Palio of Siena (Palio di Siena)
Many seasonal Siena tours are timed to coincide with the July 2nd and August 16th races, when the city’s UNESCO-listed Piazza del Campo is covered in sand to form a race track. Most tours also take in the entertaining festivities surrounding the Palio, including the processions of locals decked out in medieval garb.
If you can’t make it to see the race, choose a tour that stops at a local Contrada Museum and an Oratory to get a glimpse into the history that surrounds the celebration. Il Palio tours typically stop in nearby San Gimignano or include wine tasting in the Chianti countryside.
Things to Know Before You Go
The town of the Siena and Piazza del Campo are packed with spectators on race days, and are therefore not recommended for those who don’t like crowds.
The festivities surrounding the Palio make for memorable photos so be sure to bring your camera.
Though the square is accessible to wheelchair users, the tightly packed crowds may pose a safety issue for those with limited mobility.
Kids especially love the festive air around the Palio, but families should choose to watch the race from the stands and not with the undisciplined crowds below.
How to Get There
Il Palio is held in the Piazza del Campo and spills into most of Siena’s Old Town; walk or take a city bus from the train station or visit with a tour that includes transport, so you can also explore nearby Tuscan villages.
When to Get There
The highlight of Il Palio is the race, held each year on July 2nd and August 16th. Festivities and events are held in the weeks leading up to and following the races.
The Origin of Siena’s Palio
Il Palio of Siena dates back to the 16th century, when locals wanted a sporting event to replace outlawed bullfighting. The first races used buffalos rather than horses but the Il Palio as we know it started in the mid-1600s. Of Siena’s 17contrade, 10 are represented by a horse and rider in each race, and the winner and hiscontrada get bragging rights until the next Palio.
- Fonte Gaia (Gaia Fountain)
- Piazza del Campo
- Siena Civic Museum (Museo Civico di Siena)
- Mangia Tower (Torre del Mangia)
- Siena Piazza del Mercato
- Baptistery of San Giovanni (Battistero di San Giovanni)
- Siena Cathedral (Duomo)
- Siena Historic Center (Siena Centro Storico)
- Piccolomini Library (Libreria Piccolomini)
- Santa Maria della Scala
- Siena Cathedral Museum (Museo dell’Opera Metropolitana)
- National Art Gallery of Siena (Pinacoteca Nazionale Siena)
- Basilica of San Domenico (Basilica di San Domenico)
- Montalcino Fortress (Fortezza di Montalcino)