Siena And The Amazing IL Palio

The city of Siena in Central Tuscany is a great inclusion in any itinerary. Whilst smaller and with a different feel to neighbouring Florence its architecture and medieval feel has earned Siena UNESCO World Heritage status.

Arguably Siena is most famous these days for the horse race known as IL Palio. The race (actually races, as there are 2 individual races on July 2nd and August 16 respectively) dates back to the Middle Ages where it was introduced to replace bull fighting which had been banned. Held between various districts of the city, each competes under its own colourful banner and racing uniforms. IL Palio has even made it to the movies as evidenced in the James Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008).

If you are thinking of attending IL Palio then some solid planning will go a long way as there are usually very large crowds packed into the tight city square known as the Campo. If you want a close up view along the rails of the track then you will have to arrive at least 4 hours prior to the beginning of the race. One of the best ways to experience the event as a whole, however, would be to pay what may seem like high prices and book a table at one of the cafes situated along the Campo. This may be approximately €300 to €400 but you will be guaranteed a great vantage point to what is often a “bucket list event” that many may only do once. For this reason alone, we would recommend that you make it the best experience you can by having somewhere to base yourself where you can view both the race and the colourful pageant that precedes the race itself known as Corteo Storico.

The race itself generally lasts for under two minutes with ten bareback jockeys completing 3 circuits of the Piazza del Campo, which has a temporary track created out of dirt that is specially trucked in just for the spectacle. While it’s true that a great deal of preparation goes into just a few minutes of the main event, we Aussies can understand and relate with the fervor of our own Melbourne Cup celebrations!

If the IL Palio is not your thing, there is still many compelling reasons to visit the beautiful city of Siena. Here are just a few:

1. Check out the heart of the city

Outside of IL Palio time the Piazza del Campo is the heart of the city which is said to have evolved from an older Roman market place. The Compo, with its Fonte Gaia (fountain) and beautiful paving and cafes, creates a fantastic atmosphere and good ‘people watching’.

2. Sienna Cathedral is a must

Sienna Cathedral (Piazza del Duomo) is also one of the crowning jewels of the city and you don’t need to be overly religious to appreciate it. The church is a walk through time encompassing a who’s who of great Italian artists with sculpture by the likes of Pisano, Donatello and Michelangelo to name a few.

3. Museum time

Museo dell’Opera del Duomo Museum close to the cathedral also has works that were previously in the church.

4. More fascinating visits

Still in the Piazza del Duomo is the amazing Complesso Museale Santa Maria della Scala which is a cultural centre housing three separate museums.


Visitors to Sienna can save money with various passes that gain you access to various museums and monuments. The OPA SI PASS is great value and can be purchased at any of the venues. We recommend visiting a venue a half hour before opening times to avoid queues.

For more information on tours that include Sienna or to create your own itinerary, please contact us at Europe Holidays Reservations on 1800 242 353.