Public Transportation in
around Palermo, Catania, and the Hinterland
be told, getting around Sicily with trains, boats and buses is
not terribly difficult. Services are not always very efficient
but they do function. It's simple enough to find a ferry departure at
Milazzo for the Lipari islands, or from Messina for mainland Italy. But for land transportation,
it's the occasional bizarre payment procedures that we want to warn you about. First, a general guide.
These depart every 30 minutes. Fares to Palermo or Catania (from their respective airports) cost about 6 euros.
(Taxis are not recommended as you'll probably be grossly overcharged.) In Catania, the buses for the
local airport, Taormina, Palermo and other points depart from a bus station directly across the large square in
front of the main train station. In Palermo, the airport buses depart from the square next to the main train station, with a stop
at Piazza Politeama (in front of Prada), while buses for cities in Sicily depart from Piazza Cairoli, which pedestrians enter through
the main train station (down a walkway next to the platform for Track 1 and the post office). In Palermo there's
also a train that serves the route between the Palermo airport
and that city's main train station, departing every 40 minutes or so.
Our Sicily airports page includes details regarding Sicily's principal
airports (Catania, Palermo, Trapani), with links to the airport websites and Google Maps, while the sightseeing page
offers practical tips for seeing what you want to see.
Finding Trains and Buses
In Palermo, Catania and most other large cities you'll find bus
stations near the main railway stations, as we've mentioned above. The blue buses provide service between cities,
while the orange ones provide local service. Bus connections can be tricky to plan but train service offers more efficiency for certain routes:
Trenitalia railway schedules and ticket
purchasing procedures can be consulted online. The English section is useful. (When using the destination features,
remember to use Italian names for certain cities, Siracusa instead of Syracuse, and that some cities have more than one station.)
It is necessary to "cancel" (stamp) your ticket in one of the
small orange ticket machines at the station near the platforms immediately before boarding.
Train & Bus Logistics
Buses are not a problem in a large city or if you just want to get from Palermo to Catania, or from Catania to Siracusa, or into
either Catania or Palermo from their respective airports. Trains are efficient
for specific routes (Palermo-Cefalù, Messina-Taormina) but not for longer ones. Be warned that bus service to small, isolated towns can
be inefficient and sporadic.
If you must take a taxi into town from the airport, at least negotiate the price for your route (itinerary)
before entering! There are supposed to be fixed "standard" (legal) rates for day and night fares to/from Palermo
and Catania (from their airports). In town (especially in Palermo), before you take a taxi, climb into a horse carriage or
even think about entering one of the three-wheel vehicles driven around town by young, aspiring race-car
drivers, read our page about these services to avoid being
overcharged or risking your safety. In fact, we generally discourage patronizing the services of horse carriages
or three-wheel vehicles at all!
Ships, Hydrofoils and Ferries
Several services can get you to the Italian or African mainland or the smaller islands. Tirrenia is the most important
ship operator servicing Sicily, with daily departures to Lipari, Naples, Genoa, Tunis and Sardinia. The bilingual
site provides schedules and useful ticket information. Snav has faster ships and a fleet of hydrofoils (service is only seasonal and their site
has no English text). Or try Siremar.
For travel to Malta, check out Virtu Ferries.
Bus Ticket Procedures (Read to avoid problems.)
Look for a ticket vendor (biglietteria) nearby. Shops that sell cigarettes or newspapers often sell bus tickets.
Tickets for the blue "long distance" buses may be canceled aboard by the driver before
departure. Tickets for the orange
local buses, available for slightly over one euro and normally valid for 90
or 120 minutes (though there are also full-day tickets), must
be canceled (date stamped) immediately upon boarding the bus in one of
the (you guessed it) orange or blue machines near the entrance of the vehicle.
Penalties (Read this too!)
Here's where it gets tricky. If the the infamous "bus ticket
checkers" catch you riding with a ticket that has not been
validated (date stamped by a machine) you will immediately be
fined about fifty euros. The personnel rarely speak English. (Some
can barely handle standard Italian, preferring to speak Sicilian
among themselves.) They get paid a "bounty" (incentive
commission) of about ten euros for each fine levied, and in
practice it is easy for them to pocket some of the fines (such as those
collected from foreigners) paid in cash.