Palermo: A Vibrant City in Sicily

Palermo: A Vibrant City in Sicily

Palermo is Sicily’s largest city: a busy, vibrant port town.  

It’s also completely overlooked by most visitors to the island who are more interested in Sicily’s beaches. The city is a historic meeting point of Western and Arabic cultures, full of food, history, incredible architecture, and jaw-dropping scenery. Though it can still be gritty it’s one of Italy’s most interesting and authentic cities.

Piazza Pretoria is one of the central squares of Palermo, built near the 16th-century center of the city, the Quattro Canti. Go to check out the beautiful Fontana Pretoria. Photo by Dimitry B.

Piazza Pretoria is one of the central squares of Palermo, built near the 16th-century center of the city.

The Markets of Palermo

Visit the souk-like Vucciria Market, between Corso Vittorio Emanuele and Piazza San Domenico, where you’ll find stalls selling everything from plastic knick-knacks to pigs’ intestines. The market is open Monday-Saturday until 2 p.m. and is one of Palermo’s most popular attractions. If you love Vucciria, it is worthwhile visiting Ballarò, the city’s oldest Arab-style market. It’s located in the classically shabby-chic neighborhood of Albergheria. Here you can get a cheap lunch from a choice of food stalls while you listen to the screams of the vendors selling their wares.  

Eating and Drinking in Palermo

Sicilian food is very unique and utterly delicious. You haven't tried cannoli (deep-fried ricotta-filled cones) until you’ve tried them in Palermo! Another favourite dessert is the classic Italian gelato; a treat nearly worshipped in the streets of the city. If you want to do as the locals do, try the citrus flavours of gelato, such as lemon and orange you won't be disappointed. You could try a milza sandwich, this Palermo delicacy is pretty simple: some crusty bread, local caciocavallo cheese, a squeeze of lemon, and fried cow spleen! Most regions of Italy have their favourite offal dishes and this is ranked as one of the best. You can find them almost anywhere that sell food in the city. 


The Historic Sites of Palermo, Italy

church santa caterina paler
It doesn’t get much ornate than the Church of Santa Caterina

One of the best things to do in Palermo is to enjoy its mixed-architecture. The Cappella Palatina and the Palatine Chapel, are living proof of the Normans’ conquest of the city. While cultures and religions went to war all over Europe in the 11th century, the Normans settled into Palermo and encouraged the people living there – a mix of Arabs, Greeks, and Italians – to live together peacefully. They also built the amazing Palatine Chapel. The chapel is filled with exquisitely colored mosaics, carved wooden ceilings and soaring frescoes of Jesus in an extraordinary mix of Norman, Byzantine and Arab art. Visit the city’s Duomo near the Vucciria market on Corso Vittorio Emanuele. Built in 1184 by the Normans, it was later added to by the Goths, the Spaniards and the Italians, offering an extraordinary mixture of architecture.

The Baroque masterpiece of the Church of Santa Caterina was started in the 16th century, though most of the internal decoration was completed in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its interior is bursting to the seams with frescoes, paintings, and carvings of everything from saints, Jesus, and Mary, to flowers, fruits, and even wild animals. It is quite an attraction to see.

Try visiting the Museo Archeologico Regionale Antonio Salinas, or Museum of Archeology. Located in a 17th-century convent with a beautiful ancient courtyard, the museum is overflowing with Greek and Punic art – the biggest collection of its kind in Sicily. See the sculptures from the temples of Selinunte, the ancient settlement on the southern coast of the island. The top floor is filled with ancient ceramics, bronzes and other artwork that is truly unique.
Related: Egadi Islands in Trapani Sicily


No visit to Palermo is complete without a visit to the popular and very creepy Capuchin catacombs. The Catacombe dei Cappuccini are filled with more than 8,000 corpses lined up along the dank walls fully dressed with frozen facial expressions. What started as a cemetery for the friars of the Capuchin monastery above eventually grew into a museum of the dead, allowing anyone who could afford it to be buried there. The catacombs are open every day but Sunday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. and 3p.m. – 6 p.m. Tickets cost €3.00. They might seem a little macabre but they reflect the monk’s belief in the fleeting nature of this life and their salvation in the next. They are easily one of the most memorable things to see in Palermo.

Near Palermo

mondello beach
If you’re interested in trying out beaches near Palermo, Mondello beach is the go-to spot. It’s a small, seaside resort close to the city. Easily reached by bus, this beach is often crowded, (like many of the best beaches near Rome, Florence, and Venice) but visiting its stunning, white sand expanse is a ritual for locals from Palermo, so join the crowds and relax near beautiful, turquoise waters. All in all Palermo has many outside influences which is reflected in its people, its food and its architecture. A unique blend that offers the visitor so much to see and do.

Recommended Place To Stay in Palermo

Bio Hotel Palermo

Bio Hotel Palermo

Putting you within a 10-minute drive of Cuba and Teatro Massimo, Bio Hotel Palermo features a rooftop terrace and offers an airport pick-up service for EUR 45 per room. You can be pampered with massages, then unwind with a drink at the bar/lounge. Rooms offer LED TVs, minibars, and room service.

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