In this article, you’ll get the inside scoop on getting around Palermo. From airport to city and beyond, I’ll cover the best public transportation options. Discover the quickest and most convenient ways to explore the city and nearby towns and islands.
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 public transportation in Sicily sucks if you live here. But don’t worry, if you’re a tourist and you’ve got your act together, it’s not too shabby.
I’m about to give you the inside scoop on how to use public transportation like a pro. This info is straight from us locals who know the city like the back of our hand, so pay attention. Trust me, this will save you a lot of time and money.
Before we start, allow me to share with you three simple math equations that I suggest you remember.
- If you decide to get accommodation away from the key areas of Palermo, you’re screwed.
- If you try to explore Palermo exclusively with public transportation, you’re screwed.
- If you ignore either of the two rules above, you’re screwed.
Capisci? You’re screwed.
As you might have guessed, getting your lodging in a strategic location is critical. The problem arises when you stay off the central areas or want to explore Palermo’s surroundings.
Now that you understand the importance of where you stay, let’s first see the airport connections and then move on to how to get around the city and outside of it.
The public transportation in Palermo might not be up to the standards you’re used to in other big cities in Europe. But, if you stay in key areas, are well-organized, and have a solid plan, it’s not too bad. Just keep these things in mind and you’ll be good to go!
1. From the airport to the city center and back
Okay, so let’s start with the airport connections. Getting to the city center from the airport and back is pretty straightforward, and you have five options to choose from.
The Two Most Popular Transportation Options
First, I’ll go over the first two, which are the most popular, reliable and budget-friendly. And then I’ll tell you about the other three options, which may not be the best but could make sense for you.
Prestia & Comandé shuttle bus
First up, we have the shuttle bus from the local company Prestia & Comandé. It runs from the airport to the city center and back every 30 minutes, making several stops along the way.
Just note, it won’t take you to the seaside, and it takes around 40-45 minutes to get to the last stop, which is the central station. The bus is always on time, is solid as a rock, and has never caused us any problems so you can totally count on it without a worry.
To catch the shuttle bus, simply follow the signs in the arrivals area. You can purchase your ticket either at the airport or in advance online. On the way to the airport, you can also buy the tickets at each bus stop. You will find someone there selling the tickets.
“The Prestia & Comandé shuttle is the go-to option for getting to and from the airport. It’s cheap and reliable, so I’d suggest snagging your tickets online during busy times ’cause seats fill up fast.”
Next, there’s the shared taxi. It’s essentially a regular van taxi that lets people share the ride.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go crazy asking strangers to share the ride to fill up the taxi. The driver will take care of that.
It follows the same route as the shuttle bus, but it’s faster and only costs a couple of euros more. Of course, being a shared taxi, you can’t ask the driver to “drop me off at Mario’s restaurant” or somewhere specific. For that, get a regular cab.
You can catch the shared taxi by following the signs at the airport, you pay the driver directly. The service is reliable, the only downside is that you might run into some crazy driver who drives like they just escaped from the nuthouse.
But don’t worry, just tell ‘em “Hey buddy, slow down.” Taxi drivers often drive like they’ve got a woman in labor on board.
Shared taxis are a solid option if you’re looking to get to your destination a bit quicker, but they’ll cost you a couple extra euros. I usually go for them if I’ve just missed the shuttle, so I don’t have to wait 30 minutes for the next one. Shared taxis depart more often, so it’s a good choice.
3 Alternative Methods for Airport Transportation
These were the most popular and recommended airport connections. As I mentioned, there are three additional options that are less popular but could be a good fit for you.
First, there’s the Trenitalia train that runs between the airport and city center approximately hourly.
The train takes about an hour to the central station and makes stops at several towns on the coast along the way, including Carini, Isola delle Femmine and Sferracavallo. This is the only advantage of choosing the train over the shuttle bus or shared taxi as it’s slower than both.
To catch the train, simply follow the signs at the airport. You can purchase tickets either online on the Trenitalia website or at the airport.
The train’s reliable, but like I said, it’s slow. So only use it when you need to go to places that aren’t covered by the shuttle bus or shared taxi.
I don’t usually take the train unless I’m headed to a part of the city where the shuttle bus or shared taxi can’t take me. However, it might be worth considering if you’re going to the airport during a busy weekend when the roads can get jammed up.
Another option, Uber. It’s been around since the start of 2022 after a years-long drama with local governments. It ain’t exactly cheap, but if you have some extra cash to burn, it’s hands down the most convenient way to get around.
Just a heads up, it’s actually more expensive than taxis in the city right now. I’m sure it’ll cost less soon, but for now, that’s the deal.
Uber is gradually catching on, but it still needs time to be more budget-friendly. To be honest, I don’t use it as much because everyone in the city, myself included, is using electric bikes and scooters these days.
And finally, drum roll please, the regular taxi service is waiting outside the arrivals area.
If you know me, you know that I’m not a big fan of taxis in Palermo because they tend to overcharge. But before the typical champion of hopeless causes chimes in with “I took taxis in Palermo and they were all nice.” I know that you can find nice people anywhere, even in hell.
I just hear too many stories of people getting ripped off. Taxis are already pricey, and even though there are set prices for the city center, drivers still have their tricks. So only take a taxi if you absolutely have to, but don’t let them scam you.
One more important thing to keep in mind. After 1 am, there’s no other way to get to the city from the airport except for taking a damn taxi or Uber. Try not to get fooled.
I don’t have a problem with taxi drivers, but I’m tired of constantly hearing about people being taken for a ride. I’ve been in that situation too – they always try to find a way to scam you when you get in a taxi.
The best ways to get around the city
As long as you’re staying in the city and need to move between key and central areas, public transportation works decently well.
The issue with public transportation comes up when you’re trying to venture outside the city or explore the whole island of Sicily. But in the main areas of Palermo, it’s actually not too bad.
Besides spending a lot on Ubers or taxis, you’ve got two solid and cheap options for getting around: buses and electric bikes or stand-up scooters that you can rent right from your phone.
Let’s start with the buses. The city buses are from a local company called AMAT and come in white, yellow, and blue colors.
Now, if there were a competition for the most efficient bus service in Europe, it wouldn’t even place, but in the key areas, it works decently well.
To find out which bus number to take and where to catch it, you can use Google Maps, but there’s another app that works even better in Palermo, called Moovit.
Another thing to remember, in the historic center, there are free shuttle buses that circulate. They’re always from the AMAT company, the city’s bus company, and have the same colors. But you can spot the free ones easily because they have a digital display that says “FREE.”
Their frequency is supposed to be every 11 minutes, which isn’t too bad for a free service. Check out the AMAT page to see where the buses stop.
Gotta say, the bus service has gotten better lately. It’s not as snappy as in the bigger cities in Europe, but it’s good enough for getting around the city center and key areas.
Electric bikes or stand-up scooters
Another option is to ride one of those electric bikes or stand-up scooters that are everywhere in Europe now. You hop on one like it’s a skateboard and just hit the button to activate the electric motor. Easy peasy!
Just download the app from the company you want to use, like Lime or Bird, and you’re good to go! Of course, if you can’t ride a bicycle and can’t maintain balance, don’t use the scooters. You don’t want to end up under a bus, right?
You can take whichever electric scooter or bike you find on the street, go anywhere you like, and when you arrive at your destination, just park it.
To save money, consider getting a weekly subscription, which provides a set number of minutes for a one-time fee.
Technically, there should be rules for riding them, but in reality, people just do whatever they feel like: from two people on one scooter to zooming on sidewalks.
The police? They only come to the city center for some ice cream, coffee, and good old police gossip—but this is another story for another time.
Electric scooters have been a game-changer for me. I hardly use anything else now. They’re speedy, you can just drop them off wherever, no more parking stress, and if you get a subscription, you can get around for a good price. So awesome!
Getting outside the city and back
Just keep in mind that, depending on where you want to go, it might not be as easy as getting around in the city. This is where public transportation starts to get a bit shaky.
Venturing beyond the city: exploring the beaches and towns around Palermo
Let’s start with the beaches. If you want to go to the ones closest to the city, like Mondello and Addaura, you can take the city bus. It’s not exactly a Swiss watch, but you should eventually make it to the beach without dropping too many f-bombs.
If you want to get out of the city and check out some of the popular beaches like Cefalù, San Vito, or Scopello, you’ll need to either take a train or coach (if available), or rent a car.
Now, based on my experience, besides Cefalù, which has good train connections, or a handful of other places, I wouldn’t dare venture outside the city with public transportation because they often have terrible schedules, there are delays, you need to make 300 connections, you can’t find the correct information, or they might even cancel the trip.
Especially with small local bus companies, know that they run the company like it’s their neighborhood corner store.
The same thing goes for the small towns around Palermo. The smaller and more remote the town you want to reach, the more you’ll need a car. Many are poorly connected or not connected at all.
So, to sum it up, if you’re only here for a couple of days and just want to visit the popular beaches, like Mondello, and maybe one or two nearby towns, like Monreale, you can probably make it work with public transportation.
But if you’re planning to stick around for a bit and explore all the cool beaches and towns around Palermo, you might want to consider renting a car, unless you’re down for a real headache dealing with public transport.
The trick is to have a solid plan of what you want to do. Jot down your itinerary and see if you can get to your spots by bus and train or if you’ll need a car.
Exploring the Little Islands Off the Palermo Coast
If you come here during the summer, you should definitely check them out because they’re like paradise on earth with crystal-clear waters.
You get to these places by a ferry or a fast ferry that departs from the ports of Palermo, Trapani, or Milazzo.
So, depending on the island you’re headed to, you’ll need to get to a different port.
Just keep in mind that Palermo is well-connected to both Marsala and Trapani. With Trapani, you’ve got frequent buses that’ll take you straight to the port. With Marsala, you’ve got both trains and buses that’ll drop you off close by.
If you’re coming in the summer, you gotta check out at least one island! Ustica’s the easiest one to get to. I’m a big fan of Favignana and the Aeolian Islands. They’re like little slices of heaven. Don’t miss out!
Two Key Things to Remember About Getting Around
To wrap up this chat, let me tell you a few things to keep in mind about transportation in Palermo, because I always see tourists scratching their heads.
Metro and Tram
First, you might have heard of a Palermo metro, but there’s not really one. It’s just a slow, regular regional train that goes through some parts of the city and a few nearby towns. It’s not really a top choice for tourists, which is why I didn’t mention it earlier.
They’ve been talking about building a real metro for years. But with all the political drama, it’s hard to say what’s actually happening. All we know is that they started digging up half the city and then just stopped.
There is a tram, but it only runs around key areas, and not within them. It’s probably good for locals who hang out on the outskirts, but not so much for tourists.
I hardly ever see tourists using what they call the metro” or tram. It’s handy for locals because it connects some important areas, like the university and hospital zones, to the outskirts of the city, but it’s not really helpful for tourists.
The last thing: where to rent a car. A lot of you have been asking for my suggestions on where to rent a car that’s both affordable and trustworthy.
Let me tell you, it’s not an easy feat! A lot of the cheaper options out there have hidden fees, and it’s easy to end up paying for something silly, like a tiny scratch you didn’t even know was there.
My advice is to use a website like rentalcars.com, which compares car rental prices, and go with well-known international companies that have good reviews.
You can save a little money by picking it up and dropping it off at the airport, but steer clear of those sketchy local rental places. Trust me, it’s just not worth it!
There’s also another option for renting cars: It’s an app called Auting. It’s kind of like Airbnb for cars, where regular people can rent out their own vehicles for a cheap price compared to a traditional car rental.
I’ve heard a lot of people use it, but I’m not sure about the specifics of insurance and what happens in the case of an accident. If you’re interested, check out Auting’s website. Just make sure you read the fine print before using the service to be fully informed.
As for driving, it can be a bit wild here, but you’ll get used to the lack of rules soon. It’s not as bad as it seems, but you’ll definitely need some driving experience.
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.
If you’re looking to rent a motorcycle instead, I’ve heard about this place with two locations, one in the city center and one in Palermo, that’s pretty solid. People seem to really like it, and there haven’t been any complaints. This shop is called Mondello Rent. Check it out.
Unfortunately, the only cheap car rentals are usually the ones that rip you off on silly things like scratches and all that. Go with a trusted international company, ’cause I hear all sorts of nightmare stories.
Okay, so I might have gone into a bit of detail in this article, but I just wanted to make sure I covered everything to help you avoid any traps or costly mistakes while you are in Sicily.
Throughout this guide we have talked about a lot of things, but I want to emphasize these five key points again:
- Buses, electric bikes, and scooters are the best way to get around the city center and key areas.
- Be careful of taxi drivers who might overcharge or play sneaky tricks, especially with tourists.
- The subway and tram system only cover a limited area and may not be useful for most tourist destinations.
- Trains and coaches can be a good option for reaching villages outside of the city.
- For a hassle-free trip, rent a car and stay connected to all the places you want to see.
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.
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 an itinerary 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.