the plaza to the museum. The museum isn’t very large, but there are some very impressive statues and stained glass to be found. Take your time and relax here. The atmosphere is wonderful.
The low lighting really made the stained glass at the end of the hallway stand out. All eyes are immediately drawn to the feature when you enter the building. It’s very striking.
After you’re done in the museum head down the steps towards the crypts and baptistry. About half way down you’ll find your entrance to the former – The Crypts.
The crypts are below the cathedral, but situated above the baptistry. Here the brick itself is covered in paintings taken from biblical stories. The area under the cathedral is calm and striking.
The crypts are below our feet. You can see that the subterranean part of the cathedral is easily a few floors below.
Once you’re back out in the daylight head down the stairs once more to arrive at the fourth and final stop on your Duomo day trip – The Baptistry. Unlike the other baptistries in Pisa and Florence this one is part of the main cathedral building. The room is wonderfully adorned from top to bottom with some pews to sit, relax, contemplate, or pray. Like the library room above, the ceiling is wonderfully decorated in the baptistry. Mirrors are provided so you can check out every angle of the room (or take fun pictures).
We found some more mirrors in the baptistry. The mirror is showing the art in the center of the room. The benches all face the focal point and lead your eyes upwards to an ornate dome.
Though there are only four stops on the Duomo tour, no day trip in Italy would be complete without adding a fifth stop – Gelato. There are a number of shops around the city and no shortage around the cathedral itself. Go seek one out and have a treat.
This is the actual gelato from the shop across the street from the Duomo. We named the one in front Bruno. Can you think of a name for the other?
1. Florence At Sunset
Florence is a wonderful city filled with culture and life. There are numerous plazas to enjoy as well as some of the most famous cultural sites on the planet. The city swells with people in the summer, but don’t let that stop you. The energy, the streets, and the food will all get you into the atmosphere. The Piazza Michelangelo offers the best view of the city. Take a stroll up the hill on the edge of the city to take in the wonderful architecture and beauty of this famous city of the renaissance.
2. The Leaning Tower Of Pisa
The famous slanted tower is a can’t miss when traveling through Italy’s wine country. The structure is the bell tower to the cathedral of the city and is located in the same plaza. The tower was completed in 1372 after almost 200 years of work. Though the lean is unintentional it is certainly a happy accident. Can you get the tower standing up straight again?
3. The Tuscan Hills
The rolling hills of this area of Northern Italy are some of the most beautiful in the world. The landscape is especially magical at sunrise and sunset. The sun paints the sky with orange and purple while the green grass of the hills starts to glow. There are few other places in the world more perfectly paired with a great glass of wine and your favorite person.
4. Learn To Cook A Tuscan Meal
Italians can cook a meal! And they won’t be shy to teach you how. In Tuscany you can learn how to make some traditional foods ranging from appetizers all the way down to a sweet sugary desert. The highlight will of course be the pasta. You can make your own noodles from scratch and reap the rewards of your hard work.
5. Wine Tasting and Grape Stomping
When many people think of Tuscany they think of wine. Well, there’s a reason and it’s that the Tuscans are proud of their tradition. Wine is everywhere in the region. Not only are there bottles of wine ready for you to consume, but the hills are littered with grapes ready to be turned into the good stuff. It seems that if you own land in Tuscany, you grow grapes in Tuscany. Take advantage of this rich heritage and visit one of the many vineyards to give their product a try. Look hard enough and maybe you can be a grape harvester and wine maker for the day (queue the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode).
6. The Cyprus Trees
The landscape of Tuscany creates an unforgettable image to any visitor. One of the most iconic sights in the area is the cypress trees. These trees are often planted in long rows along roads or walking paths. They’re used to lead visitors to large estates or important buildings. One can’t help but scan their eyes across the horizon in Tuscany and not be drawn in by these beautiful plants.
Though the creamy milk and sugar concoction is available throughout the country, Tuscans seem to have the most fun with their chilled desert. Maybe it has something to do with getting a cool treat on a warm Tuscan day?
8. Riding Through The Countryside
Get a bike, or a car, or a vespa. Just get something to get you mobile and explore the surrounding area. The region of Tuscany isn’t so big that it can’t be enjoyed in a few days. They will be days that you won’t soon forget.
Siena is one of the three major cities in the region and certainly feels the oldest. The streets are windy and flanked by tall buildings. This city feels like the most “classic Italian” with its narrow throughways, hills, and architecture. In the summer you’ll find clothes hanging outside windows, people enjoying a mid day meal on a patio, or children kicking a ball in a square.
10. The Architecture
The architecture of Tuscany deserves its own special mention. There is a feeling unlike any other place in the country. The bricks, arches, landmarks, and everyday buildings pull you into the atmosphere of the area. The people of Tuscany are proud of their heritage and work hard to preserve the feeling of closeness. Take a stroll through any street and you’ll feel it for yourself.
We don’t usually suggest just a day trip for any given place, but that was all we had when visiting the beautiful city of Pisa in Tuscany, Italy. So, here is our break down of what to do with just one day in Pisa.
1. Walk The Streets
We came in on the train and started heading in the general direction of the well known “Leaning Tower” because our ultimate goal was to see the structure and take a bunch of goofy photos in front of it. We were amazed by the beautiful cobble stoned streets and the gorgeous architecture around us. The city has a very old feel. The structure of the buildings, the shutters and windows, and the columns will all pull you into an older time. The city is just fun to walk around in. It’s not too big so that you get lost, but just winding enough to make you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere magical. As a bonus there are plenty of street performers and musicians to help you slip into the vibe of the city. Take a break and let the entertainment move you.
One of the first things that you’ll notice while following the advice of step number one is that Pisa is a city for shopping. The city may have an old feel with its narrow streets and architecture, but it certainly attracts a lot of modern labels. We came across a number of the usual suspects from Coin and H&M to Desigual and Yamamay. On the non-clothing side there were watch stores, toy stores, and an abundance of gift stores.
Pisa is a great place to pick up a gift or two for your friends and family. Because there are so many gift stores and stalls throughout the city the prices are low. You’ll find all sorts of trinkets to bring back from the famous masks you’d find in Venice to bottle openers and magnets with he famous tilted building of the city.
Another great part about shopping in Pisa is that you don’t have to go out of your way to get it done. The shops seems to be perfectly placed around every main thoroughfare. Italy is famous for their street markets and Pisa seems to have them at every turn.
After the long train ride and some wandering and shopping you may began to get hungry. After all, you only have one day in Pisa so you may as well enjoy some of the food! Take a little bit of time to sit, relax, and enjoy the atmosphere of the streets. During our travels we found the food in Tuscany to be amazing and Pisa is no different.
As with every city in Italy there are numerous cafes and gelaterias. Pick one of them. Just go sit down and order your favorite drink. Maybe use this time to get out of your comfort zone and order something unique? The pizza above is a local specialty. It’s a normal cheese and sauce pizza with balsamic vinegar and arugula (or Rocket as it’s called over here). It sounds strange, but it was delicious!
4. Museums and Churches
As with many cities there are museums and churches. The most popular ones in the city are the ones around the Leaning Tower, but you will have to pay to enter those and will be given a specific time to go into them. The way to make the most out of your day would be to get your tickets in advance or early on in the day so you can schedule your time slot. When we went we had to wait nearly two hours to get into the church pictured above and that really didn’t fit into our plans.
Around the basilica and tower there is a fenced off grass area that you are not allowed to walk on. However, on the far end of the courtyard there is one large grassed area that people are allowed to be on and believe me they take advantage of this. There you will find families frolicking, sunbathers reading or just laying out, and people picnicking. Go ahead, lay on the grass, and take in the lively atmosphere around you.
This is a great place to enjoy a snack or a packed lunch in the sun. There are so many people around, but there seems to be plenty of room on the green. You get to sit in the shadow of the famous Pisa baptistry and take a break after following the advice from our next tip.
6. The Leaning Tower
You knew this piece of advice was coming. No trip to Pisa would be complete with out seeing the Leaning Tower and taking one of those silly pictures of you trying to hold it up. Don’t worry, you won’t look that strange because literally everyone around you is doing the exact same thing. People go to great lengths to play with perspective and hold up the tower. You’ll find people standing on posts or each other’s shoulders just to get their perfect picture with the tower.
As travelers we set up our tripod and remote and started snapping away. We started “leaning” against the tower, holding it up, and just plain going crazy. This will be the highlight of your day. It’s one of the only monuments that we can think of that provides its own entertainment.
Maybe after your photo op you’ll climb the 294 steps up to the top and take in the views of Pisa from such great (tilted) heights. If you do nothing else from your time in this iconic city you need to go spend some time around the tower. Most of our day was spent doing interesting things in the shadow of this monument. The tower was our only primary objective and we were pleased to find that there was plenty to do all around. From the tower you can easily check off the other items on the list all you need to do is pick a direction and start your adventure.
Dublin is a wonderful Irish city and offers many great sights and activities for anyone visiting. One of the best parts about the city is that you can get almost anywhere on foot. Believe me, we walked the whole thing searching for pigs for our post Pigs on Parade. The city is jam packed with fun, friends, and activities all within a few steps from wherever you’re staying. Here are our seven favorite things to see and do during your time in this energizing place.
1. Pub And A Pint
The very first thing you’ll want to do (if you’re me anyway) when you get off that plane or boat is to go grab a drink. Fortunately, Ireland is just the place to fill this need. The best way to experience the food and culture of Dublin is to go find a pub. Any pub, it doesn’t matter. Walk in and start making friends. Be sure to order a beef and Guinness pie, you won’t regret it.
2. Trinity College
The campus of this famous college in the center of the city is filled with wonderful architecture and monuments. Spend some time wandering around the public areas and feel the energy of the students running around to classes or relaxing at the cafe. If you’re interested in a bit of history (you should be) check out the library where you can learn the history behind the Book of Kells and see The Long Room. The latter two parts of the college were pay to enter (about 9 euro each), but the Long Room at the end is stunning and the museum makes it worth the cost.
3. Tour the Guinness Brewery
Admittedly, the brewery is one of those “touristy” things to do and it almost feels like a tourist trap for all of us non-locals. Let me set the record straight: it is a tourist trap. But, it’s one that you can wholeheartedly embrace.
Once inside the brewery Chris and I felt like we walked into some sort of Willy Wonka factory of beer. There was a water fall and a tunnel of lights. We kept waiting for a river of Guinness to appear (we were only slightly sad when we never found one, but they did give us a free pint!). Actually, the free pint is one of the main attractions here. You have two options:
- Go up to the 7th floor sky bar and they’ll pour you out a pint of the best stout while you take in the views of the city
- Learn how to pour your own “perfect pint” on the 4th floor. Here you gather around some taps while an employee teaches you how to make the perfect concoction. When you’re done you get to enjoy your handiwork.
- The secret third option! Do both (kinda). You can learn how to pour your own Guinness on the 4th floor and then take the elevator up to the 7th. This is the best option and gives you the most of your tour.
So, go learn how Guinness is made and how the brewing tradition is still alive today. They even use the same strain of yeast from the original recipe. After each batch some yeast is pulled out and used in the next batch of beer for consistency! A trip to Dublin just isn’t complete without a tour of the the Storehouse.
4. Dublin Castle
When visiting Dublin the Dublin Castle should be on your list of places to visit. As with any surviving piece of history this complex of towers and walls is filled with great history. The grounds are a pleasure to walk around and it’s only a short walk from Trinity College. We recommend doing the two in the same trip.
5. Visit Some Of The City’s Many Galleries
There are no shortage of galleries in
Dublin and all of the ones we encountered were free. The art and creativity will astound you. We were surprised at how in touch Dublin was with its artsy side. In addition to all of the locally owned shops the city hosts The National Gallery of Ireland. Entry to the national gallery is also free so you have no reason to keep away from this trove of antiquities.
6. Temple Bar
Temple Bar is a weird name and it took us a few tries to figure out what everyone was talking about. What is ‘Temple Bar’? Is it a pub? Is it a new club? How about a restaurant? Temple Bar is not the name of one place in particular, but a region of the city. The ‘Temple Bar area’ is just south of the River Liffey and spans a few streets. It’s a bit like saying the soho region of London or New York (but smaller). Temple Bar is filled with shops and pubs. The area really comes alive at night (hint, this would be a good place to go knock off #1 on the list).
7. Samuel Beckett Bridge
The Samuel Beckett Bridge is one that should be seen in person. While you’re there walk across the bridge and take in the views of the River Liffey. Get pictures from one side of the river and then cross. Walk west while taking pictures of the bridge until you come to a footbridge that also spans the river. Cross that bridge (keep taking those pictures!) and head back to the Samuel Beckett Bridge. This way you’ve just walked a nice square and get plenty of shots of a wonderful piece of architecture in the city. Fun fact, the bridge is meant to evoke the symbol of the harp (also the Guinness logo) which is the coat of arms of Ireland. There you have it; our top 7 things to do when visiting Dublin. What are yours? Be sure to share in the comments below!