Palermo Teatro Massimo
Teatro Massimo (Photo credit: politours)

Palermo Travel Guide

QUICK FACTS

  • Located on the island of Sicily, Palermo has a population of ~850,000.
  • Originally founded in 734 BC by the Phoenicians, the city has a rich history.
  • The island’s cultural, economic and touristic centre and is rising to become a major Euro-Mediterranean destination.
  • Nickname: City of Delights

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

  • Currency: Euro (EUR).
  • Spoken languages: Italian and Sicilian.
  • Best time to visit: year round! The Mediterranean climate keeps the summers hot and humid with temperatures in the highs of 28°C (83°F) while winters are a pleasant 20°C (68°F).
  • Arriving from the airport: Falcone–Borsellino Airport (PMO) is a 50 minute journey outside the city. Prestia e Comande buses run every 30 minutes, with single tickets priced at €5.80. Taxi fare is about €40.

WHERE TO STAY

La Kalsa was built by Arabs and nearly demolished during bomb raids in World War II but survived to become one of the most historic quarters of Palermo. It is conveniently located near major touristic attractions and has plenty of character to admire, including the best and most affordable roadside eateries. Acquasanta, on the waterfront, has a range of accommodation with superb views overlooking the port, while Piazza Giuseppe Verdi straddles the borders between the historic centre and the new, commercial face of the city.

GETTING AROUND

  • AMAT operates bus services around the city, with one-off tickets priced at €1.30 (valid for 90 minutes after validation) or a day pass priced at €3.50 for unlimited travel. Tickets can be bought at newspaper kiosk, tobacconists or directly on board for a bigger charge.
  • Taxi fares in Palermo are the most economical in all of Italy, with a weekday starting fare of €2.54 and supplements of €0.13 for each successive 154 metres. Call 199 41 40 41 to book.

PALERMO NIGHTLIFE

  • Drinking age is 18 and last call is 3 AM.
  • Champagneria is the liveliest area in town beginning early evening. Tourists, young professionals and hip residents converge here to order from one of the city’s best stocked wine cellars.
  • La Kalsa boasts a cluster of pubs and bars specialising in cheap beer and wine, very popular among students and the bohemian crowd.
  • The best nightclubs for dancing are in Arenella district where the floors can accommodate up to 3,000 people and the sets last until the early morning!

UNIQUE LANDMARKS TO VISIT

  • Arab-Norman architecture doesn’t get any finer than Palazzo dei Normanni. The palace is the original cradle of Italian literature and the symbol of Sicily’s affluence in the 12th century. Find the church of San Giovanni degli Eremiti (just a short walk away) and take in the surreal gardens on which it is set.
  • The private collection of Italian and Sicilian tiles on display at Stanze al Genio offer an alternative to the typical museum. Bookings are essential.
  • Oratorio del Rosario di Santa Cita is a trove of artistic treasures, among which you will see the famous stucco sculptures by Serpotta.
  • Museo Archeologico Regionale features exhibits on archaeological artefacts dating back to pre-history, from the Phoenician civilisation that founded the city to the Greek and Roman.
  • Teatro Massimo in Piazza Verdi is an imposing opera and theatre house designed by Basile and first opened in 1897. It is the largest of its kind in the country.

INTERESTING WALKS

  • Mondello is a beach community a short bus ride away from the centre. The beach is very popular for water sports while the town is home to Santuario Santa Rosalia, a shrine that pays homage to the patron saint of the city.
  • The subterranean network of tunnels known as Catacombe dei Cappuccini is the resting place for over 8,000 mummified residents.
  • Via Lincoln is a street in the historic quarter that leads to the Orto Botanico and Villa Giulia, both of which are beautiful parks and gardens to get lost in and spend an idyllic afternoon away from the crowds.

LOCAL WISDOM

  • Palermo can be an assault on the senses: prepare for relentless human traffic and rowdy street behaviour that still manages to come across as part of its unique charm.
  • Shops and businesses tend to open mid-morning and close for lunch at 1 PM, to then resume operations at 4 PM. Long lunches are the norm, so plan an itinerary around them.
  • Where to find good cheap eats: Piazza Olivella for quick lunchtime sandwiches, Capo market stalls for traditional fare and Borgo Vecchio for the best bakeries.
  • Palermitans are known for their culinary traditions, which are best sampled from street stalls. Try the classic panelle (chickpea fritters served in a sesame roll), arancine (deep fried rice balls stuffed with cheese or ragu) or pane ca meusa (spleen and veal lungs topped with caciocavallo cheese).
  • Dangerous areas: petty crimes, such as purse-snatching, are common (though now on decline). Walking alone at night in the Cassaro district may attract unwanted attention.

RECOMMENDED PALERMO GUIDE BOOKS

Recommended trip duration: 2-3 days


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Palermo Travel Guide was last modified: September 25th, 2016 by Nick
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