Ladies and gentlemen! I’m going to give you all the precious information that every tourist should receive before leaving for the Sicilia Bedda (/siˈtʃilja ˈbɛdda/ – the beautiful Sicily) as well as upon their arrival.
The purpose of this page is not to fill your head with a ton of useless tourist information that you can find in any Palermo travel guide. Rather, me, Don Tano, I’m at your service to hand you only those facts and tips you need to enjoy the city like a local.
Carefully read every single word below as what I’ve written here will save you a lot of time. Indeed, this article can change the course of your vacation and help you to get the most out of this city.
Palermo Tourist information: 18 things every visitor should know
I gathered the top 18 things every foreigner should know when traveling to Palermo. This information will make you experience the city better and enjoy your holiday more.
Let’s start with the most important thing.
1. Am I going to get killed? What about safety in Palermo?
No, compare (/komˈpare/ – buddy). You can breathe out. I give you my word. I know, I know. When it comes to the city where the Mafia was born, the questions spontaneously arise: Is Palermo dangerous? How safe is the city?
Despite its reputation, Palermo is no more dangerous than other major cities. Indeed, the Mafia exists, and it is still strong despite the investigations and the arrests of many bosses. But tourists are not at risk like the rest of the population.
In a research conducted by the ISTAT (Italian National Institute of Statistics), Palermo – among the 12 biggest cities in Italy – was the city with the lowest overall rate of crime. Perhaps to your great surprise, the city with the highest rate is Milan, followed by Bologna and Turin.
It’s usually safe during the day walking around the city, especially in the city center. In fact, the Politeama and Via Libertà areas are safer than the Zisa and Kalsa quarters or the streets around the Stazione Centrale.
Like in any other big city, you have to keep your eyes open in order to avoid falling prey to criminals. For example, in the old markets, keep wallets and cameras out of sight. At night, it’s best for women not to go around the Kalsa, Zisa, or Via Vittorio Emanuele alone.
Despite the crime rate in the regional capital being low, compared to many other sites, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. Opportunity makes the thief, and not only in the land of Don Corleone. Baciamo le mani!
The expression “Baciamo le Mani” (/baˈtʃiamo lɛ mani/ – I kiss the hand) was a very common form of greeting in the island. It was a gesture of submission towards those who had power, especially the Mafia men.
Finally, I have good or bad news for girls – it depends on your point of view. The old town is haunted by tasci (/ˈtaʃi/ – ignorant hicks guys) who bother girls with whistles or weird catcalls. Unless you don’t want to deepen your knowledge of our first primate ancestors, ignore these uncouth courting attempts and walk away. However, beyond annoying your ears, they are harmless.
2. Where is Palermo?
For those who aren’t geography lovers, Palermo is the capital of the Sicily Region. It is in the far south of Italy and has around 720,000 inhabitants in an area of about 160 sq. km.
It is located on the edge of the Conca d’Oro (a fertile plain between the mountains of Billiemi, the hills of Monreale, and the Tyrrhenian Sea) and is the largest port on the island. The island is less than 150 kilometers from Africa. It is one of the most famous cities of the Mediterranean area both for its maritime climate and for the wonderful monuments that have been preserved.
3. When is the best time to visit Sicily?
The city is pleasant to visit at any time of year due to the favorable weather. The best period is from April to October as you can even enjoy the sea, but visiting Palermo is an experience that leaves its mark in every season.
This sounds like a National Geographic travel documentary, you are right. I’ll tell you my overall opinion as a Palermitan about each single month.
- January. You’re wasting your money.
- February. Wait a couple of months.
- March. Can’t wait one month more?
- April. Here we go. The city is waking up.
- May. Hot, relaxed, fun, and lower prices.
- June. Here we go. It’s summer.
- July. The greatest month ever!
- August. Touristy and crowded.
- September. Like July but less noisy.
- October. Ideal for enthusiasts of monuments.
- November. Still good.
- December. Top for the winter nightlife.
4. What’s the weather like in Palermo?
Here I will be very National Geographic. Please forgive me.
The Mediterranean climate with dry summers and rainy winters characterizes Palermo. The spring and autumn are the best, with temperatures mild and pleasant. Summer is usually breezy and hot (with indexes of humidity not too high), but it is easy to feel the African breath that sometimes kicks the maximum temperatures above 42 ° C.
The winters are cool and relatively rainy between October and March. The rains of Palermo are, unlike in eastern Sicily, weak or moderate, rarely violent. Snow is almost impossible, whereas hail is much more likely in the winter.
On this page you will find the average monthly temperatures in Palermo.
5) How much should I tip?
Although tipping in Palermo’s Restaurants is customary, there are no “numbers” you should observe. It depends on your good heart. Let’s say that to not make waiters frown at you, a tip of €3-4 would be fine. We Sicilians are not very demanding.
If we must talk about percentages, people leave more or less 5% of the check. However, leaving a tip in fast food and self-service is unusual.
6) What should I wear to go clubbing?
If you intend to go to a nightclub in Palermo, read the following words carefully if you want to avoid any embarrassments. Despite the crumbling buildings and dirty streets, people dress with style.
You must take into account two things if you are planning to attend a nightclub in Palermo, and you don’t want to run the risk of having your entry denied. First, only couples and groups of women are allowed entry, and second, pay attention to the dress code.
Most of the clubs in Palermo will not let you in if you wear sneakers, flip flops, shorts, or clothing that’s too sporty. It’s not required to wear a tie or tailleur, but you must at least go well-dressed.
To be on the safe side, if you are a woman, go for an evening dress and heels; if you are a man, wear jeans/long pants, casual shoes, and shirt/polo or simple sweater. A dress code in pubs and restaurants is not required.
7) At what time do shops close? Are they open on public holidays?
During working days, most of the shops open at 9.00 am and close at 8.00 pm. On Sundays and public holidays, many stores in the city center, especially the chains and shopping malls, keep their shutters open. The only days when you won’t find a living soul about are January 1st, December 25th, and 15th August.
8) What about public holidays?
Along with Spaniards, we Italians are one of the most party-loving peoples in Europe. The following are all the public holidays in Palermo:
- January 1st: New Year’s Day
- January 6th: Epiphany
- A Sunday between 22 March and 25 April: Easter
- The day after Easter: Little Easter
- April 25th: Liberation Day
- May 1st: International Workers’ Day
- June 2nd: Republic Day
- July 15th: Saint Rosalia, Patron saint of Palermo
- August 15th: Mid-August holiday
- November 1st: All Saints’ Day
- December 8: Immaculate Conception
- December 25th: Christmas
- December 26th: St. Stephen’s Day
On these days almost all shops and restaurants are closed. Shopping malls and city center’s stores might stay open.
9. What are the numbers for an emergency?
With the hope that you won’t use any of them, here are the numbers for emergency cases:
- Police: 112 or 113
- Ambulance: 118
- Fire: 115
In Palermo the emergency rooms are crowded like the best nightclubs. Sicilians are true hypochondriacs! Simply indigestion is enough to make them think that the Creator wants them back. They flood all the hospitals of the city during both the nighttime and daytime.
If you a need a doctor for minor issues, call a physician for a home visit. Of course you have to pay for the service and they will charge you from €50 to €100. However, it will help you avoid spending all day in a hospital with people that howl like it is the end of the world.
You can ask your hotel to call a doctor or phone Doc. Mario Belvedere +39 328 5351761 (Italian, English and Spanish speaker).
10. How to get around the city
In Palermo what kills you is not the Mafia, but the drivers. If you don’t want to run the risk of becoming one with the asphalt, I recommend not renting a bike.
There are only some sporadic cycle lanes, and cycling on the street is a not-very-fun survival game. The subway is inexistent and tram lanes are outside the center and tourist attractions. Buses, except for a couple of lines, put a strain on your nerves. They can even make you wait for 30-40 minutes.
So what’s the solution? A rental car to take trips out, and walking in the inner city. I’ve explained in detail how to visit the city and keep yourself safe in the transportation page.
11. Where to get tourist information?
The reason why I’ve created this website is due to the total absence of information for tourists. I mean the truly useful info. I’ve read thousands of the travel guides out there, but they all talk nonsense. They present commercial information that speaks of another city.
Given that, when it comes to getting Palermo tourist information, you have three main ways to go. You have to exploit the 3 channels for different purposes:
- Tourist offices around the city. Cross your fingers and hope to find someone at the workplace. Sicilians are black belts in coffee, chit-chat, and unproductiveness. The chances of finding nobody in an office, or worse yet, dealing with a non-English speaker employee are high. But if you are lucky, you can bump into some willing Good Samaritan able to throw together 10 words to answer your questions. These places are good to get information about monuments, tours and directions. They also give practical maps with recommended itineraries for free. Ask for what you need, grab your map and flee. They will try to sell touristy restaurants and shops which are the result of trade agreements. Don’t follow them. The following are the main tourist offices in the city. Their name is CIT, which stands for “Tourist Information Center”.
- CIT Politeama. Ground floor Politeama theater
- CIT Gesap. Ground floor Falcone-Borsellino Airport
- CIT Belmonte. Via Principe di Belmonte, 92
- CIT Bellini. Piazza Bellini
- CIT Mondello. Piazza Mondello
- CIT Porto. Port of Palermo
- Information online. Guess what? There is no official Palermo tourism website in English. We Sicilians love driving visitors crazy and letting them get confused by the myriad of web pages which say different things. The municipality is too busy in ranking the Italian Peninsula at the top of the most corrupted countries in Europe to invest public money in a professional service which is not offered by a “son” of someone. What’s the solution? Wearepalermo.com. I’ve done my best to provide visitors with all the real information they need to get the most out of their visit.
Nepotism is one of the worst social afflictions in Sicily. Almost all public employees and service providers have been hired without any competence. This results in disastrous public services and wasting of citizens’ money.
- Ask locals. This is the best way to get information about Palermo. Despite the English knowledge generally being poor, Sicilians bend over backwards to help tourists. Don’t be shy – ask storekeepers, waiters, and passers-by. To overcome the language barrier, use simple keywords and articulate the words. They will be super happy to give you all the help you need. It is not unusual to see locals offering lifts to visitors. Learn more about Sicilian people.
12. Where to sleep in Palermo
The factors to take into account when choosing where to stay in Palermo are: safety, main attractions distance, and nightlife. I’ve identified three different ideal areas: Old town, Downtown and Mondello. In these areas you will find dozens of hotels, B&Bs, hostels, holiday houses and so on.
Have a look at the page about where to sleep in Palermo.
13. What currency is used in Palermo? Are foreign currencies accepted?
Well, even if some areas are reminiscent of a medieval underdeveloped town, we are still in Italy and we use the Euro. Unfortunately, most of the shops and restaurants don’t accept other currencies.
Then, if you want some friendly advice, always bring cash with you as in many places they won’t let you pay with a card. And not because they find you unpleasant or ugly, but because they don’t have a card reader. This is especially true for family-run restaurants, which are the government’s worst enemies for tax evasion.
Also, businesses in general don’t look kindly upon card payments under €10 due to the commission. Thus, pay the small amounts by cash if you don’t want them to scowl at you.
14. What are the main districts?
The city has been divided into 25 districts, but there are a dozen with historical and cultural interest. I’ve listed and described them on our page relating to Palermo’s neighborhoods.
15. What type of cuisine do Sicilians eat? Is it all about pasta and pizza?
This is the most difficult question to answer. It is as if you were asked to read and sum up the entire Bible in a few words. Palermo is the most conquered city in the world, and we’ve had many different civilizations. To name a few: Arabs, Normans, Greeks, Swabians, Angevins, Romans, Spanishes, Aragoneses, and so on and so forth.
Each of them has left a strong influence on the Sicilian cuisine, giving birth to a type of food unique in the world. To all foodies, there is much more than pasta and pizza! If I had to list the all delicacies in here, I would end up writing an encyclopedia divided into tomes.
I know, I’m showing off. But like any other Palermitan, I’m proud of our gastronomy.
But since you won’t spend the rest of your life on the island, I’ve tried to gather the most representative dishes of Palermo to give you an overall idea about our culinary culture. Buon Appetito! (/ˈbwɔn appeˈtito/ – Enjoy the meal)
16. How does parking work? Should I pay for parking?
Parking is the greatest expression of the Palermitan creativity. You won’t be dreaming when you’ll see entire cars on sidewalks, double/triple parks everywhere, and disabled parking used by people bursting with health.
Despite our ability to see parking where others don’t, we have rules. You can park for free within the white lines (or no lines at all) with the blue P sign, whereas you must pay on the blue lines. The fee is from € 0.70 to €1 (from 9 am to 8 pm) per hour, depending on the zone.
You can buy the ticket for the blue lines in tobacco shops or, if any, directly from the automatic machines on the sidewalks.
In parking areas, you’ll encounter many Parcheggiatore abusivo (/parkeddʒaˈtore abuˈzivo/ – Valet boy). They are people that help you to park and ask a tip to guard your car (basically from themselves). They offer a service that you can’t refuse to pay (legally, it is called extortion), and if you don’t, they will damage your car.
In the worst case, they physically attack you. Curiously, the police know about them, but they don’t do anything to stop this form of organized crime.
17. What about International Visitors?
All Non-European Citizens and Stateless persons must grant an entry Visa for crossing borders and, therefore, for entry into Italian territory. It is printed on adhesive paper, and its sticker is applied to a page of the passport or other travel documents of the applicant.
Exempted from that requirement, and only for a maximum duration of 90 days (except for medical care and paid work) are people from Albania, Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bosnia and Herzegovina , Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, South Korea, Costa Rica, El Salvador, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Japan, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Nicaragua, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, Saint Christopher (Saint Kitts) and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela.
Moreover, not required to get tourist visa are:
- British nationals that hold British Nationals passports (Overseas).
- Students from a third-world country who reside in a Member State
- RecognisedrRefugee holders of the travel document issued in accordance with the Geneva
- Convention of 28.07.1951; Stateless persons who are holders of the travel document
- issued under New York Convention of 28.09.1954 and other people who do not.
Have the nationality (citizenship) of any country who reside in a Member State and are holders of a travel document issued by that Member State (e.g. residents in the Baltic States and holders travel document called “Alien’s passport”).
18. Wi-Fi and internet connection
Through Palermo Smart City, you will be able to connect for free to the Internet. It provides broadband access in 14 public areas via all mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, PC). See on Google Map if there is any Wi-Fi point close to you.
I invite you to navigate the menu at the top of the page to get further tourist information about Palermo. Also, you can use the comment box below to ask me anything you need to. I’ll be glad to clarify any doubts and answer your questions.