Palermo Car Hire
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Palermo is the capital city of the autonomous island of Sicily in the south of Italy, with an urban population that hovers around the 850,000 mark and a metropolitan population that exceeds 1 million, making it Italy’s fifth largest. This is a melting pot of history, culture, architecture and cuisine that’s been bubbling away for 2,700 years ̶ if variety is the spice of life, Palermo is a red-hot pepper that’s love at first bite.
You’ll probably find eating out and taking excursions here comparatively cheaper than countries like the UK and there are car hire bargains to be found with Enjoy too. For example, a mini-sized Fiat 500 or similar vehicle presently costs £93 for four days, a Volkswagen Polo (economy) is only £95 for four days, and even a chic Citroen C1 ̶ perfect for parking in packed city streets ̶ is just £109 for the same duration. Rent a car with Enjoy and you can explore Palermo and the rest of Sicily under your own steam, but first, here’s some interesting information about this captivating city.
- About Palermo: stylish and feisty, Palermo was Italian Capital of Culture in 2018, when it hosted the renowned Manifesto contemporary art biennale exhibition and benefitted from significant investment to regenerate its waterfront area. But this is a city that’s been a joy to explore for generations and you’ll find something special to stimulate the senses around every corner ̶ from the Arabic-influenced aromas of the spice vendors and street food stalls in the Capo, Vucciria and Ballarò markets, to the beautiful Baroque architecture of Piazza Vigliena and the gorgeous grandeur of Teatro Massimo Vittorio (Europe’s third-largest opera house), Palermo oozes passion.
- Airports and access: Palermo is served by Falcone Borsellino Airport (PMO), which is often simply referred to as Palermo Airport. It’s located 35km west-northwest of Palermo at Punta Raisi and handles around 6.6 million passengers annually, making it Sicily’s second-largest airport after Catania-Fontanarossa. It serves carriers such as Ryanair, Lufthansa, easyJet, British Airways, Transavia, Alitalia and others.
- Driving Around Palermo: there’s plenty of satisfying driving and picturesque locations around Palermo ̶ here are a few highlights to help you hit the road:
Evidence of human settlement in Palermo stretched back to 8000 BC in Mesolithic cave art found Addaura and the first ‘Palermitani’ (Palermo natives) were Sicani people, thought to have journeyed from Catalonia. The Phoenicians established a trading settlement here in 734BC at the city’s natural harbour and fought with the Greeks for its control over the next few centuries. The Romans ruled from 211BC until 440AD (when it was the ‘bread basket’ of that burgeoning state) then the Vandals were in control, but by 904 the Arabs were in charge and established the Emirate of Sicily, introducing many crops that have an enduring influence on local cuisine. Over the next nine centuries, control passed to the Normans, Holy Roman Empire, House of Savoy, Kingdom of Spain, and the Bourbons, until iconic general Giuseppe Garibaldi and his troops captured Palermo in 1860 and the whole of Sicily became part of the new Kingdom of Italy the following year. This colourful, multicultural history is writ large in many of Sicily’s most famous historical buildings, including the Necropolis of Pantalica, the Arab-Norman Palermo Cathedral, and the 4th Century Villa del Romana Casale.
If you love immersing yourself in authentic architecture, drive an hour and a half west from Palermo along the E90/A29 to Trapani, then hop on the gondola to Erice, where you’ll step back in time to the Middle Ages as you stroll through narrow streets and alleyways and gaze across the island’s north coast from castles perched on the cliffside.
Alternatively, the drive south east to Siracusa along the A19/E45 is longer at around three hours, but it’s a pleasant journey with bountiful rewards if you’re a history buff. Siracusa was once a dominant city-state founded by the Corinthians, and there’s ample evidence of its former splendour in the old district of Ortigia, where you can see remnants of the Temple of Apollo and the impressive Duomo, constructed around the Greek temple to Athena. Before you leave, cruise over to the archeological park at Neapolis, which boasts a well-preserved Greek theatre that still hosts plays.
While you’re on the east side of the island, you might want to drive around and hour and 20 minutes north along the E45 toll road to Taormina via Catania. This tourist town is nestled on a tiered cliffside in the shadow on Mount Etna and once the sun sets, the famous peak becomes a real-life lava lamp on a grand scale. Naturally, you can take a tour of the volcano from here, but the town itself has much to recommend it too, with shops and restaurants aplenty, as well as the ruins of the Teatro Greco.
Famous Palermo: for a reasonably small city on a global scale, Palermo punches above its weight when it comes to producing celebrities. World-class footballer Mario Balotelli hails from here, as do fellow footballers Salvatore Schillaci and Massimo Taibi, but it also produced Popes Sergius I and Agatho, composer Alessandro Scarlatti, model Roberta Tiritto and director Luca Guadagnino.
Guide to Palermo
As you might expect, Palermo has a plethora of beautiful buildings that showcase a wide range of ancient and contemporary architectural styles. For starters, the Palazzo Conte Federico is bang in the city centre and showcases a range of diverse styles from across the ages ̶ there’s a 12th Century Arab-Norman tower, elaborate Baroque ceiling frescoes by Gaspare Serenario, and several collections of rare paintings and furniture. Meanwhile, the church and monastery of Santa Caterina d’Allesandria blends Baroque, Renaissance and Rococo styles to dramatic effect, with a beautiful domed exterior and an outstanding, otherworldly chancel crowned with the fabulous fresco ‘The Soul in glory rises to Heaven’ painted by brothers Antonio and Paolo Filocamo. If you want a perfect example of Palermo’s mix of ancient and modern under one roof, look no further than Palazzo Branciforte, the 17th Century townhouse which Gae Aulenti has transformed into a striking contemporary cultural centre and museum, with an interior where modern and ancient architectural features blend beautifully. The Piazza di Marina also has many more architectural highlights which further enhance Palermo’s unique ambience and the centrepiece is the 14th Century Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, named for Manfredi Chiaramonte, head of a dynasty which dominated Sicily during the Middle Ages. Palermo’s sleek, spacious contemporary marina is also a short stroll from here and it’s a wonderful place to people watch while sipping a cool glass of the island’s signature catarratto bianco.
If you need a blissful break from the buzzing city for a while, there are plenty of beaches in easy reach where you can chill out for the day, take a dip in the sea and top up your tan. The closest to the city centre is Mondello Beach, which is blessed by glowing golden sands, wonderful watersports and beachside restaurants serving freshly caught seafood. For something slightly more serene, try Aspra Beach, just to the east of the city. This bijou fishing village is peppered with pretty pastel coloured wooden boats and has a cosy public beach where you can watch stunning sunsets while sampling some of Sicily’s finest ice cream.
Sports and Pastimes
Active holidaymakers and sports fans are spoiled for choice in Palermo, with eclectic activities like tandem paragliding, social bike tours, boat trips and deep-sea diving all on offer. Alternatively, if you’re a fan of equestrian pursuits, you can try horseback riding in the Nebrodi and Madonie natural parks ̶ the native Sanfratellano horse is a rugged breed which is particularly suited to this rough yet ravishing terrain.
What to do in Palermo?
Palermo has awesome attractions to suit every type of visitor ̶ from creepy historical curiosities to terrific theatre performances and lively restaurants and bars, you’ll never be bored.
Party in Palermo
When the sun sets in Palermo the city’s nightlife cranks into gear and there are endless ways to enjoy yourself while mixing and mingling with locals and tourists alike. At Piazza Magione you’ll find plenty of busy pubs and restaurants, many of which have live music to accompany your libations, while in the Politeama/Libertà area, a more modern section of the city centre, you’ll find swish cocktail bars and sophisticated restaurants serving sushi and Indian food as well as local fare. However, Vucciria Market in the Old Town is the place to go when you want to let your hair down until the wee small hours ̶ its cobbled streets are packed with cosy shebeens selling cheap alcohol and at Garafello Square you can dance until the sun rises over the ramshackle buildings.
Fans of the dark side of history who want an insight into Sicily’s unique view of mortality should definitely take in the Capuchin Catacombs. This macabre attraction contains 1252 mummies and 8000 corpses dating from 1599 to the 1920s, including the son of a king of Tunis, sculptor Filipo Pennino and Colonel Enea DiGuiliano, resplendent in his French Bourbon uniform. The catacombs aren’t for the faint-hearted, but they’re definitely unforgettable.
The Opera Dei Pupi is a traditional Sicilian puppet theatre that’s become an institution adored by kids of all ages. The headline act is Carlo Magno and his Paladins ̶ skilfully carved and dextrously decorated puppets who act out epic tales of romance, heroism and triumphing against the odds, with plenty of improvisation and playing to the crowd along the way. This is a magical experience that provides an education on Sicilian folklore as well as being brilliant entertainment!
Where to eat in Palermo?
Palermo’s cuisine is infused with flavours from a variety of cultures and features sweet and savoury treats to satisfy every palate ̶ all at a reasonable price. Pani câ meusa (a soft sesame loaf filled with veal and cheese) is very popular, delicious desserts like cassata satisfy your sweet tooth and there’s a dazzling array of street food to try. Here are some highlights:
Make a beeline for Piccolo Napoli in the Borgo Vecchio area if you fancy fantastic seafood dishes cooked in the traditional style. This family-run restaurant was founded in 1951 and it’s an intimate setting where you’ll be welcomed with open arms while devouring dishes like polpo bollito (boiled octopus), and involtini di spatola (scabbard fish in breadcrumbs with pine nuts and currants). Prices are reasonable, for instance a tasty seafood salad costs just €8.
Scintillating Street Food
Widely regarded as one of the world’s street food capitals, Palermo is a haven for foodies who love cheap, quality food that’s prepared in front of their eyes by passionate vendors. If you class yourself in this category, you’ll love wandering around the markets of Borgo Vecchio, Capo, Bollaro and Vucciria while sampling lip-smacking arancine (rice croquettes), sfincione (a tasty snack-sized pizza), pane con panelle (deep-fried chickpea fritters in a sesame bun), boiled corncobs and roasted chestnuts.
Want to caress your palate with cakes and tantalise your taste buds with tarts? Head straight for the Sciampagna patisserie at Via Riccardo Wagner in the Politeama area ̶ here you’ll find cannoli, macaroons, donuts and cream cakes that look like works of art and taste absolutely heavenly.
Palermo is served by Falcone Borsellino Airport (PMO), situated at Punta Raisi, 35km from the city. Enjoy partners with a number of trusted car hire partners here, including Green Motion, Alamo, Enterprise and several high-quality local operators.
Buses and trams
Palermo’s public transport system isn’t the most reliable, but nevertheless there are several ways to get around town. AMT is the official bus company and you can easily identify their coaches by the orange, blue and white colours ̶ buy your ticked when you board or purchase multi-use tickets from shops ( a 7-day ticket costs under €20). Beware though ̶ although many routes are advertised and the service supposedly runs from 5:30AM-11PM, the only consistent services are from the Old Town to the new city centre and you’ll rarely see a bus after around 10PM. In the summer you can catch the 806 service to Mondello beach, but it’s usually ram-packed so you might feel safer taking your hire car, especially with family in tow.
Alternatively, Palermo also has a limited metro service that runs every 30 minutes for most of the day ̶ there are six stations and two lines, but it isn’t the most intuitive system to navigate.
You drive on the right-hand side of the road in Palermo and throughout Sicily. Speed limits are 130 km/h (80 mph) on motorways, 110 km/h (68 mph) on minor highways outside urban areas, 90 km/h (56 mph) on local roads and 50 km/h (31 mph) in urban areas.
The drink driving limit is 50mg of alcohol in the blood, seatbelts must be worn by the driver and all passengers and using mobile phones isn’t permitted unless they’re hands-free.
You should carry your driver’s license, passport and insurance documentation with you whenever you get behind the wheel.
Parking is known as ‘Parcheggio’ and blue signs indicate areas where you can pay at a kerbside machine to park during certain hours. You can only park in the direction of travel on a road unless it’s a one-way street ̶ in which case you can choose either side, but you must leave a 3-metre gap for cars to pass through.
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