If you’re visiting for the first time, or even a second or third time, you know all the places to eat and see. Every brochure tells about those.
But the other evening around sunset, my pals Antonio and Salvatore we were enjoying a carafe of Italian wine when Antonio asked me a question.
“Okay, Don Tano, what would be your suggestions for a visitor coming to Palermo? I mean those things you aren’t likely to find in a travel guide. Something only the locals can provide.”
That gave me, Old Ton Tano, a great idea for a post. I hope you’ll find we’ve put together some information that will help you get all your money’s worth when you visit our beautiful and interesting city.
Okay, let’s get started!
1. Look both ways
You’ll think drivers are ot of their minds – and maybe you’re right! If you don’t want to be eating asphalt, be sure to look both ways every time you cross a street.
2. Book your accommodations in key areas
Public transportation is a complete disaster. The farther you stay from key areas, the higher your chances for having a nervous breakdown. Public transportation is iffy, undependable and you wouldn’t like it. The best areas to stay are either the City Center, Old Town – or Mondello (but Mondello only if you rent a car arriving in Palermo has only one rule and that is there are no rules at all!)
3. Now that’s not as bad as it sounds
If you do choose to rent a car, you’ll need just a little practice to get into the swim with the others and find that it’s not as scary as it might seem at first.
In the vicinity of Palermo, there are many exciting attractions and views, and to enjoy these you need to rent a car. Just follow rule one and you’ll be all right!
4. Get Audio Guides
Unfortunately, many attractions offer no English explanations (and no one around to translate for you). If you can’t afford a personal tour guide, you can certainly download audio guides. They can help get you around and it won’t cost you a thing.
With those, you can do much better at sightseeing.
5. If possible, learn a few Italian key words
When it comes to English, it’s all Greek to the locals. If you can pick up a few Italian words, and use body language too. You’d be surprised how much better the reception and soon you’ll be getting along just great. And people will love you for trying.
6. Don’t be a big tipper
Servers in restaurants don’t expect large tips or tips at all. Okay, you’ll probably be generous anyway won’t you?
7. Dress well for nighttime clubbing
Clothing is very important to Sicilians, especially at night. High heels and evening dress for the lovely ladies and gentlemen should wear more formal dress. Leave the dangling colorful shirt tales and shorts with sneakers in the hotel room. Nobody will steal them. If you can’t tie a nice knot in your tie, look online and there’s your answer.
Dressed properly, you’ll feel much more a part of the scene and doormen at clubs won’t slam the door in your face.
8. Dine late
Better restaurants (avoiding tourist traps) don’t open in the evening until 7:30 pm or even later. And you definitely don’t want to get dressed up to eat in a tourist trap. That hat goes for other meals as well. Service as well as food is indifferent, but the price isn’t.
Smart locals nibble on snacks throughout the day, and there are some righteous snacks on street corners all over Palermo.
Try the sfincione, and you’ll be a true believer. It looks like a thick crust pizza, but unlike the American version, these are light and fluffy and you’ll beg for more.
9. Learn coffee etiquette
One of the great rituals of Italian life is stopping at a café for coffee. First, you pay at the cash register, and with your receipt in hand, you give the barista your order. Take a seat and enjoy at your leisure.
10. Be sure to buy a ticket before boarding a bus
Most parts of Italy and Sicily sell tickets at tobacco shops or street kiosks. Once on board, you validate your ticket in a machine. A few do sell tickets on board, but they’re over-priced. Save your money for more interesting things.
11. Avoid taxis
Unfortunately, taxi drivers might be compared to vampires. Instead of thirsting for blood however, they thirst for your money. Worse, unlike vampires who thirst only at night, these vampires roam all day as well, It’s every man for himself!
12. Try to carry some euros in cash in your pocket or handbag
Although credit cards are generally accepted at most established businesses, street vendors, and food markets accept cash.
Peddlers, and even some small cafés and shops too, accept cash only. One reason for this is to avoid taxes. What can I say?
13. Respect religions sites
Girls, please cover your shoulders and legs when you enter a church. Otherwise, priests and nuns will be frowning at you, and some may ever approach you and without speaking indicate by signs that you’re inappropriately dressed.
That doesn’t mean you have to dress lie Saint Teresa of Calcutta, but you certainly don’t look like you’re coming from a bar.
14. Don’t order a cappuccino in the evening
In Italy, cappuccino is taken only in the mornings.
Don’t be surprised if the server at lunch or dinner will give you “that look” when you order a cappuccino. Remember the time-tested adage: When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
15. Please, don’t go topless
You won’t be bothered by the police (except for an evil eye) but everyone will stare at you, particularly the “tascios” who loiter on street corners trying to look cool. Take it from Old Don Tano, you won’t be flattered, just ogled.
16. Relearning the time
Sicilians are very laid back. You can’t expect a business to open exactly on the times it posts on the door. That’s just a suggestion. And don’t expect anyone to apologize whether it’s business opening late or your scheduled tour. In Sicily, everyone just goes with the flow. Besides, after all, you’re on vacation. You’ll have plenty of scheduling when you get back home.
17. Get some insect repellent
In the summertime here we have what locals call tiger mosquitoes. That’s what they are, not only in name but in essence. Take it from Tano, you don’t want to be scratching all day and into the evening. I recommend you arm yourself with some potent insect repellent.
18. Don’t worry about getting “whacked” by a Mafioso
Sorry, but you won’t find a horse head on your bed, and they won’t make you an offer you can’t refuse – or else. Capisci? All that hype is Hollywood, not Sicily.
19. Keep this in our head: “The greasier the better”
When it comes to our much praised street food, please do not commit the unforgivable sin of going to a fancy restaurant. Street food means food sold on the street by peddlers, and trust Old Don Tano.
My years of experience tell me, and I’m telling you: Real street food you can pick up on street corners is the real deal. Just be sure to arm yourself with plenty of napkins!
20. Read up on Palermo’s history
Palermo is one of the oldest cities in the world. Palermo is often called the most conquered city in history. Due to its strategic position in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has always been a prize. Just about every conquering nation at one time or another has occupied Sicily.
Today, we have relics from many of these. At least twelve different countries have occupied the city at one time or another. We have a great deal of Arabian memories even today among out ancient souqs. Our street markets, such as Mercato Vucciria among other was started up by the Arabs. Our food too, is naturally quite eclectic.
I believe 👉reading up on the history of Palermo will deepen your appreciation and understanding of our wonderful city.
I hope you’ll find this information a help to appreciate the amazing Island of Sicily. If you have questions, feel free to drop a comment below.