What You Need to Know to Navigate Palermo and Sicily

There is no easy way to say that getting around Palermo by public transport is a challenging feat. Instead, I will the pros and cons of each of your options so that you can choose what is best for you.

getting around Palermo by public transport
Getting around Palermo by public transport

Hello again, it is your Sicilian friend Nico here to talk to you once again about the Sicilian public transportation system – otherwise known as our “Achilles heel“.

Allow me to be blunt, the means of public transportation in Palermo suck.

All of my friends over Europe make me laugh out loud when they grumble about their five-minute waits for the next bus in their cities.

In Sicily, we still talk about the days where it was faster to get places on horseback.

Seriously though, Palermo is very difficult to get around in. You can easily navigate the City Center and downtown through a reliable bus service, but beyond these areas, you are in God’s hands.

Allow me to share with you 3 simple math equations that I suggest you remember.

  1. If you decide to get accommodations away from the key areas of Palermo, you’re screwed.
  2. If you try to explore Palermo exclusively with public transportation, you’re screwed.
  3. If you ignore either of the two rules above, you’re screwed.

Capisci? You’re screwed.

I would like to take a minute below to list all of the transportation means we have and what you should know before you use it. As you might have guessed, even before I was so blunt a moment ago, getting your lodging in a strategic location is critical.

Let’s see five ways to get around Palermo.

Nico


Nico’s Take:

We are a long way from the transportation standards you might find in other big cities around Europe. If you were lodging in key areas and have the right itineraries to follow, however, you might not need to rely on public transportation as heavily. This can help you avoid a nervous breakdown.

5 Public Transportation Options in Palermo

Looking at each option, I want to teach the pros and cons, so you know what is right for you. You can choose your preferred method of navigating the Sicilian regional capital after learning a little about each.

With so many excellent restaurants, people, and breathtaking sights, the other show had to drop somewhere – and for us, it was public transportation.

Someone up there had to throw a wrench in the works – there were just too many luxuries and incredible history.

Choosing the right option begins with understanding them – and I will help you use them the best you can.

1. Bus

Bus in Palermo
Bus in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Decent option for those staying mainly in the city center
  • Semi-reliable connection between Mondello and city center
  • Cheap
🙁 CONS
  • Almost useless at night
  • Buses are often overcrowded
  • You risk pick-pocketers
  • Many buses provide little in the way of informational displays

I do not intend to mislead you – we locals believe our bus service is shitty.

When I turned 14, my father (who was anything but noble) gave me a scooter. His advice was “better to break a bone than to break your balls waiting on the bus forever“.

Needless to say, I have not ridden the bus in town since I was 13.

Surprisingly, I am far from the exception here. Many public transportation riders locally appreciate just how bad the transport in Palermo is.

Consequently, we have all means of getting around to avoid having to take the bus whenever possible.

So, who then is riding the buses? Expect to see some of the elderly, various kids, tourists, gypsies, a small handful of pickpockets (no pun intended) and others. Surmise it to be those who do not have the ability to drive or are not old enough.

No doubt the service sucks, but if you keep its use to key areas of Palermo and don’t expect it to run well at night, it may not be that bad for you.

When to Choose the Bus

As I already mentioned, you can only really rely on the bus service when you are in key areas of Palermo like Old Town or the downtown region. They are not good for getting around the entirety of the city nor its outer lying areas.

During the summer, you can rely on line 806 for a semi reliable option to get from the city center to Mondello Beach. Be mindful: this bus is all but sure to be full of teens, rude patrons, and even pickpockets.

Bus 806 from Palermo to Mondello
Real picture of line 806 @copyright Dario Bruno

If you are relying on the bus service at night, you should make sure to take along your better half. You don’t want to miss the romance of getting to watch the sunrise as you wait for the bus to arrive.

Bus Fares, Routes, and Schedules

AMAT is an official company owned and managed by city officials (a bunch of slackers.) It is easy to identify these buses by their orange, blue, and white coloring.

At the front of the bus, you will see a bright display showing where the bus is headed.

Line Bus
Display on the bus

There are several options for you to get tickets, including limited time entry tickets in many of the shops throughout the city.

For example, a 90-minute ticket is €1.40, but it is also possible to pay €1.80 on the bus itself to save yourself time. Buses run from 5:30 in the morning until 11:30 in the evening, though it is hardly likely that you will see a bus after 10:30 at night.

If you happen to choose the bus as your primary means of travel, you are braver than most, and you might also consider choosing a multi-day ticket to reduce your overall expense.

If you look in my guide, The Sicilian Way, you can see a clear instruction on video all about the bus service. This includes information on validating tickets to not get a fine and better understanding the routes and schedules of the vehicles.

Bottom Line

If you are very near to the city center, the buses will most often work for you. Line 806 is also mostly reliable to get you to Mondello, but I would not rely on this method of transportation at night or to outer lying areas of Palermo.

2. Taxi Services

taxi services in palermo
Taxi services in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Fast and easy to use
  • One of the only options available at night
🙁 CONS
  • Reckless and Rude Driving
  • Pricey
  • High risks of being ripped off

If you were to ask any Sicilian to take the taxi, they might ask if you’re insane.

80% of us have never taken a taxi in Palermo our entire lives. Not only is this service unreasonably expensive, but there will take every available option to rip you off if you let them.

The story goes that Bram Stoker himself used Sicilian taxi drivers in Palermo as inspiration for his undead monsters.

In short, this group of people are just vampires thirsting for your money.

However, there is a class and elegance to Count Dracula. Our taxi drivers are just abrasive Neanderthals who are not afraid of the sun nor afraid to empty your pockets at all hours.

When to Use Taxis

If you were asking me, I would tell you to avoid taxi drivers like you should avoid the plague.

Let me help you understand this a little better.

Sicily is a place with a very high number of suspended licenses because of driving under the influence. Official statistics suggest we are second to last in the most alcoholic regions of Italy, however.

There is a very obvious reason for this.

This phenomenon happens because without a reliable form of transportation like the bus in the evening, Sicilians prefer to run the risk of losing their license over spending substantial amounts of money in acquiring a taxi. Unless you are well off, it’s not always feasible to get a taxi.

I’ll let you in on this because I need you to understand how much the locals here are dissatisfied with the taxi service an encourage you to only consider this as a last resort.

Fares for Taxis

For you, I tried to look into taxi fares and yet could not understand how in the hell they calculate them.

It seems to revolve around multiple factors: the time, urban and extra-urban roads, traffic, working in holy days, and other ridiculous variables like your zodiac sign and birthday probably.

What I do know is that it is expensive.

Tell if you do some math, I did 1.9 kilometers around in a roughly 6-minute ride from Old Town to downtown on Saturday night at 11:00 PM. This ride cost me 29€.

On a regular working day in the afternoon, I took a 15-minute ride for about 9 kilometers from Palermo port to Mondello for around 35€.

If spending more than you should for a ride across town doesn’t bother you, you can hail taxis on the street or call them.

If you get our guide, The Sicilian Way, you can find methods to avoid getting ripped off and a useful app to help you find taxis in the city.

Bottom Line

In terms of taxes, I would suggest that everyone avoid them. The service is ridiculously expensive and many of the drivers will try to rip you off in any possible way. Use this only in case of emergency or, of course, if you don’t mind wasting your money.

3. Tram Service

Tram Service in Palermo
Tram Service in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Fast and inexpensive
  • Makes getting to the outskirts of Palermo easy
🙁 CONS
  • It is only effective for use on the outskirts

I will tell you that the history of Palermo is full of hilarious moments, but the funniest is possibly what occurred on December 30th, 2015.

Our portly mayor, the Italian Minister of Infrastructure, introduced an inaugurated a tram service for Palermo. The idea was an alternative to private transportation for tourists and citizens both.

The real irony came when we all got to see the map showing the routes of the tram and began to try to decipher logic in it. The punchline soon became clear, the few people would appreciate the joke.

Tram map

The map of the route shows colored points where the tram will stop. The areas highlighted in red are deemed to be the most active tourist zones.

If you were looking at the map alone, you can see that using the tram is not an effective or easy way of navigating Palermo for most situations.

It’s possible several generations from now will get to appreciate a tram service that actually connects the entire city. It did “only take 15 years” for the first 4 lines to get installed.

When Should You Use the Tram?

Honestly, I don’t know why any visitor would use the tram service with its routes outside of key zones. In fact, the tram seems to access some of the worst areas of Palermo where I would urge people not to stay.

Unless you want to explore the other sides of Palermo or have time to waste on a tram ride that leads you next to nowhere, you probably will not end up on the tram during your stay.

Fares, Routes and Schedules for the Tram

Currently, the system includes 4 tram lines connecting the outskirts of Palermo with its center.

Tickets to ride the tram are the same as taking the AMAT bus line. You can switch from a tram to a bus within the valid window of usage on the ticket. You can grab yours for €1.40 to access a 90-minute window.

Bottom Line

That ram has become a joke that no one is laughing at. It connects some of the neighborhoods in the suburbs where you have nothing to do, with some other regions closer to the city center. For tourists, it is entirely useless.

4. Metro

Metro in Palermo
Metro in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Fast and inexpensive
  • Easy to reach Palermo airport
🙁 CONS
  • Only accessing the outskirts of Palermo

The Metro system is another method of transportation that was so funny it might just bring tears to your eye. This is basically just salt in the transportation wound.

Much like the tram, this has a very similar issue.

This subway line is literally as useful as carrying a knife to a gun fight.

To be fair, this isn’t even a Metro service so much. This is just Trenitalia trains on the national railroad system going from the central train station to the airport and back. There are only a handful of other stops that this system makes.

The “real and authentic” Metro service has been under construction since 2014. Over the past several years, work continues despite passing its deadlines to eventually provide this method of transportation to the area. As a result, parts of Palermo look like Baghdad after the Iraq war with the condition of some of its buildings.

You can look at it this way, is this is a simple equation: there is public money pain big construction teams through corrupt politicians which can only lead to dirty affairs.

When to Use the Metro

I really don’t see much of a reason why anyone should use the Metro system, especially as a tourist.

Unless you only have to get to the Norman Palace region and then return to the central station, this isn’t going to be helpful transportation for you at all.

It is possible to get to the city center from the airport and then return, but this only makes sense if you are lodging near the Central Station area or the Notarbartolo Station, which I do not recommend.

Fares, Routes, and Schedules

As you might suspect, there is no official site for the Metro service.

The geniuses that run the city believe that foreigners can find this information easily or call upon favors from God to give them answers.

I would suggest taking a look at the layout of routes on Google Maps created by someone to give them an idea of what was possible with this Metro service. You can find out more about the routes and even purchase tickets online through the Trenitalia website.

By entering the stations, you can also buy tickets inside. The price begins at €1.50 and changes based on where you are headed.

Bottom Line

Sadly, this is another joke that our locals did not find very funny. The municipality spends a great bit of time promoting the Metro service, but that’s not what this is. These are just regular trains that make stops in certain areas of the city. This may be useful for tourists. This Metro line goes to the airport.

5. Trains or Coaches

Trains in Palermo
Trains in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Cheap
  • Easy way to get to and from Palermo airport
🙁 CONS
  • Connect well to the major cities
  • Difficult to get accurate information

Because Sicily is famous for its picturesque tiny villages, you will certainly want to see them when you are visiting. If you do not have a car, trains and coaches are often your best bet. As with most things, there is good and bad news involved.

Cefalu train station
Cefalu train station

Let’s start you with some good news: finding a train or a coach to get you where you want to go initially is not challenging. Unfortunately, this is where the bad news starts to dribble in.

While the primary company, Trenitalia, manage is its trains and has a website full of information. Unfortunately, an avalanche of local companies manages the coach routes.

What this means for you is that every time you try to get to a certain village or area, and there’s no train, you have to go through a long ordeal to find out which company operates a coach to go there and where and when you have to catch it.

I would say nearly 80% of the time they don’t have a website available or what is available has become outdated. You have to jump from one place to another in town in hopes of bumping into someone willing and able to help you decipher the codes.

When to Use Train/Coach Services

Honestly, I would call anybody insane who was trying to get around Sicily just by train or coach.

I tell everyone who is visiting the island to get a car unless they have some sort of religious pilgrimage requiring them to suffer and redeem themselves from years of sin.

If you can’t or don’t want to drive, and you want to see what is around Palermo, you really do have to rely on using trains and coaches to do so.

Here is something that you should keep in your mind.

The further away from Palermo (or any other Sicilian city) you want to go, the more a variety of options lessons. Often you can find at least one option, but you might rely on asking the locals of these areas for more information.

Fares, Routes, and Schedules of Trains and Coaches

As I already mentioned, the Trenitalia website can give you information that you need for available train rides and routes.

Getting information on coaches and their specific routes can be more of a hustle, however. I would suggest Googling the routes you are most interested in and seeing if the name of a coach company shows up in this search. Google the name of the company and see if they have a reliable website to provide you information. If not, you can contact a ticket office directly.

For those just looking to take a coach from Palermo back to the airport or vice versa, you can look at my article about airport connections for more information.

Coach from Palermo to Airport
Coach from Palermo to Airport and vice versa

Bottom Line

You can typically find several connections between Sicilian major cities by both bus and train. It gets more complicated when you need to find routes to villages surrounding these cities, however. Finding reliable information online can be complicated but not impossible.

The Best Method to Get Around Palermo and Sicily

Now that you have seen all of your options, you might find that none of them seem particularly helpful or convenient in getting you around the city easily.

The entire system seems to come out of the Stone Age, but I Nico, have provided you a solution to your problem that you didn’t even know that you had yet.

The great philosopher Plato once remarked that every problem has three solutions: yours, mine, and the right one.

You might not be aware of the strife yet dealing with Palermo’s public transportation system. Here is the only right solution.

Yes, in this one instance, the right solution and my solution happen to be the same.

Rent a Car

rent a car in Palermo
Rent a car in Palermo
😁 PROS
  • Cheap and quick
  • Can get you everywhere
  • Avoid public transportation headaches
  • Easily move around after dark
🙁 CONS
  • You need to get acclimated to the driving styles around here
  • ZTL – Limited traffic areas are an annoyance

This entire article I have alluded to the ease of renting a car as the best option for you to get around the city and its surrounding areas.

This is less of a suggestion, and more of a necessity when you consider the multiple drawbacks to public transportation in Palermo.

If you are only visiting Palermo for a couple of days, you might be able to make do on foot, or even rent a bicycle, if you find accommodations within key areas.

If you are touring around Palermo and Sicily, and intend to see major villages and beaches, you would be crazy not to try to do this with a rented car.

Palermo has a very active nightlife that you don’t want to miss. With the lack of buses available in the evening, having a car to get around is crucial.

What About Sicilian Driving?

An important aspect to consider is that drivers in Palermo are naturally reckless, even sometimes completely out of their mind. It might seem overwhelming to get adjusted to this style of driving, but it is not as difficult as you might think.

drivers in Palermo
Drivers in Palermo

What you need is a couple of hours to acclimate yourself to how everyone around you is operating their vehicle. Much like all the other foreigners who learn to drive here, you will soon be doing great and even having fun moving around the city.

Do not think you are the only one who is freaked out at first, only to find themselves getting almost carried away with the true anarchy of the driving here.

We should attempt to drive with sense though (which means kicking that little devil off of your shoulder at times), so that you do not fall into some of the dangers that might exist when you lose all sense of caution.

If you are renting a car, I would encourage you to read the guide on ZTL (Limited Traffic Areas) and parking. Those who do not know the rules might get an unwelcomed ticket from the police.

Ztl map Hystoric Center
ZTL map
Nico


Nico’s Take:

Just like at home, do not mix your drinking around the town with your driving. There are sobriety checkpoints at regular intervals across the city, not to mention the already reckless style of drivers when they are not under the influence.

Where Do You Rent a Car?

Palermo actually sees a lot of revenue from rented cars, but I would urge you to avoid any local shops renting vehicles despite how low their prices might be.

You should follow adages like ‘more than you bargained for’ when you get credit card charges back after returning the vehicle.

You would be better off to rely on larger companies like Rentalcars or whichever international company you feel suits you best.

Bottom Line

It really is a blessing to have a car in Sicily. For many, it would be impossible to tour the island or Palermo in a reasonable amount of time without getting involved with multiple organized tours. Also, a car helps you to better enjoy the nightlife. In terms of investments in your vacation quality, a rented car is the best option.

Conclusion

Yes, I might be a little longwinded in this article, but I wanted to be thorough to help you avoid traps and expensive decisions while you are in Sicily.

We have discussed many things throughout this guide, but five points in particular must get stressed once again.

  1. Buses are never on time, so no matter what your plan is, expect to be running late.
  2. Taxi services may be more reliable than buses but are highly overpriced.
  3. There are only portions of a subway and tram system, but it connects to very few tourist areas.
  4. You might consider trains and coaches for transportation when you need to access some of the outer lying villages near Sicilian cities.
  5. If you want to have a trip without transportation issues, it is best to rent a car and keep yourself connected to all the areas you wish to see firsthand.

I would like to stress that getting information about Palermo is critical to your enjoyment of your time here. You should take a moment and look over our meticulously considered 20 tips tourists should be aware of.

I would also suggest you sign up for our Facebook group to get current information from people visiting or who have recently visited Palermo.

If you want to experience the city as an authentic Sicilian, without falling prey to traps and scams that waste your time and money, check out our guide The Sicilian Way.

Questions or concerns? Leave a comment in the provided box below and I will be sure to answer you back as soon as possible.

PS – I created 7 itineraries to get you around Palermo and five videos with tips to share information about the city you cannot find in other locations. This is a FREE gift, so make sure you check it out.

A presto

Nico Barcellona

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About Nico

I am a 100%, authentic, full blooded Sicilian loves Palermo like Romeo loves Juliet. I will talk obsessively about this city and I know every part intimately. I know all of Palermo secrets. I want to share with you everything great about this city, but I will not hide its flaws. After all, love is made out of flaws as well.