The capital of Sicily, Palermo, is a city of contrasts: high-class hotels sit between old run down buildings, while street food stalls intermingle with expensive boutiques and restaurants. Many treasures of this city are hidden, unlike Rome or Florence. However, the true spirit of this city is likely to charm even the crankiest of travellers.
Throughout its history, Palermo has been home to the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish and the French. Having been rebuilt and renewed by several governors, it became the greatest European city in the 12th Century. By the time it became part of Unified Italy in 1860, it absorbed all the cultures evident in its architecture. This absolutely unique mix of styles and time periods is a major sightseeing highlight of the city. This cultural fusion can also be experienced in the tastes and flavors of the Sicilian cuisine and heard in local dialects.
How to explore Palermo
Planning your visit to Palermo, get ready to walk a lot – as it is the best way to explore the city. It is worth to dedicate at least 3-4 days to this city, if you would like to take the most of it. In this guide we’ve put together key travel tips for Palermo and things to do and see there.
Things to see
Palermo has 295 churches and chapels, including 70 monasteries, making the city an open-air museum. However, extensive damage was caused during the bombings in World War II, and many buildings have still not been rebuilt, which is the reason for the historical center looking so dilapidated. The city center is currently one of the less desired areas to live. But it’s not without its own charm! The old town is a network of tiny pedestrian streets and alleyways, with residents catching up on daily life, shouting to each other from their windows, which are connected by a laundry rope to the balconies. One can easily get lost in the labyrinth of lanes, only to turn the corner and be greeted by the astounding beauty of Cathedral of Palermo.
The rest of city plan is rather simple: two main streets – Via Vittorio Emmanuele and Via Roma are perpendicular, and the crossroad is located right in the middle of Palermo. The place is called Quattro Canti – Four Angles. Not only is it the very city center, but also a point of connection of four main city neghbourhoods: Kalsa, Albergheria, Seralcadio and La Loggia. Kalsa is the area most packed with historical and architectural treasures: the famous churches of Martorana (Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio), Santa Caterina, San Cataldo, and the iconic fountain of Piazza Pretoria.
From Kalsa proceed to Albergheria, for the Cattedrale di Palermo and Palazzo dei Normanni. Walk through the labyrinth of little street again to get to the Teatro Massimo, where the scene of The Godfather was made at its time. Try local street food on your way: very Sicilian panino con panelle – a sandwich with fried chickpeas filling, or arancine – rice balls with meat.
If you’ve had enough of sightseeing and meandering streets, have a beach day! The best beaches are in the area of Mondello (15 min by car or 30-40 on the bus from the city center). For elegant seacoast with nice restaurants and a charming surroundings go to Cefalù – a romantic old village only one hour away on the train. Palermo will not disappoint!