Palermo is the capital of the island of Sicily, which lies just off the tip of the Italian ‘boot’. It is a place that has seen a plethora of different rulers and occupiers. Some of the most famous include the Greeks, Romans, Saracens, Normans and Bourbons. These are just a few of the many which have left their mark on this city. As a result, visitors can still see remains of almost each era of Palermo’s history, making it one of Italy’s most interesting destinations.
There is no denying that this is not a well-kept city. That said, its beauty is singular and unbeatable, with its warm climate, large range of Romanesque and Baroque architecture, and lively atmosphere. Unlike famous Italian cities such as Venice, Milan, Florence and Rome, Palermo enjoys a relative lack of tourist swelling even in high season. Perhaps this is because of unfounded stereotypes of the crumbling city, but regardless it means that you can truly experience authentic Italy without every other person speaking near-fluent english!
In this city you will find bazaar-like street markets, Arabic foods, Spanish city design and Norman buildings. If anything, the neglect of the city adds to the communal life of its inhabitants, who don’t just live in the city, but rather seem to live it. Some have compared Palermo to Havana for its neglected yet richly cultural environs.
Amongst roads still not repaired from their bombing in WWII you will also find incredible Norman remains. These rulers came to Palermo in the late 11th Century and proceeded to preside over one of Europe’s most advanced and forward-thinking courts. Here sciences, arts and commerce thrived. It was also one of the first to base their rule on an equality between races and religions. One of the best remains of this time is the stunning Palatine chapel in the Palazzo dei Normanni on the Piazza Indipendenza. Here opulent gold mosaics depicts various biblical scenes. Straying a little further afield, and even more impressive mosaic can be seen. This lives in the cathedral in Monreale, just outside of Palermo.
Back in Palermo itself, you can discover street markets that buzz with activity and curiosity. Some of the largest take place in Piazza Ballarò and Piazza San Domenico. After picking up some street food here, why not explore some of the incredible botanical gardens that call Palermo home. These are the biggest and most varied in Italy. In the evening, why not book yourself a seat at the Teatro Massimo opera house. This is the third largest in Europe!
Whilst in sicily you must also try the Sicilian cuisine. Some of the classics include sfincioni (a variation on the Italian focaccia), arancini (fried rice balls) and cannoli (crispy pastries filled with cream).
You can fly directly into Palermo. Coming from elsewhere in Italy is also not a problem. Almost all places will have connections to the capital of the island.