Traveling to Palermo: things to do and see

by | Jan 31, 2023

The city of Palermo has a long and complex history. Dense of events and dominations that have characterized architectures and traditions.

Palermo is the main city in Sicily, located on the northwest coast of the island. It is one of the oldest cities in Europe, with a rich and fascinating history that dates back to the time of the Greeks and Romans. Palermo is known for its historical and cultural heritage, with many buildings and monuments of historical importance, such as the Palazzo dei Normans and the Cathedral of Palermo. The city is also famous for its cuisine, which combines Greek, Arab and Spanish influences, and for its lively nightlife. In addition, Palermo is an important commercial and industrial center, with a port and an international airport. In summary, Palermo is a fascinating city that offers visitors a rich historical, culinary and cultural experience.

The name of Palermo comes from the Greek “Panormus”, which means “full port” or “all-rounder port”. The city, in fact, was an important commercial and naval airport during the Greek and Roman era. The Latin form of the name is ‘Panormus’, which later became ‘Palermo’ in Italian.

The history of Palermo is very ancient, and the city was probably founded around 734 B.C. by Phoenician settlers. It was later conquered by several peoples, such as the Greeks, Romans, Arabs and Normans, each of whom left its mark on the culture and architecture of the city.

Today, Palermo is a cosmopolitan city with a population of about one million inhabitants, and represents an important economic, cultural and tourist center of Sicily.

How to get to Palermo

The Falcone e Borsellino airport of Punta Raisi is located about forty minutes from Palermo and to reach the city there are several ways: taxis, private transport (more or less lawful) buses and trains.

The bus is undoubtedly the cheapest way to get to the center of Palermo. Departures are every thirty minutes and there are several stops before the terminus at the central station. The company that manages the transport is Prestia and Commandè and it is possible to buy tickets online or on board with a small surcharge.

Where to sleep in Palermo

As always, the answer to this question depends on the reasons for the trip. For the tourist, the recommended area goes from Piazza Politeama to the Quattro Canti. This is only because it is practically the epicenter of most points of interest.

In any case, online resources and traveller reviews will accompany you in the right choice.

What to see in Palermo

In Palermo there is fun for all tastes. You can go there for art, for the kitchen, for the nightlife and for much more.

Here is a short list of must-haves on what to see in Palermo

Quattro Canti

The famous crossroads that delimits the four neighborhoods, the Canti precisely.

Meeting point and starting point, where via Maqueda and via Vittorio Emanuele intersect.

The Quattro Canti are a mandatory stop for those visiting Palermo and are the symbol of the history and beauty of the city.

quattro canti palermo

Massimo Theatre

The Teatro Massimo in Palermo is one of the most important opera houses in Italy. It was built between 1875 and 1897, designed by the architect Giovan Battista Filippo Basile, and inaugurated on May 19, 1897.

Its imposing neoclassical facade, with Corinthian columns and triangular pediment, stands on the square in front, giving rise to a spectacular panorama.

Inside, the Teatro Massimo houses a large hall with a capacity of over 1,300 seats. The room is decorated with golden stucco, frescoes and stained glass windows.

The Teatro Massimo has been the home of numerous operas and ballets, as well as concerts and shows of various kinds. Throughout its history, it has hosted artists of the likes of Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni and Giacomo Puccini, who performed some of their most famous works on its stage.

One of the largest and best-known theaters in Europe can be visited unless there are ongoing reviews. In order to access the huge stage you have to make sure that there are no set-up work. Just ask at the ticket office.

Palermo teatro massimo

Pretoria Fountain

The Pretoria Fountain is one of the most iconic attractions in Palermo, located in the heart of the city in the square of the same name. The fountain was built in 1554 by the architect Francesco Camilliani and is considered an exceptional example of Mannerist architecture. The fountain is a breathtaking sight, with its bronze statues representing Greek and Roman deities, along with historical and mythological characters. The fountain has also been used as a set for many movies and TV shows, making it even more famous. The Pretoria Fountain is an unmissable place for those visiting Palermo and a symbol of the city.

Also known as Fontana della Vergogna, it is a real masterpiece right behind the intersection of the Quattro Canti.

fontana pretoria Palermo

Monastery of Santa Caterina da Alessandria

To tell the truth former monastery. Today you can visit the beautiful church but above all the internal cloister from which you can access the sweet shop. It was once the cloistered nuns who produced and sold the sweets through the wheel that is still visible. Today the management is in the hands of an association but the quality is really high.

Cathedral of Palermo

The cathedral of Palermo is one of the most important churches in the city, located in the heart of the historic center. It was built in 1185 and has since undergone numerous changes and renovations, making it a perfect example of Arab-Norman architecture. Its facade, characterized by three portals and a large rose of the winds, is a true masterpiece. Inside, the cathedral houses a series of works of art, including the Crucifix of William Montecassino and the funeral monument of King Roger II. In addition, you can admire the beautiful crypt, which dates back to the twelfth century. The cathedral of Palermo is a place of great historical and cultural importance, which is definitely worth a visit.

With a really imposing appearance, it is also a good visit to climb the roofs from where you can admire Palermo from above in all its splendor.

cattedrale di palermo

Palace of the Normans

The Palazzo dei Normanni, located in Palermo, is one of the most important historic buildings in the city. Built in the eleventh century, it was the seat of the political and administrative power of Norman and then Swabian Sicily. It currently hosts the seat of the Sicilian Parliament.

Its structure is impressive, with a crenellated facade and four quadrangular towers. Inside there are numerous frescoes and decorations, including the famous Palatine Chapel, considered one of the masterpieces of Byzantine art in the West.

The Norman Palace represents an important historical and cultural treasure, and every year attracts numerous tourists from all over the world. It also offers the possibility to visit some areas of the palace, such as the Norman courtyard and the throne room, where you can admire the history and beauty of this unique building.

Be careful to make sure that access to the royal apartments is open because it is not always open.

The Kalsa district of Palermo

This neighborhood is located close to the sea and is like a world apart from the rest of Palermo. I was very fascinated by the tranquility that is felt in the squares and its alleys. Really suggestive are the ancient writings of the streets in three languages, Hebrew and Arabic beyond Italian, as a testimony to the soul of this ancient neighborhood.

In recent years the neighborhood has been the subject of revaluation, especially represented by the numerous clubs that represent gatherings for locals and tourists.

kalsa palermo

Antica Focacceria San Francesco

This place is located in the Kalsa district and is famous for at least two reasons.

The first concerns the dishes based on meusa. A tradition that comes from when the Jews who lived in Palermo were paid with animal entrails. These foods could not be consumed by Jews as they did not follow Kosher rules, so they learned to treat and resell them.

The second reason concerns a more recent period and the brave and ingenious junction from the mafia lace.

palermo Focacceria san Francesco

The markets of Palermo

The main and most famous markets in Palermo are Ballarò, Capo and Vuccirìa.

The oldest and that of Ballarò. They are open every day and everyone has their own soul. You can find interesting typical products even if, in my humble opinion, the real interest in the tourist is represented by the theatrical staging of the sellers.

Lungomare and botanical garden

Starting from the marina you can take a nice walk, passing through the Foro Italico to get to the Botanical Garden, a large green area attached to the university.

I recommend it to decompress the stress of a compulsive visit to monuments or after an inevitable binge of food.

The Florio in Palermo

The Florio family and the city of Palermo are one and tell of an incredible story that lasted several generations since the 1800s. A story, that of the Florio, which talks about courage, business, success and decline.

Today in Palermo you can visit places and buildings linked to the glorious history of the Florio, such as the Olivuzza, Villa Igiea, via dei Materassai and it is possible to follow real themed tours.

What are the typical dishes to try in Palermo?

Palermo, as the capital of Sicily, has a rich culinary tradition, with dishes that reflect the influence of the different cultures that have influenced the region over the centuries, such as the Iaba, the Norman and the Greek. Here are some of Palermo’s traditional dishes:

  1. Arancine: they are fried rice meatballs, stuffed with meat, peas, béchamel sauce and cheese. In Palermo we can find them seasoned in the most disparate ways so it is worth trying them all.
  2. Bread ca’ meusa: it is a sandwich stuffed with ‘meusa’, that is, the lung, spleen and trachea of veal steamed, served hot and seasoned with lemon and salt.
  3. Pasta with sardines: it is a first course based on pasta, sardines, raisins, pine nuts and almonds, topped with oil and wild fennel.
  4. Trapani couscous: it is a dish based on couscous, served with lamb or chicken meat, vegetables and spices.
  5. Sicilian cannoli: they are desserts based on fried shortcrust pastry, stuffed with ricotta and chocolate.
  6. Almond Granita: It is a cold drink based on crushed ice and almond syrup.
  7. Sicilian cassata: it is a dessert based on almond paste, ricotta and chocolate, garnished with candied cherries and powdered sugar.
  8. Crocchè: they are fried potato croquettes, often stuffed with cheese or cooked ham.
  9. Sfincione: it is a focaccia topped with tomato sauce, onions, anchovies and cheese.
  10. Panelle: They are a culinary specialty of the city, consisting of slices of fried chickpea flour in boiling oil. They are usually served as a snack or as an accompaniment to sandwiches or arancine.

What to see around Palermo

For those who have time even for an out-of-door, it is possible to reach in a short time some of the most famous places in Sicily such as:

  • Beach of Mondello
  • Monreale
  • Kefalù

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