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Palermo Destination Guide - Where Cultures Intertwine

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Palermo - Where Cultures Intertwine

Palermo, the capital city of the island of Sicily, has a rich history spanning more than 2,700 years. Situated on the northwestern coast of the island of Sicily, by the Gulf of Palermo in the Tyrrhenian Sea, Palermo is revered for its history, culture, architecture and gastronomy.

The Phoenicians originally founded Palermo in 734 BC as the city of Ziz. As the city of Palermo fell under the rule of Carthage, two Greek colonies were established, named Panormus or “All-Port”. Under the name Panormus, the town became part of the Roman Republic where it remained for over a thousand years. Under the Arab rule, which lasted for more than two centuries, the city was renamed Balarm, the root of the present-day name of the city. Following the Norman reconquest in the 12th century, Palermo became the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily, which lasted for nearly 700 years, and the capital of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1861 Palermo later became a part of the Kingdom of Italy, and was the capital of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies for a short period of time.

Today, Palermo is an important port city, transporting around 2 million passengers and 5 million tonnes of cargo annually. Despite being touted as the city controlled by the Sicilian Mafia, Palermo is a safe city offering its visitors spectacular landmarks, rich culture, delicious cuisine and a laid-back atmosphere.

A piazza in Palermo

Palermo architecture - a blend of styles

Although not the first city to spring to mind when discussing historic Italian cities, Palermo is a city bursting with history, impressive cultural landmarks and beautiful Norman architecture.

Palermo Cathedral

The Cathedral of Palermo was built in 1184 by the Normans and is one of the most important architectural monuments in the whole of Sicily. The cathedral was constructed on the site of a Muslim Mosque that was previously built over a Christian basilica, highlighting the religious and political turmoil of Palermo’s past.

Both the exterior and the interior of Palermo Cathedral display a combination of different styles, blending Medieval, Gothic, Arabic and Neoclassical influences. The interior is lavishly decorated, displaying various works of art, and the church itself is free to enter.

Palazzo dei Normanni

The Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace), also known as the Royal Palace of Palermo was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman rule of the island. The palace is considered to be the oldest royal residence in Europe, chosen as the residence of kings following the Norman conquest of Sicily in 1072. The chapel of Cappella Palatina, located inside the palace, is the best example of the combination of Arab, Norman and Byzantine styles that dominated the 12th-century Sicily. The Norman Palace, along with the Palatine Chapel, is included on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

La Martorana

The Church of St. Mary of the Admiral, also known as La Martorana, is located on Piazza Bellini and is the seat of the Parish of San Nicolò dei Greci. This imposing church, included on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2015, displays multiple different styles, representative of the numerous rule changes on the island of Sicily. The rich church interior, dominated by a series of 12th-century Byzantium mosaics, attracts plenty of visitors and is a definite must-see.

Archeological Museum

The Regional Archeological Museum Antonio Salinas, dedicated to the famous Palermo-born archaeologist Antonio Salinas, displays one of the richest collections of Punic and Ancient Greek art in Italy, including various other items related to the history of Sicily. Located in the city centre, near the Massimo Theatre, the Archaeological Museum is the perfect place to visit to fully appreciate and understand the rich history of Palermo and Sicily. 

Orto Botanico di Palermo

The Botanical Garden of Palermo contains an extensive collection of tropical and subtropical plants, as well as numerous specimens of exotic plants. Founded by the University of Palermo in 1789, the Botanical Garden has played an essential role in the study and conservation of different species of tropical and subtropical flora. Currently, the Botanical Garden hosts about 12,000 species of living plants, spread across an area of 10 hectares, offering visitors beautiful walkways and paths to explore them all.  

Palermo’s grandiose hotels

Palermo has a wide selection of different accommodation options. If you are looking for cheaper options, the city is filled with beautiful B&Bs and charming hostels. However, Palermo is a city full of traditional hotels, often situated in historic buildings, in walking distance of the most famous attractions in the city. Therefore, to truly experience the capital of Sicily, we strongly recommend staying in one of these historic hotels.  

  • Hotel del Centro - this classical three-star hotel is located near the Palermo city centre, a short walk from all the famous landmarks, restaurants and cafes. Guests can choose between 22 charmingly decorated rooms offering free WiFi, air conditioning and a TV. The hotel has a bar providing 24-hour room service while breakfast offers a great variety of the famous Sicilian pastries.
  • Hotel Politeama - is located on one of the main squares in Palermo, right in front of the famous Politeama Theater. The hotel was recently remodelled, with rooms in a modern and sleek design. Each room is equipped with free WiFi, TV, air conditioning, telephone, mini-bar, hairdryer and soundproof windows. Before heading out into the Palermo nightlife, guests can unwind in the lounge bar, offering a relaxed atmosphere and overlooking the beautiful Politeama Theatre. 
  • Hotel Wagner - named after the famous German composer Richard Wagner, who lived briefly near the hotel between 1881 and 1882, this lavish five-star hotel invokes the spirit of the past. Featuring marble, wood and gold elements, the hotel offers its guests a unique experience, representative of the classical era. Located in the city centre, near several attractions, this hotel is perfect for exploring the Palermo and enjoying its vibrant nightlife.  
  • The Grand Hotel et des Palmes - a historic hotel located on the central Via Roma street, is one of the symbols of the city of Palermo. Located in the city centre, near the waterfront, the hotel first opened its door in 1907. Following a complete refurbishment, the hotel opens its doors again in December of 2020, offering a luxurious design, blending modern and classical. The four-star hotel is within walking distance of several landmarks, including the Santa Maria Assunta Cathedral, Capella Palatina, and Teatro Massimo.   
  • Hotel Columbia - is yet another historic Palermo hotel, situated in a charming nineteenth-century building inside the Gualbes complex. The hotel was recently remodelled and updated, offering its guests 24 comfortable rooms. Located between the Lanza and Santamarina buildings, the hotel offers a unique location for experiencing the atmosphere of the centre of Palermo. 
A pier in the harbour of Palermo

The stunning beaches of Palermo

Despite Palermo’s busy port and large population, the coast around the city remains a peaceful oasis, offering warm, shallow seas and spectacular sandy and pebble beaches. 

  • Mondello - formerly a fishing village, Mondello today is an elegant seaside resort, located not far north from Palermo city centre. Here you will find walkways shaded by palm trees and stunning villas overlooking the sea. Mondello beach is a crescent-shaped patch of sand with stunning turquoise waters, regularly crowded on the weekends. As the sun sets, the seafront lights up with clubs, restaurants and bars entertaining long into the night.
  • Capo Gallo - nature reserve is located about 14 kilometres northwest of the centre of Palermo. Here you will find an area with a long stretch of rocks, heavily shaped by the oncoming waves and shaded by rich Mediterranean vegetation. This stretch of coast offers summer thrills for everyone: a sandy cove, perfect for families as well as ample opportunity for diving and snorkelling as the depth reaches 50 m at specific points. Numerous snorkelling and diving excursions are available, visiting the Grotta dell'Olio, Grotta della Regina and Grotta Caprari, as well as the spectacular Secca di Barra. 
  • Addaura - although Addaura is located in the same sandy bay of Mondello, at the foothills of the Monte Pellegrino, you will find a rocky coast here. Access to the sea may not be very comfortable here, but the beauty of the worlds both above and beyond you is truly spectacular. It is one of the most popular diving spots in the area, offering beautiful coral seabeds and attracting large crowds of eager divers every summer.   
  • Capaci - this seaside village of Capaci is located about 20 km northwest from Palermo and is the ideal destination for an all-day visit to the beach. You will be greeted by a long stretch of fine, golden sand and shallow and calm sea, ideal for families with little children. The beach provides guests with ample sunbeds and umbrellas, with plenty of restaurants and bars in the near vicinity of the beach.  
  • Sferracavallo - is considered to be one of the most beautiful seaside villages of western Sicily, located 13 kilometres northwest of Palermo. Sferracavallo beach is dominated by large rocks, patches of sand and offers a crystal clear sea with a stunning coral reef seabed. Another popular diving destination, Sferracavallo offers traditional small restaurants offering fresh seafood and traditional Italian pasta dishes.
Mondello, Palermo

The beauty of Sicilian weather

The city of Palermo has a typical Mediterranean climate, with very mild winters and hot summers. Palermo has some of the highest winter temperatures in the whole of Italy with average winter temperatures around 15 °C, making it a desirable tourist destination year-round. However, winter is the wettest period of the year, with plenty of rainfall in February. Spring and autumn are both enjoyable seasons in Sicily, with temperatures sitting around 20 °C, ideal for hiking and sightseeing. 

Summers can get quite hot here with temperatures regularly exceeding 30 °C in July and August. Occasional heat waves can raise the temperature well above 35 °C and the highest temperature recorded in Palermo is 44 °C. Summer is also the driest part of the year, so it is important to seek refreshment on some of Palermo’s beautiful beaches.  

Water temperatures between May and October sit above 20 °C, while sea temperature in August reaches 26 °C.

Best time to visit

Due to its warm climate and mild winters, Palermo can be visited throughout the year. Summer is the best time to enjoy the beautiful Sicilian, although it can get quite hot. If you are looking to avoid the summer madness and take in some sights, both spring and autumn are viable options. 

Party with the Sicilians

Be it small bars, local trattorias, or fancy nightclubs, Palermo offers a vibrant and rich nightlife, especially in the summer when the streets and terraces are filled with people enjoying themselves long into the night. Be sure to dress up and hit the streets; you will not regret it!

  • Discoteca Pay One - The Pay One discotheque offers a very diverse programme, covering almost all popular musical tastes. The club, also known as the Cuba Libre, offers dance evenings, private parties, banquets and is open all week except on Mondays when it is reserved for private parties. 
  • Il Moro - stretches across two levels, offering exclusive and elegant areas. Here you can enjoy different dishes prepared with local ingredients on one level and lounge and enjoy the music on another. Located near the shore, you will be greeted with picturesque scenery and cosy atmosphere. DJs regularly perform here, transforming this quaint establishment into the hottest dance party in town. 
  • L'Atelier - this trendy club and lounge bar is housed in the old citrus storage facility, converted in 2011 to what it is today. The interior offers a blend of contemporary and classic, with stone and glass as basic elements. Featuring live music and various DJs, L’Atelier is the perfect place to experience clubbing in Palermo. 
  • Migò Club - considered a cornerstone of Palermo’s nightlife, Migò is the place for a night of dancing. Featuring national and international DJs and artists, this unique venue, housed in an old farmhouse is the preferred destination for both locals and tourists. Relax in the large summer garden and grab a bite in the newly-opened grill and bistro serving tasty pizza.
  • The Country Disco Club - is a large club consisting of two dance floors, playing different music genres, a private area and a large bar. The club, formerly known as Siddhartha, is the recipient of several awards for best nightclub and offers an electrifying atmosphere and great music. The club, located in the northern part of Palermo, was named after the nearby prestigious tennis club Country Club.

Eating in Palermo

Sicilian cuisine is world-famous, depicted in numerous Hollywood movies and TV series. Visiting Palermo, you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to fine dining. Here are some of the more popular restaurants in Palermo, serving delicious seafood and traditional Italian dishes.

  • Ristorante Ferro - located in close vicinity of the Teatro Massimo, right in the historic centre of Palermo, Ristorante Ferro offers a design combining modern and classical styles, alongside an open square creating a wonderfully unique atmosphere. The menu consists of various dishes prepared with fresh ingredients, of which the risotto, salmon and the sea bass are a must-try! 
  • Al Fondaco del Conte - situated in an old building, Al Fondaco del Conte oozes charm and welcomes diners into a warm ambience decorated in a contemporary style. Adjacent to the Ballarò market, the guests of the restaurant can rest assured that each dish is made with only the freshest ingredients. Be sure to try the swordfish, mussel soup and gorgonzola risotto here. 
  • Osteria dei Vespri - if you are looking for a typical Sicilian place to eat, then Osteria dei Vespri is the perfect place for you. Nestled on the Cross Vespers square, the restaurant offers dishes prepared using fresh and local ingredients. The meals are accompanied perfectly by local Sicilian wines, of which there are plenty to choose from. Featuring a menu of traditional Italian dishes; ricotta cheese ravioli with fried zucchini and Nocellara tuna are the things to try here. 
  • Pasticceria Cappello - if you have a sweet tooth and are craving for some desserts, make sure to visit Pasticceria Cappello, a Sicilian institution. The pasticceria, situated in the heart of the historic centre of the city, first opened its doors in the 1940s. Over the years, the establishment perfected the art of creating chocolates and pastries. Things to try here include the sponge cake with almonds and pistachios and the traditional Sicilian cassata and cannoli.
  • FUD - For those looking for something a bit modern and different, FUD is a modern eatery serving delicious panini and burgers, using the Sicilian street food tradition. Perfect for a quick bite, here you can try panini with fresh cold cuts and cheeses, tasty burgers, hot dogs and salads. 
Marina filled with yachts in Palermo

Palermo marinas - right where you want them

The majority of marinas in the city of Palermo are located close to the city centre, within the port of Palermo. Visiting Palermo by boat is one of the best ways to explore the city, as you will be situated very near the major attractions.  

  • Salpancore port - tourist port offers safe mooring within its natural basin, located near the centre of the city and a part of the old town of Palermo. Here you will find 25 berths for vessels up to 24 m in length with a maximum draught of 7 m. Amenities include power and water connections at each berth, free WiFi and car rental services. 
  • Marina Galizzi - situated inside the port of Palermo, is the marina Galizzi, a modern marina offering extensive amenities and services. The marina regularly hosts regattas and similar events offering qualified personnel performing various maintenance and service work. There are a total of 70 berths available for boats up to 40 m in length with a max draught of 9,5 m. Mooring here, you will receive free WiFi, power and water connection, 24-hour security and the short distance to the city centre means shops and restaurants are nearby.  
  • Sitimar Marina Palermo - located in the heart of the Cala, with private access to the Cala promenade, Sitimar Marina is the ideal mooring option when sailing to Palermo. The marina is located in the historic centre of Palermo, close to the markets of Vucciria and Ballarò, and the Arab quarter of Kalsa. The marina has a capacity of 84 berths, accommodating vessels up to 24 m in length with a maximum draught of 6 m. Marina amenities include mooring assistance, water and electricity connection, 24/7 CCTV surveillance, free WiFi and toilets with showers.

Let us help you plan the perfect sailing trip

Provide your travel details, receive free offer and enjoy your holiday!