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The capital and largest city of Sicily. Palermo is home to around 700,000 people in its urban area with 1.2 million people in its metropolitan area, making it Italy’s 5th biggest.
Founded by the Phoenicians, Palermo was occupied by theCartheginians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans. Its distinctive culture and architecture is regarded as being a fusion of Arab and Norman cultures. During World War II, the city remained unscathed until the allied invasion of 1943 which resulted in the port being decimated.
Today, Palermo is struggling to shake off its reputation as a haven of corruption and crime (Sicily is home to the mafia). While organised crime does exist, government clampdowns mean that it is less obvious and violent crime is rare. Tourists will experience fascinating culture, great cuisine and beautiful architecture.
For information about gay rights in Italy, please click on the Gay Rome City Guide page.
Palermo isn’t exactly known for its gay scene but gay visitors are more than welcome here. There is a handful of gay venues including a sauna and a dance club but throughout the year you will find one off club nights. The rocky beaches near Sferracavallo are a popular cruising location for gay men in the summer.
There are a couple of popular gay events held in Palermo in the summer. June has Palermo’s Pride festival which is the largest on the island. In late May to early June, the Sicilia Queer Film Fest showcases a diverse programme of international and locally produced LGBT themed cinema.
Falcone–Borsellino Airport (PMO) is the second busiest airport in Sicily and is 32 km west of the city. It is well connected to destinations in Europe and has a scheduled service to Tunis. There are no long-haul connections but you can transfer at one of the many European hub airports Palermo is linked to.
A bus links Palermo to the city centre in around an hour. It leaves every half hour from 6.30 am to just after midnight. A single journey into the centre costs €6.30 and can be purchased from the ticket office in arrivals or in advance online, to save you time.
From the Arrivals terminal you can find a taxi rank. There should be enough cabs for you not to wait too long as the taxi companies organise around the arrivals timetable. Taxis/pick-ups can be ordered in advance and a journey will cost between €35-50. Taxi sharing is also available in the arrivals area which breaks up the cost of a journey.
There are many car hire companies in operation at the airport. To save time you can order in advance so make sure you have the appropriate documents ready for collection. The driver from the airport to Palermo should take around 45 minutes depending on traffic.
Palermo is a popular destination of Mediterranean cruises so you may visit the city as a stop-off. There are also scheduled ferry services to destinations on the mainland of Italy, Sardinia, Malta and Tunis. There is a free shuttle bus service within the port area.
Palermo is surprisingly connected to the Italian national rail network by a ferry that literally transfers your train onto a hydrofoil and unloads you when you land in Messina. Palermo Centrale is the city’s main station and is also well connected to other destinations on the island such as Catania and Syraceuse.
Although Palermo is quite a sizeable city, the best way to catch the main sights are on foot as they are all within easy access of each other. You may want to take public transport to avoid the sweltering summer heat or when travelling further afield.
By public transport
AMAT operates Palermo’s easily recognisable orange, white and blue city buses. They can be overcrowded and slow at busy periods which makes travelling by bus not a particularly pleasant experience in the hot summer weather. Services run from 5.30am to 11.30pm with a few night services.
Tickets can be purchased in advance from tabaccherie or from the bus companies ticket offices. It is possible to buy tickets from the driver but the tickets will be slightly more expensive. A single journey (bought in advance) will cost €1.40 and day tickets cost €3.50. Remember to validate your ticket on boarding.
Taxis can be expensive in Palermo and heavy traffic can add to costs. It is not really customary to hail taxis on the street but there are taxi ranks throughout the city and you can order them in advance. Official taxi companies should have a meter and do not be afraid to leave a car that appears to have no meter.
Palermo has an excellent choice of hotels to suit many budgets. Some of he most popular hotels in Palermo (Sicily) can be found on the Palermo Hotels page.
Palermo Cathedral – this cathedral is a fusion of architectural styles, with the Moorish influence making it look like it should belong in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. Emperor Frederick II is interred here, many miles from his home in Germany.
Street Markets – Palermo is awash with markets where you can buy almost anything. To try some of Sicily’s famous street food, Ballero is a must.
Monreale – a village on a hill around 8 km from Palermo. The views over the city are spectacular but so also is the cathedral here.
Teatro Massimo – built in 1897, the Teatro Massimo is Italy’s largest theatre (and the 3rd largest in Europe). Here you can catch live performances of opera with almost perfect acoustics.
Palazzo Del Normanni – a striking example of Norman architecture and the oldest royal residence in Europe. Today the Palazzo del Normanni is home to the Sicilian Regional Assembly.
Regional Archaeological Museum Antonio Salinas – one of Italy’s most important museums. Here you can find a well-preserved collection of artefacts covering everything from the Etruscans to the Greeks.
Monte Pellegrino – for those of a more active disposition you can hike up this imposing landmass. The German writer/philosopher Goethe described this peak as “the most beautiful promontory in the world”. There is also a sanctuary here for Saint Rosalia, Palermo’s patron saint.
The Capuchin Catacombs – one of Sicily’s more macabre sights. Here you can visit the catacombs of the Capuchin monastery and come face to face with the eerily well-preserved remains of Sicilians long gone.
Due to Palermo’s location (closer to Tunis than Rome) the weather is pleasant for most of the year, with the odd cold snap in winter. The summer months are very warm with temperatures rarely dropping below 25°C on an evening. May, April and February are the busiest months making summer a great time to visit.
There are a variety of festivals held in Palermo throughout the year. The 14th July is the patron saint’s (Saint Rosalia) day and this is celebrated with a procession through the street to commemorate her banishing the black death. The Assumption Day boat races held on August 15th are also definitely worth seeing.
Italy is a member of the European Union and as such it’s visa falls inline with what you’d expect from other European countries. It is also a member of the Schengen Zone. Please check with the Italian foreign office’s website if you have any visa queries.
Italy is a member of the euro zone. ATM’s (known in Italy as’ bancomat’) are widely available, and most will accept Visa and MasterCard’s. You can exchange your money in banks, at post offices or at a ‘cambio’ (exchange office).
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