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Palio di Siena 2024: How to Watch Italy’s Greatest Horse Race

Everything you need to know about the Palio di Siena 2024!

The Palio di Siena is an incredible, twice-yearly bareback horse race around the circumference of the Piazza del Campo in Siena, Italy. Every year on July 2 and August 16, residents and lucky tourists gather in the heart of the city to watch ten jockeys and their horses duke it out for first place in a 90-second race that leaves hearts pounding.

My husband and I attended last year’s horse races and it’s one of our favorite travel memories we’ve ever experienced!

Keep reading down for my full day-of guide to getting inside Piazza del Campo for Palio di Siena 2024 and experiencing all the action for yourself!

Who Participates in This Italian Horse Race

The Palio di Siena as we know it today has been a tradition since at least 1633. The riders and horses each represent a different neighborhood, or contrada, within the city of Siena.

In total, there are 17 contrade. A maximum of only 10 riders can fit onto the small clay track though, so this means the neighborhoods must take turns competing.

The first seven slots are allocated to the neighborhoods who didn’t compete last year. The last three slots are allocated by luck of the draw.

Representation in Siena’s Horse Race

Each neighborhood is represented by a unique flag and symbol. Residents wear their neighborhood’s flag and colors to show their support, much like fans of football, hockey or basketball wear apparel with the symbols and colors of their team.

This being Italy, there is no shortage of passion and exuberance for one’s contrada. Often the Sienese will have the same contrada for their whole lives. Talk about commitment!

The total list of contrade is as follows:

Aquila (Eagle)Bruco (Caterpillar)
Chiocciola (Snail)Civetta (Little Owl)
Drago (Dragon)Giraffa (Giraffe)
Istrice (Crested Porcupine)Leocorno (Unicorn)
Lupa (She-wolf)Nicchio (Seashell)
Oca (Goose)Onda (Wave)
Pantera (Panther)Selva (Forest)
Tartuca (Tortoise)Torre (Tower)
Valdimontone (Valley of the Ram)

Who’s Competing in the 2024 Palio di Siena

The contrade who competed in the July 2, 2024 Palio di Siena (rescheduled to July 3 due to rain) were Giraffe, Seashell, Wave, Valley of the Ram, Little Owl, Unicorn, Panther, Caterpillar, She-wolf and Goose. Wave, or Onda, was palio winner 2024.

The contrade confirmed to be competing on August 16, 2024 are Forest, She-wolf, Valley of the Ram, Wave, Seashell, Unicorn and Little Owl. The remaining three contrade for the August race have not yet been selected.

Choose the team you’re cheering for ahead of time and make sure to wear their flag around your shoulders like a true Sienese!

How to Watch the Palio di Siena 2024 – What to Expect

For those unable to attend in person, the Palio di Siena will be broadcast on Italian TV network La7.

For those lucky enough to be in Siena, there’s a few viewing options:

  • Firstly, you can book tickets in advance and reserve a balcony seat overlooking the main square. This is an expensive option that requires months of preplanning.
  • Secondly, you can stand on your tippy toes and peek into the central piazza from one of the surrounding streets. This option is simple, but doesn’t guarantee you a very good vantage point.
  • Or the third option for viewing is my favorite—gain entry to Piazza del Campo and watch the race from the most central point, the heart of the city.

Event Schedule and Where to Go

At 2:30 p.m. or so, each contrada blesses their horse and jockey, then participates in a long, weaving parade traversing the city. You can hear drums beating, crowds cheering and feel the excitement all day across Siena.

Around 5 p.m., this large parade will arrive in the main Piazza del Campo where the horse race occurs. At this point, you’ll begin noticing crowds of people rushing through the streets all in one direction.

If you’d like to try your hand at getting inside the main piazza for the viewing opportunity of a lifetime, my recommendation is to follow these crowds.

They will inevitably lead you to Piazza Mercato, which is one of the main congregating points for those hoping to be let into the main square.

Police will be closely monitoring the crowds in this area and slowly allow people from Piazza Mercato up to Via Giovanni Dupre. It is from this street that the gates are opened and people are allowed to walk across the race track and enter the main piazza to wait for the start of the race.

Piazza Mercato is one of the gathering points for Palio spectators wanting to gain access inside Piazza del Campo.

Palio di Siena Tickets

Entry to the main piazza is permitted on a first come first served basis, and you do not need a ticket. There are no tickets sold for the standing room only area in Piazza del Campo. Only the overhead, balcony viewing spaces require tickets and advance booking.

The race itself is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. on July 2 and 7 p.m. on August 16. Although often, there are false starts that delay the race. Occasionally, the races must be postponed a day due to inclement weather. The July 2, 2024 palio, for example, was rescheduled to July 3 due to rain.

After the race concludes, the winning contrada is awarded a long, custom silk banner with a silver plate. This banner, affectionately called “the rag” by locals, is hoisted up on a black and white shaft and paraded through town.

My Tips for Attending the Palio di Siena 2024

Get there early. Parking lots around the city tend to fill up fast if you’re driving. I’d recommend arriving by 11 a.m. at the latest.

Another tip: sometimes parking lots will have signs that say they’re full, but in fact they’re actually only at about 75% capacity. If you can drive around to get a better look at the lot, you may be able to sneak on in and secure a spot while others give up and drive past.

Bring water. It gets very hot in Siena in July and August. Don’t spoil your fun by risking dehydration. Come prepared with one or two bottles of water.

Bring cash. There are some vendors setup along the waiting route selling drinks, snacks, nuts and sweets. Most only accept cash, even in 2024. Keep this in mind and keep some jingle in your pocket.

My Instagram reel shows what it’s like to be in Piazza del Campo in the heart of Siena for the Palio races.

Go to the bathroom IMMEDIATELY BEFORE getting in line to enter the horse race piazza. Once you’re in line and eventually inside Piazza del Campo, you cannot be let out unless it’s an absolute emergency. And even in that case, you won’t be let back in.

Don’t drink too much! It’s important to walk the fine line between staying hydrated, and not drinking so much that you’ll need to go to the bathroom while you’re still waiting for the event to begin. It’s a balancing act, but doable. I recommend sipping on water slowly throughout the several hours you’ll inevitably spend waiting. If we managed it, so can you!

Be patient. Navigating the crowds and making your way into Piazza del Campo for the Palio di Siena takes time. There’s a lot of waiting and you’re surrounded very closely by hundreds of other people.

If you’re prone to overheating, hate tight crowds or have young children, I do not recommend attempting to get inside Piazza del Campo. It’s a rough and tumble kind of event that’s more of a marathon for spectators than a sprint.

The energy and excitement of Siena’s horse race makes for a remarkable experience. The city’s beauty and the passion of its residents will be on full display.

Save and bookmark this page to remember for your next trip to Tuscany!

Palio di Siena Commonly Asked Questions

When is the Palio di Siena?

The main horse races of the Palio di Siena 2024 are on July 2 and August 16.

Do you need a ticket for Palio di Siena?

There are no tickets for the standing room only section inside Piazza del Campo. If you’d like to view the race from one of the upper balconies surrounding the square, then yes—you will need to have purchased a ticket well in advance. I suggest reaching out to Tuscan Team or Tick Italy, who offer apartment rentals with balconies overlooking Piazza del Campo where the race is run.

Why do Italians celebrate Palio di Siena?

This horse race has been a tradition for the Sienese since the early 1600s. It’s a core part of their local identity and they take great pride in supporting their horse and jockey.

Is Palio Siena worth it?

This horse race in Siena is absolutely worth the effort it takes to plan a trip to the hilltop city. You’ll get caught up in the excitement and enthusiasm of the day, and make irreplaceable memories with your fellow travelers. Plus, viewing from Piazza del Campo is free!

Who won the last Palio di Siena?

Onda (Wave) contrada won the palio on July 3, 2024. Selva (Forest) won the Palio on July 2, 2023 and Oca (Goose) won the Palio on August 16, 2023.

Who has the most wins in the Palio di Siena?

Oca (Goose) has the most historical wins with a total of 66. Chiocciola (Snail) has the second most wins at 51. Tartuca (tortoise) is third with 49 wins.

How many laps is the Palio di Siena horse race?

Horses and jockeys in the Palio di Siena must complete 3 laps. If the jockey falls off or is thrown off, a horse can still win without his rider.

Is Siena a walkable city?

Yes, you can park your car or take a bus to the outskirts and easily walk into the main historical city center. Siena is on a hilltop, but there are plenty of escalators that make navigating to the highest points a breeze.

RELATED LINKS

No trip to Italy would be complete without a visit to a Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factory!

If you’re headed to Florence, be sure to read my guides to the best wine windows and the best rooftop bars in the city.

 
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