The bustling port city of Palermo lies on Sicily’s north-west coast, offering a spectacular spot for your next getaway. Palermo is Sicily’s capital. Through the years, the city has been host to a variety of cultural ancestors. Nowadays, Palermo remains steeped in history. Remnants of its Arab, Norman and Renaissance influences can still be see throughout the city in its architecture and layout. Palermo isn’t too well-known as a tourist site, meaning the city has retained an authentic rusticity that you won’t see in other Italian capitals.
The best way to experience Palermo is to simply get lost in its winding streets. A walk through the narrow alleyways will take you across charming cafés and restaurants that would otherwise be easy to miss. You’ll come across a number of lively street markets on your trip, selling fresh and local produce to locals and tourists alike.
The Palermo Cathedral is a must-see on your visit to the city as it is such an interesting blend of different architectural styles- an Arab-Norman base with a 15th-century portico and an 18th-century dome. You can visit the main cathedral for free, but for €7 you’ll gain access to the crypts, royal tombs, and the roof. Along the street, the Palazzo dei Normanni is a grand reminder of Norman Sicily, which has again been modified and added to throughout the centuries. Both are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. There’s plenty of other attractions to see in Palermo that will take you days to explore. Palermo is conveniently close to numerous other tourist towns in Sicily, so be sure to visit the nearby locations for a memorable holiday.
Ferries from Palermo regularly travel to Ustica, a small island just off the north coast. Ustica is a volcanic island, and the peak of the extinct behemoth can still be seen towering over the island today. The once black volcanic landscape is nowadays covered in lush greenery and beautiful flowers, so the island has a stunning backdrop everywhere you look. The waters around the island are very clear thanks to their status as a marine reserve, making them popular with divers and swimmers. With such natural beauty, the best thing to do on Ustica just walks around, but there are some sights to see too. In particular, the Case Vecchie houses dating back to Roman times, and the archaeological museum that houses artefacts dating back to the Bronze Age.
Monreale lies just outside of Palermo. The town is picturesque and is most famous for its extravagant Norman cathedral, filled with intricate mosaics. The cathedral and its cloisters date back to the 12th century and are considered some of Sicily’s greatest Norman buildings. The mosaics cover more than 6,000 square metres of the cathedral’s interior. The town itself has brilliant views over the Conca d’Oro, the valley that gave rise to Palermo, and over the Tyrrhenian sea including the Aeolian Islands. Around the cathedral, there are a number of cafés and restaurants for a light refreshment between exploring the town, and tourist stalls selling hand-crafted souvenirs.
Mondello is a small beach resort just a half-hour bus ride from the centre of Palermo. Mondello was not always so beautiful and lacks the historical background of other nearby towns while still retaining its charm. In the early twentieth century, developments began around the area until it became the stunning resort that stands now. With soft, white sands covering miles of coastline, Mondello is one of the best beach resorts on the island. The beach can get very busy in the summer but is never overly boisterous. Lifeguards are posted along the beach, so Mondello is a popular resort with families. Pedal boats are available to hire if you fancy taking a short ride out to sea. Further, into town, you’ll find a plethora of bars and restaurants. An ancient stone watchtower stands solemnly in the harbour, the oldest structure in Mondello that predates the resort itself. Tourists should be sure to visit the Monte Gallo nature reserve while in Mondello for some excellent nature walks.
Brave the Capuchin Catacombs
The cemetery of the Convent of the Capuchin Friars, otherwise known as the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, is one of the most haunting places on the island. The catacombs are a sprawling underground necropolis filled with exposed skeletons and mummies- mummification is an ancient Sicilian tradition. If you can stomach the trip, a visit to the Capuchin Catacombs is a great way to learn about Sicilian traditions surrounding death.
See the Opera at Teatro Massimo
Teatro Massimo is Palermo’s theatre and opera house, dating back to 1897. The theatre is still open today and offers guided tours of the playhouse, as well as various performances in the evenings. In particular, puppetry plays are a local tradition that is occasionally staged at the Teatro Massimo, and you can learn more about this at the Museo delle Marionette. Opera and ballet are common performances at Teatro Massimo, and tickets are available to see either throughout the year. The best part is that you can enjoy and appreciate both without understanding the native language, making for an engaging night at the theatre.
Relax on one of Palermo’s many beaches
Visiting the beaches surrounding Palermo and the neighbouring towns is one of the most popular pastimes for tourists and locals alike. This is thanks to year-round sunshine and a warm Mediterranean climate, with temperatures averaging 27OC in August, yet still a comfortable 13oC in January. The waters around Palermo are a deep turquoise colour. The seafloor is lined with seaweed, creating ideal environments for many different species of tropical, exotic fish. If you prefer to avoid the crowds of Mondello, Aspra beach is very close to Palermo and is widely regarded as having the best gelato in Sicily. Cefalu is not too far from Palermo, and is mostly quiet even in the Summer, leaving a peaceful stretch of golden sands. One of the most interesting beaches is San Vito Lo Capo, called the ‘Caribbean of Sicily’ for its white sands and clear waters.
Sicily is a melting pot of the different cultures that have inhabited the island in the past, and this is reflected in its cuisine. Traditional Sicilian food tends to utilise classic Mediterranean ingredients with Arab, Greek and French influences. This makes for a unique dining experience that you won’t see anywhere else in the world. Freshly-caught seafood and locally-grown vegetables form a big part of Sicilian recipes, meaning that many dishes don’t require sauces and seasoning to taste great. For a refreshing drink, try granita, a blend of crushed ice and fresh fruit that is perfect for beating the Sicilian heat.
Palermo’s restaurants serve traditional Sicilian dishes, but as the city is coastal, the seafood is some of the best on the island. For a classy dining experience. L’Ottava Nota serves world-class food and wines and has a great atmosphere. Eateries such as Torquemada and Panificio Graziano offer a more affordable dining experience without sacrificing the great flavour for which Sicilian cuisine is known.
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