Driving in Sicilian Cities
Tips for Drivers

Tips for drivers in Sicily - successful driver on Sicilian streets has to be “convincing”, proving to others that he knows what he is doing and where he is going! 

         It’s true that driving on the streets of major Sicilian cities is a kind of art.

It requires good driving skills, faith in your abilities as a driver, lot of attention, patience and let’s face it – some dose of luck to stay “unscratched”.  Contrary to most opinions expressed on forums, I think that the real danger of Sicilian streets does not come from crazy cars drivers.  Well, lunatics are everywhere; just watch yellow-cab drivers in NYC – they will stop in the middle of the street, suddenly change lane in front of you etc… 

Old town streets are narrow, often you will find the sign defining the width of the street, so you can avoid an approach " try & error" as it may cost you well too much :-)

       However what really makes big difference between NYC and Sicilian streets is a “Combination of Sicilian Man and Motorcycle” (or its local incarnation called “scooter”). On narrow, busy streets jammed with slow-moving traffic, scooter (and motorcycle) drivers use their agility to “meander” between cars. They will pass you on the left, on the right; they will abruptly turn in front of your car continuously searching for the “path of least resistance” along the “road most traveled”. Frankly, I had an impression that if they only could, they will run over my car; it’s a total madness. As the matter of fact, some most popular models of Italian scooters are named Vespa what means “Wasp”. And that is exactly what happens on the streets of Palermo, Catania, Messina – you feel like being chased by a swarm of wasps! Hopefully, now you know better what I’m talking about.

Vespa (Wasp) is omnipresent on Sicilian streets

Motorbikes also have their special "place" on Sicilian streets (and it's not only the dedicated parking space)

       They are careless and fearless, but you like it or not - they are an integral part of Sicilian “cityscape” (or “street-environment” if you wish). They are “living” (driving in this case) in an apparent “symbiosis” with cars. It is probably the only known case in this “life-at-low-pace” society with deeply engraved habits of “take-it-easy” and “see-it-tomorrow”  (“domani”) that actually someone is in rush!

I guess, most of us can easily accommodate craziness of other drivers.  But this scooter’s induced dynamics and your constant consciousness that it may take only few inches and a mere scratch on your bumper to take someone’s life is frightening. So the final conclusion is – driving on streets of big Sicilian cities is not for everybody. BTW - during my three months of driving in Sicily (including streets of mentioned cities) I never saw any accident between car and motorcycle! Thanks God!

      That’s why my recommendation is: Do Not drive (or limit driving to the minimum) in big Sicilian cities.  You may still have to get to your hotel or b&b, but then park the car and enjoy your “pedestrian life”. After all – historical centers of Sicilian towns are small!

Now, let’s make it clear – the above notes describe streets of Palermo, Catania, Messina and may be just few larger Sicilian towns. It’s true that as “must-to-visit” touristic centers, they shape opinions which are then extended to the whole island. Fortunately (for tourists), Sicily is much bigger so in many towns, villages and historical sites due to smaller population, street’s environment is much more “down to earth” (in other words “normal”). Such “must-to-see” jewels like Agrigento, Cefalu, Erice, Enna, Modica, Monreale, Mazara del Vallo, Noto, Ragusa, Syracuse, Trapani…. (and the list can go long) are much “safer” for drivers provided you respect the fundamental rule.

 You just drive close to the historical center, park your car on one of big parking lots (some free, some with fees) or any other suitable place (see below) and continue your journey in the historical center on foot!  Anyhow - some towns like Taormina or Ortygia (Italian: Ortigia) - old part of Syracuse) are mostly closed for traffic!

Watch road signs (just in case you did not realize that parking the car on this street is forbidden :-)

More on driving in the city

      Sicilian cities are old (not only by American standards). The streets were designed for single horse carriage at the best. Today, they have to handle local traffic and believe me - they do. However, not every foreign driver (especially those used to big cars and wide highways) can handle driving in the labyrinth of narrow streets!

Helpful hint:  It’s for the reason that in most European cars  you can fold external mirrors. Do not forget about this valuable feature in “more difficult moments” of your driver’s career on Sicilian streets.  

This also points to another wise advice: Rent a small (compact) car that offers no more space than you really need. The benefits are straightforward:

  • easier to navigate narrow streets, find the parking place and then squeeze your car in usually tight space;
  • less fuel-hungry (keep in mind that as of January 2014 regular gas at the pump goes for about 1.8€ per liter which is about $9.3 per US gallon). Yes, it hurts! 
  • Lower rental cost.

Good candidates should be Toyota Yaris, some models from Fiat (for example Panda, Punto….), couple of models from Renault and Citroen, but these are just examples. Forget about little Smart, basically this is the car for city but you do not want to drive in the city! 

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