By | 16th January 2018

Should you rent a car in Palermo?

Do you need a car in Palermo > Should you rent a car in Palermo Italy > Palermo ( PMO ) Do you need a car in Palermo? Is it worth hiring a car in Palermo? Should you rent a car in Palermo?

Palermo Car hire summary

Overall drive rating

Based on a weighted score across all cost and quality factors. [Full notes - drive rating]


  • Price alone isn't the only factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Palermo but clearly it's an important one. See our "why" section for more figures.
  • Cost factors include - price of car hire (peak and off peak season), car hire extras, fuel, tolls and parking costs.
  • Quality factors include - scenic drives, road quality and upkeep, general safety and congestion levels.
  • A complete index of all 10 factors will be uploaded shortly.

Cheapest rate for one week

Based on cheapest economy car hire deal with no added extras. [full notes - basic costs]



  • This is the very lowest price we could find for a one week car rental period in Palermo during the quiet season.
  • You will almost always end up paying more than this figure, but any extra costs or supplementary charges are usually determined by the renter, so we cannot easily compare like with like.
  • In many cases, rental companies will offer a cheap rental and then expect you to take out expensive insurance waivers. There are always ways to avoid this!

How much should I expect to pay in the peak season?

Based on cheapest deal during the summer holiday season. (Unless otherwise noted) [full notes - seasonal variations]



  • During the peak holiday season, public transport is often better value, as many train and bus fares are fixed throughout the year. See our "why not" section for more suggestions.
  • For most featured destinations, the peak season will be during the summer, typically July and August for northern hemisphere destinations. However, peak demand might occur at different times, for example in some ski resorts or winter sun destinations etc.

Free parking score

Based on the number of hotels which offer free parking. Total 909 - of which 234 have free parking. [full notes - parking]



  • Free hotel parking is very useful to have when you are hiring a car, and it's always worth checking ahead beforehand.
  • If free hotel parking is not available, you might want to consider renting a car for a single day, rather than for your whole trip.
  • The availability (or lack of) free hotel parking can be a really important factor in determining whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Palermo, as it can be a significant extra daily cost which you won't usually be paying at home!
  • Parking costs play a very major part in our consideration of whether or not it's worth hiring a car in each destination.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

Palermo public transport quick facts

Train score

Higher scores go to the systems which don't just take you to the most amazing places, but also to the ones which are easy to use, fast, reliable and frequent. A good train system on its own is usually enough to determine that you don't need to hire a car in many destinations.


  • [full notes trains]
  • Trains include all kinds of urban rail system from trams up to metro and suburban networks.
  • Trains also include mountain railways and cable cars.
  • Generally, places with a good rail network will automatically mean that you don't "need" to hire a car, but you can still might find that on balance you are better off by having one.

Water travel score

This is a general rating for all types of water travel, including scheduled ferries, sea / rivers cruises and excursions in Palermo


  • [full notes - water score]
  • The water score looks at means of transport on water - it does not consider water based activities like surfing or kayaking.

Overall public transport score

This is a more practical rating based on bus and rail travel, and also including ferries and other boat services, where they are part of the public transport network.


  • [full notes - overall transit] buses | trams | metro | local & regional rail | national rail
  • Is public transport in Palermo good value, or is it worth hiring a car just because it is cheaper overall?
  • Even if public transport is cheap and reliable, you might still feel that you should hire a car in Palermo because it will still give you more flexibility to reach out-of-the-way places, especially in rural areas.

Walking and Cycling Overview

Active travel score

This overall rating considers walking and cycling in and around Palermo. It includes factors such as the quality of the street environment, and whether you are likely to feel safe walking or cycling, together with the availability of bicycle hire and the ease of linking walking or cycling routes with public transport.


  • [full notes - active score] walking (city) | hiking | cycling (city /  country).
  • A high active travel score means that you might not need a car in Palermo, because you can see everything you need to see using a combination of your own two feet and the public transport system.

Car rental in - Palermo Need v worth & should!

Whether you have come here asking "do I need a car in Palermo", "is it worth hiring a car in Palermo", or whether or not you "should" hire a car here, these are all slight variations on a similar theme. Here we break each one down according to the criteria we use for each question. This is a weighted score based on the values above. These are explained further in the text which follows - [#why] [#whynot]. Do you need a car in Palermo?

Do you need a car in Palermo?

This is essentially based on whether or not public transport and other "non car" options are good enough to get around and beyond the city. For the lowest "need" score, the destination should have a combination of excellent all-round public transport, great opportunities for walking and cycling, together with poor value car hire or generally poor quality roads. 
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "do I need a car in  Palermo " will swing towards a strong no, because you can do absolutely fine without one).
Is it worth hiring a car in Palermo?

Is it worth hiring a car in Palermo?

Is car hire good value, especially during the peak season? How does this compare with transit fares? This question mainly looks at issues of cost and practicality.
  • In destinations where both public transport and car hire options are excellent, the verdict for "is it worth hiring a car in  Palermo" will swing towards whichever option offers the lowest overall cost for a group of 2-4 people travelling together.
Should you rent a car in Palermo?

Should you rent a car in Palermo?

Weighing up the above questions, if you are here for the first time AND asking about hiring a car, is it a good idea?
  • The final "carometer" swing is much more opinion based, and it takes into account which options will give you the truly best travel experience (n our humble opinion of course). Where a destination offers an excellent score with or without a car, the swing will go towards whichever option we feel gives the most truly unforgettable experience.
  • Ultimately, it's your choice whether or not you rent a car here. We're trying to give you something that's sufficiently far enough away from a "maybe" to help you make that choice. Ultimately, people only come to us because they are uncertain, but we don't really know what each person's preferences are. Whether we say you should or you shouldn't rent a car in  Palermo, you might also want to look up some of our other cities to see how  Palermo compares with other destinations in  Italy or  Europe.
  • By using public transport, walking or hiring a bicycle, you can avoid having to worry about parking charges altogether! See our "why not" section for more suggestions.

What does everyone else do?

Do most people hire a car in Palermo?

This is based on our observations of (a) car rental facilities and (b) what we think most people will do here. It's not an exact figure, just an estimate of how likely people are to get hold of a rental car here.
  • his is based on the percentage of people "in the market" who we think are likely to hire a car. This includes anyone arriving on holiday here who would usually hire a car on their travels, so it doesn't include people who don't usually drive (or don't drive), people staying with friends etc.


Visitors per year (million)

  • Cities with more visitors are more likely to have more complex airport car rental arrangements, and generally they will also have better public transport, but this is not always the case, especially in North America.


  • [full notes - do as everyone else does?]
  • You may wish to go with the flow, or you might prefer to avoid doing the most popular or obvious option. This will vary according to the range of choice available. This tends to be much higher in destinations which are closer to the middle of the car or no car scale.

Who is travelling?

Your group size and travel budget has a major impact on whether or not getting a rental car is good value compared to using public transport as your main means of getting around. Ultimately, these are all "worth" questions:

Is it worth renting a car in Palermo if I am a solo / budget traveller?

Generally, hiring a car is not good value for solo travellers for multiple reasons, especially as most of the costs of renting apply to the car, not the occupants. With public transport, the reverse is usually true! However, there are always some places where you will need a car, simply because they are almost impossible to reach using public transport.

Is it worth renting a car in Palermo for 2 people travelling together?

A rental car can be good value for couples or for friends travelling together, but since most cars come with at least four seats, it's often still better value to use public transport. However, if you prefer to keep yourselves to yourselves, then you might still want to rent.

Is it worth renting a car in Palermo for families?

Families of groups of 3-4 people travelling together will always get the best value from a rental car. However, you may also be burdened with extra costs for car seat hire, and you well also prefer to use local trains and buses, if they are quicker than getting stuck in heavy traffic.

Where are you staying?

The place you are staying, together with the sort of places you want to see, will have a large impact on whether or not you "need" to rent a car:

Do you need a car in Palermo if we are staying in the city centre / main resort area?

Most large towns or purpose built holiday resorts will have some kind of public transport, whereas parking provision will vary greatly from one place to the next. 

Do you need a car in Palermo if we are staying on the edge of the urban area?

Typically you may be staying in an apartment or hmall house on the edge of a resort or urban area. These places usually have some level of public transport, but not as much as city / resort centres.

Do you need a car in Palermo if we are staying in a rural area?

Rural proprties might include larger villas or apartments, but they can still be within a short walk of a bus stop or local railway station, and the opportunities for hiking and cycling might also be substantial, depending on the destination.

What is your attitude towards driving?

We can give you suggestions based on whatever we consider to be a "typical" visitor to Palermo, but ultimately your decision is also going to be influenced by whether or not you ususally prefer to hire a car in the first place.

Should I hire a car in Palermo if I prefer not to drive?

This is especially the case when there is only one main driver in the group, and it's based on the attitude of the driver rather than their passengers! The main driver may also simply prefer to use public transport, or they may prefer to take scenic train journeys where available.

Should we rent a car in Palermo if we are easy either way?

This is more aimed at the typical visitor who isn't that bothered about how they get around, as long as it is the most convenient / best value option.

Should I rent a car in Palermo if I prefer to drive?

For people who usually prefer the freedom and flexibility of having a hire car. Is it still best to rent a car in Palermo, or are there good reasons not to?

Palermo is one of those destinations where anyone’s instinctive reaction to the question of car hire is going to lean heavily towards not getting one, mainly due to safety fears – real or not!

Do you need a car in Palermo? Introduction

When someone asks "Do you need a car in Palermo?", this often breaks down to two key questions:
  1. Can you actually get around using public transport, or is a car all but essential?
  2. Is it worth hiring a car in Palermo? Is it good value for money, compared with non-car options?
Over the next few sections, we wil look at the pros and cons of driving in Palermo as a tourist, and ultimately weigh these up, so we can answer the key question of Should you rent a car in Palermo?
Why? Why not? Ratings Comments

First-time visitors to the rugged and sparsely populated island of Sicily could be forgiven for thinking that this is a destination where there are no railways, and where no distance would be that great, so it would still be easy enough to get around just using local buses. However, neither of these two presumptions could be further from the truth!

Not only is Sicily deceptively large – there are several different loops around the island which would each take a day of driving to complete without stops –  but apart from the motorways which had west towards Palermo and south through and beyond Catania from the port of Messina, most of the roads on Sicily are also very winding.

[whyy2 num=”207″]

Reasons why you should hire a car in Palermo

  • Driving in Sicily also means having access to the more remote hilltop towns and villages that would be very difficult to visit using local rail and bus services, and it would be a nightmare to visit by organised bus tour as well, because everyone just piles of the bus, takes a load of snaps and gets back on again – for me, this is the ultimate nightmare in any place, so no thanks here!
  • Getting a hire car in Palermo is also useful if you’re planning on going hiking, because the car will give you the sort of flexibility that local public transport can’t – we’re not going to pretend that the local train services here will ferry you directly to the trailhead and then transport you back from the end of the walk with regular and reliable services. This may be Sicily, not Switzerland, although in fairness, all the buses and trains we took on this trip were bang on time – but that’s a sample of about 6!
  • Yet the great glory of Palermo is that you can actually get around here and see an enormous amount without actually needing to get into a car, a taxi or even a minibus or any other sort of motorised road vehicle. This doesn’t mean to say that were suggesting that Palermo or anywhere else in Sicily is a pedestrian paradise, because that’s not the case either, but there are still more than enough options to explore both the coastline and the interior of Sicily without needing to hire a car in Palermo or rely heavily on taxis or buses.
  • Generally car rental in Italy is reasonable value, with relatively little variation across different seasons. This tends to make Palermo car hire more worthwhile in summer than it does in winter (when compared with other popular summer destinations such as Spain or Croatia, where prices rise sharply in summer).

General Palermo car hire advice notes

Apart from the natural warning about the safety of driving in Sicily, always beware that the island of Sicily is deceptively large. Allow at least a full day for any driving loops around the island – better to break it up into sections over several days, either staying in different places or returning back to Palermo each day.

Why not? Visiting Palermo without a car

What is public transport like in Palermo? What about local conditions for walking or cycling? Can you rely on public transport and maybe a few taxis for most or all of your trip? Are there some times of year when it's easier to get by without a car than others? When should you rent a car in 2?

Visiting Palermo without a car

  • Sicily still has a reputation for dangerous driving – although as with any other European destination, casualty rates are still on the decline.
  • Petrol in Italy is generally as expensive as other countries in Northern Europe, such as the UK or the Netherlands.
  • You really can get around the island by train, and it’s an amazing experience. However, services are still slow and generally infrequent, outside the main Palermo – Messina – Catania turnk routes, where inter-city type services are still common.
  • There are also numerous buses linking the smaller hilltop towns and coastal locations. As with the trains, do a bit of pre-planning, and allow plenty of time for connections.
  • Italian rail fares are based on a simple distance model. There is little need to book for travel around Sicily, which is mainly on regional services. The price will be fixed, and it will be constant year round. This tends to make the train very good value in the peak season, when car rental prices go up.

From Palermo to the mainland?

  • If you decide that you don’t need to hire a car in Palermo, then you can have the added flexibility of moving around the island, for example visiting Catania and nearby Etna, and then finding a flight home from another location.
  • If you visit Sicily without a car, then you can aslo easily continue onto the mainland via the tip of the “boot” at Villa San Giovanni – one of the few remaining passenger train ferry routes in Europe.
  • Visiting the Italian mainland in a rental car will hit you for the ferry fare itself + insurance + potentially a very hefty one-way rental fee.

Trains from Palermo (and in Sicily in general)

If you want to head east from Palermo towards Catania, you can also take a rail trip around Mount Etna using the famous Circumetnea railway, whereas the fiery hot volcanic island of Stromboli needs to be visited by boat trip from Milazzo For any of islands situated off Sicily, a car can actually be a nuisance as you will have to pay for parking at the port. None of these small islands is big enough to drive on.

Visitors landing at Palermo’s airport can also continue directly onwards into the city centre, from where other connections are available throughout the island. Sicily might not be the sort of place where visitors expect to be whizzed around on ultramodern high-speed trains, but some rail maps of Europe show the entire coastal route all the way to Messina and then onwards down the eastern coast past Catania and then right through Siracusa and on to the town of Noto as all being exceptionally scenic.

Scenic Routes

Furthermore, heading west from Palermo to Trapani, this coastal rail route is rated as highly scenic all the way to the western point of Marsala. From here, a loop can be continued via Mazara and on through another scenic inland route through to Balestrate, where the line rejoins the Palermo to Trapani coastal route.

Should I hire a car in Palermo and drop it off somewhere else?

The main problem with one-way rentals between Sicily and the Italian mainland is that car hire companies won’t be so keen on lending you a car that they might then have to bring back by ferry at their own expense.

Make sure you have a very clear indication of the small print if this is your plan. Even if you plan just to take a day trip by ferry and return the way you came, make sure you have insurance for the ferry included in your contract – otherwise you are not covered for any damage that may occur during the crossing (and the ferry company won’t be liable either).

Is it worth renting a car for part of my trip?

I’m not so sure that Sicily is really the sort of place to do a partial rental, probably because my gut feeling says that if you can see enough without getting a hire car, then it doesn’t really make that much sense just to get in a car, say for a day or two, at the end of the your trip.

I think if I had to drive in Sicily, it would take me a few days to get used to the driving conditions, so the last thing I would want to do after that would be to hand the car straight back!

The nature of public transport options is such that you might want to do a bit of touring over several days rather than make day trips that bring you back into Palermo each evening. Of course there are some circuits you can do in a day, but it’s often a bit of a push. Combining travelling around by train with picking up a rental car doesn’t make a huge amount of sense.

Should I hire a car in Palermo for a “road trip”?

Sicily is just big enough that you may prefer to stay in a few different places as you move around the island. However, I wouldn’t define this as a “road trip” in the sense of driving very long distances each day. For that, you’d need to take your car across into the mainland, and I think there are better ways of doing that.

So if you do have an Italian road trip in mind, then I would suggest either getting around Sicily by public transport first, or hiring a car maybe for a long day if you need to. Then once you are done, pop on the ferry across into Calabria, and look at car rental options from there. A road trip circuit around the coast of Italy, and then across the top of the country between Turin and Venice would be the natural choice, but there’s not much point in starting that here, and certainly not if you’d have to take out ferry insurance for the whole duration of your rental. The best places to start a road trip in Italy are the cities with a good range of flights from across Europe and elsewhere, and also the airports which have a competitive selection of hire car options. You are most likely to find this in places such as Pisa, Milan, and of course Venice!

Do I need to hire a car in Palermo to get to the Aeolian Islands?

The Aeolian Islands are a group of volcanic islands which sit to the north of Sicily, and which can be reached be ferry (hydrofoil or conventional) in between around 1 and 6 hours from the port of Milazzo.

Milazzo is 3-4 hours by train, or around a 2 1/2 hour drive from Palermo. This port town can also be reached from Catania in a little less time.

Wherever you are staying in Sicily, if you do fancy a trip to these incredibly diverse islands, you’ll get to the port a little bit quicker by car, but then you will almost certainly just end up parking it there in the port and paying upwards of €10 per day for the privilege. However, you may also be able to arrange to do a one way rental and either pick up or drop off a car here – but be prepared to pay through the nose for that. There are a number of major and local brands of car hire company in the town.

Car ferry insurance warning

You should also be aware that if you take your rental car on a ferry without informing your hire company, you may well void the insurance. This applies to all kinds of ferries, including domestic routes.

Parking –

James says - a few trip notes:

I visited Sicily in March 2006. Having booked the flights a few weeks previously and then having done some research much closer to departure, we decided to head to Catania and spend a Saturday night there, travelling by train right the way through the interior of Sicily, changing once at Caltanissetta Xirbi. Now this is another superb route that really goes right through the heart of Sicily’s mountainous inland, yet this one isn’t even rated on European rail maps as being especially scenic!

We then travelled around Catania on the Circumetnea route, but by then it was getting dark, so we wanted to come back the next day and see Etna properly. This is something we ended up doing in an organised private four-wheel-drive tour, and that’s something that’s been covered in more detail in our Catania car hire advice page.

For returning back to Palermo, we looked at the option of going back the same way by train, or of taking the train via Messina, but we weren’t comfortable with either option in terms of connections and reliability. Instead we took a direct bus from Catania to Palermo, and even though this was an express service with very limited stops, it still gave us another great glimpse of the island within.

Traffic lights optional

At this point we have to bring up the question of those legendary Sicilian drivers, and the phrase used by our own tour guide, who told us that in Sicily “the traffic laws are optional”.

It has also been suggested that driving standards in Italy start reasonably well around Milan, and then deteriorate slowly the further south anyone goes. For many people picking up a hire car in Palermo and then doing any sort of self drive road trip really isn’t going to be an option, whereas the idea of taking a private guided tour is slightly better, because you are at least leaving the driving to a trusted local.

Rolling roulette?

If you are happy rolling the roulette wheel and taking a punt on Palermo’s roads, then it still fair enough to say that picking up a hire car is going to be useful for all the reasons that it is elsewhere, and we are under no illusions that if you do want to try and travel around Sicily by train, you are still limited by very infrequent schedules, hence there’s always the risk that the dice will roll against you here, and you end up with a late running service that means you missed that last train of the day back to where you are staying, and have to hurriedly work out some other emergency plan B for the night.

All I’ll say personally is that you should hire a car in Palermo if you are happy being the one doing the driving! The roads are amazingly engineered in places, and even when they just cling to the hillsides, you are still in for a fascinating ride. You can only go so far into Sicily’s deep interior if you rely on buses and trains. I wouldn’t particularly fancing walking along any of these roads either. If I have given you even the slightest concern about safety here, (and I can make no apology for that, the driving I experienced here was by far the worst I have ever seen in Europe), then I hope you can still get to enjoy this amazing island without the worry of needing to hire a car!


Our slider ratings range from 0 (it isn't even possible to hire a car, e.g. Hong Kong) through to 10 (you really must rent a car here, e.g. Phoenix, Tampa). However, most places are somewhere inbetween these extremes, and this is where it gets more interesting! Further ratings breakdowns, including a much more detailed public transport rating, are currently being added. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.


What is our final score for Palermo on the Carornocar scale?

Remember, this isn't so much a rating of the road network, or a score for what we think of the buses or trains, but it's simply a scale showing the swing between whether or not we think a rental car is a good idea here.



Get a car because:

  • You will have the same flexibility as anywhere else – if you are comfortable driving here!
  • You can drive deep into the Sicilian interior – fantastic hilltop villages and stunning driving roads.
  • Rail services are slow, unreliable and infrequent.
  • It’s generally good value if you are travelling as a small group.
  • Drive east to the Mount Etna park and get direct access to the slopes, when compared with trying to get there by train.

Don’t get a car because:

  • This is Sicily – drive at your own risk!
  • Direct train services are available from Palermo International airport right into the city centre.
  • Thjere’s one main station in Palermo with onward connections throughout the island.
  • Many train routes around Sicily rated as extremely scenic, especially Palermo to Catania via Messina.
  • Visit the stunning Circumetnea Scenic railway line around Mount Etna (see Catania page for more details).
  • Numerous options available for boat trips, including visiting Stromboli National Park.
  • Parking can be a problem anywhere on the island, not just in Palermo. Historic towns and villages often lack decent parking spaces.
  • Local buses available in towns, and between major towns, including express coach services, for example, between Palermo and Catania.
  • You can visit other islands by ferry – car ferry services are limited.
  • You can continue onwards into mainland Italy by ferry – no one way rental or ferry insurance surcharges to worry about.


Should you rent a car in Palermo?  When the opportunity to get around by train is combined with the various different boat trips which can be taken from Sicily, including the trip to Stromboli, then this all adds up to a very strong recommendation that Sicily in general and Palermo in particular is a solid destination where a hire car just isn’t needed.

Would you hire a car in Palermo?

Have you driven in Palermo? Do you agree with our advice on whether or not it's worth hiring a car in Palermo}? Do you need a car in Palermo? For some or all of the time? Tell us what you think using the comments section below:

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