Attention all travelers! I am giving you all the information that anyone would need before setting off for beautiful Sicily, and even some helpful tips after you have arrived.
This isn’t going to be just any old travel guide that you can pick up for Palermo full of information you don’t need. I, Don Tano, intend to give you the information you need to appreciate Sicily like a local does.
Be sure to read all of the information below as this information is sure to save you time and money. This solitary guide can change every aspect of your upcoming vacation so you can live it to the fullest.
Palermo Tourist Information: 20 Facts Every Traveler Should Know About Palermo
1. How Safe Is Palermo?
While it is true that the mafia might have been born here, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the city is dangerous for travelers.
You might be happy to know that Palermo isn’t really any different than any other major city. While the Mafia does in fact exist, despite the arrest of many of the prominent bosses, it poses no threat to tourists.
The Italian National Institute of Statistics recently pooled statistics and was able to show that among the 12 biggest cities in all of Italy, Palermo had the least amount of crime. In case you were curious which came in first, it was Milan (followed closely by Bologna and Turin).
But you still need to treat it as you would any other big city around the world. Keep your eyes open for suspicious activity. You should keep your cameras and wallets out of sight when you are headed through the old markets. Women shouldn’t travel alone through areas like Kalsa, Via Vittorio Emanuele or Zisa at night. Make your accommodations in the safer areas of the city.
While there might be a lower crime rate here than in other major Italian cities, we are not completely devoid of it. This is the land of Don Corleone after all.
Lastly on this point, I have unfortunate news for the women of the upcoming travelers. Old Town is loaded up with tascios who like to bother girls with catcalls and whistles. While these guys are harmless (besides the annoying sound in your ears), it is best just to walk away from them.
2. Where is Palermo?
For those that haven’t recently brushed up on their geography, Palermo is the capital city of the Sicily Region of Italy. In about 160 square km, Sicily has about 720,000 inhabitants.
Palermo itself is located on the edge of a fertile plain in between the Billiemi Mountains, the Monreale hills and the Tyrrhenian Sea. This area is known as the Conca d’Oro. Palermo is the largest port on the entire island, located approximately 150 km from Africa along the Mediterranean. This is a famous city along the sea because of its fair climate and well preserved monuments.
3. When is the best time to visit Sicily?
While favorable weather makes it nice to visit any time of the year, you might want to shoot for April through October, as this will allow you to appreciate the sea as well. Even with this said, there is no bad time of year to visit.
Here is my personal opinion about Palermo in any one month of the year:
- January: A little brisk, but a great temperature for walking tours.
- February: Cheapest time of year, but you will likely battle rains.
- March: The sun is starting to return to the area.
- April: The city is starting to wake up from winter.
- May: Reasonable prices usher in hot fun in the sun.
- June: Summer has officially begun.
- July: The best month of the year in Sicily.
- August: Very crowded time of year.
- September: Much like July, but fewer tourists.
- October: Great for viewing the old monuments.
- November: Still warm in Sicily.
- December: Winter nightlife is in full swing.
4. How’s The Weather?
During the summer months, Palermo stays relatively dry. This is the opposite in the winter months, as precipitation tends to be the norm. The spring and autumn seasons are the best temperature wise, as it is warm and pleasant. During summer, even with the breeze it can occasionally get as hot as 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
The winters see much cooler (yet still manageable) temperatures. While it is unlikely to see snow here, you will most likely encounter rain and possibly hail if you are planning an extended stay.
Check here for the average temperatures month to month in Palermo.
5) Should I Tip? How Much Should The Tip Be?
Yes, it is a customary thing in Sicily to tip at restaurants. While there are no percentages per say that you should observe here, a tip of €3 or €4 can make a waiter happy. The people of Sicily aren’t all that hard to please.
With this being said, if you need a percentage, you are looking at a customary tip of around five percent. It is not a common practice to tip in self service locations or fast food establishments.
6) I Plan To Go Clubbing, What Should I Wear?
Make no mistake about it, while it might appear as though areas of Palermo are falling apart, people here dress with style.
Two things that you have to keep in mind so you aren’t turned away at the door: only groups of women and couples are allowed entry into a nightclub. Secondly, you can get turned away at the door for being improperly dressed.
This doesn’t mean provocative clothing, though. This refers to wearing sneakers and flip flops, shorts, or any clothes that might be deemed “sporty”. You don’t need to wear a tuxedo, but you should look nice.
For women, a safe outfit would be a nice evening dress with some complementary heels. For men, wear long pants with casual shoes, wear a button up shirt or polo to complete the ensemble. Bars and restaurants fortunately have no dress codes to speak of.
7) What Time Do Most Shops Close? Will They Be Open On Holidays?
Most days, shops are going to open at 9 AM and close sometime around 8 PM. Sundays and holidays are rarely an exception (though some hours might fluctuate slightly). Only on New Year’s Day, Christmas Day and August 15th will the shops and markets typically be closed.
8) What Holidays Are Celebrated In Palermo?
Much like Spain, Italians love to throw a good party. Here are all of the public holidays celebrated throughout the year:
- January 1st (New Year’s Day)
- January 6th (Epiphany)
- The Day After Easter (Little Easter)
- April 25th (Liberation Day)
- May 1st (International Worker’s Day)
- June 2nd (Republic Day)
- July 15th (Saint Rosalia)
- August 15th (Mid-August Day)
- November 1st (All Saint’s Day)
- December 8th (Immaculate Conception)
- December 25th (Christmas)
- December 26th (St. Stephen’s Day)
You will find that on the days listed above, many of the shops and restaurants will be closed. The stores in the city center and shopping malls might stay open, though.
9. What Are The Emergency Numbers in Palermo?
While I certainly hope that you have no need for these numbers, here are the primary emergency numbers you might need:
- Police – 112 or 113
- Ambulance – 118
- Fire – 115
You will find that traveling to an emergency room in Palermo is like working your way through a crowded night club. Sicilians think every little thing that goes wrong is like lying on Death’s doorstep. At all hours of the day and night, the hospitals are a very crowded place to be.
If you find yourself in need of a doctor, it may be easier to shell out the €50 or €100 for a house visit. This will be much more efficient than spending your entire day waiting around a packed hospital with wailing people.
Your hotel will be able to call a doctor on your behalf, though you can also call Dr. Mario Belvedere +39 328 5351761. He speaks Italian, English and Spanish.
10. How Do I Get Around The City?
Motorists are the biggest threat to tourist safety in Palermo. Don’t rent a bike, as motorists here simply pretend as though they don’t see you and soon you’ll meet rather roughly with the asphalt.
There are no real great public systems of transport throughout the city, as the buses will frustrate you with long wait times. The tram is only outside of a handful of tourist attractions. The subway system is pretty well non-existent.
So how do you get from place to place most effectively? You rent a car, of course. Check out the transportation page for all pertinent information about how to get around the city and keep yourself safe in the process.
11. Where Do I Get Other Tourist Information?
This website here was created because there were no good websites for tourists coming to Palermo. That is to say, the truly useful information you might actually benefit from. All the travel guides I’ve seen are rubbish, speaking vague information likely based on other cities.
That being said, you have 3 main options when you are gathering information about Palermo. Each of these will be used for a different reason.
Tourist Offices Scattered Around The City. You kind of have to hold your breath and hope that someone is actually there to help you when you stop at one of these places. You are looking at a high chance of finding no one at all in the offices or someone who cannot speak any English.
If you are fortunate to find someone who can throw enough together to answer your questions, these are typically the place to go to get information about monuments, tours and general directions to a specific location. You will be given a free map with a suggested itinerary based on agreements they have made with restaurants and businesses.
Take your map and go, definitely do not follow them. Below you will find a list of the main tourist centers in the city. CIT stands for Tourist Information Center.
- CIT Politeama (Ground Floor of Politeama Theater)
- CIT Gesap (Falcone-Borsellino Airport, Ground Floor)
- CIT Belmonte (92 Via Principe di Belmonte)
- CIT Bellini (Piazza Bellini)
- CIT Mondello (Piazza Mondello)
- CIT Porto (Port of Palermo)
Information Available Online. As frustrating as it is, there is no official Palermo tourism website that is comprised in English. It would appear that we Sicilians would much prefer visitors travel from site to site getting different information about the same topics, than to actually make a website that could actually help people. The municipality is far more concerned with their seedy dealings to invest money into a service that isn’t sponsored by someone’s “son”. Wearepalermo.com is my ever present attempt to give everyone all of the information about this city that they might possibly require.
Talk to the Locals. Sicilians have always been known to bend over backwards to help struggling tourists, even though there is almost always a significant language barrier. Use simple words and over articulate to help bridge the gap between languages, but don’t be shy about asking anyone you come across for some quick assistance. Sicilian people are ready and willing to help, even offering rides to destinations just to help out.
12. Where Should I Stay?
There are many places to stay in Palermo, but there are a few concerns that should help you choose among these options: proximity to attractions you intend to visit, safety of the area in general, and the nightlife. Three ideal places to stay are Old Town, Mondello and Downtown Palermo. You will find plenty of hotels in each of these areas, as well as holiday houses, B & B’s and hostels.
Look at this page for more information about where to sleep in Palermo.
13. What Currency Is Used? Are Foreign Currencies Accepted?
While it might seem like some areas of Palermo are still dated centuries ago, as a part of Italy, Sicily uses the Euro as its currency. Most of the shops are only going to accept Euros and not anything else.
It is a good idea to have cash on hand, as many of the smaller stores and restaurants are not going to allow you to pay with a card. No, it’s not because you are from out of town, it’s because they don’t have a card reader in their shop at all.
Also consider that there is a heightened commission that is charged to the shop owner for payments with a card under €10. So, if your payment is less than this, save yourself a drawn out scowl from an employee and just pay with that cash.
14. What Are The Main Districts Here?
While there are 25 total districts to speak of in Palermo, there are around a dozen that have serious historic and cultural significance. Shoot over to this page to check out more information about Palermo’s neighborhoods and districts.
15. What Do Sicilians Usually Eat? Just Pasta and Pizza?
There have been so many different cultural influences throughout the history of Sicily, that it would be impossible for me to adequately answer this question. As the most conquered city in the world, Palermo is no stranger to cultural influences on its cuisines. Romans, the Spanish, Swabians, Greeks, Normans, Arabs and so on have all left their mark on the food here.
This in kind has made for a unique blend of cuisine unlike any other place on the planet. Foodies rejoice because there is a lot more here than just pizza and pasta. A virtual encyclopedia would have to be created to contain all of the options that you have in Sicily to eat.
I get it, I’m bragging a bit. But as a proud citizen of Palermo, I’m also proud of our gastronomy.
Since you are only here for a short stay, I’ve pulled together a small list of the must-try foods while you are here. Buon Appetito! (enjoy the meal!)
16. What’s The Parking Situation? Do I Have To Pay To Park?
You are inevitably going to see some disturbing things when it comes to parking around Palermo. You will see cars parked on the sidewalk, cars double or even triple parked in certain spots, and you will see a blatant abuse of handicapped parking.
Be mindful of some self-proclaimed valets that will offer to park (and then guard) your car for a certain fee. Refusal to pay this “fee” (also known as extortion) will have these ruffians damaging your car.
The worst of it is that the police know they are there and are doing little to nothing to stop this Mafia style racket.
17. What’s The Policy For International Visitors?
You must have a Visa to get into Italian territory if you are not a European citizen or you are a Stateless person. This is printed on adhesive paper and applied to a certain page of the passport or relative travel documents.
There are exceptions to this requirement, and apart from medical care or a paying job, certain countries’ citizens are able to visit for no more than 90 days consecutively. The countries that are included in this arrangement are: 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.
Others that are not required to get a tourist visa are:
- British nationals that have a BN Passport (Overseas)
- Students of a third world country residing in a member state
- Refugee holders of travel documentation in accordance with the Geneva
- Stateless persons that are holders of travel documentation issued under New York Convention (Sept. 9th, 1954)
- Have nationality in a country which resides in a Member State and have travel documentation from that Member State.
18. Wi-Fi & Internet Connection
Through Palermo Smart City, you are able to connect to the internet for free. In fact, 14 different public areas have this feature and you can use any mobile device to connect to it. Google Maps can show you where nearby hotspots are to connect to the web.
19. Sightseeing Palermo
Palermo has a deep cultural heritage that rivals anywhere else in all of Europe. This is part of the reason it won Italian Capital of Culture 2018. Even though Palermo might be vast, the monuments are very localized. With the right walking itineraries, you can see nearly every important sight in Palermo without having to rely on public transportation to get you there.
20. What About The People of Sicily
You will find that there are few people around the world that are as welcoming and friendly as Sicilians are. While it might be difficult to find someone who speaks English, they will go out of their way in spite of this to make you feel welcome and at home. The only time this welcoming nature vanishes is when they are driving a car, in which case, watch yourself. If you want to find a little more information about Sicilians in general, look a little closer at the Sicilian stereotype here.
Navigate through the top menus to get even more tourist information to truly educate you about Palermo. If you have any questions at all that weren’t answered within this collection, feel free to ask it in the comment box below and I will get back with you soon.