The Palio of Siena is one of the most famous historical events in Italy and therefore there are loads of information and pictures about it.
What I should try to focus on is the experience of this event from the family’s point of view, i.e. when travelling with kids, especially babies and toddlers.
First of all, you need to decide where to find an accommodation, i.e. historical city centre vs countryside resort. I have experienced both, therefore I am able to be quite objective. Any place in the historical centre will require a 3nights minimum stay, which might be a good choice if you have never been in Siena before.
The must you cannot miss are: attending a contrada dinner and a Palio trials and/or the Race, of course. The problem with the historical centre is that contrada’s ultras play drums and sing loudly around the little alleys surrounding Piazza del Campo till late night. Also, you will happen to be “amused” by the rather unpleasant noise of vans collecting rubbish outside public places, which starts from 4-5 am. Therefore, make sure your accommodation has double glasses windows and it is acclimatized so that you do not need to keep windows open.
If you are booking something on the hillside surrounding Siena, make sure your place is not spotted on a “white road”, made of the typical white clay, which might be rather dark at night when getting back from a contrada dinner.
Last but not least, the parking issue! Make sure your hotel has a convenient parking area in the historical centre, where you can drop your car for the whole stay. You may go crazy looking for affordable or free parking stalls, trying to avoid being fined. Siena is developed over a hilly landscape and, according to the place you are parking, it might not be easy to stroll your buggy. My suggestion goes for the Fortezza parking area, which is rather expensive (€20 per day), but very close to the city centre and allows a comfortable plain walk to reach for it.
Second issue is about food. Siena will be quite packed with tourists during the Palio days and restaurants will be crowded of people any time of the day. Make sure you reserve your place in advance and that it allows room enough to drive your buggy or pram.
Most restaurants are located in historical venues with very small tables, all very close one to each other. To make it easier, you might buy some focaccia bread or pizza or gelato in one of the many spots swarming about, but no toilet and changing room will be available for your baby.
All in all, if you wish to visit Siena during the Palio days with kids, I’d rather have a half-board accommodation in the historical centre in hotel conveniently located in 5 mins walk from Piazza del Campo and not necessarily next to it.
Third and main issue is about Palio tickets. There is no official channel to buy tickets, but you will find concierge services, hotels and even the tourism office ready to help you.
You might be interested to know that buggies and prams are NOT allowed in the square during the Palio trials and races. This means that there is only one way to attend this thrilling event with your family, i.e from one the viewing spots located around the square in historical buildings and towers. They are usually quite expensive, but the price decrease sensitively for trials and on August race.
The more you arrange your booking in advance, the more you can find availabilities. I was on top of a tower overlooking the square and, apart from training myself and my husband climbing 8 floors to reach for the top, the feeling was unforgettable. The atmosphere is amazing and children usually enjoy it a lot. If children are already walking, I’d rather go for an historical palace window which allows more space to move around and no hurdles to come across.
Last but not least, the contrada dinner. You cannot go to the Palio and miss one. They are the place where you get the real feeling of contrada people for the event. Hundreds of guests are served by contrada young.
If you are thinking that the Palio is not the right place for children, I could say that my daughter, 4 years old, was absolutely catched by drums playing and singing of contrada people, colourful flags all around streets and alleys, stunning horses, her silky contrada “Onda” neckerchief, the contrada dinner and its hymns. She is still repeating the one she heard: <<Lu-Lu-Lupe!!!>>.
We are happy, we could share this experience all together and that we will be able to repeat it as children grown and gain awareness.
Here some suggestions on places and services I have personally reviewed:
Jacopo della Torre: Tickets and exclusive locations for the Palio races and contrada dinners. www.jacopodellatorre.com
Hotel Athena: In the city centre, comfortably located, but not in the middle of noise. Private parking available for guests. Ask for 3rd floor, renovated rooms, as they are larger. www.hotelathena.com
Agriturismo Pietrevive: Just below the Montaperti hill and very close to Siena via the Siena-Bettolle motorway. It is particularly suitable for families with all age children, not only because owners are particularly careful to provide family friendly services, but also because they hold themselves 3 children which are the best way to keep your toddlers “busy”. www.lepietrevive.it
Ristorante Acqua Borra: just at the Montaperti-Casetta exit on the Siena-Bettolle. Very good typical food and affordable price. Nice open air area and gazebo.
Written and contributed by wishversilia