Considering its size, Palermo has a scarcity of nightlife and is considerably outclassed by Catania. Although they are improving somewhat, many areas of Palermo with bars and taverns (such as La Kalsa or Albergheria) are still not safe for walking around at night. And some of the bars and taverns in the medieval core of Palermo last the blink of an eye.
The liveliest squares at night -- and the relatively safest because lots of people are here -- are Piazza Castelnuovo and Piazza Verdi. Another "safe zone" is a pedestrian strip flanked by bars and cafes, many with sidewalk tables, along Via Principe di Belmonte, between Via Roma and Via Ruggero Settimo. Some of these bars have live pianists in summer. If you're into the student/rock scene, head to Via Candelai near the Quattro Canti for lively evenings.
If you're interested in the arts and cultural venues, stop by the tourist office and pick up a copy of Lapis, which documents cafes and other venues offering live music in summer.
The old Vucciria market, no longer the lively shopping souk it once was, is remerging as a nightlife scene. Via Chiavettieri, leading into the neighborhood off Via Vittorio Emanuele, is lined with bars where your aperitivo comes with free cicchetti (snacks). The decrepit old market square and lanes surrounding it are also lined with street-food outlets and bars, and the square fills up with tables on weekends—and during soccer matches, broadcast on a huge outdoor screen. Some of the most sophisticated watering holes are in the New City. Few are more generous than Graal, several blocks beyond Teatro Massimo at Via Sant’Oliva 10 (tel. 091/333-533), where cocktails come with a cornucopia of appetizers: pasta, seafood, pizza, so much food you probably won’t need dinner afterward.
Palermo is not the thriving cultural capital it was in the late 1800s, but it still does have an impressive opera and ballet season running from November to July, with programs attracting audiences from around the world. These take place at the Teatro Massimo in Piazza Verdi (tel. 800-907080; www.teatromassimo.it). It boasts the largest indoor stage in Europe after the ones at the opera houses of Paris and Vienna, and according to some experts it has the best acoustics in Europe. Francis Ford Coppola shot the climactic opera scene here for The Godfather: Part III. The two lions flanking the staircase rival those at the central branch of the New York Public Library. The theater was built between 1875 and 1897 by the architect G.B. Filippo Basile in a neoclassical style, and reopened after a restoration in 1997 to celebrate its 100th birthday. Tickets range from 10€ to 125€. The box office is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 3pm. Guided tours in English are given Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30am to 6pm and cost 8€, 5€ for under 25 (bus 101–104, 107, 122, or 225).
If you have only 1 night for theater in Palermo, make it the Teatro Massimo. However, Politeama Garibaldi, Piazza Ruggero Settimo (tel. 091-6053315), is also extravagant (though the acoustics are terrible), and it too presents a wide season of operatic and orchestral performances. Built around the same time as the Massimo Theater, it came to be known as the "poor man's opera house:" Patrons couldn't afford -- nor could they mingle with -- the upper classes at the Massimo. It is lavishly decorated on the outside in the neoclassical style of the time, topped with a stunning bronze quadriga. Bus: 101, 102, 103, 104, 106, 107, 124, 806, or Linea Rossa.
Start off an evening by heading to one of the many cafes in town that offer aperitivo rinforzato, a happy hour that is literally a full-fledged meal. The area in front of the Massimo Theater, known as the Champagneria, is crammed with these places that offer all-you-can-eat with drinks, and is without a doubt the liveliest place in town. If you have to choose one, then let it be the original Champagneria, Via Spinuzza 59 (tel. 091-335730), and enjoy a glass from its well-stocked wine cellar.
Palermo lacks live music venues, which is surprising considering its concentration of young people. The city's main venue is I Candelai, Via Candelai 65 (tel. 091-327151; www.candelai.it), which has been going strong for 10-plus years. It features mainstream rock throughout the night in a crowded complex of teens and university students. The club hosts cover bands, up-and-coming acts, the occasional international artist, and, on weekdays, anything goes from DJ sets to tango lessons. There is no cover, but it is necessary to buy a membership card. Another place that's been going strong for many years, and is always packed with locals, is I Grilli Downtown, Largo Cavalieri di Malta (tel. 091-584747). It's really alive and kicking on weekends.
Gay & Lesbian
Gay and lesbian bars in Palermo are picking up, though most are more politically-oriented associations than hangouts. Many gay encounters occur on the streets, in cafes, and around squares. That said, gays and lesbians from 18 to 70 converge at Exit, Piazza San Francesco di Paola 39-40 (tel. 348-7814698), daily 10pm to 3am. Live rock or pop is often presented. In summer, tables are placed outside, fronting the beautiful square. Bus: 108, 118, 122, or 124.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.