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Step into historic Palermo

3 min read

Step into historic Palermo
The Sicilian capital speaks differently to everyone who visits, yet it’s one of few remaining cities on earth that can be described as a true cultural adventure through time.
Palermo. Proudly raw and a little gritty, but splendidly charming. Unapologetically devoid of touristy comforts or tinsel. A time machine into distant worlds. Aristocratic. Plebeian. Utterly awake and a delightful assault on the senses. With so many faces to Palermo, it’s up to you which side you wish to unearth.
Palermo’s appeal lies all in its patchwork history, having been invaded by everyone from the Phoenicians and Romans to the Arabs, Normans, and French, and many more rulers in between. The result is an eclectic fusion of styles and flavours, which you can embrace as much in its architecture and cuisine as in the daily habits.
Image of the harbour and surrounding town of Palermo in Sicily
Located nearer to northern Africa than mainland Europe and with reliable temperatures of 10°C - 15°C throughout December to February, Palermo is a quick and easy place to escape to for catching the Mediterranean winter sun.
The best way to meet this edgy city is in its streets, where fading palazzi fight for the limelight in a maze of narrow streets filled with bustling balconies and doorsteps populated by families.
Wander the older neighbourhoods like Il Capo, with its vibrant winding streets, and it’s perfectly possible you’ll come across a welcoming street party with music and dancing.
Explore one of the four ancient markets, which have the spirit of Arabian souks with their exotic and colourful food displays. We recommend the legendary Vucciria market in Castellammare, or you can visit Italy's oldest market, Il Ballarò, in the ancient neighbourhood of Albergheria, where fishmongers, greengrocers, and cheesemongers collide.
Given this is Sicily, Palermo’s street food scene is obviously appetising. Feast on the sweet treat of cannoli, a real delicious bite.
Image of a cathedral in the town of Palermo in Sicily
Palermo is also home to some of the largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites, with over 230 ancient churches. To best orientate yourself, keep the ancient and straight road of Via Vittorio Emanuele in your sights, as this takes in the city’s main attractions with every crossing.
Right in the centre of Palermo lies the medieval church of Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio, also known as La Martorana, where you can witness the architectural styles of different invaders and centuries in one great mosaic-lined frenzy. Right next door, you’ll see the three distinctive red domes of San Cataldo, as well as the impressive Baroque square of Quattro Canti.
You may discover the white marble Renaissance ‘Fountain of Shame’ in Piazza Pretoria, with its frolicking nude classical gods and animal heads, deplored for its corrupt ways in later centuries. Then there’s Palermo’s mighty cathedral, which dates back an incredible 1,500 years.
Observe 11th century architecture from the Norman conquest at the royal Palazzo dei Normanni or the impeccable golden mosaics of Palatine Chapel. If this whets your appetite, head outside the city to the quaint village of Monreale where sits an ever more impressive Norman cathedral.
If you’re feeling brave, venture underground Palermo into the crypts of centuries’ old Capuchin monks for a fascinating albeit macabre experience. However, if you’d prefer more lighthearted whimsy, we suggest you take in a traditional Sicilian puppet show. Even if no children are present, you’ll be sure to find your inner child when you’re launched into a world of theatre with this age-old art form.
Photograph of the sun setting over the town of Palermo in Sicily
Just before sunset, join the city’s residents in their traditional evening walk (passeggiata) - and there’s no better place to do this than Le Mura delle Cattive. You can then spend the evening in a little trattoria, perhaps in one of the seafood restaurants down by the twinkling marina while overlooking the yachts, or under the grandeur of Teatro Massimo’s intricate mechanical roof for a night of Italian opera, both soul-stirring exploits in their own right.
Much of Palermo was bombed in the Second World War, but only now is the city being rebuilt and vastly modernised. We highly recommend you visit now before this inspiring city forever changes.

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