(Updated May, 2022 for transition from Tiemme to Autolinee Toscane bus service as of Nov, 2021. Please see my two recent books to learn more about Siena and the Palio: Living the Palio and Unbridled Spirit.)
For visitors based in or near Siena, Tuscany’s regional bus service (called Autolinee Toscane – formerly Tiemme SPA) provides an easy, car-free alternative. It is not intuitive to visitors, however. With this post I share my own tips and experience to help you navigate their system with Siena serving as a “home base”.
Bus Timetable and Web Site
Below is a sample schedule of buses from Florence (Firenze) to Siena. The Trip Planner (timetable) web site for Autolinee Toscane is here. (The home page is here, which also has the Trip Planner on it.) The site is naturally in Italian, so you need to enter the Italian city names, Firenze and Siena (after typing in each city name, you will see icons below. Choose the gray-looking building image for each). As you scroll down, you will see different route options. The direct bus between Siena and Firenze, for instance is Route 131R – Rapido, for fastest route. (See my updated posted devoted to taking the bus between Firenze and Siena for beginners). You then click on the box for that route and see the link for additional hours of service (piu informazione e orari – more info and hours). See the two screenshots below with my red oval circles:
SIENA’S BUS TERMINAL
All Tiemme regional buses come and go from Siena’s bus terminal at Piazza Gramsci (also called Via Tozzi on some schedules). Much of Gramsci is actually the bus terminal itself, with three platforms, called “Areas”). Keep in mind that both local and regional buses visit regularly, so it is easy to get confused about where to find the bus you want (I regularly see very confused people darting between parked buses to ask drivers). A general rule is that most (I won’t say all) regional buses departing Siena for elsewhere will board on Area 3, a narrow pedestrian island furthest from the main piazza (pedestrian area). Platforms 1-2 are used primarily by local intercity buses.
There is a digital Timetable sign board at the south end of the island that displays incoming buses and arrival times. (TIP: It may be amusingly hidden behind an ever-growing tree that blocks good viewing. You need to walk right up to it, until someone decides to cut the tree down, which does provide much-needed shade and comfort.) Buses will parallel park on the far side of the narrow island anywhere there is space along its length. About 5-10 minutes before scheduled departure, look at the front of the buses for the destination and number board above the windshield (e.g. San Gimignano 130, see below). All buses have route numbers that correspond to those listed on the Tiemme web site. Keep in mind that bus drivers often take a break or change drivers after the buses arrive from elsewhere, so you may not be able to board or see its digital sign on front until only a few minutes before. Just hang around the area (or suspected bus) until you see some activity.
PURCHASING BUS TICKETS and BOARDING
This is not intuitive, either. Siena’s bus ticket office is located beneath Piazza Gramsci. There are multiple “tunnel” entrances (like subway stops) at Gramsci to enter downstairs. This has been recently renovated, so it’s a very nice, clean facility. Along the main hallway (closest to the west/far side of the bus terminal) is a side office for ticket purchases. There is a new lighted sign hanging from the ceiling that reads “Bus Ticket Office” in English. Inside you will see the expected ticket windows, agents, and designated lines. (The agents can usually speak partial English for basic travel information, though I like to practice my Italian if possible). For day or shorter overnight trips, I recommend purchasing your return tickets at the same time so you don’t need to worry about it at your destination. Just keep them in a safe place. The tickets are universal and can be used on any scheduled bus on that route. When boarding the bus, always validate your ticket by inserting it into the yellow(?) box, providing a time/date stamp. Keep your ticket somewhere accessible during your trip, as police officers sometimes board the bus to check for valid tickets. Don’t get caught without one! This is how their bus system works.