You might have heard about Sicily and its main city Palermo in many ways. From the thousand of thousand of sicilian expat all around the world, about the delicious cannoli or, maybe thanks to many movies, for be the birthplace of the infamous, and sadly most famous, criminal organization in the world: the Mafia.
However, Palermo is not only those things. this beautiful city. Indeed, Palermo is recognized as one of the most beautiful city in Italy, with enormous architectural beauty and deep cultural traditions. Palermo is a crossroad of almost every Mediterranean culture, from the ancient greek to the arab one and the cradle of many of the most important Italian writers and intellectuals.
We want to give you at least 10 good reasons to visit Palermo and, maybe, change the widespread wrong idea about this amazing city.
Top ten good reason to visit Palermo
1. Visit the food markets
There are three open-air markets in Palermo: Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo, but Vucciria is considered by many to be the cream of the shop. At this 700-year-old market, budget-savvy shoppers scour through hordes of handbags, sunglasses and other knock-off designer clothes, household items, fresh produce, meats, cheese and spices. The casbah-style market runs down Via Roma toward Via Vittorio Emanuele in what is one of the most Arabic sections of the city. Whatever you choose to do, be prepared to experience something unique and to hear a lot of yelling! (Vucciria literally means ‘chaos’ in Sicilian).
2. Visit Palazzo dei Normanni
Also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo, it was once the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and is today home to the regional parliament of Sicily. One of the main highlights of the palace is the Palatine Chapel, situated on the ground floor.
3. Watch an original puppet theatre performance
‘Opera dei Pupi’ is one of the long-lasting Sicilian traditions. The play is a theatrical representation of Frankish romantic poems such as the Song of Roland or Orlando furioso. It is performed in Sicilian dialect, so even if you speak Italian it can be pretty hard to follow. That being said, it’s a spectacular performance and it will engage you on many different levels. There is no script, as the act is mostly improvised, and the 20+ characters are played by only two puppeteers against beautiful hand-painted scenographies.
4. Visit the Catacombe
The Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo are asomewhat macabre attraction for horror and history lovers. There were built in 1533 and housed their first mummified body – one of the monastery’s own priests – in 1599. Between the 17th and 19th Centuries, wealthy Palermitani filled the catacombs with the bodies of their privileged loved ones. The result is a basement full of 8,000 of the wealthiest deceased dressed in their finest clothes, hats and lace and laid in rows beneath the church. You will also find a perfectly preserved body of a little girl who died in 1982.
5. The Duomo
As said Palermo is a crossroad of many colture and the Palermo’s Duomo is probably the perfect example of this mix. It was built in 1184 by the Normans, then added to by the Goths, the Spaniards and an architect from Naples. Standing in front of the Duomo on Via Vittorio Emanuele, you can see the distinct influences of each of these groups and while the styles don’t necessarily blend, they create a magnificent architectural structure that shouldn’t be missed.
Ok, this may be stereothipical but the cannoli in Palermo are too good. These deep fried ricotta-filled cones just may be Sicily’s best invention – ever! – but you haven’t tried them until you’ve had them in Palermo. Seriously. The stuff you get in the United States, or even in other regions in Italy, just can’t compare. Schedule your diet appropriately and allow room for a least a few of these Sicilian specialties every day.
7. Take a Bus to Monreale
Just a 30-minute bus ride, the little town of Monreale towers over the city and offers panoramic views of the Conca d’Oro (the Golden Shell). The main attraction is the 12th Century Norman-Arab cathedral that has 130 individual mosaic scenes, covering more than 6,000 square meters. Be sure to see the cloisters and the royal tombs, where Italy’s King William I and II are entombed, along with the heart of King Louis IV of France.
8. The Teatro Massimo
The Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele in Palermo is recognized by all The Godfather fans as the setting of the final scenes of the famous trilogy… You know, (Spoiler alert!) the scene where Mary died. If The Godfather is not your thing – really? – this colossal theatre, the largest in Italy and third largest in Europe, is still worth a visit.
9. Snack on Street Vendor Milza
Yes, food again, but Sicily is one of the most famous culinary regions in the world. If you ask to any palermitanean a suggestion about what you should eat while you’re in Palermo the answer will be: eat milza. Milza, or meusa in sicilian, a fried spleen sandwich, is a Palermo specialty and is sold in restaurants and on street corners throughout the city.
10. Go to the Beach
Last but not least, whether you like sandy beaches or wild rocky cliffs, you won’t have to travel very far from Palermo’s centre to find your spot. Mondello is the closest, and perhaps the most beautiful, beach and you can get there with a bus. On both sides of Mondello beach, you’ll find some less explored options for rocky beach lovers.