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Palermo, Sicily's biggest city and port, has stood at its seaside location at the foot of Monte Pellegrino since at least the eighth century. More than a millennium later, the city remains the most important transportation and tourism hub on Italy's largest island. No fewer than three major motorways link Palermo with the rest of Sicily, making car hire in Palermo an easy way to explore this Mediterranean island's countryside. Palermo itself, however, is most easily explored aboard its public bus system, commuter rail line, or simply by foot. This is a beautiful region with a host of well-known attractions and hidden gems to explore, so step on the gas and see what’s out there!
Who to Book With
Italian car rental chains like Maggiore and Locauto stand side-by-side with international staples such as Hertz and Dollar at Falcone Borsellino Airport. Palermo's nearest airport is a 22-mile drive west of the city. Ferry passengers disembarking at Palermo's bustling port will find even more vehicle rental options near the adjacent Via Francesco Crispi Street. The vast majority of these companies accept online booking.
Best Time to Go
Like other seaports across the Mediterranean, Palermo experiences hot and humid weather during its busiest summer season. Those wanting to avoid summer's high accommodation and vehicle rental rates, as well as the huge crowds, should consider coming in autumn or spring, when discounts are more easily found, crowds are fewer and weather remains warm. Winters may be a little too cold to enjoy Sicilian sunbathing, but remain mild enough to comfortably enjoy most other activities at rock-bottom prices.
Need to Know Essentials
Arranging rental cars requires the following documents:
- A valid national driving license from a European Union nation
- Non-European Union residents require an International Drivers Permit
- A passport or another second form of photo identification
- Proof of online booking
Palermo's winding and narrow streets are far better suited to pedestrians than automobiles, so motorists should park their vehicles in the city's outskirts before venturing to the centre. Driving, however, is a wonderful way to explore several rural Sicily attractions that cannot be reached by public transit. The three major motorways connecting Sicily's most populous city with the rest of the island are the A20, leading to Messina, the A19, to Catania and the A29, from Mazara del Vallo. Motorists can also reach Trapani or Massina via the SS113 and Catania or Enna on the SS121.
Walking may be the most relaxing way to explore the Piazza Pretoria and the rest of Palermo's city centre, but the city also contains extensive commuter rail and bus networks. Palermo's airport, rail station and several central piazzas also contain taxi stands. Falcone Borsellino Airport, 22 miles west of Palermo, and the Stazione Marittima ferry terminal are both easy to reach via public transit.
Palermo Stazione Centrale is the city's main rail station, from which Palermo metropolitan railway service operates its commuter rail network. One-way tickets for the 11-hour train journeys from Palermo to Rome cost between €69 and €87, depending on the time of day. Three more trains make the 10-hour journey from Naples each day. Messina, Sicily's link to the rest of Italy, can be reached in around three hours by train from Palermo.
Visitors can find taxis from Radio Taxi Trinacria and other reputable companies outside theatres, at most central piazzas, by Palermo Stazione Centrale and at Falcone Borsellino Airport. Taxi fares begin at €2.54, with an extra €0.83 added per kilometre.
The 90 buses of Palermo's AMAT public bus system cover more than 211 miles of the city, while the 35 AST coach lines connect Sicily's largest city with all other parts of the island. Passengers can use each €4 city bus ticket for periods of up to 24 hours. Regular city buses are coloured orange, while special buses geared towards tourists are yellow and red. Tickets for the 12-hour bus ride between Palermo and Rome cost around €38 each.
Several Palermo attractions, including the ornate Royal Palace, three fascinating museums and at least half a dozen historic churches filled with intricate mosaic artwork, lie just steps from each other near the city's central Piazza Pretoria. Visitors intending on venturing outside the city limits, however, have no shortage of interesting road trip destinations to choose from. The highest active volcano in Europe, Mount Etna, is also the highest peak and coolest spot in Sicily.
Monreale - The nearby community of Monreale, just five miles south of Palermo, is easy to reach by car. The town's most dominant landmarks are its cathedral, whose stunning mosaics are world-famous, and the Belvedere, from which visitors can enjoy breathtaking views of Palermo's skyline.
Solunto - Ancient Roman ruins are scattered throughout the community of Solunto, sitting 11 miles east of Palermo on Mount Catalfamo's slopes. Solunto may have been initially founded by the Greeks, but there is much more evidence of the town's Roman past among its ancient paintings, mosaics, buildings and other archaeological finds.
Cefalù - Sicily's oldest building is believed to lie within the ancient Temple of Diana in the seaside community of Cefalù, nestled below a steep mountain 47 miles east of Palermo and guarded by a gigantic fortress. Sidewalk cafés and restaurants line most of this medieval town's narrow and winding streets.