Il Palio Horse Race, A Siena Tradition…

For this week’s blog we’ve taken inspiration from last week‘s Telegraph Travelling Life interview with Michael O Leary’s, where he shares his memories of our beloved Siena and the spectacular Palio di Siena horse race.

A  Siena tradition in briefConsidered by many as the place where to have the best medieval city experience in Italy, is also home to the unique Il Palio horse race. Siena’s most popular tradition is unveiled on the popular Piazza del Campo twice a year on 2 July and 16 August. Ten horses and jockeys take centre stage each representing ten of the seventeen neighbourhoods (contrada) with pride and rivalry (only ten can compete at any time for safety reasons).  The races are identical; however the July Palio is run in honour of the Madonna of Provenzano and the August Palio in honour of the Assumption of Mary.  The first horse to reach the end line wins with or without the jockey!


The excitement The race is preceded by a spectacular pageant parade (Corteo Storico)  with flag wavers dressed in medieval costumes. Just before the pageant, a squad of carabinieri on horseback, wielding swords, demonstrate a mounted charge around the track. They take one lap at a walk, in formation, and a second at a gallop that foreshadows the excitement of the race to come, before exiting down one of the streets that leads out of Piazza del Campo.

What to expect – The race is fast and dangerous and the duration is no longer than 90 seconds! Expect large crowds and a very exciting atmosphere.


We recommend – Explore the winding streets of this enchanting city beforehand as Mr Michael O Leary’s reminisces… “I’ve been there a couple of times for the Palio horse race. It’s a brilliant experience. The race itself only lasts a minute or two, so you’ve got to spend some time in the city beforehand, soaking up the atmosphere and the rivalry between the different districts, each of which is represented in the race. You can see the jockeys and horses being chosen on the eve of the event, and there are lots of feasts and festivities”.

We also recommend booking your ticket for Il Palio horse race as early as possible.  On the day of the event make sure to get to your seats as early as possible and if you plan to dine al fresco, be aware that the streets will  be packed with very joyful crowds.

Before you leave Siena visit:

– The unique Piazza del Campo, a shell shaped piazza at the centre of the city and twice a year the racetrack for the Il Palio.
– The Duomo, Siena’s magnificent black and white Italian Romanesque cathedral including the Libreria Piccolomini and Baptistery.
– Museo dell’Opera del Duomo which includes the famous Maestà by Duccio.
– And for the best view of siena, climb to the Facciatone, a panoramic terrace where you can enjoy fabulous view of Siena.

View our hotels in Siena here and for special packages in Siena click here

For more information about Il Palio Horse Race contact Dean on 020 8940 8399.