Palermo – The Kingdom in the Sun: What to do, Where to go

by Gavin Darvell

Like a wander, a gander around exploring markets, heading into piazza’s, taking in the architectural surroundings, following the smell of brewed coffee or baked bread? You could do far worse than visiting Sicily’s capital, Palermo. Not only do you get those sights and smells, but also the fact you are in the multi-cultural soul of the island. There are stories to hear, history to unpack and Sicilian culture to consume.

Found on the island where Europe ends and Africa begins, that’ll be Sicily. The kingdom in the sun, as the Normans called Palermo, is a place that has long been fought over. The Romans had a go, as did the Byzantines, Arabs, and the mentioned Normans, until in the 1800s the Italians arrived. This cultural mix has benefitted the Palermo experience, as its heritage is still at the heart of the city’s attractions, culture and ambience. Making it more fascinating to explore.

Palermo is a city proud of its roots and after a short time exploring, you’ll soon understand why. Let’s then look around, discover some of those key places you need to be searching for.

 

Palermo city and it's squares

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

 

Start with a stroll

No better way than taking a stroll, and Palermo is a very strollable kind of place. You’ll have those classic European style alleyways to head down that lead to wonderful open planned piazzas. Two of note to search for are Piazza Vigliena and Piazza Pretoria, the second of which, if you enjoy looking at statues, has plenty of them, naked nymphs, and statuesque Roman gods. 

If however you prefer to settle back when touring, you always have the option of a hop on bus tour. Certainly makes for a great alternative to the self-wandering option.

 

Head for a market or three!

A great way to get a more in-depth feel to Sicilian life: head for the markets. They keep the feel of the souk with their Arabic influences. They can be daunting places, so book yourself a food tour and your local guide will ensure you get on the inside track. The food on display and the vendors selling their wares make for an interesting and exciting experience. Three markets for you to explore are Capo, Vucciria and Ballaro.

 

Exploring the churches

Among Palermo’s most treasured and visited sites are the churches. There are a number to explore, the number one being Cappella Palatina. Step inside and, well, you’ll find it a spectacle of epic proportions. Cattedrale di Palmero, the capital’s cathedral, is another to enjoy and explore. There’s also the Norman palace of Palazzo dei Normanni which has the stunning Palatine chapel for a contrast to the cathedral.

 

Palermo churches

Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

 

Head out of town for a walk, a beach and sunbathe

If you can, then a 20-minute drive out of town you’ll find Mondello. A great spot for some walking and views out to sea. It’s also known for it’s beach, so take a walk and then chill on the sand to soak up the sun. Mondello is a summer retreat for the aristocracy, so expect it to be, well, the place to be! And if you know your Italian stars, you’ll be able to do some celebrity spotting.

 

Palermo may not be your base for your stay in Sicily, but it’s a place that needs to be visited, explored, consumed and enjoyed. It’s the beating heart of the island. Kingdom in the Sun seems very apt.

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