Watching the Palio from the central part of the Piazza del Campo is free for everyone. A ticket is required to access balconies, grandstands, windows, which are all private property. Your Palio experience will vary very much according to the viewpoint selected, and it must be according to your priorities for the day. You should consider if you require more comfort (windows), more action (the grandstands), or maybe a specific view such as the Mossa or the San Martino bend.
All Palio tickets always include the view of the Historical Parade (Corteo Storico), which takes place in the Square before the race. All viewing positions are assigned, and they all guarantee a view as described for the specific position (all spots are different from one other, since both the Square and the palazzi there are all quite irregular). My offer of positions, carefully selected during the years, guarantees the best quality within each category.
During the three days prior to each Palio the Trial Races are run. During the trial races everything looks like on Palio day, and the Square will be totally full. The jockeys will be wearing the colours of their Contradas, and the start is a regular “Mossa”, like on Palio day. The only difference will be in the speed and intensity of the race. Still each Trial Race can rightly be described as a “Little Palio“.
Starting four-five days prior to each Palio, Contrada Dinners are held. Each Contrada holds them in its own district, open-air in some scenic spot of the Old Town. The dinners are an important moment of the Contradas year, but are also a source of income, fundamental to the Contrada’s activities (Contradas are active all year round, the Palio is just their highlight). For those new to Siena and the Palio, the Contrada Dinners are the best occasion to get acquainted with the complexity of the Palio of which one is a guest (and to the likelihood to get “adopted” by someone...)
I can also find hotel rooms, in some cases in houses otherwise sold-out. And I know the best guides, for special visits which go well beyond the Contrada Museum or the Blessing of the Horse. And I always find a table at the best resaturants in town. Enjoying being in Siena does help a lot...