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Traveling Italian

Posted On May 3, 2023 By Louis

The Palermo Travel Guide

Palermo sitting in northwest Sicily is surrounded by mountains that form a cirque around the city. The city is rich in history, architecture and gastronomy, founded by the Phoenicians in 734BC. Over time it was ruled by different civilisations such as the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and Normans.

Palermo is the capital of Sicily and the largest city with over 1,200,000 people (25% of Sicily!). These numbers do grow over summer as it's Sicily's tourism and economic capital plus has its own international airport "Falcone Borsellino Airport". They also have a port with ferries that links them to other cities that transport over 2 million people each year and a popular destination for cruise ships plus cargo vessels.

The top things that Messina is known for are:

Historical attractions - The urban centre is brimming with noteworthy destinations, including the Royal Palace of Palermo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the renowned Cappella Palatina, which followed suit, along with the 12th-century San Giovanni degli Eremiti chapel. These are only a few of the myriad of significant sites to discover, making it a must-visit city.

Gastronomy - Palermo's cuisine is renowned, thanks to its status as a port town, which provides a wide selection of delectable dishes, such as locally sourced fresh seafood, expertly crafted by some of the region's finest restaurants. Palermo boasts nine Michelin-nominated venues, adding to its appeal as a food lover's destination.

Beaches - Mondello Beach, located just a few kilometres from Palermo, is one of the most famous and picturesque beaches in the area and part of the best beaches in Sicily. The beach is characterized by its long stretch of soft white sand and crystal-clear turquoise waters, making it an ideal spot for swimming and sunbathing. For those looking for a more secluded beach experience, Spiaggia Vergine Maria is a hidden gem that offers a quiet and peaceful environment. Sferracavallo Beach, located on the western outskirts of Palermo, is another must-visit destination for beach enthusiasts. The beach is famous for its rocky coastline and crystal-clear waters, making it a popular spot for divers and snorkelers to explore the diverse marine life that thrives below the surface.

Shopping - Palermo is also a paradise for shoppers. The city boasts an array of high-end stores and boutiques that offer a unique shopping experience. From luxury fashion brands to locally made handicrafts, visitors can find a wide range of products to suit their style and taste. The historic markets of Ballaro (over 1000 years old), the ancient Vucciria market, and the Mercado del Capo street market are also must-visit destinations, where you can explore a variety of traditional products and street foods.

Languages spoken in Palermo

Palermo is a vibrant cultural hub that attracts visitors from all over the world. The official language spoken in Palermo is Italian, which is also the national language of Italy. However, due to its location and historical influences, Palermo has its dialect of the Sicilian language, known as Palermitano.

When visiting Palermo, it's essential to learn a few words and phrases of the local dialect or Italian to communicate with locals, as it can be a great way to immerse yourself in the culture and connect with the people. Even though many Palermitans speak English, especially in the city centre, learning some basic Italian or Palermitano words and phrases can make your trip even more enjoyable and memorable.

Piazza Pretoria in Palermo on a cloudy day

How to get to and around Palermo

Traveling to and around Palermo is pretty easy as they have a lot of local transport plus also major connections being the capital of Sicily. Here are my tips:

Train - The city train station is Palermo Centrale Station, which is operated by TRENITALIA. If you are arriving at the airport, you can take the train from Punta Raisi station to reach the city centre, with trains departing frequently from 5 am to 12 am for €6.50. Trains from mainland Italy, such as Rome to Palermo, take around 10-11 hours. Alternatively, if you're looking to explore other destinations in Sicily, the charming town of Cefalu is a popular choice, with a short 45-minute train ride from Palermo.

Trams - These are a great way to get around fast in Palermo and only launched in 2015 so fairly new. There are 4 lines to take travelers around quickly with trams every 5-12 minutes. Line 1 goes from Central to Roccella, Line 2 from Notarbartolo district to Borgo Nuovo, line 3 from Notarbartolo to CEP district and finally line 4 from Notarbartolo in a circle with Corso Calatafim in the centre.

Ferry - Over 2700 years ago, the Phoenicians established the port of Palermo, which still stands today. The port offers a variety of ferry services, connecting Palermo to destinations such as Tunisia, Naples, Livorno, Genoa, and Cagliari. Taking a ferry is a beautiful way to travel, particularly for the popular route between Palermo and Naples, which takes around 10 hours. However, it's important to note that ferry schedules are limited, with only a few crossings each day. Make sure to check the departure times and book well in advance.

Aeroplane - If you're traveling from another country, the fastest way to get to Palermo is by flying. Palermo Airport PMO, also known as Falcone-Borsellino Airport, is the closest airport to the city. The airport is named after Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two judges who dedicated their lives to fighting the Sicilian Mafia and were ultimately killed by the Mafia in the 1990s. From the UK, you can fly directly to Palermo for as little as £28, with a flight time of just under 3 hours. If you're coming from New York, the flight takes approximately 11 hours. Additionally, Palermo is well connected to other domestic cities in Italy and European countries, making it a convenient destination for travelers.

Taxi - A taxi can be a convenient way to get around Palermo. If you're arriving from overseas and have had a long trip, it can be worth the cost of a Taxi to avoid waiting for a train or dealing with rental cars. A reputable taxi company in the city centre is Taxi Palermo. If you're traveling from Palermo Airport to the city centre, I recommend taking a local taxi which can be found just outside arrivals. The fare should be around €50 for one person, but it's more cost-effective when traveling in a group. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes. Additionally, you can consider taxi-sharing with Coop Radio Taxi & Taxi Palermo to save some money if you are traveling solo.

Bus - Although buses are a practical means of transportation in Sicily, it's worth noting that they may experience delays or cancellations. AMAT is the primary bus company that operates in the Palermo region. Depending on traffic, it takes about 55 minutes to travel from the airport to the city centre. AMAT's website provides directions by allowing you to input your location and destination, and it will inform you of the bus route, estimated travel time, and cost.

Car - Getting around Palermo by car can be an economical and convenient option. If you're arriving at Palermo Airport, it takes around 30 minutes to reach the city centre by car. However, if you're driving in from mainland Italy, keep in mind that you'll need to take a ferry into Messina (31 minutes) from Villa San Giovanni Port, and then drive for just under 2.5 hours to reach Palermo. Remember to drive on the right-hand side of the road with the driver on the left-hand side of the car. Manual cars are usually the preferred and cheaper option compared to automatic rental cars. However, finding parking in the town can be a challenge, especially during the summer season. It's recommended to use a reputable rental car agency to avoid any scams or rip-offs targeted at tourists. Save now and book a rental car.

Parking in Palermo

As a tourist parking can be very daunting going to a new country, making sure you park in the right place and don't get fined. Here is parking in Palermo simplified. Please note if you want to park most of the time you will have to pay for it. Sometimes you can pay by card but always carry cash just in case.

Navigating parking in Palermo can be a bit challenging, especially during the summer months due to the narrow streets. Street parking is available, but it's limited, and it's important to be mindful of which spots are designated for residents. If there are white lines, it's generally free parking unless otherwise stated by a blue sign with a white P. Blue lines indicate ticketed parking. When parking on the street, it's essential to locate a parking meter or purchase a ticket from a local tobacconist. Make sure to display the ticket visibly on your dashboard and be punctual, as parking wardens are present at all times. Additionally, pricing may vary depending on the location and time of year, with higher rates during the summer season.

The easiest way to pay for parking in Italy is with the EasyPark app. It's available in most places around the country, and it lets you pay directly from your phone, so you don't have to find a parking meter or newsagent, which may be far away or closed. You can pay for a few hours at a time, and if you come back early, you can stop the timer and pay less.

It's important to be aware of the Zona Traffico Limitato (ZTL) in certain areas of Palermo Centre. During specific times, only residents and authorized vehicles can enter these zones. Entering a ZTL area without permission can result in a substantial fine, so it's best to avoid doing so in your own or rental car. The ZTL is currently operational from 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays, with additional restrictions in place during night work and some weekends. Always make sure to check the ZTL website for up-to-date information.

When it comes to parking, the most convenient option is usually the parking garages which can be easily located by typing "Parcheggio" on Google Maps near your destination. However, if you're staying at a hotel, it's best to park at their designated car park for safety reasons. Some hotels may offer free parking, while others may charge a nominal fee.

Two men driving a vespa down a narrow palermo street with balconies in the background.

The top things to do in Palermo

  • Shop at the local markets or even book a market tour during your visit to Palermo. The city boasts three prominent markets: Ballaro, which has been in operation for over 1000 years; the ancient Vucciria market; and the Mercado del Capo street market. These markets are not to be missed, offering a diverse selection of traditional products and street foods for you to explore.
  • Discover the exquisite dining scene of the City by visiting its top-rated restaurants. Indulge in fine cuisine and elevate your culinary experience.
  • Tour some historical sites such as the Catacombs of the Capuchins, The Royal Palace of Palermo, Duomo di Monreale, and the Church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio part of the UNESCO world heritage sites just to name a few. There is so much history in this city and so much to see.
  • If you're looking for a fun and exciting event to attend, Palermo offers a variety of festivals throughout the year. These festivals celebrate a range of things, from religious traditions to cultural heritage. One of the most well-known is the Feast of Santa Rosalia, which takes place on July 14th and 15th. This festival boasts vibrant processions, lively music, and breathtaking fireworks.
  • Relax at the beaches, Palermo is close to many famous beaches that are known from around the world such as Mondello Beach which has crystal clear turquoise waters or Sferracavallo Beach.

Top 5 Hotels in Palermo

  • Grand Hotel et Des Palmes is a 5* Hotel in Palermo centre with 98 luxury rooms. Each of the rooms at the hotel features Egyptian cotton sheets and memory foam beds for maximum comfort, as well as rainfall showers, designer toiletries, and a bidet. Additionally, guests can take advantage of the hotel's restaurants, gym, library, and spa facilities. The historic property boasts an art nouveau design, complete with high frescoed ceilings and original Liberty-style windows.
Grand Hotel et Des Palmes Hotel Palermo
  • Go back in time and stay at the 5-star Grand Hotel Wagner. Experience the intersection of Palermo's classic charm and modern luxury and comfort at this exceptional property. As you enter the building, you'll be greeted by the magnificent ballroom's iconic chandelier. The hotel is adorned with fine marble, gold leaf moldings, and antique furnishings, representing an authentic symbol of Sicilian noble history.
Grand Hotel Wagner Palermo
  • The Rocco Forte Villa Igiea is another 5* hotel just north of the centre set in a 19th-century Palace and is a member of the Historic Hotels of the World. They have many amenities such as a pool, banquet hall, ballroom, spa, tennis court, gym and a restaurant, pool bar plus a terrace bar. Being moments from the ocean, most rooms come with a Sea view.
Rocco Forte Villa Palermo
  • Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel is an elegant small 4* hotel with 12 rooms located in the City centre. Dating back to 1765, the building is now owned by Floriana, an architect with expertise in interior design and the restoration of historical heritage. Floriana personally oversees the upkeep of Palazzo Natoli, ensuring that each room is spacious and thoughtfully furnished with stylish details and a keen eye for detail.
Palazzo Natoli Boutique Hotel Palermo
  • Located in the heart of Palermo, Hotel Politeama is a magnificent 4-star historic hotel that has recently undergone renovations. It boasts a breathtaking view of Politeama Square and offers top-notch amenities including a gym, lounge, restaurant, parking, business centre and even a personal shopper.
Hotel Politeama Palermo

How much should you budget for a trip in Palermo?

When budgeting for a trip to Palermo, the categories can be divided based on the type of activities involved. As of now, I suggest budgeting a minimum of €260 per person per day. Here's a breakdown:

ActivityCost
Breakfast (sometimes included in accommodation)€20
Lunch€30
Dinner€50
Tourist Activities€30
Going out€30
Accommodation€100
Total cost per day€260

Best travel card to use on holiday

I highly recommend the Wise card as one of the best international cards available. With Wise, you no longer have to visit the post office to convert money into cash. You can use Wise with Apple Pay or Google Pay even before receiving the physical card. It's a great option for those looking to transfer money for their holiday.

When traveling, it's helpful to have cash on hand, however if needing a card, Wise offers a fair deal on the transaction fees with no inflated exchange rates. Comparing the fees to your local debit card is worthwhile, as Wise's transaction fees are significantly lower.

I have been personally using Wise for more than five years and have saved a significant amount of money compared to my local bank. Moreover, I use Wise for transferring money to hotels and other overseas locations, where I can save on exchange fees in comparison to my bank. The app also provides information on the fees that other banks may charge for the same transaction.

How long should you stay in Palermo?

The amount of time you should stay in Palermo depends on your interests and the activities you want to do. Palermo is a lively city with a rich heritage, and there is plenty to see and experience. Here are some suggestions based on the length of your stay:

1 - 2 days: You can still get a taste of Palermo by visiting the main attractions such as the Royal Palace of Palermo, the Cathedral, and the Ballarò Market. You can also take a stroll around the historic centre and enjoy some local cuisine.

3-4 days: With a few more days, you can explore Palermo in more depth, visit added places such as the Catacombs of the Capuchins & the Teatro Massimo, and take a day trip to the nearby town of Monreale to see its well-known cathedral.

5-7 days: For a more leisurely visit, you can spend more time exploring Palermo's diverse neighbourhoods, visiting museums, going to Mondello beach or the others, taking guided tours and filling up your diary with the finest restaurants Palermo has to offer.

Palermo is a highly sought-after destination, particularly during the summer months. It's essential to book your flights and accommodation early since the limited number of 4 and 5-star hotels in Palermo tend to fill up quickly every year. Additionally, prices can increase annually, so my recommendation would be to plan and book your luxury Italian holiday a year in advance. In my experience, prices tend to rise as soon as the Christmas holidays are over.

Make sure to read our blog on Travel Essentials for Europe for more tips when planning a trip.

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