Salve! Don Tano here. I’m your host and guide to my beloved country and especially my wonderful and unique City of Palermo.
Today I’m gonna tell you about one of Palermo’s finest attractions. I just want to tell you that if you’re able to come to Sicily during the spring or summertime, be sure to pack your bathing suit because you’ll be bathing at some of the finest and most beautiful beaches in all of Europe.
Okay, you think I’m bragging just because I’m Sicilian and I get so enthusiastic when I talk about Palermo. But let me reassure you, and I haven’t even had a taste of Marsala this morning. No! I’m not exaggerating. Other beaches just don’t compare.
I’m not overstating, but today I’m only gonna tell you about the beaches close to Palermo because (a) most tourists spend the majority of their time in and around our capital. And (b) If I tried to tell you about all our wonderful beaches, I would be typing away night and day for a week. Then my wife would be angry and I would be in the doghouse. And you would need eye drops after reading page after page of superlatives.
But what you want is some helpful and informative information. Okay, here in Sicily, our seaside bathing season really starts toward the end of April or early May. We’re talking about temperatures of 18/20º (64/68º Fahrenheit). This usually doesn’t end until near the end of October. July through August are much warmer with temperatures running about 40º (104º Fahrenheit).
But before you dive into my list of finest beaches near Palermo, I want to take a moment to offer you some practical recommendations so you can get the most fun and take-home memories from your visit.
• Getting around
In other articles, I’ve talked about the Sicilian Public Transportation system. Its main claim to fame is its lack of usefulness. Believe me, it’s already hard enough to read the main tourist attractions when you’re in a bus somewhere in the city center. But when you have to ride 30 or 40 miles away risking arrival at your attraction sometime after sunset, you’ll understand why everyone makes jokes about the public transport system. Perhaps we should call it Public Last Transport Resort System. So that’s why I recommend renting a car. Trust me, I don’t get no kickbacks when I tell you the extra money is money well spent.
• Ignore Beach Peddlers
In Sicily, along with visitors, every beach coincidentally has an invasion of peddlers. They arrive about the same time as the tourist season starts. These people want to sell you everything from good luck bracelets to inflatable mattresses and anything else you might imagine. You can often count anywhere from fifteen to sixteen peddlers in less than an hour all gathered around one hapless person trying to sell the same things.
Occasionally you may come across a rude person. In that case, the best you can do is simply to ignore him and pretend you don’t hear or see him/her at all. After all, even when you politely tell them you’re not interested they follow you and keep talking.
• Don’t be put off by dirtiness
For some unknown reason, despite the beauty and wonder of our beaches, there are a few brain-dead, thoughtless and careless visitors who seem to want to punish our island for its beauty, so they casually dump their rubbish on the beach as they pass, completely ignoring the dustbins that stand nearby ready to receive their waste.
It’s a real shame and all I can do is suggest you ignore the litter and enjoy the amazing sea before you. An excellent choice and well worth the 10€ to 15€ you’ll pay to spend the entire day on a private beach complete with umbrella and a sunbed.
• Avoid going topless
Although some women love to sunbathe topless, and many beaches are filled with bare-breasted females wandering or lying about, I really recommend you don’t go topless on the beaches at Palermo. The police won’t bother you and no one will assault you, but you will certainly feel peoples’ eyes staring at you, especially the men who love to ogle a woman who’s displaying her bare breasts. If you absolutely have to remove your bra, it’s better to avoid the sandy beaches and opt for some of the more rocky areas where few want to tread.
• Please do not dive headlong into the water
Along the rocky beaches, you’ll see many heroic types performing spectacular dives headlong into the sea. Please don’t try this. These divers know every inch of the coast and even despite that, they too often end up in the hospital with a broken head. Even if the sea looks deep it will often deceive you, so my best advice is for you to stay safe rather than taunt fate.
Top 10 beaches in Palermo and surroundings
Here I’ve listed the best beaches close to Palermo. I chose to list them in an order beginning with the closest and working outward from there.
I can’t fail to mention Mondello although it is very touristy, especially in July and August when the sea seems to be intimidated by the people and changes its color.
Ignoring the crowds of July and August, you’ll be awestricken by the white sand as the currents reflecting an array of different colors run from deep blue to turquoise. The beach is only a mile and a half long, and is more-or-less separated into two parts by an interesting old bath house. The one side features a bevy of delightful cafés where you can buy delicious food at really low prices. And you can rent an umbrella and/or sunbed as well.
Along this beach there are no rocks or any other dangers. This an ideal place for families to bring their children to play and relax under the sun. Even for young singles Mondello might be a good place to look for Mr. or Miss Right. But watch for the obnoxious Tascios (see my article on Tascios: rude, crude and socially unacceptable in any society). And they pick their noses in public too!
In summertime or even in spring you might want to throw a sleeping bag on the sand and sleep out in this warm and pleasant area after enjoying the fervent nightlife.
2. CAPO GALLO
Capo Gallo is a natural reserve that will change your view of the world. The crystal-clear sea dotted with the green and turquoise jewels as well as an unusual mountain. At sunset, an array of different colors changes the mountain from ochre to purple with a relaxing soundtrack to accompany the moment. This soothing music has been specially composed and performed by the seagulls accompanied by the crashing waves against the cliff.
Hard to believe, but this is a paradise that really exists. Access to the sea itself may be reached by descending slopes of scree. This can make it difficult to get there because the scree can be treacherous beneath your feet and the rocks can be large and sharp. Now you don’t have to be Spiderman to get down to the water, but if you have children, you should consider the possible danger.
Just southeast of Mondello Beach lies Addaura, a small seaside bit of coastline decorated by expensive villas, beach clubs, restaurants and upscale bars that overlook the sea. I believe I can safely say that these beaches are the chicest in all of Palermo.
In Addaura you can visit the crystalline sea on one of the many free decks or enjoy a paid beach club where you can also rent a sunbed and umbrella. Unlike some resort areas, getting to the sea presents no problem thanks to the natural and/or artificial stairways.
A surprising number of vain and dauntless visitors have believed themselves to be Marvel superheroes as they dived headlong from natural springboards instead of using the less impressive but safe and comfortable stairs. Sadly, instead of impressing the attractive young women onlookers, the winners here are more frequently dentists and/or plastic surgeons.
Fortunately, a good number of dentists and plastic surgeons live in the area. Coincidence? I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I don’t think so!
This seaside area is best known for its prix-fixe menu restaurants rather than for its beaches. Most feature a daily fixed price menu. For only 28 to 30€, you may enjoy a resplendent dinner featuring so many succulent dishes that you’ll feel you’re going to explode when you leave.
Aside from the delightful seafood, Sferracavallo also features two outstanding rocky littorals that few people attempt as they do in Mondello. The first is Baia del Corallo. Here you look over an emerald green sea thanks to the submerged prairie of Posidonia (an entrancing mixture of flowering plants). This lovely spot is easily reachable via a short path. You won’t get tired as you enjoy the walk, but wait until you’ve digested that sumptuous repast you just devoured.
If you’re young, friendly and an active single, this is a beach where you can relax and tan, listen to music and sometimes meet with locals. You’re likely to end up in a small bar with others, mostly between the ages of 20 to 40. These are mostly students or professionals. A great place to cool off from the sun tanning and enjoy the conversation as well as a refreshing drink. You’re not likely to see families with children since this venue attracts mostly young and or not-quite-so-young singles looking for new friends.
Sferracavallo also has another beach, albeit small. Barcarello offers some wrinkles visitors will face, but the limpid sea around you makes forget everything else for the moment.
Nearby, another beach is called Spiaggia delle Vergini. This is a favorite destination for nudists and here (if you’re interested) you’ll find a beach just for naturists.
This seaside village is only about 20 km from Palermo. These days it’s most famous because this is where anti-mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, his wife, and bodyguards were violently murdered (Please the article reviewing this tragedy on our website wearepalermo.com so be sure to read all my blogs or I’ll have to go to some sleazy bar full of unruly tascios and drink Marsala till I’m sick and then my wife will be angry with me all over again).
But long before this terrible crime, Capaci was famed for its stunning seaside views as well as its many excellent restaurants and well-equipped beaches. Those have not gone away. Capaci offers options for both budget-minded visitors as well as more demanding consumers. There are the free Spartan area and the more comfortable paid areas. Whichever you choose, you’ll enjoy the same fine sandy beaches which are absolutely ideal for children. The sea is clear and shallow here for several meters from shore, so children can play safely. Of course, children should never be allowed to play without supervision, even here.
Despite its large size, Capaci is overrun, especially in August when the beach is taken over by the monkey army whose balls in the air make it downright dangerous for passersby. However, most Sicilians have good manners and too, you can opt for a paid beach where you’re safe from the rough play and can enjoy yourself.
6. ISOLA DELLE FEMMINE
Isola delle Feminine is a small islet some 300 meters off the Capaci coast. Even most native Sicilians look at the islet from the beach and wonder what’s there.
Okay, now I’m gonna unveil to you the answer to the question that has troubled Sicilians for centuries. This natural reserve can be reached only by means of a paid tour boat ride and apart from the fifteenth-century tower and a breathtaking landscape view together with some fascinating and perhaps fanciful legends, there is nothing more there to see.
Well, since Isola delle Femmine means “The Island of Women”, a number of legends and stories have arisen to try to explain this name. The most reliable theory perhaps is that during the 19th Century a plague befell the region and the women and children were sent to the island until it had passed. Okay, still others swear that it was once a prison for women. And so it goes. But we all know that legends have a way of taking on a life of their own as time passes and as we also know, life is never stagnant but keeps changing.
If you do choose to take the boat tour, it lasts about an hour and a half and in addition to seeing the islet, you can bathe in the crystal sea. These tour companies change frequently, but you can contact me if you’re interested and I’ll provide you with the most up-to-date information.
Cinisi is a small village only about 30 km distant from Palermo. Actually, Cinisi has one of the most outstandingly beautiful beaches around all Palermo, Magaggiari. While not large, Magaggiari offers one of the best free beaches around Palermo. Plus you have everything at your fingertips. It’s all there: food trucks and bars, bathrooms, restaurants and of course you can rent umbrellas and sunbeds.
People of all ages and walks of life gather here. You’ll see families with lots of kids, young toughs trying to impress the ladies with their muscles and tattoos and everything in between. Magaggiari seems to be the kind of place everyone loves, so if you like larger groups, you may just have to agree.
Adjacent to Cinisi, Terrasini can justly boast some of the most crystalline water combined with a breathtaking landscapes. You’ll marvel at the reddish rocks veined with white throughout the bathing area. Cala Rossa, in particular, stands out. There is, however, one downside for you to consider if you come to Sicily with children. Many of the numerous ocean areas are hard to reach without having to negotiate some scree slopes. It’s normally not that difficult for adults, but for children, it can be uncomfortable and a box of Band-Aids may be called for.
Another little bummer: there are no bars or restaurants, so unless you bring along something to eat and drink you’ll have to do without. One last caveat: Even if you see others diving, save yourself a lot of possible grief and do not try it. What can be worse than lying in a foreign hospital with a cracked skull while your family spends the night sitting in an uncomfortable hospital waiting room while you all wonder just if and how your insurance will cover the expense of the operation.
Because of the swift currents, the water in this area is cold but is a very clean and clear turquoise. A real paradise for sandy beach lovers. The beach is large and never crowded even during peak months, so you can bask in the sun without having people stamp all over you.
You’ll appreciate this when you meet a group of aspiring Maradona playing football on the beach without consideration for other people. Most of the free beaches lack restaurants too, so you have to bring along anything you’ll want to eat or drink.
This is, however, definitely a beach for families. If you want a livelier beach, this one is not for you. A better choice for color and activity would be Mondello, Addaura or Cefalù.
This is one of Sicily’s most famous seaside places, famed for its beaches and nightlife. Cefalù was originally a fishing village. Its intriguing narrow alleyways date back to medieval times and its beautiful 12th Century cathedral is a real gem. Cefalù lies some 70 km from Palermo but is easily reachable via the modern highway.
Cefalù features a number of clean and golden beaches and I the evening you’ll relax in the numerous delightful restaurants and bars. The beaches remind one of the natural paradises that evoke the Caribbean or the Maldives.
One of the best beaches in Cefalù is Caldura Beach. The scenery here is quite different, gravelly and interspersed with rocks over blue and clear waters.
I hope I have been helpful today and I hope I have been able to whet your appetite to see my wonderful country. If you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Just use the comment box below.
Also, for other information about things to do in Palermo, the beaches or anything else you want to know, take a look at our Things to Do page.
Ciao until next time from your guide and servant,
Don Tano Bongiorno