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Renting a Car in Palermo – Tips & Advice from a Frequent Renter

Are you plotting out your Sicily road trip and trying to decide where to rent your car?

Or maybe you’ve already decided you’re renting a car in Palermo but want to make sure you’re prepared for the pick up or drop off.

Either way, I’ve got you covered!  I’ve been renting cars and driving in Italy since 2003.  I’ve rented cars in Palermo multiple times (we have family here and we love the island), and even though it’s a hectic and busy city, renting a car in Palermo can be straightforward and stress-free.

Palermo is also one of the most convenient and inexpensive places to rent a car in Sicily (along with Catania). 

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Is It Worth Renting a Car in Palermo?

That’s an important question to ask yourself.  If you’re planning on spending most of your time in Palermo and nearby, you don’t need a car.  In fact, it’s not fun to drive or park in Palermo! 

You can easily reach nearby highlights by public transport (for example, Monreale, Mondello and Cefalù).  Many other destinations can be reached by joining a group or private tour (for example, the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento).

If you are heading out of Palermo to explore other parts of Sicily, you’ll want to have your own car. 

And, Palermo is an excellent place to rent a car.  Rates are competitive, you’ll have a large selection of vehicles to choose from, and it’s easy to pick up and return a car (especially at the Palermo airport location). 

I recommend using a search consolidator like DiscoverCars.com. It’s the company I use when I rent a car in Italy.  (Yes, even though we live here and own our own vehicles, we also rent cars – like when we visit Sicily!).  I also check rates at AutoEurope.com.

Renting a Car in Palermo – Choosing Your Location

You’ve got two options for Palermo car rental locations – the Palermo Airport (PMO) and the Palermo city center.  How to decide?

  1. Prices.  Research rates at both locations.  Even if the city center location is more convenient, lower rates may make a quick train ride to the airport worth it.
  2. Availability.  If you’re looking for a specific vehicle (for example: minivan, automatic transmission), you may have better luck at one location over the other.
  3. Your Travel Plans.  If you plan on exploring Palermo before heading out on your Sicily road trip, it’s probably easier to rent a car in the city center.  If you’re flying into Palermo and immediately starting your road trip, rent a car at the airport.  If you’re flying out of the Palermo airport at the end of your Sicily trip, return your car at the Palermo airport.
  4. Your Italian Driving Experience.  If you don’t enjoy driving in Italian cities or don’t have any experience driving in them, it will be easier for you to pick up your car at the Palermo airport. 

Palermo Airport Location

Car rental desks inside the terminal at the Palermo airport in Sicily, Italy.

The Palermo Airport (IATA code: PMO, also known as Palermo Falcone-Borsellino Airport, formerly known as Punta Raisi Airport) is located northwest of the city, in the small town of Cinisi. 

Good To Know: Even though the Palermo airport is technically part of Cinisi, it’s not connected to the town. So, if you want to get gas or food in Cinisi, you need to exit before you get to the airport and then get back on the E90/A29 to drive to the airport.

How to Get to the Palermo Airport from Palermo

Drive (if you’re returning your rental car) – 30 minutes with no traffic, but give yourself a buffer of at least one hour

Take a taxi – 30 minutes with no traffic; between 35-45€, depending on your departure point in the city

Take the train (Trenitalia) – 1 hour from Palermo Centrale train station to the Punta Raisi train station inside the Palermo Airport terminal; 6.50€ adults, free for kids up to age 11, 50% discount for kids ages 12-17 (in 2023)

Take the bus (Prestia e Comandè) – 45 minutes, 6€ adults, 4€ for kids age 2-12 (in 2023)

Picking Up Your Car at the Palermo Airport

  1. You’ll find the car rental desks inside the Palermo terminal, near the arrivals door.
  2. Once you’ve signed your contract at the desk, you’ll get your keys and walk out to the parking garage/lot (2 minutes). 
  3. Follow the signs for your car rental company and an agent will help you find your car, check for any damage to the vehicle (scratches, dings, etc), and sign off on the vehicle check with you.
  4. Exit the car rental parking area by heading east (water on your left, airport on your right) until you get to the traffic circle.
  5. Follow the green signs for the Autostrada A29, and in 7 kilometers, you’ll have the option of continuing straight (east) toward Palermo or taking the A29 (south) toward Mazara del Vallo.

Returning Your Car to the Palermo Airport

Large sign points the way to the car rental return lot at the Palermo airport in Sicily, Italy.
Follow that black car to the rental return lot at the Palermo airport
  1. Follow Google Maps or your GPS to the Palermo Airport

Helpful Tip: Remember to fill up with gas before arriving at the airport or you’ll have to get back on the E90 to go to the nearest gas station in Cinisi. 

Helpful Tip:  Have cash on hand at gas stations in Sicily.  Electronic payment machines often do not accept U.S. credit cards or ATM cards.  I recently had this experience (for the first time) in Sicily – it’s only been an issue with the newer electronic payment machines.

  • When the E90/A29 finishes at the traffic circle, exit toward ‘arrivi’ and ‘partenze’ to continue driving with the water on your right and the airport on your left.

Good To Know:  Be careful of cars parked on the right shoulder (waiting for friends and family to land at the airport – there’s no cell phone lot at the airport).  They often take up part of the right lane so you may need to move into the left lane.

  • When you arrive at the airport entrance roundabout, go almost all of the way around the circle (follow the orange sign for ‘Return Rent a Car’) and exit toward ‘Car Rental.’ 
  • Then take the first right at the Y-intersection onto a one-lane, one-way driveway toward the car rental parking lot and garage.  Follow the signs to your particular company.
  • Find an empty parking space and check in with an attendant in your car rental company’s office.  Stay until your car has been reviewed for damage.

Helpful Tip:  Don’t see any agents nearby?  Don’t just drop your keys in the box and leave.  Call the office and ask to have an agent come to check your car.  This has happened to us and we waited a few minutes for an agent, but flew out with peace of mind knowing there were no issues with the car return.

  • Walk through the parking garage to the terminal (2 minutes) and check-in for your flight.  If you’re not flying out, you can catch a train, bus, or taxi back to Palermo.

Palermo City Center Locations

There are multiple Palermo city car rental locations.  If you’ll be spending time in Palermo before renting a car to drive around Sicily, it’s convenient to rent a car in the city center (vs the airport). 

Be sure to check rates – it may be worthwhile to take a quick train ride to the airport to pick up your car.

Helpful Tip:  Avoid renting a car from one of the agencies in the ZTL.  While you won’t get fined if you leave the ZTL directly, it’s easy to get lost driving on the small streets of Palermo and you could easily find yourself re-entering the ZTL.

Good To Know:  If you picked up your car in another city but are returning it to a location in Palermo, confirm where you should return the car – it’s usually a garage, not the address of the office.  For example, if you’re returning your car to the Hertz on Via Messina, 7e, you’ll actually need to drop the car off one street over at the garage on Via Trapani, 8.

Read more about the ZTL in Italy.

Car Rental Companies that Operate in Palermo

Car rental return office for Noleggiare at the Palermo airport in Sicily, Italy.
Saying goodbye to our trusty Toyota

You’ll find the major car rental companies in Palermo, as well as some smaller local companies.  They include:

  • Alamo
  • AutoEuropa
  • Autovia
  • Avis
  • Budget
  • Centauro
  • Dollar
  • Enterprise
  • Europcar
  • GoldCar
  • Hertz
  • Holiday Car Rental
  • Italy Car Rent
  • Locauto
  • Maggiore
  • National
  • Noleggiare
  • Sicily By Car
  • Sixt
  • SRC

Tips for Renting a Car in Palermo

  • Bring all important documents:
    • Home country driver’s license
    • International driving permit
    • Credit card
    • International ID (passport)

You may want to read
International Driving Permit in Italy – Why & How to Get One
Can I Rent a Car in Italy with a US Driver’s License?

  • Don’t purchase CDW/LDW twice.  Look at your rental contract and if you’ve already purchased it through your rental, you don’t need to buy it again at the desk.
  • Allow plenty of time for picking up your rental car.  Lines are sometimes long at the check-in desk.  I try to leave a buffer so I’m not rushing to our first destination.
  • Do a proper check at pick up and drop off (film it, check the contract).

Helpful Tip: The pickup area at the Palermo airport is dark (in the garage), so use your phone’s flashlight to inspect the outside and inside of your car.

  • If you’re returning your car to the Palermo airport, get gas in Cinisi.  Exit before the airport toward Cinisi, turn left at the T-intersection and you’ll see an Esso gas station just up ahead on your left.  This is the most convenient gas station near the airport.  Read more about Getting Gas in Italy.
  • Avoid pickups or drop-offs during commuter traffic hours
  • If you’re returning your car to the Palermo airport, allow plenty of time for arriving at the airport and getting your car returned before your flight.  There is often traffic on the way to the airport and you should be present when the agent checks your car (vs just dropping the keys and running to your flight).

Fun Fact:  The 2022 Global Traffic Scorecard ranked Palermo the 10th worst city in the world for traffic and congestion, with the average driver in Palermo losing 121 hours in traffic and averaging 9 mph while driving in the city.  Yikes!

Tips for Driving in Palermo

  • You can easily skip Palermo city center driving if you’re heading to another city – just stay on the A29/E90 and you’ll avoid the city streets (and traffic).
  • Avoid driving in the ZTL, which covers the Palermo historic center and surrounding neighborhoods like Kalsa and Albergheria.  Don’t rely on a map to know where the ZTL is.  This Palermo ZTL map can give you an idea, but always be looking for the ZTL signs.
  • Park in a parking garage.  While parking garages are more expensive than street parking, they are more secure and less stressful.  Read Nico’s post to get an idea of what a pain parking in Palermo can be.  I park in a garage and include the cost in my hotel budget for Palermo.

Destinations Near Palermo to Visit with a Rental Car

beach in Cefalu, Sicily, Italy
Cefalù beach
  • Mondello – lively summer beach scene
  • Monreale – UNESCO World Heritage Cathedral with glittering mosaics
  • Cefalù – beaches; UNESCO World Heritage Duomo; gorgeous historic center; castle hike; home of the ‘male Mona Lisa’
  • Santa Cristina Gela – the best cannoli; beautiful countryside; Arbëresh culture

Palermo Car Rental FAQ

Can I fill up my rental car’s gas in Palermo before I return it to the Palermo airport?

You can, but it’s 30 kilometers from the airport and you may get stuck in traffic. 

Is the E90 a toll road?

No, the road (E90 / A29) that connects Palermo to the Palermo Airport in Cinisi is not a toll road.  The road leads you directly to the entrance of the Palermo airport.