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Traveling Italian

Posted On July 26, 2023 By Louis

The Best Things to Do in Palermo

Sitting in the north of Sicily is the capital city of Palermo. This is also the largest city on the island and is surrounded by mountains. Palermo is deep in history, founded by the Phoenicians in 734 BC & ruled by many other civilisations such as the Romans, Arabs, Greeks and Normans. There are so many things to do in Palermo as a tourist or a local as the city is easy to get to as it has an international airport plus a port that transports 2 million people each year to other cities.

Here are the top things to do in Palermo:

Take a walk through the Piazza Vigliena

This is a baroque square in the centre of Palermo that was laid between 1608 and 1620. It is said to be the centre of the historic quarters of Palermo, Castellammare, Albergaria, Seralcadi and Kalsa. Each side of the square has a four-story building with three of the storeys having statues in the centre. On the street level is a fountain to represent the seasons that were completed in 1630, going up a level, the Spanish rulers of Sicily in their coat of Arms. Above them is 4 female patron saints of Palermo. You will almost always see a live street performer playing music in this beautiful square.

Sidestep over to the Fontana Pretoria

One block away from Piazza Vigliena is the Praetorian Fountain. Interestingly this fountain was commissioned to Francesco Camillian in Florence in 1544 for the Don Luigi de Toledo. It has 48 statues many naked. After Luigi fell into debt in 1573 he had to sell the fountain and it was bought by the City of Palermo. It was deconstructed into 644 pieces and arrived incomplete in its new location and went through its redesign by Francesco’s son Camillo and was eventually completed in 1581. It went through a recent restoration in 1998 with further work finishing in 2003. Right next to it lies a convent and the fountain was actually known as the square of shame, poor nuns. It is a lovely attraction to go to, however, to get a better view try and get a shot from higher up.

Embrace the magnificence of Palermo Cathedral

Built in 1185 the Palermo Cathedral was dedicated to the assumption of the Virgin Mary. This magnificent structure is a testament to the city's ever-changing architectural styles, reflecting elements of Norman, Moorish, Gothic, and Baroque influences. The cathedral is part of the UNESCO World heritage site and you can easily spend an hour or 2 finding out about all the history. It is free to get in but you have to pay to get to the treasury and if you get the second ticket (the more expensive one) you go to the terrace and see some breathtaking views.

Stroll into the Palazzo dei Normanni

The royal palace of Palermo holds a lot of significance in the city being the oldest royal residence in Europe dating back to 1072. In 1132 the royal chapel Cappella Palatina was built and contained in the palace. This is known for its beautiful Mosaics and mixtures of architectural styles.

The palace was the seat of the Kings of Sicily back then and also served as the Sicilian School of Poetry. In 1946 it is now the seat of the Sicilian Regional Assembly and the west wing was given to the Italian army. Inside the building is also a seat of the astronomical observatory of Palermo. It sits at the highest point in the centre of the city so you can’t miss it. Take a tour back in time. 

Take a tour of Palazzo Conte Federico

This a very old palace that is open to the public that you can have a look at. They have a 12th-century Arab Norman tower to help defend the city. Now you admire the Aragonese & Norman windows with the coat of arms on them. The inner courtyard has amazing decorations and baroque carved stone. The halls have 17th and 18th-century paintings and furniture to take in, plus old ceramics & weapons whilst marvelling at the 15th-century high-painted ceilings. To learn more about the history you can book a tour with the family that still lives there who will take you personally through the palace. If you are into the grand prix make sure to ask them about the affiliation.

Check out the Catacombs of the Capuchins 

The catacombs came about when the monastery outgrew its cemetery in the 16th century and monks began to make crypts. Initially, the catacombs were for the friars until in later centuries it was a symbol of status to be entombed there. Donations from the families of the deceased are what kept this going, with bodies being put onto a shelf if payments stopped and then put back into their permanent locations when it was resumed. The last burials stopped in the 1930s and the catacombs contain 8000 corpses with 1252 mummies. You can learn more about all the famous people that lay down here and techniques used by taking a tour. The Catacombs of the Capuchins is open Monday - Friday.

Go for a swim at the beach

Palermo's best beach is around 20 minutes from the city centre called Mondello Beach. Here you can enjoy a pristine sandy beach with amazing turquoise waters. You are able to book sun lounges for the day or it gets less in price when booking after 2 pm. Nearby are many restaurants or cafes to get a snack. Make sure to get to the beach before 9 am as most loungers with nice views will be sold out. Parking is hard so grabbing a bus might be easier and you can buy a ticket at most tobacconists.

Explore the 1000 year old Mercato Ballaro

One of the best things to do in Palermo is go to this Sicilian street market. Go early in the morning and immerse yourself in the local vibe. You can buy all kinds of fresh delicacies, fruits, fish, olives, spices, and cheeses and they have a few food & clothing stalls. Even if you don't buy anything it's worth visiting for the hustle and bustle of the area. If you have accommodation close by and in an apartment, you can buy things at a reasonable price and cook it up back at home. Open from 7 am every day.

Escape to the Orto Botanico di Palermo

The Palermo Botanical Garden is a tranquil place to enjoy. You can walk around rich greenery plants and exotic flowers. The most popular areas of the garden are the aquarium which is a large pool that is split into 24 sections, and the Linneian section which is the oldest section which is divided into four sections and then further divided into flower beds. My personal favourite is the greenhouses that were originally built of wood and heated by stoves but rebuilt in cast iron. One of the greenhouses, the oldest was actually a gift from Queen Maria Carolina of Austria.

Useful tips when visiting Palermo

  • Palermo is a popular tourist destination, and its Michelin-starred restaurants are trendy. It is best to book your reservations in advance, especially if you are traveling during peak season.
  • The sun in Palermo can be very strong in the summer. Protect yourself by wearing a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher is best. If you have sensitive skin, bring a higher SPF sunscreen from home.
  • Palermo is a city that is best explored on foot. The narrow streets and winding alleyways are perfect for getting lost in, and there are so many historical sites and attractions to see that you'll never get bored. So if you're planning on doing a lot of walking and sightseeing, be sure to pack comfortable shoes.
  • A local tour guide can provide you with behind-the-scenes access to Palermo's history. They can share stories and legends you may not find in a guidebook and answer your questions about the city's rich past.
  • The midday and afternoon sun can be quite intense in Summer, so it is best to visit outdoor attractions in the early morning or evening when the temperatures are cooler. You will also have more space to explore without the crowds.

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