Like a wander, a gander around exploring markets, heading into piazzas, taking in the architectural surroundings, following the smell of brewed coffee or baked bread? You could do far worse than visiting the capital of Sicily, Palermo.
Not only do you get those sights and smells, but you are visiting the multicultural soul of the island. There are stories to hear, history to unpack and Sicilian culture to consume.
Palermo is on the island where Europe and Africa meet. 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. The Arabs did their best, and the mentioned Normans kept it until 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. It means for us tourists, that Palermo and the island of Sicily are fascinating places to explore.
Start with a stroll
Palermo is a city proud of its roots and after a short time exploring, you’ll soon understand why. Let’s then look around, and discover some of those key places you need to be searching for.
To get under the city’s skin there is no better way than to take a stroll, and Palermo is a very walkable 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 to admire as you stroll around.
If you prefer to settle back when touring, you always have the option of a hop-on bus tour. Sit back, relax and let the bus take the strain. You’ll be hopping on and off plenty, but it’ll give you a break between attractions. Opting for a Palermo hop-on hop-off bus tour is a super alternative to the self-wandering walkabout.
Head for a market or three!
A great way to get a more in-depth feel for Sicilian life: is to head for the markets. They keep the feel of the souk with their Arabic influences. It’s worth noting that 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. We’ve got three markets for you to explore, Capo, Vucciria and Ballaro. Add in the nightlife that goes on around these markets and you have an enlightening experience to enjoy.
Not forgetting the food
Love your food? Then make no mistake visiting Palermo should be high on your bucket list. The city ranks in the top five places in the world for its street food. Walk around day or night, and you’ll discover Sicilians munching on their street food purchases. Look out for dishes like pane con la milza, stigghiole and polpo bollito. Each a speciality of the region, a very, very munchable!
Exploring the churches
Among Palermo’s most treasured and visited sites are the churches. There is 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.
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 its 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.