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Sienna Palio festival logistics question

Never been to Sienna. Palio festival in Sienna looks amazing.
I love to go in 2021. I know it takes place twice a year... Is July or August more preferable??
Anybody recommend staying in Sienna as compared to taking a day trip from Florence?

I am not a big fan of big crowds on hot muggy days.. but if anybody recommends it, can you tell us your experience and the logistics of attending such an event?
thank you.

Posted by
1 posts

Hey there, made an account just to reply to you :) long time lurker.
We were fortunate enough to be in the area in 2019 and decided to stay in Siena. I think staying in Siena was the right call so we were not rushed out of there trying to catch the train back to florence.

If you actually want to see the event, you have two options.
somehow buy a bleacher seat, i think they are expensive and you have to search hard and buy early.
or stand in the center for free.
We stood in the center for free for about 5 hours. once your in the middle you cant really leave until the event is over. (no bathrooms). At a certain time they close the center and you cant go in or out. but i would expect to be in the center for 3-5 hours with A LOT of people. but thats was kind of part of the thrill for us. We were there in July and it was HOT.
you could also choose to watch on a tv in a local bar and go out in the streets before and after.

The horse race itself wasnt too exciting in my opinion, my wife loved it. it only lasts a few minuets but the parade before last well over an hour. The real excitement for me was watching the local people be so passionate about it and parade through the streets before, during and after.

I dont feel the need to see it again, would actually like to see Siena not during the palio because im sure its quite different. But i wouldnt take back our experience for the world.

I would say that if you dont like heat and big crowds, then dont go out of your way to see it, but if you happen to be near the area during that time, then get a place in Siena for the night and see it. Truly could be a once in a lifetime oppurtinity.

hope that helps.

Posted by
6058 posts

We were there the day before the race when the neighborhood had parades in medieval dress. They walked the horses around too. Each neighborhood has a flag and scarves are made in the flags. images. Our whole family still has their scarves with the distinct mascot on them. It was so much fun to be in Siena at that time, the end of June.

Posted by
104 posts

Siena held an unusual third Palio in 2018 and we were fortunate enough to be there the week prior to the race. Just being there as a part of the build up was a great treat. There were warmup parades and groups practicing their drum and flag routines in courtyards around the city. While we left before the actual race we had some great experiences and didn't have to deal with crowds. We would do it again in a heartbeat.

Posted by
150 posts

The first answer give you a lot of details and is a perfect description about what you can expect the day of the race.
What I can add is that in fact the race itself last around one minute to complete the three laps. The starting procedure is pretty complicated and if you don't know the rules and background could be a little annoying! Usually it's half an hour long, but sometimes became much longer! (the shorter I remember was around ten minutes, the longest much more than one hour!)
Going the days before the Palio could be a good idea. Usually there are practices very similar to the real race, but the square is much less crowded. Of course the historical parade is much shorter or not present, but there are other activities in the Quarters (Contrade). For example you can enjoy one of the dinner the Contrada arrange to finance the race.

One very important thing to keep always in mind: people of Siena take the Palio very seriously and often foreigners aren't seen very well (as foreigner I mean anybody not indigenous of the city!). There are some religious moments usually reserved to the member of the Contrada and even when the citizens are along the streets they could became aggressive. Very often we read of tourists attacked and beaten to be in the wrong place or do something wrong. Remember even that any Contrada has an enemy one, so if you purchase a scarf of a Contrada be sure to don't go in the enemy area of Siena: is like to go in stadium in the opposite hooligans sector!

Posted by
4722 posts

I am not a big fan of big crowds on hot muggy days..

Me too. But that says it all. Don't do this.

I've been to Siena, (one "n") but on the day after Palio. I suggest that you do some reading on New Years Eve in New York City, including the subject of adult diapers. (No kidding ... ) TripAdvisor is one place to do this. OTOH, for big money, you can buy a seat in a cafe, which would provide for both intake and output of liquids. I'm sure you have to pay in full, months in advance.

We were disappointed that the Palio didn't seem to be on TV.

Posted by
150 posts

About the cost of a seated place is around 200€ per person on a bench in the stand. Could be even higher. Another way is rent a window, but the cost is of course much higher than in a stand. The benefit of the stand (or a window) is that you access from outside the square, so you aren't blocked inside for 5 hours.
For the days before the Palio the cost of a seat is much lower, could be 10/20€ per person and some days here are more than one test.
I suggest you to read the official Palio website, where a lot of things about scheduling and what mean the Palio week are explained: https://www.ilpalio.org/palioenglish4.htm

Posted by
104 posts

Ricky - thanks for pointing out the need to be respectful. My wife and I are reserved by nature and so did all of our observing from a distance. And looking back it does seem that even practicing was a serious act. They were not performing for anyone's entertainment.

Posted by
60 posts

Thank you all for your wonderful reply.
I saw Rick's video on this, and he was mentioning before the race, there are competing neighbors gather in the square to have communal dinner lasting all night.
As a tourist, how do we get invited to such a festival?

Posted by
150 posts

We were disappointed that the Palio didn't seem to be on TV
Usually is broadcasted by National Italian TV for free. Try the day of Palio on the website of RaiPlay: https://www.raiplay.it/ . Usually the broadcast starts at 6pm (Italian time, while the race starts around 7pm) for the parade. If you understand Italian they are even explaining the rules, tradition and folklore.

did all of our observing from a distance
Very, good, but the problem is that almost everything is performed in the historical center, where streets are very narrow so is almost impossible observing from distance ;-) . Even the square in fact is not very large.

communal dinner lasting all night
Often each quarter (Contrada) arrange a dinner for themselves, but even one (or more) opened to the public, or mixed. Is done even to collect the money and fund the race. Unfortunately there isn't a website where to book the dinner, but you must check on-line on the websites of each Contrada (and the most are in Italian only...). The best is going through a dealer, like a local travel agency (and you can hire even a guide for the visit of Siena) or you can even ask to your hotel if you stay in Siena for the night.

Posted by
801 posts

The 4 or 5 days before the Palio is magical. The flag throwers are all around the city practicing (listen for the drums to find them). Bands are marching through the streets. The horses are being brought out onto the race path. The decorations and beng put up and the parties are beginning. Each day is different though. Every day there are more additions to the medieval dress to the humans and the horses. Remember that the horse, not the rider, determines the winner. So the horses get plenty of time in the Campo. The day before is basically a dress rehearsal. All this without the crowds. After the race itself it can be great to walk around and enjoy the victor's excitement.

I made the mistake, my first year, of doing a day trip from Florence. As wonderful as it was, I've never made that mistake again. I always stay in Siena and daytrip to Florence if I must.

BTW, Sienna is a car. :)

Posted by
4287 posts

We were disappointed that the Palio didn't seem to be on TV.

When we were on the Village Italy tour in 2017, our group stayed in a hotel outside Siena the evening of the July palio. It was televised; my husband watched it while I was doing something else.

Posted by
3561 posts

Gene, I’ll throw out an idea since you don’t like big crowds and hot muggy weather. There are other festivals in nearby towns you might want to consider. The Arezzo “ Giostra del Saracino” is twice a year - June & September. I attended the September event in 2018.

There’s similarities- contrada (neighborhoods) competing with fierce loyalty and rivalry. The day of the event is full of parades, drums, official opening announcements, and I can’t forget the early cannon going off a block from my B&B to start the program! ; ).

September would be cooler weather probably, and the crowd isn’t trapped inside the piazza inner ring since the horses are running diagonally through the piazza with the jousting. I think everyone moved into the piazza about 30 minutes before the event. I was one of the first in the stands; tickets were 40-100 Euro for the best seats. Standing was 10E I think. I was glad to be in the stands because there were a couple of instances of cheating that caused the contrada involved to break out in fights. Up in the stands, it was safe and just another element to the event!

I’ve been to Siena - love that city! But of the two, it sounds like you might really prefer the Arezzo Jousting, instead.