Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Getting Around Palermo

Public transport zooming by in Palermo...
I was fortunate on my trip to Palermo to have a friend who lived there who had a car, and we drove around a lot, especially to places outside the city and between attractions at opposite ends of the city. Most tourists and visitors to the city will most certainly want to avoid driving in Palermo because the traffic is...daunting.

Being from Boston, I used to think that Boston traffic was the worst, but never was I more wrong on my first visit to Palermo.  The narrow streets, the roads, and the congestion are the perfect recipe for chaos.  My advice for travelers: walk or public transport.

Palermo is a very walkable city, and you will probably have more luck getting around on foot.  If you are thinking of going to the city, equip yourself with some comfortable walking shoes that are supportive and can take a good beating.  The second thing that you will need is a very good map.  I found that the free map from the tourist information booths around the city were the best and very durable (I wasn't able to find a decent map of Palermo before my arrival).  If you're staying at a hotel, I'm sure that the hotel has something similar or possibly the same map for visitors.  It's easy to get lost in the city so be sure to have a map with you until you get your bearings.

Walking along the streets can be jarring on your first day - the influx of people, the honking of horns, the shrills of brakes and tires...all of these things can wear on your nerves.  After a day or two, you get used to it. Crossing the street can be an adventure.  Don't jaywalk.  Use crosswalks whenever possible.  Don't cross against the light.  And when you do cross the street, don't hesitate, remain firm and get to the other side as quickly as possible.

Public transport can be useful, but it's difficult to master the time tables and schedules, and good luck figuring out where any bus goes.  Most guidebooks do not advise making use of public transport, but you may have to use them, especially in the summer months, if you want to visit some of the more popular attractions outside of the city center (for example, the catacombs).  The larger coach buses (pullman as they are called in Italian) are great at getting from one metropolitan area to another and many of these pullman make stops along the way, too.  The pullman are operated by private companies and are relatively inexpensive.

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