If there was one drawback to Palermo, it is the public transportation situation. Other European cities might have figured out this problem throughout the years, but Palermo is still difficult to get around in. There’s no good way to say it, but Palermo’s public transportation system is terrible.
You think of people like Magellan and the discoveries that he made circumnavigating the globe. If he had to use the transportation available in Palermo to do it, he might have only gone a tenth as far before he died an elderly man. In a total of three decades, little to nothing has been done to remedy this problem and it continues through the tourist seasons year after year.
There are few solutions to how to get around Palermo, the first being busses. The problem with the busses is that they are never on time, so you are constantly behind schedule with whatever your plan is. You could choose the taxi services, which are more reliable than the busses, but way overpriced. Finally there is a small semblance of a subway system, but it really only goes to a handful of tourist spots, and doesn’t really aid in getting the full look at the city.
If you really want to have a trip without the transportation woes, rent a car. Italy is a democracy, so it is only right that we look at all of these options one by one so that you can choose what’s best.
How to get around Palermo
Since we will look at each option, I’ll list what’s good and bad about each one. You can choose from these as your preferred method of getting around this Sicilian regional capital city.
With all of the great places to eat, people to meet and incredible sights to see, there had to be a drawback with Palermo. Someone up there had to throw in a downside to counteract all of the luxuries, and that was the transportation system of the city. I will list each option and how you can use them the best.
Public transportation in Palermo really hasn’t changed that much since the nineteenth century, where horse drawn carriages were a bus system of sorts. This omnibus ran all day to shuffle people from place to place. But though they weren’t as fast as modern busses, it still greatly improved the time it took to reach various parts of the city.
I need to tell you a secret. We Sicilians love our traditions and this tradition still exists to this day. Well for the most part it exists anyway. We have gotten rid of the horse-drawn part of the process and replaced it with a seemingly equally slow and consistently crowded modern bus option. You can experience everything about this tradition when you visit. Long trips, waiting forever and crowded spaces are all part of the experience, and you no longer have to smell horse poop to appreciate it.
It really feels like using this bus service is deliberately walking back in time, and not in a great way. It is however, one of the ways that you have to get around town if you don’t end up just renting a car. Silver lining is that you won’t get lost and you won’t get into a car accident riding the bus.
In the event that this is the choice you make for your transportation needs, I’ll give you some good information to help you. AMAT is the official company owned by the city to provide transportation. You can identify them by their orange, blue and white colors. In the front of the bus itself you will find a bright display showing the destination of the bus.
There are several options available to get tickets, and you can get limited time tickets at a number of shops around the city. At the shops, a ticket for 90 minutes is €1.40 but it’s also possible to pay €1.80 and get the limited ticket to ride on the bus itself.
If you are considering the bus as your means of travel, as scary as that sounds, you might consider a multi-day ticket to save your spending money. If you plan on staying in Palermo for several days and plan to use the bus, this is really a financially beneficial choice.
These options are available:
- Daily ticket – €3.50
- 2-day ticket –€ 5.70
- 3-day ticket – €8.00
- 4-day ticket – €10.20
- 5-day ticket – €12.50
- 6-day ticket – €14.60
- 7-day ticket – €16.80
These buses will run from 5:30am to 11:30pm, though it’s pretty unlikely to even see a bus after 10:30. There are limited buses running after midnight on lines 11, 12, 21 and 22.
Don’t try to ride the bus without a proper ticket, because there are regular checks for the appropriate tickets in several parts of the city. Being caught without the right ticket, or a valid one, will likely result in a fine of 52.00, plus the costs of the service you were using at the time.
When To Use The Bus
As someone who lives in this city, I can tell you not to spend a lot of time on the night busses. You and your better half might see the romance in waiting for the sunrise at the bus stop, but for most, the long wait in general is miserable.
You can only really rely on the busses to take you from Old Town back to the new city centre, and then back to Old Town. They aren’t for getting around Palermo as a whole. The best reliable lines of travel for these areas are 101, 102 and 103. If it’s the summer season, line 806 (not available all year) can take you from the city centre to Mondello Beach but beware: this bus is sure to be filled with teens, pickpockets and rude patrons.
It is advisable to get a hotel (or any accommodation) close to the nightlife attractions, so you aren’t wasting your money on taxies. If you can’t get close, renting a car is always more advisable.
2. TAXI SERVICE
It is believed that Bram Stoker himself drew inspiration for his undead monsters from the Sicilian taxi drivers of Palermo. They are truly vampires thirsting for your money. Unfortunately for you, these vampires aren’t afraid of the sun and are waiting and willing to empty your pockets any time of the day or night. But, they are always on time, generally comfortable and will get you where you want to go much more quickly than the bus will.
In fact, Palermo taxi drivers are looking for tourists. They want to reel you in, drive you all around the city getting to where you wanted to go, and then slap you with a big bill. Not to mention the attitude that they did you a favor by showing you the sights on your way.
The taxi service is really very expensive in Palermo. Most Palermitans don’t need or want to take a cab anywhere, so they make their money off of tourists needing to get around the city.
If you don’t mind shelling out way more than you should have to for a ride across town, then you can call the numbers below. If you have luggage with you, you’ll likely be asked to pay even more. Fortunately though, they don’t expect any tips.
- Radio Taxi Trinacria — +39 091 6878
- Autoradio Taxi — +39 091 8481
When To Use The Taxi
You mainly only need to use the taxi if you find yourself lost at night in the city. Otherwise, you should avoid them like a disease. If you have a little extra money to burn, you can hire a local driver in a luxury car to exclusively take you from place to place.
3. TRAM SERVICE
We have a long history full of funny moments, but perhaps the funniest happened on December 30th, 2015. The portly mayor and Italian Minister of Infrastructure unveiled and inaugurated the tram service for Palermo. An alternative to private transportation for tourists and citizens alike they claimed.
But then we all say the route maps of the tram and tried to decipher the logic behind them. Suddenly the punchline to the joke became clear, though I don’t remember anyone laughing.
From a map of the routes, you can see that the colored points are the places where the tram stops. Red highlighted areas are deemed the tourist zones. But just looking at the map can show you that this isn’t going to be an effective or easy way to get around Palermo at all.
Maybe one day my great grandchildren will see a tram service that actually runs through the whole city. It did “only take 15 years” for the first 3-4 lines. But if you have time to waste, and just want to take a ride on a tram somewhere, it’s an option to get some of the places you might care to go (certainly not completely getting around Palermo).
When To Use The Tram
You might find that there’s a chance the tram could get you close to Old Town if you get accommodations near one of the tram stops. If you aren’t in this particular situation, or need to get specifically to Old Town, you should generally avoid the Tram.
Another joke that no one is laughing about is the Metro system, but who wants to throw salt in the transportation wound. It really just works about like the Tram does, and that’s the punchline to this joke as well. It is the same problems, just a different system. This subway line is about as useful as bringing a knife to a gun fight.
It really is a useless service to get around all of Palermo. It doesn’t cover the town centre for one, which is one of the most traveled to areas.
This limited service runs along the same path as the national railroad system, which itself is also very limited. Unless you have to get to the Normal Palace area and back from the central station, this isn’t going to be a helpful transportation option for you at all.
You will be happy to know that from 5am to 10:30pm, the metro runs every 30 minutes. While there is no official website for the metro service, you can see a layout of the routes by looking at Google Maps. Tickets are only €1.40.
5. BUS TO PALERMO FROM FALCONE-BORSELLINO AIRPORT
The transportation from the airport to Palermo is what will really give tourists some sleepless nights leading into their arrival. I get emails all the time from all corners of the world wanting to know more about the transportation options from the airport into Palermo, and a lot of unofficial and tall tales have come about from a lack of having a decent website to describe the options available. So now people think they can get into the city with flying carpets, camels, fire-breathing dragons, you name it.
Good thing is you don’t have to ride a dragon in. The only way that you can get from the airport to Palermo is a coach. That’s pretty much it.
Where To Catch The Coach at the Airport
Get off the plane and head into the arrival area inside of the airport. Follow signs for the exit (Uscita). Once you step outside, look for a big yellow signal. There is really only one way to go out for everyone coming through the airport, so it shouldn’t be hard to be in the right place.
Go to the right and begin walking the path and soon you will see big grey coaches with “Prestia e Comandè” branded on it. At the nearby blue box office you can get a ticket into the city, or you could have purchased one ahead of time at prestiaecomande.it.
As you can see, finding the coach station isn’t difficult to do. You can be there within minutes from getting off of the plane.
Returning To The Airport
You can catch the bus from a number of locations to come back to the airport:
- Piazza Giulio Cesare (Stazione Centrale)
- Piazza Ruggero Settimo n. 18 (Politeama)
- Via Libertà n. 45
- Via Libertà n. 95
- Via Libertà n. 171
- Via Libertà n. 203
- Via Croce Rossa n. 125
- Viale Alcide De Gasperi n. 187
- Via Belgio n. 25
You will find the same yellow sign you saw at the airport at each of these bus stations. Approximately every 30 minutes, a bus will arrive with the airport as its destination. You can either get a ticket online at Prestiacomande.it or you can get one right on board the coach.
Best Ways To Get Around Palermo
While you might be considering all of your options, it doesn’t seem that any of them are particularly helpful or convenient for those coming into the city. Basically, the entire system seems to have come right out of the Stone Age, but I Don Tano, have the solution to the problem you didn’t even know you had yet.
The philosopher Plato once said that every problem has three solutions: yours, mine and the right one. Assuming that you aren’t aware of the strife dealing with Palermo public transport, here is the only right solution I am providing for you. It just so happens that my solution and the right solution are the same.
Throughout this entire piece I have alluded to renting a car as your best option to get around the city. This isn’t even so much of a suggestion as it is a necessity to avoid the pitfalls of public transportation. If you don’t want to end up angry and frustrated, or at the very least broke and waiting, renting a car makes locations like Riserva Dello Zingaro, San Vito lo Capo, or Corleone much easier feats.
Whether you like driving a car or not, it is the smartest way to see everything you want to in Palermo. This makes everything happen when you want it to, it’s easier to get around, and you aren’t taking the dicey public transportation at night.
The other side of this coin is that the drivers in Palermo are pretty reckless, so you should operate a vehicle with caution. Take the first day to acclimate yourself to the driving styles of the average citizen before venturing too far away from your accommodations.
It can be easy to get carried away with the anarchy of the driving in Palermo. You should always drive with caution though (kicking the little devil off of your shoulder) and understand that dangers do exist if you aren’t careful.
As if the crowded streets and traffic was not enough, finding suitable parking can be equally as big of a pain. You are most likely looking for blue lined areas along the sides of the road, which is paid parking ranging from 0.70€ to €1 per hour to park there. You can pay for this through tickets purchased in tobacco shops, or available automatic machines near the area on the sidewalk.
On the ticket, you just have to indicate the right date and time, and then place it on the dashboard of your car. If you see an area with a white line instead of blue, this indicates the area is free to park in.
You will find instances where you will encounter an unauthorized valet offering to “watch your car” for you. They expect tips. If you refuse the service, they will vandalize the rented car. Its just an extortion tactic, but really it is something to be mindful of and watch out for.
Where To Rent A Car
Palermo has seen a lot of revenue from rental cars, but I would urge you to avoid the local shops despite their low, low prices. To say that things might get a little “more than you bargained for” when you get the credit card charges back is kind of an understatement. Rely on bigger companies like Rentalcars.com.
On that site you are able to get a rented vehicle for as low as €6 a day. Not only this, but you can book the car in advance and handed over to you when you land at the airport. Should there be any issues at all, there is a customer service line offering many language options to get the problem fixed promptly. Check it out for yourself and get a quote now.
As with any place, you really shouldn’t mix your alcohol with your driving around the city. There are sobriety checkpoints all over the city for one, and the drivers are already reckless and crazy. Italian law states that the limit is .5 grams/liter as a blood alcohol level to not be deemed intoxicated. Anything above this at one of those checkpoints spells big trouble for the driver.
GETTING AROUND ON FOOT
It’s safe, healthy and free. If you can manage it, walk to as many of the places you want to go in lieu of any other transportation option listed above. You can respect all of the sights, sounds and history of the city itself by walking through it and looking around. You won’t get the same experience through any other means of travel.
You will find that the main tourist spots and points of interest in general are in and around Old Town. You should consider booking accommodations within this area to allow yourself the opportunity to experience Palermo on foot for some of your stay.
Should You Rent A Bike?
It really depends on the clothes you intend to wear. You might blend in to the surroundings (like the road itself) and put yourself at risk. There are few bike paths to speak of, so it isn’t particularly a safe mode of transportation. Just think, if Wile E. Coyote were chasing the Roadrunner through Palermo, he would have likely died from being struck with a car.
Sure it’s a healthy option, and biking is great for you, but it’s just not that advisable in Palermo. With the limited availability of dedicated bike paths, the risk is too great for injury to yourself or others.
Even the roads with bike lanes are a little risky. These are usually loaded up with rude people or scooters trying to escape congested traffic. Bicyclists beware! But if you are looking to get the most out of your trip on a bike, and there’s no talking you out of it, check out these shops for cheap prices and great equipment:
- Social bike. Discesa dei Giudici, 21
- Velotourent. Via Francesco Crispi, 86
I do hope that I was able to be helpful for questions that you might have about getting around. If you have your doubts, or have more questions about getting around this Sicilian regional capital, I’m always here to help.