A guide to Palermo, Sicily's capital

Updated on Jan 30, 2019 by Stacey Parsons

Blog > A guide to Palermo, Sicily's capital

A delightful blend of architecture, markets, arts and culture make Palermo a wonderful city to pay a visit.

With a rich mixed history, made obvious by the architecture, Palermo is a place which radiates culture. Located on the North West of the island of Sicily and next to the Gulf of Palermo, it benefits from being close to the turquoise waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea. A popular tourist destination due its diversity, we wanted to share a little insight on what we think are some of the most intriguing aspects of the city, and why Sicilian Places loves travelling here.


Due to the variety of the city’s ancestry, having been invaded by the Greeks, Romans, French, Swabians to name just a few, each dynasty left its own unique stamp on Palermo. Just one example of where a building has undergone many changes is Palermo cathedral. Being transformed through eras reflecting popular and religious trends, this cathedral was originally a Greek or Roman temple, and over the years, it’s become both a Mosque and Christian church, and taken Catalonian Gothic additions such as gargoyles. In 1785 the cupola was added, giving the cathedral a very different appearance; however it’s never been demolished and completely rebuilt. If you look closely you can find many different styles of architecture present on this one building. To read more into the influences of Palermo cathedral, visit best of Sicily.

lapas77 | Shutterstock

The old town
A great place to start your exploration of Palermo, the charming old town is teeming with ancient architecture, including museums, churches, castles and galleries – fantastic opportunities to get some really unique photographs. The Piazzo Pretoria fountains are well worth a visit, along with the Quattro Canti and its beautiful array of statues, located exactly in the centre of the town.

Gandolfo Cannatella | Shutterstock

Boris Stroujko | Shutterstock

Markets and shopping
For an authentic shopping experience, we love to visit one or two of the numerous markets held in Palermo. Mostly of Arabic origin, the markets of Palermo stay true to their roots by igniting all of your senses, luring you to explore the winding labyrinth of every single one. La Vucceria offers a slightly more touristy feel selling souvenirs and clothes, whereas Ballarò market is a great place to go if you’re after a taste of some of the local nosh, well known for its delicious Italian street food. Borgo Vecchio is a very old market, popular with locals during the early evening before they head out to dinner. You can see more of the markets in Palermo by clicking here, plus find out exactly where they are.

Image credit: Quanthem | Shutterstock 

Arts & Culture
You don’t have to wander very far around Palermo before you’ll see a variety of indicators as to the wide assortment of art and culture here. Home to some fantastic art galleries, Palermo boasts Francesco Pantaleone Arte Contemporanea and Nuvole Incontri d’Arte, for contemporary art lovers, as well as The Galleria Regionale, located in the centre of Palermo, showcasing important historical artefacts, and the Galleria d’Arte Moderna, a very popular gallery, again for more modern art enthusiasts.

Inside Galleria d’Arte Moderna, Palermo. Image credit: Kemonia, Wikimedia Commons

As far as culture is concerned, we can’t possibly write about everything as Palermo is irrefutably bursting at the seams. However, one thing to note is that the largest opera house in the whole of Italy is located here. The Teatro Massimo was first opened in 1897 and is located in Pizza Verdi in the city centre. An undeniably beautiful building, it was made to reflect a Greek/Roman style with large pillars and bronze statues guarding the entrance.
Elisa Locci | Shutterstock

Sicilian Places product manager Joanne Mutton visited Palermo recently and undertook a 2 hour walking tour. Here are her highlights and recommendations:

1. Roma – a very important commercial street from Mussolini times
2. Visit or just admire the San Domenico baroque church
3. Visit or just admire the building of the Museo Nationale
4. Visit the main nightlife area of Piazza Olivella
5. Visit or just admire the Opera House – the 3rd largest in Europe and the largest in Italy. Also the biggest stage in Italy, and second biggest in Europe. There are 4 beautiful opera houses in Palermo.
6. St Joseph’s Church stands on the famous 4 corners crossroads when you can go to admire the architecture
7. Sample the famous street food stalls – Try the Arancina (Sicilian rice balls), they’re amazing!

If you’re feeling inspired and would like to get to know Palermo, you can visit Sicilian Places to book your trip.


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