We have twice been in Siena during the Palio but never wanted to brave the crowds. One option is to spend the day before the Palio in Siena. It is a very festive day where the contradas march and sing throughout the streets and the townspeople eat at long, celebratory tables through Siena. It is a nice way to experience the history and festiveness of Palio without actually going to the Palio. I cannot speak to the parking issue on the actual day because we were staying outside of Siena as well. But there are multiple carparks around the walls - would think you would want to get there very early.
Twelve years ago, we were in Siena for a week which included the Palio. When we arrived, four days beforehand, we found a spot in one of the carparks and our landlady advised us not to move the car because it would be increasingly difficult to find a spot.
There are two places for spectators. Stands are erected around the perimeter of the Campo, and expensive tickets are sold to sit there. The alternative is to go into the middle of the Campo before the festivities start, and hope you can find a spot where you can see part of the race.
There are a number of practice races held before the actual Palio race, and we went to one of them, standing in the middle of the Campo. Although we were right next to the track, we found we could see the horses for only a fraction of a second as they came past us. On the day of the Palio, we decided it was not worth while to spend several hours in the sun in the Campo, and we watched the race on television.
For us, the highlight was the previous evening, where we attended one of the pre-race dinners in the square next to the Duomo.
Does anyone have information on how to get tickets to the Contrada dinners on the night before the race?
Matt...Months before the dinner, the place I was planning to stay at put me in touch with a person able to get three dinner tickets and balcony seats the day of the Palio. For both, I did pay arm and half a leg.
Thanks. The Palio tickets are absurdly expensive. I was just thinking of taking the fam to a dinner on July 1 but can't find anywhere online to purchase them.
Yes, our hotel advised us where we could go to get the tickets. There are huge dinners in the open for all the contrade who are competing. All the festivities and speeches are in Italian of course and the meal is fairly simple, but ample, usually cooked by the contrada women. We were sat at a table with other straneri.