Palio di Siena

The Palio di Siena
The Palio. (Photo by Janus Kinase)

A bareback, breakneck horse race around the Campo in Siena

The Palio is one of Europe's most famous medieval contests and festivals, a bareback breakneck horse race around the central Piazza del Campo, which is packed with dirt—and thronged with spectators—for the occasion.

The race pits Siena's 17 traditional contrade (neighborhoods) against one another—though the jockeys are ringers brought in from the Maremma, Sardegna, or abroad.

The race itself only lasts about 90 seconds, but the pageantry and preparations before it go on for days.

When is the Siena Palio?

The Palio is actually run twice each summer: on July 2 and August 16.

How to get seats at the Palio

If you arrive early enough in the day, you can stake out a free spot to stand in the center of the piazza—but then you have to stand there, all day, in the heat, with no port-a-potty available. Also, most of what you will see is the back of other people's heads.

This is one occassion in which it is wise to pony up the considerable cash to buy a seat in the grandstands (palco) or, even better, on a balcony.

All seats are sold by the various private entities that own the buildings ringing the piazza, and it used to be a bit difficult to track down tickets, which start around $600.

Now, however, you can Reserve seats directly from our partners Select Italy, which makes things a whole lot easier (though sadly, not any cheaper). They even offer three-night packages:

Duration: All day (race: 90 seconds)
Cost: From €525 per person

» book

Siena's Palio: The 400-year-old Thrilling Horse Race

The Palio occurs just twice each summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, and the pure excitement of this festival that has survived almost intact from the Middle Ages is unequaled in Italy. Share in the excitement by booking a reserved seat in the beautiful, shell-shaped Campo and choose just how close to the action you wish to be. You'll have a great view of the historical parade in which the costumed members of the 17 medieval contrade, or city wards, parade through the piazza along with their assigned horse and the sbandieratori (flag throwers) who launch their colorful banners into the air. Then, at the stroke of 7 p.m., the ten chosen horses line up at the starting line and the race begins -- three laps around the piazza; don't blink or you might miss it because this thrilling, bareback race lasts only 90 seconds! ...

Package: 3 nights
Cost: From €1,181 per person

» book

Siena Palio: The Race That Stops the Nation!

The Palio occurs just twice each summer, on July 2nd and August 16th, and the pure excitement of this festival that has survived almost intact from the Middle Ages is unequaled in Italy.

The Palio is not just a medieval horse race, it's a festival rich in tradition that is televised live on national TV. For the citizens of Siena, this event is all about neighborhood pride and rivalry; the Palio is also the continuation of a medieval tradition associated with religion and honor.

The night before the race, you'll bask in the undeniable atmosphere of excitement by attending the exclusive, invitation-only contrada dinner. Here you'll sit with the locals and enjoy enormous bowls of pasta and exquisite wine.

On race day you have reserved tickets to watch the event from one of the many balconies or in the grandstand on the Piazza del Campo.

The package includes:

  • 3-night stay at the 4-Star Hotel Athena or at the 3-Star Chiostro del Carmine or at the 3-Star Villa Liberty
  • Daily breakfast
  • Reserved ticket for the historical parade and the horse race (balcony seats)
  • Walking tour of Siena and visit to a contrada museum
  • Contrada banquet dinner (4-course dinner with wine; by invitation only)


Tips & useful links

Book ahead!!!

If you really want to see the Palio, do spend the money to book grandstand or balcony tickets. Yes, they start around $600. Yes, they are worth it. » book.

Useful links & resources
Siena tourist information

Siena tourist information office
Piazza del Campo 56
tel. +39-0577-280-551

Also useful: (private) (private)

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★★ Piccolo Hotel Etruria [€€–€€€]
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Palio di Siena
Piazza del Campo
July 2 and Aug 26
Book tickets: Select Italy

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