A Siena Tradition: The Palio Experience
This bareback horse race between the Siena's highly competitive contradas (districts), is a once-in-a-lifetime experience only seen in this Tuscan city.
Attending Siena’s famous Palio, a bareback horse race between the city’s highly competitive contradas (districts), is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The Palio takes place twice a year on July 2nd and August 16th around the perimeter of the main square, just as it has for centuries past.
Though we highly recommend attending the Palio, the intense race and lively accompanying celebrations can be overwhelming and confusing for newcomers, so we typically organize a two-day guided itinerary to help visitors get the most from this rich and unique cultural experience. Keep in mind that this is just a sample itinerary – we’re delighted to customize based on your group’s interests.
Day 1 – July 1st or August 15th
- Take a guided tour in the afternoon of Siena’s most important sights. As you stroll along the narrow cobble-stoned streets, learn the city’s medieval history and the many historical anecdotes behind the Palio.
- Enjoy the early evening rehearsal of the famous horse race from your seat in Piazza del Campo (the same square where the next day’s race will take place).
- The rehearsal will be followed by a dinner in one of the contradas (Siena is divided into 17 “city-states” called contradas – 13 of these contradas compete twice a year in the horse race). All the fans gather to share the anticipation of the next day and cheer for their favorite jockey. The captain of the contrada hosts the festive dinner and everyone participates with chanting and applause.
Day 2 – July 2nd or August 16th
- Meet with an art historian in the early afternoon to attend to the benediction of the horse in a church located in one of the participating contradas. Then proceed to Piazza of the Cathedral to watch preparations for the Historical Parade, which precedes the race. You’ll see all the contradas represented in medieval costumes, hear drum performances, and watch flag shows.
- Later, take your seat in Piazza del Campo or in one of the prestigious residences overlooking the square to enjoy the Historical Parade followed by the exhilarating horse race (usually lasting less than 90 seconds!).
- After the race, you can choose to have dinner in the square where the winning contrada celebrates its victory. Enjoy the incredibly exciting atmosphere as you dine surrounded by candlelit palazzos.
Ready to start planning your Italy villa vacation? Our concierge team can help! They can arrange all the details for experiences (including the ones above), plus provide you with insider tips to make your trip memorable.