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 (www.lapis.it), which documents cafes and other venues offering live music in summer.
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. The box office is open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 3pm. Tours of the theater take place from Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 3pm, except for rehearsal days. Visits cost 5€, with discounts for seniors and children. Bus: 101, 102, 103, 104, 107, or Linea Rossa.
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.
Where the Go-Getters Go -- The movida of Palermo, where the see-and-be-seen converge and move like a pack of wolves, is pinpointed in two locations: The Kursaal Kalhesa, Foro Umberto I 21 (tel. 091-6167630; www.kursaalkahlesa.it), is a bar, lounge, restaurant, bookshop, travel agency, and music venue rolled into one palace overlooking the sea. In the Palazzo Forcella de Seta, it has evocative interiors -- the bare, tufaceous stone walls are enhanced by lighting that brings out the best of this grand space. And its lush interior gardens are a hideaway from the din of the traffic flow nearby. Some locals literally "live" here. The other go-to place is La Cuba,. Young ones in the know, yuppies, and fashionistas congregate in this structure that resembles a small palace from the Thousand and One Nights. Aperitifs lead to DJ sets of thumping beats and free-flowing dances. The restaurant is just as good, serving international cuisine.
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 for 15€. Another place that's been going strong for many years, and is always packed with locals, is I Grilli, Largo Cavalieri di Malta (tel. 091-584747). It's really alive and kicking on weekends. For something more subdued, see the listing below for Mikalsa.
For great jazz and over 70 types of beer, head to the Mikalsa, Via Torremuzza (tel. 339-3146466; www.mikalsa.it), in the heart of La Kalsa. It's where aficionados flock for live, smoky sets. You can also order meats or cheese platters here along with your drinks. Bus: 103,105, Linea Gialla, or Linea Verde.
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; www.exitdrinks.com), 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.