Shoestring Traveller: A Budget Travel Guide to Sicily
When we first started planning out our route for our European summer trip, Sicily was in amongst the top contenders as a must visit. Although the island is a little out of the way in terms of accessibility, we simply couldn’t go past spending nearly a week here as we had heard such positive reviews from friends! What we found whilst here was more than I could ever have anticipated! The culture, food and incredible atmosphere that buzzes through the streets of Palermo is undeniably amazing to experience. And what’s more, this destination doesn’t cost a bomb! Here is my budget travel guide to Sicily, the Mediterranean’s largest island!
There are multiple transport options when it comes to travelling to and from Sicily, but your choice is ultimately determined by where you’re coming from. As we had just spent time exploring the Amalfi Coast, our best option was to travel back to Napoli and transit to Sicily from there!
In unusual fashion for us, we left booking our transport to Sicily a little later than we had originally hoped due to being unsure how long we needed there/where we were going to be travelling to next. This unfortunately meant that even slow travel options were a little more expensive than what they may have been had we booked them at least a month in advance. Our final and cheapest decision was an overnight ferry (found via Direct Ferries) to Palermo for €44 PP. Although this was a little more expensive for our budget, we actually managed to skip on paying for a night’s accommodation and brought our own makeshift dinner onboard to eat. So technically we saved on food and accommodation costs in the long run!
Once you arrive in Palermo you will probably need to pay to get into the main town centre- unless you came from the port, then you should be able to walk to your accommodation (dependent on location). If you’re coming from the airport however, there is a direct train you can catch that runs to Palermo Central for €6- you can find this train underneath the airport!
If you’re staying in the central area of Palermo you should be able to access majority of the city by foot! Most of the main shops/restaurants run down two main streets, so you won’t need to worry about public transport! However, if you’re planning on visiting the main beach, Mondello, you will need to catch a 45 minute bus. If you visit a newspaper/convenience stall you can grab tickets for €1.40 instead of €1.80 from the bus driver!
Got travel plans to explore further out of Palermo? The main train station has a number of train options that can take you out to the coastal towns of Sicily! These tickets range from €5-€10 one-way and are a lot quicker than the bus network in regards to transporting to and from coastal Sicilian towns.
As we were staying for six nights, we wanted to make sure our accommodation was central so we didn’t have to spend up on transport and could access the city whenever we wanted. A quick Airbnb search highlighted a number of places available centrally and our final decision came down the cheapest place possible- without completely compromising our comfort. A two bedroom loft apartment in central Palermo cost a small €21 PN/PP! From my understanding majority of the accommodation in Sicily is pretty dang cheap, so staying here on a budget is easily achievable!
As we have gathered from my previous Italy-based articles, it’s super easy to spend a little and get a lot for food- Sicily was no different! As we were staying there for a longer period of time and had access to cooking facilities, we made sure to eat both breakfast and at least 3 dinners at home to save on money. There is a Lidl in the middle of Palermo that has an array of fresh ingredients for you to make home cooked meals on the cheap! For two out of our three homemade meals we managed to spend as little as €2- with 1kg of gnocchi costing only 99 cents, tomato base for 35 cents and mozzarella for €0.30! Don’t mind me, just a food bargain queen!
Without much searching it was pretty easy to tell what the signature dish in Palermo was- arancini balls! A good friend of mine recommended we visit Ke Palle on the main street for the best arancini in town. All I can say is, what a bloody treat! For €2.50 you can choose from a selection of handcrafted arancini that caters to all diets- vegans included! I grabbed the meat ragu classic option and it was 10/10! Rest assured that just one of these arancini balls can (I believe) fill you up completely- a cheap lunch option! Be sure to visit in the late afternoon or in the mid morning as the queue is hectic during peak lunch hour. This place is a must-do for food when in Palermo!
In regards to other restaurants and eateries in Palermo, everything is pretty damn cheap. There is an array of food choices available, from pizza and pasta to sushi and burgers. The majority of the menus that we examined ranged from €4-€10- and you can even score an Aperol Spritz for as cheap as €2.50 during the evening!
Whilst you’re in Palermo if you’re craving one final pizza I would recommend either Pizz Up- €4-€6 pizzas that are a very generous portion size or, Pizza Freida- recommended by travel pal Kate! Her tip here is to book in advance to ensure you get a table as it’s very popular with locals. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get here with our set budget, but I can only imagine it would be divine!
Palermo is the capital city of Sicily, and is home to an extraordinary amount of history, culture and architecture. As the main hub for tourist activity, Palermo’s streets are paved with local performers, artists and authentic Italian restaurants/eateries, who aim to add value to the visitors’ Sicilian experience.
During our stay we spent two days exploring the streets paved with classic cross-building washing lines and the major attractions on offer! For just €5 you can climb to the rooftop of the Palermo Cathedral for epic views, or enter the main cathedral to admire its beauty for free!
If politics is more your thing then you can enter the Royal Palace for €6 or €12 for the exhibition entrance! Unfortunately both of these activities weren’t exactly budget worthy for us, but exploring the outside of the buildings was beautiful and a must-see!
A handful of loose change and a 45-minute bus ride can take you all the way to Palermo’s famous beach, Mondello! Beautiful golden sand stretches for approximately 1.5 kilometres! The majority of this beach is privately owned however (€10-15 for chairs & umbrella), so you will need to get down there earlier to secure a spot in the public areas! My advice would be to head further north up the beach to find a decent place to sunbathe- we spent two days here and the first day we had to trek to find a spot but our second day proved easier by moving north away from the main bus stop areas!
This beach is typically quite crowded with families and other tourists, but it’s a must-do and a good change from the typical tourist sightseeing days out- for as little as €2.80!
No matter if you’re in Sicily for a week or just a few days, Cefalu has to be on your Sicilian adventure bucket list! Cefalu is one hour from Palermo, and can be reached via the train for €5.60 one way- a little more pricey for public transport but cheaper than renting out a car/scooter.
Visiting Cefalu was a major driving reason for travelling to Sicily, and it did not disappoint! We spent the day here on the free public beach- far bigger than the public beaches at Mondello, and didn’t spend any money apart from a few euros on a couple of drinks! The beaches here are a lot more spacious and clean and the atmosphere is a little more relaxing so if you get a little claustrophobic I would recommend heading to Cefalu over Mondello- especially if you’re strapped for time!
End your day here walking through the ridiculously cute Sicilian village town, with narrow, golden-lit streets paving the way to a cute, vibrant courtyard overlooked by the town cathedral. This a little slice of heaven- a part of me is sad that I didn’t spend time staying out here!
Honestly, my time in Sicily was just as great as I’d hoped it to be. The island has a different vibe to the rest of Italy- life is a lot less fast pace. Although there isn’t a great deal to do for budget travellers in regards to activities, there are ample opportunities to immerse yourself in the local lifestyle and explore the incredible coastal villages which I personally think is more valuable than any paid activity. If you’re looking for a relaxing way to end your Italian stint, or even just a cheap Italian getaway, don’t skip out on Sicily as a fighting option.
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