Palermo – the capital of Sicily - is bursting with more than 2,700 years of history and culture, with architectural and cultural influences from the Roman and Byzantine Empires, the notorious Sicilian Mafia – the Cosa Nostra - and beyond.
Nestling in the northwest corner of Sicily and surrounded by a spectacular mountain range, the city offers visitors a huge amount to see and do, with breathtaking sights hidden among its maze of narrow streets.
1. Enjoy the breathtaking sights
Palermo is a must-visit for anyone who has even the most passing interest in architecture, with beautiful buildings dotted throughout the city, and seemingly hiding behind every corner.
Top of your list to visit should be Palermo Cathedral with its stunning mixture of architectural styles from Norman to Moorish and Neoclassical influences. Head inside to see the beautiful Sacrament chapel, decorated with precious stones, and read a moving tribute to one of Palermo’s most famous priests – a much-mourned victim of the Mafia.
Take a short walk to the Teatro Massimo – one of the biggest theatres in Italy, and a focal point for locals and tourists alike, then walk down Via Maqueda to the stunning Fontana Pretoria with its beautiful collection of statuary.
2. Hit the shops
From the high-end boutiques of Via Ruggero Settimo to the quirky independent shops further down Via Maqueda, Palermo has something for everyone, with clothing, homewares and antiques on offer.
The best shopping experience is to be found in the famous street markets of the Capo, Ballaro and Vucciria districts where stalls laden with tempting fresh vegetables, fruit and fish line the narrow, winding streets. If you enjoy cooking, then a stop at one of the spice stalls is a must as there are hundreds of bags and jars of delicious-smelling seasonings on offer.
3. Eat like a local
Palermo is a delight for foodies, with a fantastic selection of great restaurants and bistros across the city. Make sure you try Da Basile by the Teatro Massimo, La Carte Dei Manioni and the beautiful Il Mirto e la Rosa in the old town. The only problem you’ll find with the local food is trying to stop yourself from eating too much of it.
There’s delicious pasta on offer, as well as pizza that is worlds away from the UK’s offerings. If you’re not a fan of bread, dough or pasta, then delicious salads make the very best of the beautiful fresh produce the island has to offer.
Palermo’s markets also boast a tempting range of street foods, so you can grab something on the go while soaking up the atmosphere of the city.
4. Go off the beaten track
One of the greatest pleasures in Palermo is wandering the maze-like narrow streets, where you pass old apartment buildings and tiny homes to suddenly chance upon an ancient church or a stunning piazza.
The best tip is to take a pocket map with you so you can always find your way to the nearest attraction – but even if you find yourself temporarily lost, the compact size of Palermo means that you’re never too far from the centre of town. If you plan your trip along the main avenues, you can dip in and out of the narrow streets to sample life in this fascinating city.
If you’re feeling brave, take a trip to the north of the town to visit the Cappuccini Catacombs – an eerie underground building in which hundreds of skeletons in their original dress line every wall – and wander along the Via Cavour from the port uptown to see how the city is divided between old and new buildings.
5. Stay central
You’ll find treasures on your doorstep wherever you stay in Palermo. We stayed in the Hotel Principe di Villafranca in the modern part of the city, next to the shopping district with high-end shops.
The hotel is modern, comfortable and ideal for a short break, with all the main sights within a 20-minute walk.