Attention all travelers! Today I want to give you information anyone might need before visiting Sicily. You even have helpful tips to guide you after you arrive.
Ciao, it is your friend Nico – the full-blooded Sicilian – here.
If there’s anything that I’ve learned from traveling the world over many years, it is to find a comprehensive guide to help you navigate the new location.
The more that you know, the less surprises you will inevitably encounter. This changes the way you feel about a place overall.
Will have gone through those “if I had only known before” moments when traveling.
You might be thinking that you’re an idiot for not fully understanding all that you needed to before traveling. It is similar to when my business partner Francesco went to Abu Dhabi and hugged an Arabic girl in front of her husband. We Italians might hug a lot, but you never touch an Arabic girl in the UAE. We had to learn that the hard way.
Just so you know, you can touch Sicilian women. But there are many other things that you might need to know before landing in Sicily.
I have gathered several items that I would definitely want to know if I were coming to Palermo. Not just random tourist information, but also several conventions and underlying rules that are specific to our local population.
Be sure that you read all the information provided below, as this is sure to save you time, money, and embarrassment.
Ready to get started? Then let’s go.
20 Facts Every Traveler Should Know About Palermo
Get comfortable, as this is a lengthy guide. You are not going to find this information anywhere else, not even in the popular travel books that you can purchase for Palermo.
Let’s not waste any more time.
1. Safety and General Precaution
There is almost constant chatter about the relationship between Sicily and the Mafia.
There are documentaries, movies, posts on TripAdvisor, news stories, and other nonsense spouted out by northern Italians who have never set foot in the South. Yes, there is bad blood between the North and South.
Now let me level with you.
The mafia does exist. It exists in places beyond Sicily as well. Needless to say, and not to sound hypocritical, but they don’t care about you or any of the other citizens of Sicily. They’re busy controlling politics and other larger schemes, so the stories that you hear are purely fiction.
Regarding your safety, Palermo is not really any different than other major cities across the globe like Barcelona, London, or Paris. To be honest, these cities even have higher street crime rates than Palermo does.
You should always exert the same precautions that you would anywhere else that you visit, including:
- Choose a safe area in the city to stay
- Watch out for pickpockets or throughout the crowded street markets
- Do not make a show flashing your money around
- If you are a woman traveling alone, taking some extra precautions might be advisable
If you are into statistics, you might want to take a look at the crime rates on the ‘Il Sole 24’ (Italian Newspaper) website.
This publication keeps up-to-date statistics among the biggest cities in Italy. And of these, Palermo has the least amount of crime. You can see this for yourself by visiting the page.
You have nothing to worry about when you visit Palermo. Much like the rest of Sicily, it is considered more than safe to visit. You need to take the normal precautions that you would take anywhere visiting a big city in the world.
2. Geographical Information
Now I do not wish to bore you to death with multiple geographical details about Palermo, but there are a couple of things that you might want to know.
First and foremost, Palermo’s about 160 square kilometers, with more than 800,000 inhabitants. If you were to include all of the provinces, the total area is more like 5000 square kilometers.
Roughly translated? This city is bigger than it seems.
While it is nowhere near as big as New York or London, Palermo is still the fifth biggest city in Italy. Only Rome, Naples, Milan, and Turin are bigger.
Case in point, choosing where to stay in the city makes a big difference.
I find that many visitors pick accommodations that are far from the key areas, only defined blisters on their feet and more of the unfriendly folks in the city. At least they can come away with some never before heard curses in Italenglish.
As much as you might hope, public transport is not a suitable solution. But we will get more into that later.
It is important to note, the city is located on the edge of a fertile plain between the Billemi Mountains and the Tyrrhenian Sea. The area is better known as the Conca d’Oro.
But why should this matter to you?
This means that you’ve got many cool things to do while you are in town, both in the higher altitudes and along the coast.
There are many options for activities come up from the hiking in many of the natural reserves to delicious meals and local trattorias. You can even appreciate the sun and sand of the beaches against crystal clear waters.
The last thing that you should do is underestimate the size of this city. Palermo has nearly 25 districts, each of which has its own unique style and type of population. Choosing where to stay is a major decision. Consider that Palermo is more than its beaches and has many interesting things that you can do at higher elevations as well.
3. Where to Stay in Palermo
Earlier I talked about the size of Palermo, which you might want to scroll back and read if you skipped over, and it’s something that should stick in your mind. This consideration is vital when choosing a place within the municipality to stay.
Apart from its eyes, you must also consider aspects like the bipolarity of the city.
What does this even mean? Let me explain.
In Sicily, you might find some of the worst scumbags on the planet but also people that are more honest than even the Pope. We have a wide range from cavemen and some of the smartest people in the world. You see short brown-skinned, dark-eyed residents or tall milk-white people with blue eyes.
In mostly every area, there is no middle ground or compromise.
Similarly, the city has areas which feel like heaven and others that are worse than Brazilian favelas.
So, what this means is that if you stay in the wrong area you are screwed into having a terrible time. And I do mean that literally.
I have several tips and tricks for saving money on restaurants and bars, but do not go cheap on the area you stay if you don’t want to turn what would be a great vacation into a nightmare.
Do not rely on the shameful public transportation system, it is only effective right in the middle of town. Outer areas served by this system are rarely consistently connected.
There are three primary areas to consider your accommodations, including:
- Old Town
Each of these districts has multiple places to stay, including holiday houses, hostels, hotels, and B&B’s.
I have written a lengthy article all about where you should sleep in Palermo. Check it out today!
Unlike other major cities throughout the world like London, Palermo does not have a plethora of cute and quaint areas away from the city’s center to stay. You cannot rely on public transportation. Many of the poorer areas or outside the city center and public transport in these locations is almost nonexistent.
4. The Best Time to Visit
Ask any Sicilian that you pass about the best time to visit and they would scream proudly at you as if you were deaf to say that “You could come anytime of the year. Palermo’s always beautiful, capito?”
Truthfully, the best time to visit Palermo is subjective and varies based on many factors.
If you are looking to visit because of the beautiful beaches and want to drink and eat in these settings again and again, then you want to shoot for a time period between April and October. This would allow you to appreciate the sea to its fullest.
If you are more interested in seeing the sights and exploring the history of the city, it might behoove you to come during colder seasons. It is not typically enjoyable to walk through 40 C/ 100 F conditions to see all that you want to on a tour.
Here’s a short overview of expected conditions:
🌦 January (Max 15° – 59 °F / Min 10° – 50 °F): This time of year is rainier, but accommodating for those that do not want to sweat while visiting the monuments.
🌦 February (Max 15°- 59 °F / Min 9° – 48 °F): The rainy season still exists during this time come up, but it is the cheapest time of the year to visit Palermo.
🌤 March (Max 17° – 63 °F / Min 11° – 52 °F): It is still on the colder side of the spectrum despite beginning to warm.
☀️ April (Max 19° – 63 °F / Min 13° – 55 °F): Sightseeing and hiking has begun during this month, as Palermo begins to show signs of spring.
☀️ May (Max 24° – 75 °F / Min 17° – 63 °F): May will show some reasonable prices that allow people to get here in a warm time.
☀️ June (Max 28° – 82 °F / Min 21° – 70 °F): The beaches are full during this time, so if you’re a beach goer, this might be the best time to arrive.
☀️ July (Max 31° – 88 °F / Min 23° – 73 °F): July is always the busiest month of the year, and this goes for both the beaches and the inner-city tours
☀️ August (Max 31° – 88 °F / Min 24° – 75 °F): This is one of the times where tourists might outnumber locals, as many of Palermo’s population uses this chance to take their own vacations elsewhere.
☀️ September (Max 28° – 82 °F / Min 21° – 70 °F): Similar to July, but there are fewer tourists to deal with.
☀️ October (Max 24° – 75 °F / Min 18° – 64 °F): Warmer and with many of “The Path of Treasure” sights discounted.
🌤 November (Max 20° – 68 °F / Min 14° – 57 °F): Because it is still warm, this is a good time to continue sightseeing throughout Sicily.
⛅️ December (Max 16° – 60 °F / Min 11° – 52 °F): Visiting during Christmas as a unique treat, not to mention all the winter wildlife that you can see on nearby reserves.
If you click here, you can see the average temperatures right now in Palermo.
Just the delightful weather alone is not the only reason you might want to visit Palermo. If you’re still undecided on whether to come or not, I would recommend reading the article which I list all of the reasons why people should take the time to visit Palermo and all of Sicily. Check it out.
During the summer, even with a consistent breeze, the temperatures can get as hot as 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The winters will seem much cooler and manageable. It is unlikely to see snow at all where we are, but it is likely to encounter rain during the months of January and February.
5. What Holidays Do Palermo Residents Celebrate?
Whenever I mention all the public holidays that we have in Italy, my friends from the US will look at me like I’m crazy.
We have TONS of holidays, really only Spain beats us in volume.
Now, most of these are for religious festivities or celebrations, yet it’s the wine aisles of the grocery stores that see all the people and not the empty churches.
Of course, my grandmother would tell you that the reason the churches are empty is because we have hundreds and not enough people to fill them all up.
Maybe, we have a lot of grocery stores too…
As you might suspect, I’m one of those lost sheep at the supermarket. But don’t tell my nonna (Grandma).
So, let’s take a look at all the public Holidays celebrated throughout the year:
- January 1st (New Year’s Day)
- January 6th (Epiphany)
- Easter (April 4th, 2021)
- Easter Monday (April 5th, 2021)
- 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)
All of these are the public holidays throughout all of Italy, not just Palermo. That is, with the exception for Saint Rosalia on July 15th, who is the patron Saint of Palermo.
Strangely enough, Saint Rosalia is even more celebrated than Christmas throughout the city. All of Palermo goes crazy on this day. So much so, that I wrote an entire article about Saint Rosalia Day. Take a look at it.
If you have a chance, you should try to visit Sicily during one of these festivals. The one I would recommend the most is Saint Rosalia Day. Just know that on holidays, many shops and restaurants are likely to be closed – so plan accordingly.
6. Restaurant Service and Tipping
You spend a lot of time traveling around the US or the UK, you will find that the restaurant services here are impeccable. Waiters are very nice, they smile at you, and they make polite conversation to ask how you feel.
You were not going to get that in Italy. You should be thankful if they welcome you at all with the hint of a smile and not just show you the finger.
Coddling customers is not a thing that we do in Italy, unless you happen to be in a fancy restaurant, because the waiters do not work for tips.
Most of these individuals have 12 hour shifts six days a week. The conditions or bad and their salaries are worse, and they have to deal with bossy restaurant owners convinced that being the leader means being the loudest.
So why do I tell this to you?
Because I want you to come in with lower expectations on the service and armed with a little more patience than you might typically have.
In regard to tipping, it is the customary thing to do in Italian restaurants, but most Italians just leave a few coins behind.
There are no specific percentages that you need to observe, although with a bill of 50€, tip of €3 can be nice for the waiter involved.
I suppose if you need to do this based on a percentage, you are looking at something around 3 to 5%.
At self-service or fast-food locations, it is not common to tip at all.
We Italians have gotten used to the snarling service at most of the restaurants that we choose to dine at. Honestly, we’re happy if the waiters don’t mess up the food. Depending on where you’re from, this might be dramatic for you though. I wrote some tips about dining out in an article, you should check it out.
7. Operating Hours for Shops and Stores
There was a time in Sicily’s illustrious history where local stop owners ran profitable businesses with both prestige and respect without overworking their staff.
Everyone was happy.
They would work a traditional 9:00 to 8:00 PM schedule, often stopping from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM every day to observe “riposino“, or as you might call it, nap time. The Spaniards have taken to calling this break la siesta.
Sometime at the turn of the century, the bad guys arrived in Palermo and other cities throughout Sicily.
Suddenly shopping malls and larger retail locations appeared and changed the rules of the market – including habits and schedules. Everything is now open from 9 AM to 9 PM without any “riposino”.
With just that small change, it seems that half the store owners went bankrupt and the other half just became miserable and turned their employees in the slaves of 12-hour shifts.
Case in point, chain stores, shopping malls, and even local establishments all share a similar schedule for the most part. This is 9 AM to 8 or 9:00 PM every day. Certain stores managed locally might close on Sundays.
Personnel at these stores work six days, if not 7, for 10 hours or more per shift. If they happen to snarl at you or seem eager for you to go ahead, turn around, and go to hell, now you know why.
Oh, I almost forgot.
There are only five days a year where it’s customary for shops to close: Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter, International Workers Day on May 1st, and the 15th of August.
Most of the shops throughout Palermo stay open seven days a week, whether there little local shops or bigger chain stores. Employees are not always super welcoming to shoppers, primarily because they are underpaid and very undertrained in customer service. In some cases, they’re just jerks.
8. What to Wear on Vacation in Italy
I will always be honest with you.
I would like to tell you that Italians are so open minded and deep that we don’t pay attention to minute things like what people wear. We look deeper into who people are on the inside. If I told you that, I would be lying to your face.
We Italians are incredibly judgy and overly critical about the clothing that we see. So now you might be thinking, what the hell do I pack in my suitcase?
The good news is, you don’t have to waste your money on expensive close that you would see strutting the catwalk on some fashion shoe, like selections from Armani or Prada.
There are some basic rules that you might want to follow if you intend to blend in with the locals. To be precise, I have two basic rules to follow.
The first, is that the more the sun says, the more you need to dress up. The second of these, and likely most important, is to never use outfits that don’t make sense for the circumstances.
To elaborate, tank tops in sportswear are worn at the gym exclusively in Italy. You wear swimsuits to the beach or to the pool. You wear caps to the games held at the stadiums. Everything has its place.
We don’t wear swimsuits to restaurants unless they’re on the beach. We also don’t go to the club wearing Cristiano Ronaldo’s jersey.
I would like to tell you that we’re all just as open minded as the folks you might find in Brighton, England. people there can pick up their son from school dressed as Batman and no one bats an eye. Pun intended.
No matter if it’s right or it’s wrong, Italians tend to judge all books by their cover. It’s just how we were made. Take it or leave it.
I would invite you just to be yourself and where would you like when you are visiting but try to pay attention to the context if you want to blend in with the locals here. If you don’t care about merging with the locals at all, feel free to wear and do whatever. It’s not like we’re going to sentence you to death because you got the outfit wrong.
9. “In Case of Emergency” Numbers
People come to Italy to have fun, but us Sicilians have a saying around here. “Megghiu diri chi sacciu ca chi sapia” which translated, is “better to say: who knows’ than if only I had known it before”.
This is our version of the adage better safe than sorry.
While I certainly hope that you never have a need for emergency numbers, here are some of the primary services you might need to reach when aid is required:
👮🏻 Police – 112 or 113
🚑 Ambulance – 118
🔥 Fire – 115
Bear in mind, that the operators are not going to likely speak English. If you happen to need emergency help, ask a young local dear to you to help translate on your behalf.
While the older generation is always sweet and wanting to help, often they barely even speak the Italian necessary.
Should you wind up in the hospital, know that European citizens have health care guaranteed through European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), giving them the right to receive all necessary treatments – even those that are not urgent.
Anyone who is not a European citizen in Italy are temporarily entitled to hospital health care services in the event of the need for urgent or essential care.
Be mindful that traveling to an emergency room in Palermo is like navigating a crowded nightclub. We Sicilians tend to think every little thing that goes wrong with our body is us lying on death’s doorstep.
At all hours, hospitals are crowded place. If you have in the needed doctor for smaller things, you might be better off attempting to locate a private one instead. You can ask your hotel or host what they recommend should you need one.
If you find yourself in need of a doctor while on vacation in Palermo, you might find it easier to shell out 50 or $100 for a house visit. Is way more efficient than spending your entire day waiting around first short window to see overwhelmed emergency staff amid wailing people. Ask the locals for what doctors own private clinics or will travel to you for home visits.
10. Traps for Tourists
I’m not proud of what I have to tell you next, but I’m not going to hide it either.
There are many different ways that someone might try to rip you off.
I typically don’t like to point fingers at specific groups or places, as you are going to find bad and good apples anywhere you go. But there are about seven categories of people I deem the bad guys of Palermo.
Be wary of interactions with these individuals on your vacation:
- Taxi Drivers – I consider these scumbags to be the worst people in all of Palermo. They are overly expensive, rude, and dishonest. They will always try to take advantage of foreigners. You are better off avoiding them altogether.
- Street Peddlers – you can be certain but unless you are aware of what the prices should be, these crooks might try to charge double or even triple for the eats they make.
- Tourist Restaurants – when I walk past all these restaurants I just want to throw up at the sight of the food and beat up owners for charging so much for the crap they put on plates.
- Street Markets – these are among the most exciting attractions for many visiting the city, but if you don’t know where to go or what to buy, you might end up spending almost 10 times as much as you would have normally.
- Horse-Drawn Carts – You could find these legalized bandits in the city center. Apart from the mistreatment of their horses, they enjoy ripping off tourists. I am uncertain as to what their actual function is.
- Beach Kiosks – You can see along the seaside that there are many kiosks and lido’s serving food and drinks to those appreciating the sun in the sand. Always ask for the menu first to make sure that the prices you are getting are the actual prices for the establishment. They can get very liberal if you never question it.
- Unofficial Guides – Official guided tours are really expensive in town but at least they’re earning their money honestly. There are also many improvised tours, typically a friend of your host, who provides “tours” at high prices.
Granted, it goes without saying that this is not a specifically Sicilian thing. Ripping off tourists is international.
For a time, I lived in Bali. If you think about the stereotypes here, Indonesians are religious, humble, and goodhearted. I can assure you though, that I was potentially going to be a victim of being ripped off anywhere I went – even the petrol station.
My grandfather – may he rest in peace – used to say to me: “cuckolds, thieves, and prostitutes are everywhere“. I don’t believe I have ever heard a truer statement than that.
If there is one big takeaway that I have learned in my experience as a traveler, it said anywhere that you are seen as a tourist, they will try to rip you off. The best thing you could do to keep from becoming a victim is stay informed about potential scams, traps, or dangers.
11. Where Tourists Can Get Information in Town
One of the short-sighted things that you can do is to travel to Palermo without any sort of itinerary. You cannot just set out on an adventure to find all the great things about the city on your own.
Not only is this an extensive waste of time, you will ultimately waste money as well.
With so many unpublished and unspoken rules, Palermo could be a nut house those challenging to decipher without context. I have been here for 35 years, and still have to learn things each day.
You need to get as much information as you can before you arrive so that you know what to do while you are here.
As a tourist, you have three main sources of information when you reach Palermo.
#1 – Tourist Offices Around the City
These aren’t the most reliable places to go, so you have to kind of hold your breath and hope that somebody is there to help you when you need it.
You would go here for information about the monuments, tours, or general directions to a specific place. You don’t really need to find out more information than that from these kiosks and shops.
I would never encourage anyone to trust any information about businesses or restaurants while they’re getting tourist information. They’re going to steer you towards tourist-based establishments.
Below, you can find a short list of the main tourist centers throughout the city. CIT stands for Tourist Information Center.
I would say again to just get your maps and go, but do not follow their specific advice about area businesses.
#2 – Online Information
As frustrating as it might seem, there is no specific Palermo tourism site that is comprised in just English nor just in Italian.
The municipality does not feel that this is important, as they have much more time spent with shady dealings rather than investing money in the better good that doesn’t benefit someone’s “son“.
Fuel in the region near pocket a little bit to find the truly complete guide that will turn your entire trip around, you can look at our authentic guide “The Sicilian Way”.
#3 – Talk to the People Who Live Here
There is an old Sicilian proverb that states “Cu ave a linggua passa u mari” which, roughly translated, says “whoever has a tongue goes beyond the sea” meaning the person who can communicate can go anywhere they like.
If you’re unclear about something just ask the locals.
Sicilians have always been known to bend over backwards to help struggling tourists, even though there is always a substantial language barrier between the two.
Use simple words and over articulate to help bridge the gap between the languages. Even with this complication, don’t be shy about asking people that you encounter for some quick assistance when possible.
Sicilian people are always ready and willing to help in most circumstances, even offering you rise to get to your destinations just to help you out. You can choose the level of help that you’re comfortable with.
Finding your bearings in Sicily is critical. Do not underestimate how fast the city can be and screw up your vacation. You can look to our website for free guide and itineraries, look at Balarm (with Google Translator), utilize Facebook groups, or simply speak with the locals. The word that you need to remember is information.
12. The Preferred Currency and Available ATMs
While the age of Palermo might suggest that you need a sword, horse, and gold coins to make transactions, we are actually more moderate than that. We use euros and cars like almost everywhere else on the continent.
No, you aren’t going to need a sword either.
Shops and restaurants throughout Palermo are only going to accept euros. So, keep everything at home that does not have a European flag on it. I recommend not using money changers as they are not cost efficient for you.
Many of the smaller shops and street peddlers throughout the city do not allow you to pay with the card, which can complicate things if you don’t have euros on hand.
Case in point, it is always important to carry some cash with you whenever you are walking throughout the city.
Those places that do accept cards might give you the stink eye if you are using it for small purchases like coffees. The only place where this doesn’t happen are larger chain stores like McDonald’s, though I hope that you will avoid these recognizable chains in lieu of once in a lifetime dining opportunities Sicily offers.
You can always think of it this way, if it is less than 10 euros: pay with cash.
There are multiple ATMs spread out around the city that will help you keep cash in your pocket. Major banks around Palermo are:
- Intesa San Paolo
- Monte dei Paschi
- Banca Sella
- Poste Italiane (Post offices)
We don’t have an exceptional problem with cloning cards or stealing identities here in Palermo, but just to be on the safe side, I would recommend only using ATMs of the banks mentioned above. These machines get monitored constantly and checked for any suspicious activity.
Nico’s Take: You may not feel like you are in part of Europe when you are visiting Sicily, but we do use euros as our form of currency. You can safely use any of the bank ATMs around the city to keep cash on hand when you cannot use your card in specific places.
13. Getting Back and Forth to Airport Falcone Borsellino
I think the only thing worse than the public transportation system in Sicily is riding camelback through the Middle East. Surprisingly, airport connections are more effective than anywhere else.
To get to the city center or to come back to the airport, you have three main options available.
- Taxi – These legalized thieves have a fixed price for getting to the city center that should be around 45€, plus additional fees for baggage. Do not use these services as they will always try to find a way to rip you off.
- Shared Taxi – This is also a fixed price, but far more reasonable. I use this service regularly. It costs only around 8€ and drops you off right in the heart of the city center.
- Prestia & Comande Shuttle Bus – This is a reliable option that costs you around 7 €, and there is a bus that arrives every 30 minutes dropping off and taking new passengers back to Palermo.
You might also want to know that there is a train that can leave from the airport as well. You can go to the Trenitalia website to look at their prices and scheduling. They refer to the Palermo airport as “Punta Raisi”, so you know what to look for.
Now, when you see “Punta Raisi” you know that it also means the same place as “Falcone Borsellino”.
In regard to a train, I find it much slower and inconvenient for what I like, but it is the cheaper of the options.
I will not provide you with further details, as I have an entire guide devoted to the various airport connections available. Check it out.
One of the only choices I make is a shared taxi. This gets me to and from the airport faster than other options. If it is not available, I will take the shuttle bus over the train. I discourage the use of the regular taxi service specifically because of their penchant for scamming people.
14. Eating Through Palermo
I have been in more than one conversation with “aristocratic” men they will ask me the question like “why do most Sicilian women have firm butts and flat bellies when they eat pasta, street food, and pizza all the time?”
This question actually has a very logical explanation.
It is the same assumption that would suggest that the French eat omelets every day, the Spaniards eat paella, or the Americans have hot dogs every day. Sicilians go far beyond our stereotypical dishes.
In fact, many of the Sicilians that you encounter on your trip follow more closely with the Mediterranean diet. This consists of items like fish, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, herbs, and dairy products as primary components.
I will never steer anyone away from the sins of gluttony while they visit Sicily, or to push a Mediterranean diet on anyone. I will tell you the opposite in fact.
You’re on vacation! Live a little!
You should send by eating all of the things that are the worst for you as though it was your last day on earth, throwing every traditional food (especially our street food) in your mouth for a taste. But just for arguments sake, you should know that our cuisine is much more variegated than you might think.
If you’re only going to stay a couple of days, just forget about the diet altogether. Binge yourself on our street food, pizza, and sweets. If you intend on spending more than a few days, just know that there are healthy and balanced options that you might want to try as well.
15. Seeing the Sights
Here are three things that I think you should know about Palermo that might either make you very excited or do nothing at all.
These three things are:
- Palermo is the most conquered city in history, as it has been ruled by 15 different conquering nations.
- It has a dozen UNESCO Sites, with more than another dozen soon to be designated as well.
- We have the second largest historical center in all of Europe (though some might argue it is the third largest but that is just splitting hairs)
If you care about the culture and history of Palermo, like most people visiting the city, you should be wagging your tail with happiness right now.
You might just be an eat-drink-sleep-repeat person. You may not give a damn about all the “boring stuff that’s supposed to draw in the tourists“, so I would imagine, the right now you have a very impassive expression on your face and want to continue to scroll down.
So, you might not care about all the cultural sides, but you can take a look about the nightlife.
Congratulations! I knew you weren’t going to be tempted into clicking that link. Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is your freedom. Let’s break chains and be prepared to walk a little because you need to discover our fair city on foot.
Just now going in that most of the attractions do not provide enough materials in English to explain what you’re seeing. This is especially true for those on the outside. Make sure you make up for this lack of information on your own by researching ahead of time or by using walking tours with audio guides.
There is a little avalanche of sites that you can see throughout Palermo, and the best way that you can find them is on foot. Be sure to have well-orchestrated itineraries and learn the essentials of the monuments and Palermo’s history for attractions and landmarks you choose to view. You can also consider the purchase of audio guides explaining the attractions in real time.
16. Using Wi-Fi Spots in Palermo
The one thing that all tourists and locals alike can recognize quickly about Palermo is that the public amenities are often broken or ineffective. They’re really just set up to make someone rich with the public’s money if they work at all.
So, when you consider the free Wi-Fi throughout the city which is supposedly in all of the key areas of Palermo, this is no exception.
Our mayor has said that we are a “smart city”, indicating that we offer free Wi-Fi service in our most heavily trafficked areas.
One thing everyone can unanimously agree on though, is that the service might exist, but it sucks.
You need to be on the right spot at the right time – all the planets need to be perfectly aligned – and then you might catch a signal long enough to begin figuring out how it works.
You could break free from your reliance on these hotspots that may or may not work for you. Instead, I would urge people to purchase a phone card giving a mobile device both minutes and data for international use. Two of the major phone companies selling these cards are TIM and Vodafone. Please shops are readily available throughout the city and not at all hard to find.
You can get a SIM card with data and minutes for only 20€. I can assure you it is one of the best investments you can make if you are visiting Italy.
Having a phone with reliable access to data and the internet in Palermo can change your entire trip. Few restaurants claim to offer free Wi-Fi, and even fewer are able to speak English to answer your questions, so you will rely heavily on your phone to figure out how to navigate Palermo.
17. Getting to Palermo
Getting to Sicily is not overly challenging, you could do it in many ways. In old days, clandestine migrants made their way to Sicily from countries like Libya on boats fashioned like little tubs.
Today, there are five legal and more comfortable options to get you to Sicily without the danger and discomfort.
We have a saying in Sicily that “the more you spend the more you eat” what this means is, cheaper options might be enticing because they can save money, but they might ultimately waste more time.
Let’s look into the five options you have on getting to Sicily:
- Aeroporto Falcone Borsellino (Best 🏆) – This is the international airport located just 30 minutes (by vehicle) from Palermo’s City Center.
- Birgi Airport (Cheapest for Flying) – This is a small port where lower-end companies land. It is located roughly two hours by vehicle from Palermo.
- Palermo Port (Great for Car Traveling) – You can find ferries direct to Palermo from Naples, Genova, Salerno, Livorno, Tunisi, Cagliari, and Civitavecchia.
- Train (If Flying is Not for You) – Consider trains connecting Palermo to every major Italian city, as well as many cities and towns throughout Sicily as well.
- Coach (Budget Friendly but Uncomfortable) – Direct coaches leave from Rome and take 12 hours to get to Palermo. There are options from other major Italian cities as well.
You might also consider the Catania airport, but just know that this will take a 3 hour journey by bus or train to ultimately reach Palermo.
If you do happen to choose this route, you should read our essential guide on everything you need to know about Catania.
I’ve also written a detailed article about how you can get to Palermo then I think you should read if you still having doubts on what is the best option for you.
Consider for a moment that Palermo has many cool things that require a high level of energy so try not to arrive already worn out. If you can afford it, I would recommend everybody choose the most comfortable options to get you here.
Essentially, I would tell everybody to start by considering landing at the nearby Falcone Borsellino Airport if you come from farther away. You can also choose the port if you are with your car. If you aren’t going to save a large amount, it is really not worth stressing with a long journey like a coach. You arrive better prepared for all you want to do with comfortable options.
18. Sicilian People
I hate to say this, but the more time I’ve spent abroad in my life the more I want to smack some Sicilians on the face. Some of them are an incredible waste of human potential.
We are a smart, friendly, loving group with a great sense of friendship and hospitality here we love to laugh.
However, we lack any civic spirit, manners, education, or disciplines.
It seems like our city is full of great minds and even better people, but as a whole, we suck in a lot of ways. Probably the worst of these is keeping the city clean and tidy.
I am always traveling, and the things that helps me to appreciate a new place is trying to learn as much as I can about the locals before I step foot in the city.
This is for one going to help you to settle in faster, but it could save you from making bad impressions or lethal mistakes. I once had a close call dating a girl during my time in Beirut. I wish I had known going in that fathers and brothers over there are typically pretty jealous.
In Sicily, you could date anyone you want without risking your neck. But it will help you to learn a little bit about the people to facilitate your interaction some.
Just as a general guide, I set up the description of an average Sicilian for you to take a look at. It can help you to get a more realistic view of the city and what you can expect.
Visitors typically enjoy the locals for how hospitable and friendly they are, despite all of the language barriers. One of the shameful things, even to us locals, is that we seem to share no care for the city that we live in.
19. Palermo Nightlife
One of the things that sets Sicilian nightlife apart is that our people want to remember what happens the next day. Don’t think that this means they were all just sipping on waters and hoping for a good time to find us.
We do love our wine, Martini, Negroni, and Aperol Spritz. There’s more to the nightlife than our booze though.
Most of us don’t enjoy spending all night trapped in the club vying for who gets wasted 1st and can do the best dance moves. There are a few spots throughout Palermo where this is still happening, but this is usually for crowds that are under 25.
Most of us are more into spending time with our friends, meeting new people, and moving around from place to place throughout the evening and appreciating the atmosphere that we find ourselves in.
The night is full of eating and drinking, talking to people outside in ancient alleyways or historical sites. There are also many venues along the sea to have beautiful and enchanting scenario for you and those you spend the evening with.
You can expect that a typical Friday and Saturday night are divided into 3 specific phases:
- The night will begin with an Italian style aperitif after sundown. Typically, this is Aperol Spritz or wine paired with some finger foods or a buffet amid the Old Town District. You might also opt for one of the seaside bars of Mondello to feel like you walked onto the set of a Martini commercial.
- Next, you can go along with the rest of the Italians on an alcoholic pilgrimage that moves from one bar to another throughout Old Town. You can take the opportunities as they arise to keep eating and snacking on delicious Sicilian cuisine as well.
- Ending your evening should happen at the ancient marketplace in Vucciria. The place might have a lawless field, but you can be here dancing and carrying on until the sun comes up.
Most tourists get to experience another Sicilian tradition the next morning: our legendary hangovers.
Unlike many other places around the world, our nightlife does not revolve around clubs and themed bars. Instead, we have and evolving and changing route that makes each night different than the last. The trick is finding the right route on the right day, so you end up in the right place at the right time. Say that 10 times fast. On our guide, The Sicilian Way, we can show you all the active routes to follow whenever you set out for a night on the town.
20. COVID Concerns
When you consider Sicily, you have to imagine it is everywhere else in Europe. We have some cases, but considering the size of the island, it is a small number.
We have fast changing rules like many of the other countries in the continent as well. Our politicians are confused, some are saying they don’t believe it exists, but the majority of our locals have maintained their sanity and respected the rules placed before them.
As earlier said, I feel like the situation is the same all over. The main differences involve the number of people impacted.
I have been traveling a lot during this COVID outbreak for work. I can say that, surprisingly, Sicilians seem much more cautious and disciplined than other places throughout the world. When you consider the stereotypes, other places that have felt more lawless should have been more disciplined and educated than I witnessed.
Next, people are going to ask if it’s safe to travel to Sicily.
It’s not easy to answer this question. Honestly, I would tell everyone that I believe that we would be safer if everybody stayed at home until this was over.
If you are healthy, and respect social distancing, wear mask, wash your hands regularly, and follow other mandates and guidelines, you should be fine.
Our mood does not reflect the same pandemic “sadness” I’ve witnessed in other places in the world like Dubai and Bali. Those places felt like ancient dead cities. Even with more of a cheerful disposition, Sicily is not the hectic place that it used to be before the virus.
In our Facebook group for Palermo, you can see current restrictions and rules. These are put out and defined by a ministerial decree. We try to provide constant updates about the situation for you to stay as aware as possible.
Since the pandemic started, Sicily has been doing everything it could to keep its citizens safe. You can begin to almost feel like the situation is getting under control but must realize that COVID-19 is still out there. I believe if you adopt regular precautions and don’t do stupid things to break guidelines, you can travel safely to Sicily if you are permitted to do so.
I know this was a lot of information, but it is never too much for you to know before coming to Palermo.
We discussed many important things, but there are five points in particular that I would like to stress again.
- Please stay in key areas, especially if you do not have a vehicle. Public transport in Sicily is terrible.
- Have thoughtful and well-planned itineraries and educate yourself about the history of monuments and landmarks you intend to visit. There are many sites to see.
- You are not going to be able to find reliable information about daily events on the Internet, you must rely on word of mouth of the locals.
- Palermo is actually one of the safest cities in all of Italy, but there are still tons of tourist traps that you might want to avoid.
- Sicilian cuisine is rich and diverse, do not think that our entire diet consists of pasta, pizza, and sweets.
Before saying goodbye, I would like to remind you that I put together 4 itineraries that might help you. I also have a short video guide on Palermo featuring tips from locals that you cannot find anywhere else. Best of all, they are free.
I would also welcome anyone to join our free group on Facebook to stay in touch with other people that might be visiting Sicily or have already visited and want to share their stories.
That’s all I have for you. If you have questions, drop a comment in the box below so I can get back with you.
A hug is always,