If you know a thing or two about Italy, you’ll know that Sicily is quite a fascinating island in of itself. Some, including Sicilians themselves, even consider it a different nation from Italy altogether, mostly because of its strong cultural identity.
What would you expect from the biggest island in the Mediterranean? The people here are comparatively more vivacious, friendlier, and definitely more colorful. In fact, the stereotypical Italian, in Western media at least, is more based off of a Sicilian rather than those who live in mainland Italy. Such is a strong and indelible identity that is this beloved state.
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If you’re going on a trip to Sicily, you’re likely to land o Palermo, the island’s most well-known town. Here, you get to experience the local life in one of their biggest metropolises. There are so many things to see and do around Palermo that you might not know where to start. Well, don’t be overwhelmed and check out these amazing sites and activities and see if any of them might tickle your fancy.
Visit Palermo Cathedral
As mentioned earlier, Sicily is one of the biggest, if not the biggest island in the Mediterranean. And because of this, many tribes and nations conquered this vast land for their own territories. Such a rich and colorful history is most present at the Palermo Cathedral.
More than just an astounding site, its preserved structure, and amazing architecture and interior tells the stories of who have lived and ruled over Sicily all those centuries ago. Although the facade is mostly from the Renaissance era, remnants of the Moors and the Byzantine empire can still be found inside.
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Experience a Palermo Street Market
Outside the Palermo cathedral, and practically any church or town square for that matter is probably a street market. If you really want to indulge in the local lifestyle of this colorful island, this is the best place to start. Here, you get to see how Sicilians interact, the way they do their business, haggle, cook, and eat.
Since food is incredibly important to them, you get to see these stunning Italians at their most bare. Try to buy items for yourself as well, many of what you’ll find here will make for great souvenirs to bring back home and to spice up your cooking!
Taste Authentic Sicilian Dishes
After going to a street market to see where they buy their ingredients, it’s time to taste their world-famous dishes. Several of the establishments in Palermo are family-owned, which means you won’t have a difficult time looking for a place that serves authentic Sicilian dishes.
Order anything you like and set your taste buds to an amazing culinary journey that’s unlike anything in other parts of the world. Just remember to always be respectful as food and culinary are extremely important to these Italians.
Check Out Palazzo dei Normanni
Similarly to other places in Italy, Sicily used to have its own monarchy and their seat of power was in the Palazzo dei Normanni in Palermo. Built back in the 9th century, it’s one of the oldest places in all of Europe.
And despite the renovations, most of its original structures are still present to this day, preserved to highlight the colorful history of Sicily. You’ll get to see the truest forms of Italian architecture, as well as the beauty that shaped the country’s artistry and made it one of the most beautiful in the world.
Watch A Puppet Show
A unique little feature in Palermo is the abundance of street puppet shows. Usually a program for the little ones, it isn’t necessarily a complete Sicilian experience if you don’t watch at least one.
This art form is even recognized by UNESCO as a “masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of all humanity.” The marionette theater is common in other countries around the Mediterranean, but the ones in Sicily are distinct with their dramatic talents and artistic puppets. They often put on shows based on famous stories, such as Romeo and Juliet, and biblical events as well.
Explore The Capuchin Abbey And Catacombs
If you want something a little bit more heart-pumping that might get the hairs at the back of your neck to stand up, go to the Capuchin abbey and see their catacombs. The ones here are far from the one in Paris, as the bodies, almost 8,000 of them, are not just skulls but actually preserved corpses.
Most of them even still wear the garments in which they were buried. But make no mistake, this wasn’t necessarily a death chamber of sorts. The Capuchin Monks believed in the importance of the afterlife and made sure that all those that they’ll bury will still have the bodies they were born into in this world.
Swim By The Seaside
Apart from the rustic elegance of the city proper, Palermo is also near some of the best beaches in the Mediterranean. Mondello beach, for example, is the nearest seaside swimming area where most people have dive off of cliffs and fresh dip in the deliciously salty sea water.
While just a boat ride away is the island of Ustica, a semi-remote island that’s the perfect getaway if you want to spend a day away from other people in the region. San Vito Lo Capo is also another great beach that’s only an hour drive away from the city proper of Palermo.
Make A Wish At Fontana Pretoria
Finally, it wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without making a wish on a fountain, and in Palermo, the only place to do this is at the Fontana Pretoria. Constructed in 1574 by a Florentine architect, this elliptical water structure is a sight to behold.
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While it’s not as grand as the famous Trevi Fountain in Rome, the artistry of this fountain is enough to lure you into making a wish. The sculptures that decorate it are the 12 Olympian gods of Greek Mythology: Zeus, Poseidon, Apollo, and so on.
Meditate In Cappella Palatina
There are many reasons as to why the Cappella Palatina is one of the top tourist spots in Palermo. For one thing, it’s incredibly solemn and quiet, allowing any visitor to pray or meditate in peace. In fact, the area is so silent that even people fo different faith, who visit this chapel to simply marvel at its spectacular beauty, have also prayed and meditated here.
And speaking of the chapel’s beauty, its gilded interior is one must see to believe. Only a few shrines have the same amount of gold in them as this one-of-a-kind chapel. Its golden finish and blinding shimmers are the stuff of legends, but once you go inside, you’ll see that they’re all too real and majestic!
Watch A Play At Teatro Massimo
Sicilians love entertainment, from cinema, music, to theater. And in the city of Palermo, the Teatro Massimo is one of their premier spots for quality entertainment. A beloved opera house, it’s become one of the country’s monuments of fine theater, from classic operas to contemporary plays.
The building itself is a work of art, exemplifying Ancient Roman architecture for all of the modern worlds to see. Fortunately, at any time of the year, the theater holds all sorts of events. Do yourself a favor and indulge in such divine culture by seeing a show yourself. Only the best of the best get to perform inside this iconic theater, which means whatever you go see inside is sure to be quality entertainment.
Eat An Ice Cream Sandwich
Although ice cream, or gelato as it’s called here in Italy, is usually served at dessert, you can treat yourself to some at any time of the day. Several gelato vendors and restaurants serve he delectable and creamy dessert all day long, and what’s even better is that you get to taste its most authentic forms here.
Compared to normal ice cream, gelato is substantially richer in flavor and texture, giving your tastebuds an unforgettable sensation that’s not to be missed! In Palermo, they serve it in many ways. There’s the “gelato artigianale,” which is the artisanal kind that’s perfect for sharing on Instagram and there are the gelato sandwiches. Scoops of rich gelato served in freshly baked and big dinner rolls!
Take Pictures Of Quattro Canti
Italy is known for its many squares. In fact, arguably the most famous square in the world, St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, is in Rome, Italy. In Palermo, however, there’s the Quattro Cant. Also known as Piazza Viglien this baroque town square was built all the way back in the 1600s, and up until now, its majesty and artistic glory can still be seen by those lucky enough to visit the area.
Some of the more eye-catching features of the square include the sculptures that decorate the four-story buildings that enclose the area. They’re said to be the Spanish kings that once rules Sicily, as well as a few female saints that are patrons of the island.
See The Works Of Art At Galleria Regionale Della Sicilia
The streets of Palermo alone are such feasts for the eyes, but if you really want to see true art, visit the Galleria Regionale della Sicilia. The site itself is actually Palazzo Abatellis, an extravagant palace built in the 15th century. Here, you get to see all the masterpieces of some of the artistic maestros of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance era, and all the way to the 18th century.
Most of the works here depict events, both historical and everyday life, of said eras, as well as some Roman Catholic imagery and biblical interpretations. And since the palace that houses such works hasn’t really changed all that much, you’d feel as if you were walking in those periods when the masterpieces were first created.
Visit St. John Of The Hermits
Although numerous Palermo churches are famous for their massive palace-like structures and exuberant interiors, the church of St. John of the Hermits church is more of a humble sanctuary that’s just as good. In fact, it’s even a recognized by UNESCO as a historical site in Sicily that’s worth visiting and preserving.
Perhaps its most unique features, compared to other churches in Palermo, are the red domes and the quiet garden just outside the church proper. The red domes are actually remnants of the time when the church was used as a mosque, which is a history that’s all too common among Palermo churches. While the garden, on the other hand, is both a relaxing and romantic place to spend time in.
Marvel The Cathedral Of Monreale
Another church that is a must-visit in Palermo is the Cathedral of Monreale. Similarly to the church of St. John of the Hermits, this sanctuary used to be a mosque as well. But compared to other sites of its kind, the Arabic history is still very much present within the interior facade of the cathedral. You can marvel at the numerous mosaics, many of which feature stark colors that are incredibly pleasing to the eye.
The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the baroque churches in the Italian Peninsula that’s all too unique, and in a country that has a lot of massive religious structures of the same caliber of beauty and history, that’s saying a lot!
Chill Out At Bisso Bistrot
When you want to take a break from all the churches, theaters, and museums, you can simply hang and chill out at Bisso Bistrot. It’s perhaps one of the most well-visited bistros in Southern Italy and for good reason. Here, they serve some of the most delicious dishes that make Italy a capital of fine cuisine. This comes as no surprise since, in Palermo, they only serve the freshest of meats and fishes.
And just because it’s a bistro doesn’t make it a tight space. This establishment is actually one of the most spacious of its kind, allowing you and your friends to have a gay old time over lunch or dinner. And speaking of dinner, make sure you arrive here before 7:30 if you want to be able to eat as soon as you can. Else, you’ll have to wait a while.
Drink Wine At Enoteca Buonivini
No trip to Italy is complete without some wine-tasting, and in Palermo, only one place comes to mind: Enoteca Buonivini! Enjoy the lightest of white wines or the riches of red wines in this masterful winery and restaurant. You can even ask for their most prominent wines when you chomp down on the place’s five-star cuisine.
For those on their honeymoon, this is one of the best sites to spend a romantic dinner in, what with the beautiful courtyard setting, delicious food, and fine wine that’s all world-class. You wouldn’t’ want to miss visiting this are at least once during your stay in Palermo, and once you do, you might not want to leave at all!
Watch Football At Trattoria aal Vecchio Club Rosanero
Like many other countries in the European Union, or in fact, in the continent of Europe, Italy has a fond relationship with football. Italians go mad for the sport, from Northern Italy to the Southern island of Sicily. And the city of Palermo is definitely no exception!
Here, the Trattoria al Vecchio Club Rosanero is practically a shrine and clubhouse for the sport. In fact, the name of the place, “Rosanero,” even refers to the city’s football club colors: Rose being pink and Nero referring black. When you want to watch a big game or talk football all day long, this is the place to be in the entirety of Palermo city.
Shop At Mercato di Ballarò
Palermo city is one to embrace street markets, and one such that you have to visit when you’re there is the Mercato di Ballarò. This colorful strip of fruit vendors, meat-sellers, souvenir shops, and more is where the heart of Palermo truly lies.
It’s here that tourists and visitors get to see what it’s like to live in Palermo, and how locals do their shopping, haggle, and converse with one another in their natural setting. But whatever you want in this amazing market, from the freshest of fruits to all sorts of knick-knacks that the folks back home are sure to appreciate.
Learn A Lot At Museo Archeologico Regionale
In Palermo, their premier archeological museum is arguably the Museo Archeologico Regionale. Here, you get to learn more about the people and creatures that once walked these very lands. Ancient Greek artifacts make up some of the more prominent features of this museum, as well as some sparkling crown jewels, bones of extinct animals, and the like.
And when you want to take a break from all that learning, you can spend time in the courtyard that houses beautiful ancient pottery, citrusy plants, and many more. This museum is a treat for all the senses, and it’s one that you must visit when you’re on a trip to Palermo!
Eat At Pasticceria Fratelli Magrì
If you have a big sweet tooth, you can’t visit Palermo without dropping by the Pasticceria Fratelli Magrì. Some of the city’s most sumptuous treats and delicious pastries are made and served here. Choose among a selection of artisanal cupcakes, comfort food, spongy pastries, and cream-filled snacks. It’s here where you get to taste some of the country’s lesser-known treats, like the incredibly soft patata or the rich and decadent layered cake known as the Savoia.
And the food here is so good that you’d be tempted to bring some back home to your hotel, villa, or hostel. but if you do that, make sure to eat them as soon as you can as these pastries spoil fast!
Visit The Oratorio di San Lorenzo
Built back in the 16th century, the Oratorio di San Lorenzo is one of the oldest and most historic of its kind that still stands today. It features the works of legendary rococo sculptor Giacomo Serpotta, most of which depicts the lives of St. Lawrence and St. Francis of Assisi.
The stark white interior is what draw people to come in—a slightly overwhelming facade that makes one feel that they’re in heaven. Not to mention that stunning works of art that showcase the heights of human talent. You won’t help but feel amazed and stunned at the majesty of the site!
Explore La Martorana
Another chapel you must visit is La Martorana. This divinely luminous statuary highlights the Byzantine past of the city of Palermo with its rich Mediterranean color scheme and stunning gilded finish.
Intricate mosaics the depict the lives of Christ, His Mother Mary, St. Peter, and other prominent biblical figures decorate most of the interior, leaving no space for simplicity. The building itself is also high ceiling, evoking a sense of divine presence for those lucky enough to visit the place. Furthermore, the site itself is quite silent—a perfect place for prayer and reflection.
Experience Sicily through the vibrant town of Palermo. It’s a cinematic experience that you’ll surely never forget and might even let you go back and do it all over again soon!
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