8 experiences to do to fall madly in love with Palermo

Palermo Bay

Varied and multiethnic, the capital of one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean, the city of Palermo has always been linked to the sea, a source of life, commerce and entertainment.


If the visit of the places of worship represents, yesterday as today, the starting point of any tour to discover the local baroque, the experiences to be done on the narrow and shabby streets of Panormos – from the Greek παν-όρμος, “all-port” – are many and varied.


There are artisan shops where you can buy classic or modernized majolica and moor’s heads, but also jewels and tailoring products of all kinds discovering the history of centuries-old craftsmanship, and the city markets in which to breathe the folklore of a land with strong colors, between “Virgin Mary street shrines” and “clothes hung out to dry in the sun” as in the song by two local songwriters.


There is the dark and noble side of Palermo – that of the Paleochristian Catacombs of Porta D’Ossuna (discovered in 1739, but dating back to almost two thousand years ago) and of the crypt below the church of Santa Maruzza dei Canceddi – and that of bright colours, like the emerald green of the almond paste decorating the sweets of traditional pastry or the exquisitely turquoise of the “Promenade of the Marina”, perhaps the best postcard on the Gulf.


There is the Palermo that serves sandwiches with the spleen and the one that sets up famous and sought after shows in over 10 theaters in the center, from the opera house of the Teatro Massimo – the largest opera house in Italy and the third in Europe after Paris and Vienna – to the experimental Free Theater, born from the ashes of the former Hotel de France.


Impossible not to be fascinated by this undeniably splendid city which, unfortunately, shows signs of neglect and decay on many of its monumental assets, which the mild climate, the liveliness of the people of Palermo and the extraordinary cuisine will soon make you forget!


On this page we show you 8 classic or less usual experiences to do in Palermo to fall madly in love with this city of contradictions and contaminations.

Teatro Massimo Palermo

The myth and folklore of Palermo

There is a folk soul that pervades the Sicilian capital and is expressed at its best in some downtown districts, from the alleys of the Kalsa, an ancient Arab stronghold, to the coastal area of ​​Arenella.


To breathe it deeply, we suggest a trip to the Teatrino Cuticchio, where you can discover the art of “pupari” – a Sicilian reinterpretation of classic puppeteers – in a small theater with thirty seats, and a passage in Via Simone di Bologna 15, home to the Franco Bertolino Sicilian cart museum, a sort of open-air gallery dedicated to the iconic two-wheelers inlaid with the motifs of the Carolingian tradition and the legends of the paladins of France.


And the folklore continues on the street through a series of majestic urban paintings that pay homage to the city personalities (and not only): in the neighborhood in the Ballarò / Albergheria district, for example, in Vicolo Gallo, there is a nice portrait of Franco Franchi by Crazyone while the mural by street artists Rosk and Loste is dedicated to the magistrates Falcone and Borsellino – on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the mafia massacres.

Teatrino Cuticchio
Teatrino Cuticchio

Palermo, seen from above

The view of the old city between the bell towers and chimneys that cover the historic center gives the visitor another moment of pure aesthetic pleasure.


From the medieval tower of San Nicolò, once a place of military sightings in the hotel district, you have the most exhaustive glance, ranging from the coast to the hinterland, but also from the top of the Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria, open only in certain periods of the year and overlooking Piazza Pretoria and Piazza Bellini, it is the perfect place for an overview of the center.


A few steps further on, you’ll find The Terrazze del Sole where you can sip the best aperitifs overlooking the rooftops.

Go underground

As on the surface, so underground the treasures to be discovered abound: from the catacombs of the Convent of the Capuchin Friars – founded in 1599 by the monks of the same name with mummification and embalming ranging between the 17th and 19th centuries, including “Palermo’ Sleeping Beauty” , Rosalia Lombardo, considered the most beautiful mummy in the world – to those of Porta d’Ossuna, the most important testimony of early Christianity in Sicily, in addition to the air-raid shelter under Piazza Pretoria where the population hid from bombing.


And the historical heritage of Palermo’s underground also includes the “Quanat” – tunnels dating back to the Arab domination, once used to transport spring water to the city and fields, where guided tours with water above the knee are organized (archeofficina.com) – and the crypts of certain churches, such as that of Santa Maruzza dei Canceddi.

Habanero666, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons
Habanero666, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Indulge in sweet temptations

If the Sicilian cuisine is unanimously considered, among the Italian regional cuisines, one of the most opulent and appetizing, the Sicilian pastry has not only drawn the fame of the island – where not everyone knows that ice cream was born by the hand of a chef from Palermo – but it is also a symbol of multiculturalism: with the Arab dominations, for example, Palermo saw the arrival of ingredients such as pistachio, cinnamon, sugar and almond paste.


Not only cannoli and cassata (unmissable those of the Scimone pastry shop, served in a 1950s restaurant), but also “buccellati” (donut-shaped Christmas sweets) or “Sighs of the Nun“, small bonbons flavored with citrus fruits, together with rarer pastry pearls such as the Leopardian “Trionfo di Gola“, a dessert created by the Benedictines of the Monastery of Santa Andrea delle Vergini.


And then there is the “Brioche with Tuppo“, to be inevitably drenched in an artisanal mulberry flavored granita.

Sicily: the typical sweets, the cannoli siciliani

The Historic Centre

In the historic center of Palermo, the atmosphere is sparkling and walking at a leisurely pace in the alleys nestled between Baroque or Arab-Norman buildings you will discover unprecedented glimpses, introduced by ancient legends and curious anecdotes that strengthen the (millennial) myth of this city of Phoenician foundation.


Those who prefer to ride on (three) wheels instead could opt for an “Ape Tour Luxury” lasting one hour (at a cost of 80 euros, including the visit of the main monuments) making their way through the streets of the Sicilian capital in aboard a fun “ape calessino”.

Ape Tours Palermo

Get lost among exotic plants and record trees

The water richness of Palermo’s underground – guaranteed by the presence of two underground rivers, the Kemonia and the Papireto, which only in some places emerge “open” as spring water – together with the temperate climate, made up of mild winters and hot and sunny summers, it has given life to a varied and luxuriant flora, with imposing trees and exotic plants worthy of a tropical paradise, which have their best expression in the Botanical Garden (commissioned by the Bourbon Kings in 1789).


On the site, it is possible to take a virtual tour of this museum en plein air with over two hundred years of history and an event schedule worthy of a drama theater, while the tour in the green spaces of the city continues off line between the Garibaldi Garden, where a Ficus of 50 meters in diameter stands out, the English Garden of 1851 and the Parco della Favorita, the largest green area in the municipality.

Palermo Botanical Garden

Discover the Baroque churches

Third Italian city for number of ecclesiastical buildings (after Rome, which has more than 250, and Naples, which exceeds 150), Palermo, with over 100 churches and an undefined number of deconsecrated buildings – such as the Church (without roof !) of Santa Maria dello Spasimo, now an event venue – is unanimously considered the capital of the Italian Baroque, synthesized by countless buildings: this is the case of the seventeenth-century church of San Giuseppe dei Teatini and the nearby church of Santa Caterina, seat of the main convent of cloister as of the city Cathedral and the Church of the Martorana with its sparkling mosaics, included among the UNESCO sites as a World Heritage Site for Arab-Norman art.


Also not to be missed is the Church of the Holy Savior, with its curious elliptical dome, that of the Conception, entirely cloaked in marble decorations, and the church of San Domenico, known as the “pantheon of heroes”, where the remains of dozens of illustrious Sicilians like that of the magistrate Giovanni Falcone and the politician Francesco Crispi.

Palermo's Cathedral

Stop to taste a selection of street foods

Flavors, smells, colours and a lot of life. To understand and dive deep into the soul of the Sicilian capital, you need to go among the stalls. Yes, because the markets of Palermo are a unique experience, perhaps the only way to bring home its colours and its voices, its many facets.


Four places, four names, Vucciria, Capo, Ballarò and Borgo Vecchio are synonyms of Palermo.

Ballaro' Market

Where to Stay

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