Palermo is a city rich in history in which different influences and cultures are combined that make it picturesque and unique.
Among historical markets, colorful alleys, food, wine and delicious desserts we just have to find out what is the best area to stay in Palermo to enjoy the best stay in the Sicilian capital. It is a marvelous city, full of monuments, churches and works of art, tormented by serious social problems that have been dragging on for so long. Too much.An obvious contradiction that, however, ends up being a further cause for fascination, since material difficulties have never questioned the sense of community and attachment to their land. In short, Palermo is a sociological puzzle but a beautiful city to visit. It is no coincidence that in 2015 the historic city center was declared a Unesco heritage site. Our story starts from here, from the many wonders of the Arab-Norman city.
The minimum time to visit the city is 3 days but you can easily get to a week if you decide to visit the areas around Palermo, starting from the wonderful beach of Mondello or Monreale with its Cathedral defined: 'the most beautiful in the world '. Let’s see together the best things to see and do in Palermo.
Exploring the iconic cathedral
The Cathedral of Palermo is almost a perfect compendium of the millenarian history of the city. First paleochristian basilica; then a mosque, as part of the long Arab domination; finally again church with the Normans. As for the style, FerdinandoFuga, architect at the court of Carlo di Borbone in the second half of the 18th century, imposed a decisive neo-classical turn on the building, greatly reshaping the previous Arab-Norman, Gothic and Baroque footprints. But not everything has been lost. Traces of the previous styles are evident in the main apse (Arab-Norman), in the main entrance portal (gothic) and, again, in the dome (baroque). A miscellany of styles that does not leave indifferent, and to which are added the royal tombs, including the sarcophagus of Frederick II and, above all, the tomb of Santa Rosalia, patron saint of the city.
Marveling at the church of the Martorana
Built in 1143 by Admiral George of Antioch, a faithful servant of the Norman king Roger II, the church of the Martorana is one of the most fascinating Byzantine churches in Italy. There are those who support the most beautiful ever, also because of the contrast between the Arab-Norman style, which is why it is included in the goods protected by UNESCO, and the subsequent baroque additions of the '600.
A visit to the Capuchin Catacombs
An immense heritage unique in the world of historical memories and scientific data is preserved in the underground of Palermo. Who visits the underground cemetery of the Capuchins is preparing to make a journey back in time and space, of course, but especially in a world that, despite the current degradation in which it is immersed, is absolutely evocative, mysterious and fascinating. Together with an incredible collection of skeletons and mummies, the 'catacombs' of the Capuchin friars conserve an impressive mass of documents and valuable information thanks to which it is possible to reconstruct life, history and even the customs of the city society of bygone times.
Exploring Palazzo deiNormanni
Palazzo deiNormanni is many things. It is the oldest royal residence in Europe; it is the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly; it is one of the most visited monuments of the island; finally, it is the palace where the marvelous Palatine Chapel is located. The latter, named after St. Peter the Apostle, was built in 1130 by order of Roger II of Sicily. It is a basilica with three naves famous for the Byzantine mosaics that fresco it. The biggest and most famous of all is the 'Christ Pantocrator', a decorative motif also present in the church of the Martorana. Very nice also the wooden ceiling bearing incisions and carvings that refer to the long Arab domination of the city. It is no coincidence that the Cappella Palatina, together with the city's cathedral, and the other two of Cefalù and Monreale, has been under UNESCO protection since July 2015. Two entrances for the Palazzo deiNormanni. The principal, reserved for public authorities, is in Parliament Square; the tourist one, instead, is on Piazza Indipendenza.
A stroll at the Kalsa
Visiting the Kalsa (from the Arabic al-Khalisa) means visiting what for centuries has been the privileged place of politics, finance and culture of Palermo. Of course, being able to see everything is difficult, unless a local Cicero leads you to discover this historic district (one of the four in which the city center is divided). In fact, there is a lot to see, including the contradictions we spoke of at the beginning, spying, at least from an urban point of view, a conflict between the present and the memory of the past. Palazzo Mirto, Palazzo Abatellis and the Oratorio dei Bianchi are the places where the glorious past of Kalsa - and Palermo - is jealously guarded. The first (Palazzo Mirto) was for four centuries the home of the oldest Norman family of Sicily, the Filangieri Conti of San Marco, then Principi di Mirto. Palazzo Abatellis, on the other hand, is a museum space with numerous medieval, modern and archaeological collections accumulated mostly during the nineteenth century thanks to private legacies and the suppression of religious corporations. Finally, the Oratorio dei Bianchi, home of the Noble, Primary and Real Company of the Srcocifix, where, among other things, you can admire the wooden door 'Bab el Fotik', renamed 'PortadellaVittoria' by the Normans who posed end the long Arab domination in the city.
Cathedral of Monreale
The Cathedral of Santa Maria Nuova, better known as the Cathedral of Monreale, is another stop on the Arab-Norman route in 2015, which became part of the Unesco Heritage (including the Cathedral of Cefalù). It is located only 5 kilometers from Palermo, in the central Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, and from an architectural point of view it is a perfect compendium of the civil, political and religious history of Sicily. In fact, the Norman imprint, clearly visible in the rich Byzantine mosaics that decorate the interior of the church, contrasts the baroque taste of the portico that precedes the entrance, while the main altar and the organ are respectively of the 18th century. of the '900. In short, more than eight hundred years of history enclosed in a single building with three naves and a Latin cross erected in the twelfth century by King William II. Legend has it that to order the construction of the temple was the Madonna, who appeared in a dream to the Norman leader, indicated to the latter a hidden treasure from which to draw the resources necessary for the realization of the work. As it is, the majesty of the interior, including the two chapels of the Crucifix and San Benedetto, does not leave indifferent so much is the grace and spirituality that pervades the spaces of this beautiful church south of Palermo.
Shopping at local markets
'Vucciria', 'Ballarò' and the 'Capo'. Visiting these places is an essential exercise to deepen the 'genius loci' of the Sicilian capital in which the influences of the long Arab domination are still evident. Traces that refer to the terms used to attract buyers, but also to the ability of the markets to welcome non-EU citizens who have opened shops alongside historical activities in recent years. In short, the kebab with crocchè and arancine. In a word: Mediterranean.
Mondello beach for relax and fun
Palermo is also a city of the sea, woe to forget it. So a visit to the city can only contemplate a walk to Mondello, the beach of Palermo. White sand, crystal-clear sea, tree-lined avenues, Art Nouveau villas, restaurants, bars, shops, accommodation facilities and everything needed for a modern tourist resort. You can get there comfortably by public transport from the center but, if you wish, you can also do the inverse. Stay by the sea and travel to Palermo to visit museums, churches and monuments. During the summer Mondello is very crowded, while in spring, especially in the months of May and June, the atmosphere is perfect.
Trying local street food
Palermo is the Italian capital of street food, with an event dedicated to the year of the Expo. The sandwich with spleen (meusa), sfincione (soft focaccia with tomato and caciocavallo), veal guts (stigghione), friedschiacciatine with chickpea flour (panelle) deserve to be eaten at least once in life. It is not just food. It's much more. It is popular culture from which, if you wish, you can go back to the history of the city, to the French, Spanish, Arabic influences and to the way in which they were then poured into traditional dishes.
There is not only street food. Palermitan pastry, according to some the best in the world, deserves to be treated separately. Cannoli, cassate, almond pastries, watermelon frost, are more than simple treats. On the contrary, they are an important piece of history from which it is possible to reconstruct the 'genius loci' of Palermo. In the city there are several excellent pastry shops, and on the net there are lists and suggestions with the best. Better yet, once in the city, get advice from someone in the area.
A day trip to Ustica
Palermo, as we have said, is also a seaside city. The wonderful one of Mondello, but even more that of Ustica, not surprisingly nicknamed 'the sub island'. Even if you are not experienced divers, do not worry: the sea of this island, just over an hour's drive from the Sicilian capital, is also suitable for families with children. Over time, the Nature Reserve and the Marine Protected Area have been established to safeguard and enhance the many specific environmental features of this small island in the middle of the Mediterranean. Therefore, especially in summer, when connections are more frequent, those who visit Palermo will definitely add Ustica to their itinerary!
Where to stay in Palermo
We start by saying that sleeping in Palermo is not expensive because there is so much choice that goes from cheap bed & breakfasts to luxurious 5-star hotels. The best area to stay in Palermo is definitely the Old Town, in areas such as BorgoVecchio, Monte di Pietà and La Kalsa, so you will be close to the main attractions and also to the bus stops. But let's see together now what are the best parts of the center, some alternatives and areas to avoid.
In the heart of the historical center, the ideal place to choose your hotel is in Piazza Politeama, Teatro Massimo, via Maqueda and via RuggeroSettimo.
Here you will find museums, theaters, you will be close to the characteristic markets of Ballarò and Vucciria, restaurants, pubs, clubs and all that a big city has to offer. Choosing to stay in this area is the ideal solution for those who want to immerse themselves in the night life of Palermo and discover all the faces of the city.
Another good choice to stay in Palermo is to stay in the area of via Roma or via dellaLiberà, areas are quieter while still remaining in the historic center with all the conveniences that entails and the beauties it offers. This is why they are ideal, for example, for business travelers.
Another interesting neighborhood to stay in Palermo while staying in the historic center is Kalsa. This area near the waterfront has been redeveloped and made safe, today it is full of bars, restaurants and clubs. The Kalsa, in particular the area around Piazza Marina, is the ideal area to stay in Palermo, not only for young people, backpack-in-backpack travelers but also for families with children.
Mondello and Addaura
An alternative to staying in the city for those who want to enjoy the tranquility, nature and enchanting landscapes is to choose the seaside villages of Mondello, if you love the beach, or Addaura if you prefer the rocks.These areas are much quieter and more relaxing than the chaos of the city and are still well connected to the center by public transport.