I hope you’ll spend at least one Christmas in Palermo. And today, Nico is gonna lay out all the information you’ll need for your next trip to Palermo during the Christmas season.
Buongiorno to everyone! If you feel two (strong) arms hugging you, don’t be frightened. It’s just Nico, your servant and host to the amazing city of Palermo.
I’m here to provide you with all the must-do information you’re gonna need to experience Palermo at Christmas time as a real local rather than just another passing visitor.
If you’ve been planning to go to Sicily or if you’ve just started thinking about it, a Christmas time vacation in Palermo bears some serious consideration.
Today I’m gonna give you some precious information and details on just what to do — information you won’t find anywhere else.
Remember, even Santa reads my guides on Palermo every year before passing by to leave Christmas toys for Sicilian children (But shhh…this is supposed to be a secret! 😀)
For starters, here are five things you should know about your next Christmas trip to Palermo. I’ve listed below some must-know information about Palermo at Christmastime, but I highly recommend you read our page dedicated to general visitors information as well.
1. What’s the weather like in Palermo during the Christmas season?
Of course, old grumps like me talk your ear off when the weather topic comes up. We complain that fifty years ago the weather wasn’t crazy like it is today.
Now, I don’t want to be seen as an old-timer, I have to inform you that it’s true that the weather is a little bit crazy an not too easy to predict very far in advance.
But speaking in general terms, and considering that I don’t have a crystal ball to help me predict the future, I always recommend visitors check the weather on the proper website a few days before arrival in Palermo.
Or…if you have a cat, bring it along. When it washes its ears that means that within the next 24 hours it’s going to rain. If it doesn’t, that means good weather. My grandmother swore by that, but I’ve never actually verified it.
Well, that’s the story I grew up with, but…if you know anything about that, please use the comment box below to tell me more. I’ve been keeping this question in mind for more than thirty years now.
☀ Anyway, the average temperature during the daytime in December is around 55-60 F º (or 14-16C º).
🌙 During the night it may drop to 50 Fº (10 C º).
We may have a couple of rainy days. But during the past 7-8 years, we’ve had days hat reached 77 Fº (or 25 Cº). During this period, hordes of locals descend on Mondello beach like there is no tomorrow — all this invasion captured on the cameras of the largest TV broadcasters who make big news and act as if they had predicted this far in advance. Just in case, however, along with your umbrella, be sure to include a swimsuit 😀.
2. What should I pack for Sicily?
I wrote about that in a dedicated article and also wrote done 👉a list of what both men and women should bring along. I suggest you take a look at it.
But primarily, don’t bring any abnormally thick heavy clothing for December, and on the other hand, don’t stuff your bags with t-shirts and linen summer clothing.
The middle way is the best way. Bring along a winter jacket, everyday clothing and maybe a couple of t-shirts just in case Santa brings us some spring days the way he’s been doing over the past 7-8 years.
When you come to Palermo, remember that you’re going to an Italian city where people love and live for fashion, so while you should consider comfortable clothing during the day for the walking tours at night, try to dress up a little just so you feel like you fit in with the locals. Now, I don’t mean tuxedos, but try not to look like a frumpy tourist with shorts and a loud wrinkled shirt.
3. Where should I stay?
If you’ve already visited Wearepalermo.com you’ve probably seen some of my tips about the best places to stay in order to get the most out of your visit to Palermo.
These are also the best places for shopping and the nightlife is second to none. Mondello beach and other seaside areas are deserted during the “Christmas season.”
If you intend going for any sort of trip around Sicily, my recommendation is to 👉rent an automobile. I do not recommend an expensive organized trip or even worse: taking public transportation.
4. Do I need to rent a car?
If you intend to stay in Palermo in a comfortable hotel room within walking distance to most of the major shopping and monuments, then obviously you won’t need a car. But even if you have no intention of leaving town, renting a vehicle has some definite perks.
There are many interesting parts of Palermo you should see, and without a car, getting around to all of them could be a challenge.
Public transportation can really test your patience and I do not recommend it. I’ve traveled all over the world and it came to my attention that compared to other European cities (including Italian cities) Palermo has a higher number of bald men. I’ve begun to think there’s a correlation with the system of public transportation…who knows?
If you do rent a vehicle, please allow yourself time to get used to the crazy driving style of Sicilians. And don’t think that the Christmas season has anything to do with that. Not at all. Because of the Christmas shopping, streets are more crowded with cars and people are nervous — but not to worry.
Although at first, this may seem scary, you’ll soon get used to it and actually have fun. Basically, you can do anything you want in the vehicle. Play video games or better still: watch the living nativity at Custonaci and Erice.
5. How long should I plan to stay to get the most out of the city?
I think I would have to say at least a four-day to give you time to learn about the history, the culture and still allow time for you to experience the local life.
Palermo boasts one of the largest historical city centers in Europe and just to see the major attractions you’ll need at least four days. It’s not just by chance that I’ve created four self-guided walking tours.
You’ll soon discover that four days is barely enough for you to visit all the historical gems left by the twelve different rulers he’d had in our history. (Norman and Arabic above all).
What to do for Christmas 2020 in Palermo
Unfortunately, there will not be any Christmas activities to talk about this year. In order to limit COVID-19’s spread, all the leisure and entertainment spots, including restaurants and bars, will be closed during the festivities. Similarly, all parties and celebrations for New Year’s Eve are strictly prohibited by law.
Palermo boasts many cool things to do while enjoying the Christmas season. There is something for families, for young people, and for children that don’t want to end up doing the usual touristy things — it’s better they should experience the city like the locals do.
1. See the Christmas markets
In Palermo, we love markets and for this reason, we’ve strived to preserve our more historical open markets, some of which date back to the Arab souks of years gone by.
By the way, there is a 👉must-do while in Palermo, so make sure not to miss out. You won’t find a load of Christmas stuff imported from China, but you will, on the other hand, find food that will make your stomach growl.
Oh, you can find many dedicated markets dedicated to Christmas as well. In fact, you’ll find them all over the city. There you can find everything, creations by local artisans, ceramics, and vintage “treasures” and of course, street food. All sorts of Christmas artisan balls, trees, jewels, chocolate, toys and the list goes on.
Drawbacks? The truth is that we Sicilians are not masters of organization. Although you’ll find some of the historical outdoor markets to be exactly in the same location for centuries, Christmas markets and local fairs abound but knowing where they are — since they’re constantly changing — and even the locals find it a puzzle.
Usually, we hear about the different temporary markets by word of mouth and articles in our local newspaper only a few days in advance. Luckily for you, however, Nico has got your back. I’ll tell you about the Christmas events calendar as soon as I get any information, so stay tuned.
2. Visit the churches
As you undoubtedly know, Italy is a Christian country and the Catholic faith is very strong, especially in the south. They increase the numbers of celebrations and Christmas events like gospel concerts and living nativities in December.
One of the funniest things about the locals is that their faith is subjected to seasonality, in somewhat the same way hotels do. You see, the churches are quite full during winter reaching a peak at Christmastime and actually, all winter long but with the arrival of spring, it seems that God has taken a vacation to faraway places where He can’t listen to the prayers of the local inhabitants.
But getting back to religious events, as happens for the events in the city, they aren’t really advertised and people know about them primarily by word of mouth. As soon as I get any information about this, I’ll let you know.
If you do plan to attend the celebration on Christmas day (and you should go, even if you are a devout atheist or adhere to another religion, just for the experience), I suggest you go to the Cathedral, Church of Jesus or the Martorana. Besides, the actual celebration, these churches are the most beautiful and unique in all of Italy.
3. Attend a Massimo Theater show
Palermo also has the distinction of boasting the largest opera house in Italy. And it’s third in Europe only a bit smaller than the Opéra National de Paris and the K.K. Hof-Opernhaus in Vienna.
And above all, the Massimo is renowned for its perfect acoustics. ‘Needless to say, the Massimo ranks among 🔥one of the really must-sees when visiting Palermo — visits during the Christmas season is an experience I guarantee you won’t forget.
I’ve seen hundreds of shows during my long long life and each time I get the same goosebumps I got the very first time.
Contrary to what happens with the events set up by the local municipality, there are well promoted in advance both online and offline and you should also get your tickets as far in advance as you can if you don’t want to risk standing outside looking in to admire this lovely theater.
4. Attend the Palermo street food fest
Here in Sicily, we love to eat — we live to eat. Lunch and dinners are almost religious events and if someone plays with our food we get really really angry.
We love food so much that we invented the saying to our children: “La pancia è tutta lunghezza” Meaning: “That fat-belly will turn into great height.“Unfortunately, with so many overweight kids running about, that’s pretty poor advice, but it’s such an old adage that it’s hard to put down these days.
Some of the most loved food in Sicily, aside from pizza and pasta, is 👉good old street food and we love it. According to Forbes Magazine, Palermo ranks fifth among the world’s top ten cities for street food, and first in all of Europe.
So if you come here during the Christmas season, you’ll have a chance to attend one of the most awaited street food events in the city, the Palermo Street Food Fest. For about ten days, many street food vendors set up their booths, grills and their improvised kitchens in the Old Town district (usually in Via Vittorio Emanuele Road) and prepare their best dishes for the passersby (not for free of course).
You’ll find panelle, and crocché, pane con le milza, sfincione, stigghiola and all the major dishes of the Sicilian street food vendors in just this one stretch of road.
Believe me, this is the wet dream of all the foodies around the world.
If you do miss the Street Food Fest, you can still eat street food everywhere in the city where you’ll find literally thousands of street vendors.
My recommendation would be Franco u Vastiddaro for street food fritters such as panelle and croccé. This is a family-run restaurant. And Rocky (another street vendor) has great pane con la milza (sandwich with spleen). Both these are located on the Via Vittorio Emanuele in Old Town. For grilled street food such as stigghiole, try the Ballarò or Capo market.
5. Palermo nightlife
The atmosphere around Christmastime seems to awaken the sociability and conviviality of all the Sicilian People after a long hot summer. You’ll find more people out at night, even during weeknights.
The most active places for you to enjoy the nightlife would be Old Town and also the new city center. I always recommend booking your hotel in these areas, especially if you don’t intend to drive around.
Both these areas abound with bars and lounges that organize many events starting with the aperitif, about 8 pm.
I’d recommend an aperitif at 8 at the either the Vespa, the Cantavespri, or the Colletti bar in Old Town.
In the new city center, you might try la Bottiglieria, VinoVerso, Hic la folie du vin or Enoteca Picone. And you won’t go away hungry.
You’ll find many restaurants where you can dine on local food, and of course, our excellent pizzas.
A word of caution: if you plan to dine on fish, make sure the day before it didn’t rain and it wasn’t a Sunday either. On rainy days as well as on Sundays fishermen don’t work, so that means that the restaurants don’t have the same fresh products as they do during the week in good weather.
Good places to try the local cuisine would be A Quattro Mani, Osteria Ballarò, A’nica and Mangia e Bevi restaurants are all good places to try the local cuisine.
And remember, if you plan to have a Christmas lunch or dinner in a restaurant, you’ll be hard-pressed to get a table on Christmas Day. But that can be a blessing in disguise. On that day, the restaurants usually serve bad food and raised prices.
If you rented an apartment (many are available), you might be better off to do your shopping in the street markets and cook at home. (Or, for a small fee, there are some mighty good cooks who’ll come in and cook for you. Keep that in mind).
I’m sure I’ve overwhelmed you with so much to say in this article But I hope I get you enough information for you to make some great choices when you come to Palermo next Christmas. Meanwhile, if you have any questions or comments, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
And at my age, you never know, but if I’m not here, someone else will step in.Your friend and semi-official host and guide to Palermo, the sweetest city in all of Italy!