Smithsonian at Il Palio di Siena

June 28 – July 4, 2018

Daily life in Siena revolves around its shell-shaped, cobblestone campo, which hosts a historic barebacked horse race dating to the 12th century. Travelers venture from all over the world to witness Il Palio and its traditional colorful pageantry. During this exclusive program, become part of this quintessentially Italian celebration.

Highlights Include

  • Insider Understanding: Learn about Siena’s history and art during a walking tour of the cathedral and baptistry, and the Palazzo Pubblico overlooking the campo. Enter a neighborhood contrada parish church and museum, where an expert provides insight into the history, meaning, and significance of the Palio. Then join your adopted contrada for their al fresco party and dinner. Hear stories about loyalty, devotion, and past victories, and enjoy the festivities as similar celebrations across the city continue into the early hours.
  • Race Day: Watch the pageantry of horses parading through the city with elegantly costumed contrada members, who beat their drums and display their prowess at flag throwing. From your seat in a privately reserved terrace overlooking the campo, watch the drama unfold as the race takes place at breakneck speed and the winning contrada takes the Palio banner. Watch the victory celebrations as you dine near the campo this evening.
travel deeper:

guide expert

Maria Elena Torchio

Maria Elena Torchio is a resident of Siena and a qualified local guide. She is an expert on the history of Siena and the pageantry of the Palio. She has led many Smithsonian groups around her city and looks forward to revealing the significance of the Palio to travelers.


Days 1 & 2 — Depart U.S., Arrive in Florence, Italy

Arrive in Florence and transfer to Siena. Check into the NH Hotel and relax for the afternoon. This evening, gather for a welcome reception and dinner at the hotel. (R,D)

Day 3 — Siena and the Palio

Today, explore the hill town of Siena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Begin in the historic center with a guided tour of Siena’s principal monuments, including the Cathedral with its ornate façade and glorious interior, the baptistery and the 14th century Palazzo Pubblico overlooking the campo, the seashell-shaped square where the race takes place. Enjoy lunch and time at leisure. This afternoon, watch one of the trial races as the jockeys and horses prepare for the race. (B,L)

Day 4 — The Palio Tradition

Today, learn about the true passion and spirit of the Palio with a local expert. The race itself is very short, but the activities leading up to the event happen year around. Travel through one of the contrada to see how these neighboring districts prepare for the big event. Visit the local museum to gain insight into the history, meaning, and significance of the Palio. The living museum contains a fascinating display of objects such as letters, eyewitness accounts, statues, paintings and religious artifacts. Visit the parish church where the jockeys and horses receive blessings prior to the race. Spend the evening with one of the contrada for a lively party and dinner. Hear stories of great victories and learn the devotion and loyalty that the Sienese have for their contrada. Celebrations will continue into the early hours. (B,D)

Day 5 — The Race

Spend the morning at leisure to watch the fascinating rituals and traditions that lead up to the evening race. At 8:00 am a ‘Jockey’s mass’ is celebrated by the Archbishop in the Palazzo Pubblico chapel. Following this, the final trial provaccia is run. For this trial, jockeys traditionally do not exert their horses too much, sparing them for the race. Early in the afternoon, all chosen horses are blessed in their local church where the ceremony concludes with the priest saying, vai e torna vincitore(go and return a winner). For the rest of the afternoon, the horses are paraded through the city for all to see. Behind each horse, costumed representatives from the contrade beat their drums and display their prowess at flag throwing. As the sun starts to go down, take your seat in a terrace overlooking the campo to enjoy the exciting Palio. This evening, after the winning contrada receives the Palio banner, enjoy dinner at a restaurant near the campo to watch the celebrations. (B,D)

Day 6 — Siena / Florence

Following breakfast this morning, check out of the hotel and depart Siena and transfer to Florence. Upon arrival, embark on a walking tour featuring the highlights of Florence. Visit the Accademia to see Michelangelo’s David, venture across the Oltr’arno to visit Palazzo Pitti and the Boboli Gardens, or climb up to Piazzale Michelangelo for a panoramic view of the city. Gather as a group this evening for a celebratory farewell reception and dinner. (B,L,R,D)

Day 7 — Florence / Return to the U.S.

This morning, check out of the hotel and transfer to the Florence airport for individual flights home. (B)

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