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A day in Palermo: 5 essential stops to explore the city

1 day

Do you have a full day to spend in Palermo? If so, get ready for a memorable journey through the city's thousand-year history, among the important civilisations that flourished in the Mediterranean basin. The dominations that have alternated over the centuries have left vivid traces of cultures, civilisations, languages and religions in its alleyways: a unique and unrepeatable synthesis of mediaeval, Byzantine, Arab and Norman vestiges, guardians of a multicultural past, all waiting to be discovered. Stroll through the historic centre and discover them all. Are you ready?

Palace of the Normans

palace of the normans in palermo

The itinerary begins in style at Palazzo dei Normanni, also known as the Royal Palace, an authentic jewel of Byzantine and Arab-Norman art and a Unesco heritage site. Built around the 10th century by the Norman kings, the palace is the oldest royal residence in Europe, has hosted the kings of the Kingdom of Sicily and was the imperial seat. Inside, you will find yourself in the presence of the Palatine Chapel, with its Byzantine mosaics, inlays and Arabic-style porphyry flooring, topped by the grandiose mosaic of Christ Pantocrator. Brace yourself: it is a sight that will take your breath away.

The Cathedral

the cathedral of palermo

Continuing through the Villa Bonanno park, you will reach the Cathedral in just five minutes. With its domes, towers and battlements, it is an exquisite blend of styles: from Greek and Roman art to Catalan and Gothic, passing through Arab and Norman influences. Inside, the church houses, in a 'treasure room', priceless jewellery such as the gold tiara that belonged to Empress Constance of Sicily, as well as other royal ornaments.

Piazza Villena

quattro canti in palermo

If you take Corso Vittorio Emanuele from here, you will find yourself in Piazza Villena, which the people of Palermo call the Quattro Canti: with an octagonal layout, the square widens at the intersection of Palermo's two main streets, Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuele. The four cantons of the name bear witness to Palermo's history: at the foot of the four façades, equal and symmetrical, are four fountains representing the city's waterways (Papireto, Pannaria, Kemonia, Oreto). Looking up, you will see allegories of the seasons, then the statues of four Spanish kings and, finally, guarding the blue sky, the patron saints of the city: Agata, Ninfa, Oliva and Cristina.


Continuing along Via Maqueda, in just over five minutes you come to Ballarò, the city's oldest market, direct heir to the souks that enlivened these alleys during the Arab domination. Let yourself be guided by the abbanniate, the singsong calls of the hawkers, and by the aromas of the local street food, the truest legacy of the successive dominations of the capital.

Pane e panelle is the most popular snack, a sandwich stuffed with a flour and chickpea pancake. Equally well-known is the arancina - here it is expressed in the feminine form! - a rice ball stuffed with meat sauce, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Those who do not care about calories can let themselves be seduced by bread with spleen. Dulcis in fundo, the irresistible temptation of Sicilian sweets: cannolo, with sheep's milk ricotta, or cassata, also made with ricotta, sponge cake, candied fruit and almond paste.

the Massimo and Politeama Theatres

the puppets and the massimo and politeama theaters

Leaving the historic and folkloristic Ballarò market behind, stroll down Via Maqueda in the opposite direction for 15 minutes. Places and monuments call to mind the city's strong theatrical character: on the one hand, halls and workshops linked to the Opera dei Pupi, the traditional puppet theatre whose repertoire combines the Carolingian cycle with stories of saints and brigands; on the other, the historic Teatro Massimo, which stands at the end of the street in the form of a temple. Inaugurated at the end of the 19th century, it is the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe. The tour continues to the Politeama Garibaldi Theatre, which was built in the same period and is an important example of neoclassical architecture.


palermo at the table

At the end of this pleasant urban hike mitigated by Palermo's mild climate, it will be around sunset. Head down to the Lungomare (promenade), where you can say goodbye to the city over a sunset aperitif or a seafood supper in one of the restaurants, from Mondello to Molo di Sant'Erasmo. If, on the other hand, you prefer to savour typical Sicilian products in the natural setting of the hinterland, the agritourism farms of the Campagna Amica Foundation are the ideal place to end your trip with a bucolic evening.

Do you feel you can' t leave without taking the aromas and flavours of this city with you? Then take an hour for some zero-mileage shopping at the Campagna Amica farmers' market, held every Saturday morning at Villa Sperlinga, the city's historic garden, where you can find the so-called Sigilli, excellences of local biodiversity: the late mandarin of Ciaculli and other products made from ancient local grains, such as Perciasacchi wheat or Nero delle Madonie.

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