Top events in Palermo

September
16

The Sun Moon Film Festival celebrates Palermo's Greek, Roman, Arab and Norman heritage through the medium of film.

November
02

A popular festival across the city and the whole of Sicily, the Day of the Dead is the time of the year when it is said that the souls of dead...

May
20

Every year, Palermo celebrates beach culture and the outdoors life at a week-long festival at Mondello. Windsurfing, beach volleyball, paragliding...

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Palermo

© Creative Commons / Leandro's World Tour

Palermo travel guide

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Palermo Local time
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Italy

Invaded by Arabs, Normans and others, Palermo, Sicily's capital city, Palermo, has been the fortunate victim of a series of benefactors over the centuries. The end result is a jumbled mass of architecture that creates a city that seems to alter with every turn - Arab domes merge into Norman cathedrals whilst 19th-century theatres square up to imposing baroque churches.

Divided by the gargoyle-decorated Quattro Canti, there are four main areas to explore - El Capo, La Kalsa, La Vucciria and Albergheria - each with its own attractions awaiting exploration. When you delve into the city, its pretty medieval churches, archeological gems and fascinating museums are veritable treasures - don't miss the sumptuous Palazzo dei Normanni, once home of Norman King Roger II. Its Byzantine mosaics are a reminder of the city's Golden Age. Within its medieval area, washing is still strung between buildings whilst elsewhere elegant residential districts with palm trees and palatial villas can be found. Although motorcycles plague its busy streets, Palermo's noisy bustling atmosphere is part of its charm.

Aside from the quaint churches, grisly catacombs and chaotic markets, day trips to the beach or up into the hilly countryside can easily be arranged. More cathedrals surround the city, in Monreale and Cefalù, both with their own set of Byzantine mosaics. As the island is so small, it is easy to explore and use Palermo, located in the north west, as a base – it takes less than four hours to cross from east to west and about two-and-a-half cross from north to south.

Palermo’s rich multicultural past is evident in its gastronomy. Arab-influenced dishes include the zesty lemon granita drink, crumbly almond pastries and spicy fish couscous. Try panelle (fritters made from chickpea flour) or calzoni (deep-fried dough pockets with savory fillings) at street stalls all over the city. Gastronomic adventurers may be tempted by the local delicacy known as babalucci - baby snails marinated in parsley, olive oil and garlic.

On the darker side, Palermo has only recently released itself from the dubious connections of its links with the Mafia (Cosa Nostra) links and the nightly curfews of the 1990s. The history of this criminal underworld on the island date back to the 19th century but it was during the post war years that the Mafia managed to control most of the building projects in Palermo. This resulted in unregulated construction and the demolition of many beautiful historic buildings. In the 1980s, a crackdown on the mafia led to well publicised murders. But police raids and betrayals by informers have weakened the Mafia and resistance among ordinary people to protection rackets have grown.

Today, even though the city still suffers from corruption, inefficient bureaucracy and elements of organised crime, it is Palermo’s sundrenched streets, glorious ruins and natural splendours that have instead come to symbolise the island and what it has to offer. With tourism on the rise, helped by the entry of low cost flights from Europe, it is also becoming a much more accessible city to visit.