Any Palermo guide will inform you that this is a city living life in the fast-lane – no less than you might expect for Sicily's capital, where the economical and political threads of the island gather. An anarchic mish-mash of architectural styles typify the buildings of these big city streets, reflecting the colourful legacy of different cultures that have laid claim to Palermo throughout the ages.
Those that revel in the hustle of humanity and the energy of city living will thrive in the hubbub and excitement of Palermo. However, to avoid being overwhelmed by the extent of things to see and do, prioritise the key Palermo attractions you want to take in whilst allowing time to wander into the labyrinth of old town streets should anything catch your fancy.
From magnificent mosques and decadent palaces to vibrant street markets and authentic eateries, Palermo pulses with life and vitality. One thing's for sure – this city is never boring.
What to see and do
Palermo history is rich, colourful and as chaotic as its bustling streets. Myriad invaders have passed the town from power to power throughout the years, from the Phoenicians to the Carthaginians, from the Ancient Greeks to Ancient Rome. The Saracens, Normans, French and Spanish Bourbons are just some of the other rulers that have left a distinct mark on Palermos' food, architecture and culture. There are plenty of things to do in Palermo that allow visitors to experience the incredible historical legacy of Sicily.
Amongst the stunning historical sights Palermo offers, the Dumo, built in 1184 by the Normans and added to over time by various other powers that took control of the city, is one of the most spectacular. Additionally, the Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele is one of the largest theatres in Europe and will be recognisable to fans of the Godfather films as the backdrop for the famous, final scenes.
You will find many beautiful things to see in Palermo situated along the Visa Vittorio Emanuele, one of the city's main streets. Admire the intricate mosaics at the Norman palace and soak up the scenery all the way to the beautiful fountains of the Quattro Canti.
Those that can't resist a good bargain will find themselves in shopping heaven in Palermo's markets. There is a choice of three, impressive open-air markets but the 700 year old Vucciria is highly recommended. Knock-off designer items hang alongside seasonal produce, colourful spices and a vast array of meats and cheeses. This market has a distinctly casbah ambience and stretches from Via Roma to Via Vittorio Emmanuelle in the Arabic sector of the city.
This macabre attraction is known as the Catacombe dei Cappuccini and was built to house the dead of Sicily's wealthiest families back in 1533. The underground chamber is filled with around 8,000 deceased members of the privileged classes, resplendent in their fancy clothes, hats and finery. Look out for the most famous inhabitant, a two year old girl named Rosalia Lombard, who was laid to rest in 1920. An innovative method of embalming has preserved her so perfectly that, to this day, she still looks as if she is merely sleeping.
Sicily's capital has fantastic transport links which offer opportunities for a variety of excursions. Day trips from Palermo can easily take in many destinations along Sicily's north coast as well as the western regions. Whether it's golden beaches, glittering waters, story-book villages or ancient ruins you seek, basing your Sicilian holiday in or around Palermo provides access to all.
Hop on a bus to the picturesque town of Monreale, perched high on the hill. Enjoy panoramic views and wander the quaint streets, decorated with shutters, balconies and laundry hanging out to dry. Don't forget to visit the town's crowning glory, the incredible Duomo, a cathedral that encapsulates features of Arabic, Norman and Byzantine architecture. The interior is a breath-taking vista of marble flooring, Corinthian columns and glittering mosaics depicting biblical scenes.
Situated just over two hours away from Palermo, the fascinating Agrigento archaeological park, the Valley of the Temples, is a sight to write home about. An atmospheric collection of eight temples believed to date back to 510 BC and 430 BC, named after the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece, Agrigento has become one of Sicily's greatest attractions.
The weather in Palermo can be hot – so a trip to a seaside town, complete with a golden horse-shoe of sand, to cool off in the sparkling sea might be a must on your holiday itinerary. Cefalu is a popular beach town with an array of water-sports on offer, a pretty medieval town centre to explore and plenty of authentic Sicilian places to eat and drink.
Fresh seafood; delectable pastries; ricotta-filled sweets; rich, meaty stews... Palermo is a paradise for the adventurous foodie. Explore the Capo and Ballaro markets with the range of fresh produce on display and sample street food that caters to all tastes, from sizzling kebabs to pane con panelle, a chick pea fritter encased in a bun.
Try Il Ragno, a favourite amongst Italian visitors for the fresh pizza and warm hospitality whilst Corona Trattoria offers a great selection for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike as well as an excellent wine list. Palermo food offers something for everyone.
Palermo's airport is the Falcone-Borsellino Airport at Punta Raisi, 30 kilometres to the west of the city. The airport is well connected with mainland Italian cities as well as international destinations. Key departure points for buses are located at the east entrance of the train station and two blocks away on Via Paolo Balsamo.
For further information, visit the Palermo Tourist Office, located near the Politeama at Piazza Castelnuovo 34, to the west of the square. Alternatively, explore our travel guide for more information about Sicily.
Choosing to stay in the Palermo region of Sicily will offer access to a range of attractions on Sicily's northern and western coasts as well as providing an insight into the heart of this multicultural and richly historical country.
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