A Sicilian seaside city

Filled with Arabian domes and Baroque splendour, the Sicilian capital is all about romance. Palermo holidays offer the chance to wander around faded palaces and mosaic-lined churches, graze on delicious street food, and discover some of Sicily’s incredible coastline.

In a prime position between Italy and Africa, the city has been occupied by Greeks, Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, and Spanish (among others) over the centuries – and all have left their mark. As one of Europe’s largest historic centres, Palermo has a cluster of fantastic sights that couples and families who like history and architecture will love exploring, including the beautiful Palatine Chapel, the Norman (or Royal) Palace and the Teatro Massimo – Europe’s third largest opera house.

It’s not just about sightseeing, however: days in the city can simply be spent relaxing in pavement cafés, soaking up the vibrant street life and feasting on tasty snacks. For an intoxicating combination of sights, street food and the Sicilian way of life, holidays to Palermo are hard to beat.

Your Palermo questions, answered

You’ll have an amazing city break if you choose to only visit Palermo, but the capital is also a wonderful springboard from which to visit other parts of Sicily.
Fabulous beaches nearby include Aspra, a curve of pale sand that’s just outside the city, and Mondello, a long, white-sanded beach about 12 kilometres to the north.
Palermo is a year-round destination. It’s busiest in the height of summer when tourists pile into the small capital city, but in the winter there’s still plenty to do. In fact, many of the concerts in the elaborate opera house only take place in the cooler months. From April to June and September to November, you’ll still find warm temperatures but there are fewer visitors, the perfect time for exploring the maze of streets without the need to jostle for room.
Palermo is a great destination for shopping: as well as big-name designer shops, you’ll find places selling colourful ceramics and locally made puppets, and there are various markets to explore.
Palermo brings together everything you love about Italy. It’s a lively, elaborate blend of history, architecture, food and wine. Many of the buildings are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and you could take weeks to explore all the corners of this city. The Teatro Massimo opera house is one of the largest in Europe and it’s worth trying to take in a concert there. The Capuchin Catacombs are an extraordinary and macabre attraction, with over 8,000 corpses lining the walls. On a lighter note, you might find a marionette theatre with a traditional puppet show.
Raucous and lively. While there aren’t many dedicated nightclubs, this is the sort of place where you can be in a bar that inadvertently becomes a dance party and spills out onto the street. The old town has the most romantic bars in alleys packed with tourists in the summer. Stylish bars – and restaurants offering something other than Italian food – are in the Liberta area. This is where the locals go for a cocktail. You should head up to the beach at Mondello to find the real party scene, with clubs that keep going until the sun comes up.
Absolutely. All Italian restaurants welcome children and it’s common to see multiple generations eating together. Entertaining kids is easy here, too. Many of the museums in ancient palaces are built around garden courtyards, so there’s immediate space to run around after viewing exhibits. Older children may enjoy the gruesome atmosphere of the Catacombs, too. You’ll come across puppet shows all around the old town and you don’t need to know Italian to follow these. For outside spaces, there are huge botanical gardens – and, of course, the beach is only a short distance away.
Holidays to Palermo can be a real bargain, especially if you book outside the summer season. There are hotels to suit all budgets and tastes and, if you stick to traditional family-run Italian restaurants, you won’t need to spend a fortune. Many of the museums are free or cost very little to enter. Buses to surrounding areas are not at all expensive. Much of the entertainment here comes from people-watching so, if you’re looking for a seriously cheap holiday, just pick a cafe and enjoy delicious Italian food while checking out the passers-by.
It’s just over an hour and a half by car between Palermo and Marsala, a relatively undiscovered coastal city. Hire a car to take a day trip to this beautiful little town with its grand piazzas and ornate architecture.

Best things to do in Palermo

Visit the Palatine Chapel

This 12th-century chapel is an architectural highlight. A jewel-like masterpiece found inside the Norman Palace, it’s decorated with golden mosaics, virtuoso carving and inlaid marble floors.

Savour the street food

Palermo is famous for its amazing street food. Try the pizza and ‘arancini’ (deep-fried rice balls) at the local markets or join a tour that can steer you to latest foodie hotspots.

See the Teatro Massimo

Take a tour of this grand, 19th-century theatre and wonder at its opulent red-and-gold interiors, then book tickets for an opera to see the space come to life.
Beaches