My Palermo trip was booked on a characteristic late night search for cheap flights across Europe. Other than knowing that this provincial capital is referred to as ‘The Kingdom of the sun’ I knew nothing about the area; the nickname was enough for me to pull out the debit card and book whilst suffering a typically glum British winter. I had heard of people hating and loving the city of Palermo and after spending an absolutely unforgettable weekend there, I can happily confirm that I comfortably fit in with the latter. After experiencing my first foray in the Italian city, I absolutely fell in love with the colourful, vibrant, picturesque and totally chaotic city of Palermo!
Located between North Africa and mainland Italy, the Sicilian capital boasts characterful streets filled with flea markets, ancient landmarks, citrus trees and quaint alleyways awash with vespas and small eateries beneath decorative iron Juliet balconies. The pristine waters of the Mediterranean line its coastline and the volcanic cliff faces engulf the the city centre, making the landscape just as dramatic as the sunset behind and I’m here to tell you everything you need to know! Here’s my guide to the breathtaking city of Palermo.
But first, let’s start with some history
The ancient city was firstly founded by the Phoenicians in 734 BC, and became the trading Mecca of the mediterranean due to its strategic location. This however came with the cost of repeated invasions and being ruled by one empire after another. Palermo has been ruled by the Carthaginians (todays Tunisia), the Romans, the Arabs, the Swabians (Germany), the French and Aragonese (Spain), all in which have influenced the Sicilian capital into the city it is today. From Palermo’s varying architecture that charmingly contrasts the next and its cuisine that is inspired by ingredients from all corners of the globe, the city is a melting pot of culture that blends into one of the most unique and lesser known cities in Europe
The highlights: What to see and do in Palermo
Palermo homes some of the worlds most ancient and vibrant markets that have been bustling for nearly 3000 years which acts as a gateway into Palermo’s past. You can expect to have your senses heightened with the smells of mouth-watering street food snacks, splashes of vivid colours and noisy venders that are hustling for trade. The city has four quarters, each having their own market, Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo being the most favoured and is also the best preserved.
View Palermo from Hotel Ambasciatori
If you’re looking for a place to overlook the city, especially at sunset, then Hotel Ambasciatori. The restaurant area of the hotel opens at 4:30, but it’s best to arrive earlier as this is a well sort place to visit. Here you can order some local wine and dishes made from fresh Sicilian produce. Without a lie, this if my favourite view in all of Europe!
It’s no secret that Sicily is home to some of the most stunning beaches in the world. Mondello Beach is perhaps the best known and most easily accessible from the city centre. This endless beach boasts golden sands that melt into the pristine aquamarine waters of the Mediterranean sea. Surrounded by rugged cliffs and Art Nouveau villas, it’s the perfect place to sit back and lap up the Sicilian sunshine whilst enjoying a refreshing citrus granita.
This grand opera house is the biggest in Italy and one of the largest in the whole of Europe. Behind the iconic classical Sicilian facade lies the innovative power that continues to change the face of Italian opera.
Norman palace & Palatine chapel
From the Islamic arches and intricate ceiling designs that adorn the golden roof, to the byzantine domes and mosaics, the palace chapel is another example of the mix matched cultures and religions of people who once ruled. The nave is dripped in gold with detailed mosaics that tell the story of the cities chaotic past, especially that of Roger the II of Siciliy who commissioned the 11th century place of worship
Palermo Cathedral- Cathedral Di Palermo
One of the biggest religious buildings in all of Italy and certainly most unique. The 12th century grand building has reflected on its rulers over time, changing from a Roman Catholic Church to a mosque and Catholic cathedral, the stunning buildings mix match of religious backgrounds correlate with its varying architectural styles which perfectly blend into a masterpiece. From its intricately detailed latin nave, to its charmingly curated Mediterranean gardens, the grand cathedral is well worth taking in.
Chiesa Di Santa Caterina & Santa Maria Dell’ammiraglio
This extravagantly preserved church is located next to Fontana Pretoria. The co-catherdral was built in the 12th century and homed Albanian exiles in the 15th century during the Turkish-ottoman pressures. The interior is detailed with Byzantine and Norman mosaics which tell the story of the cities religious history.
The extraordinary 16th century fountain was sculpted by non other than the Florentine sculptor Francesco Camilliani and spent the beginning of its life in Florence. After being sold to Palermo, the fountain was disassembled into 644 pieces before being transported into its curent location. It was also dubbed ‘the fountain of shame’ in the 18th century because of the the nudity that the statues depicted.
Where to eat and drink
Street food: The streets are filled with market stalls that boast mouth watering delicacies made from fresh and most importantly local produce. From freshly squeezed fruit juices, to crispy cannoli, to Arabic souks to ragu filled arancini, the markets are filled with something that everyone will love to try.
Hotel Ambasciatori: If you’re looking to have a meal or some drinks over a breathtaking view, then this is a non negotiable pit stop. The hotel quietly boasts a stunning rooftop bar and restaurant that over views the city skyline along with its dramatic mountain terrain and awe-inspiring sunset. The bar opens at 17:30 every afternoon. This seems to be a hidden venue and not too many people know about this iconic view point. The best time to visit is late afternoon where you can experience watching the misty city turn into a gradient of vibrant colours. Pre booking is advised.
Sikulo: If you’re looking for the authentic Sicilian food experience, then this is the place to go. Prizing itself on its expertly wood fired pizzas, local wine list and freshly made pasta dishes.
Osteria de Vespi: This romantic and quintessentially Sicilian venue that provides a spectacular square offers an extensive wine list and beautifully presented Italian cuisine. Here you can expect to find locally sourced seafood and fresh pizza.
Pasticceria cappello: Known for its delicious Italian brewed coffee and heavenly baked goods, this is the perfect cafe to sit back and watch the world go by over a sweet Sicilian breakfast.
Where to stay
Hotel Joli: The quintessentially classic Sicilian hotel is located in the historic heart of the Palermo. Embellished with beautiful renaissance themed art that covers the halls. The intimate rooms and friendly service that is provided from the moment of checking in that arouse pleasant feelings and leave inedible memories in the should of every traveler.
Hotel Ambasciatori: As previously mentioned, this hotel offers a sweet rooftop view of the picturesque city skyline from an imposing height. Completed with its own bar, fine dining and prestigious location, it is a definite must when wanting to get the most out of Palermo.
Casa nostra boutique hotel: With rustic and eloquently decorated rooms and balconies completed with their own sitting area, bath and jacuzzi, this accomodation is perfect for a luxurious stay in Palermo.
Rocco forte villa ignea: This classic and sophisticated accomodation can be found on the coastline of Palermo. With rustic architecture that is completed with gorgeous decor and gorgeous views of the Mediterranean Sea from your very own Juliet balcony, it oozes prestigious Sicilian vibes.
Mondello beach apartment: You can find this stunning accomodation just outside of the famous Mondello beach. The apartment doesn’t only just offer the whole space, but also the balcony that onlookers the crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea and Mondello village.
I’m an Australian blogger based in Central West NSW who has spent the last few years exploring the four corners of the globe, living as an expat and falling in love with the world just a little bit more everyday. Here you can find my tips, guides and experiences to help inspire you for your next trip!
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