Although things are said to have improved greatly with regard to crime in Palermo, there really is nothing to be gained from being complacent. Crowded areas like the markets will always attract pickpockets, take extra care with your valuable there and in situations such as crowded buses.
Exploring the narrow streets can be a delight but keep your wits about you - especially if you are on your own. Don't stray too far from the main thoroughfares and confine your wanderings to day time, especially in the La Kalsa and port area, the most likely part of the city's poorer areas to attract tourists. Regentrification has only just begun around there and there are still plenty of sreets where it's simply better not to venture.
Common sense should tell you all this applies even more at night. Stay away from dimly lit areas. Get someone to call you a taxi if the place you've ended up in is any distance from where you're staying.
Having lived in Japan, old Cliffie has experienced quite a few earth tremors. But he will never forget the first earthquake he felt, at 11 o'clock one Thursday morning, as he taught a class of teenage Sicilian girls. As he felt the floor tremble, he turned to look out of the fifth-floor window at the building across the street, which was gently swaying from side to side, with bits of the façade slowly peeling off and falling into the street. Sicily lies in the Mediterranean earthquake belt: its worst earthquake in the last century was in 1908, when more than 70000 people died in Messina.
Palermo is an interesting city to visit as long as you reasonabl on your guard. In the market places, keep wallets out of sight, and dont carry cameras in sight of others. Dont stand around looking at tourist maps(you're obviously a tourist and looking to be robbed).
Ladies --- if you've got to carry bags, use those you can put across your shoulder and dont carry money or credit cards in them. Put these somewhere else.
Watch out for kids hanging about on street corners, especially with motor scooters.
If you're going out at night, take a taxi.
This is not paranoia - Palermo can be a dangerous place.
When you walk in Palermo, please pay attention that your bag be on the side of the buildings, not of the street. If your bag is on the side they can easily reach, they are likely to be stolen away. So every way you cross the street, pay attention to move your bag from a shoulder to the other.
When looking into Palermo as a destination, I was a little put off by all the warnings about crime, pickpockets and general unsavoriness of the city. We spent 4 wonderful days there in April, 2006 and had no problems. It was a beautiful and exciting city full of friendly and helpful people. I'm sure that there is a problem for tourists, because people on the street continually gestured for us to be careful. I think, that common sense and basic alertness to one's surroundings should keep any traveller safe. Don't go out loaded with jewelry and a designer bag, looking like you have something worth stealing. Be sensitive when taking photos. Although I was fascinated by all the buildings still showing their WWII shelling, I didn't get my camera out and snap pictures. (I did take one when I noticed that no one would see me.) If a particulrar street or area looks ominous, or doesn't have other pedestrians, don't go there. Be friendly and smile at people. I think that the locals are your best allies. They don't want tourists molested in their town.
Just be aware - if you arrive during a Pan-European drought as we did, Sicily being an island feels it more than most. There were signs asking us to conserve water in the hotel lest the tank ran dry (fortunately this did not happen) but - you may see some fountains which have been mothballed til it rains, around Piazza Giulio Cesare, and this one in the Botanical Garden, not seen at their best
Hmmm. 'Tourist Information' in most countries I have visited is a service - at Palermo train station , I believe it is an APPEAL - like for witnesses to an accident, or for help tracing a missing person. TOURIST INFORMATION - CAN YOU HELP ? Perhaps you can advise on buses or trains or shops or local venues.?.. The fellow here can hit a kind of central locking and just lock people out. I asked the lady for directions and got a shrug and a sigh '...E complicato.." Thanks for that. Most uselss Tourist office since..Roma Termini - is it a train station thing?
Befriend the clerks at your hotel who will be more than helpful. I have added some transport details on my Palermo pages for Mondello, Cefalu and Monreale
That's the motto you need to adopt to survive on the roads in Palermo. Italians in general are notorious for their crazy driving, and Palermitans are no exception. Pedestrian crossings are almost meaningless. You need to head straight for the gaps and show no fear. Or failing that, hang around until somebody who looks like they know what they're doing starts to cross and run after them.
You will need:
(1) The calmness of the Dalai Lama
(2) Extremely fast reactions
(3) A good map of the city
(4) Someone who knows how to read it. Not the driver, as he will be busy avoiding collisions, and swearing a lot.
Allow 2 hours to find anything. Including the way out.
If travelling on 389 route from Piazza Indipedenza, watch out for pick-pockets. They work the classic scam of getting on 389 bus 1st then getting off picking your pocket as they go. A pair of them work it and I fell victim! Guys at ticket office seem uninterested even though these criminals spend all their time hanging out waiting for tourists! Maybe someone could ask them about getting permission from their Head Office to put a warning notice to this effect! I tried but my Italian wasn't up to it. Be careful!
Do not allow yourself to be alone - ever, anywhere. Always be sure that you are in view of a crowd, or stay close to your friends. I was sitting on a bench in Villa Giulia in the middle of the day, and two guys came and sat down on either side of me. One drew a knife and the other grabbed my wrist. I got away (thank you, junior high gym class self defense workshop), but this was because these two guys were total amateurs. I was very, very lucky. Don't put yourself in this position. I enjoyed Palermo immensely, despite what all of these warnings may suggest; it's a wonderful city. It just so happens that it can also be a dangerous one. Just keep your wits about you and stick to the crowds, and you should be fine.
There is the obvious comment when you say you are travelling to Sicily - oh are you not scared of the Mafia? I am not going to get into politics here but on the whole it is safe to say that tourists are NOT at risk - they have much bigger fish to fry.
The thing I would say is more of a risk is the problems with the authorities and the amount of beaurocracy which goes thoughout the whole of Italy. I hear one story of a girl who was pick-pocketed in a bar and when she reported it to the police, rather than helping her they were more concerned with getting her phone number!
I also would not recommend driving in Palermo if you can possibly help it - the driving is not particularly crazy but the city is fairly sprawling and it would be easy to get lost in the wrong part of town...
You know, old Cliffie has slept in the Amazon jungle, tramped though tropical forests in Africa and SE Asia and gone walkabout in the Australian outback without ever seeing - thank goodness - any snake. But once, on Monte Pellegrino, he decided to leave the track and climb to the very top of the peak. He'd gone about 50 metres when he put his foot down on a clump of grass concealing a snakes' nest. He stood, one foot firmly on the nest and the other raised in motionless horror, while four long black vipers slithered away. He never got to the top of Monte Pellegrino.
This fella stands near the Cathedrale, near the Quattro Canti. He is advertising a Sicilian puppet theatre.
Remember to leave yourself time to see one - we missed out !