Once conquered by the Phoenicians, Arabs, and Spanish, Palermo today bears witness to its rich past, from Byzantine mosaics and crumbling baroque buildings, to Arabian foodie delights in La Vucciria and Ballarò markets. Pretty medieval churches, archeological gems and first-class museums are what Sicily's capital city does best -- don't miss the Palazzo dei Normanni, once home of Norman King Roger II. Although motorcycles rule the busy streets and sirens are always in the background, Palermo's bustling, chaotic personality is part of its charm.
Things to Do
Now the seat of the regional government offices, Palermo's sumptuous Palazzo dei Normanni and its Byzantine mosaics are a reminder of the city's Golden Age. More Arab-Norman architecture can be seen at two side-by-side medieval churches, San Cataldo & La Martorana. The mummified cadavers at the Catacombe dei Cappucini, the "library of corpses," fascinate some but terrify others. For a breath of fresh air, stroll Palermo's Botanical Gardens or the popular golden-sand beaches of Mondello Lido, outside the city center.
Visit Palermo's bustling street markets for a taste of local life. At La Vucciria and Ballarò, you'll find mounds of purple artichokes, piles of blood-red oranges and the odd giant octopus, while street vendors playfully shout out to passers-by. Hand-painted Sicilian ceramics make great souvenirs, but hip fashion boutiques can be found along pedestrianized Via Principe di Belmonte, north of Palermo's medieval core. For high-end brands, Via Roma and Via Maqueda in the old town are the places to go.
Nightlife and Entertainment
Palermitani spend balmy summer nights cooling off down by Mondello Lido, but back in the center, locals converge in the city's two liveliest bar-lined squares, Piazza Verdi and Piazza Castelnuovo. Meanwhile, the large indoor stage of the neoclassical Teatro Massimo puts on first-class opera and ballet performances, as does the grandiose Politeama Garibaldi.
Restaurants and Dining
Palermo shows off its multicultural past best through its gastronomy. Arab-influenced dishes from the city's long-departed conquerors include the zesty lemon granita drink, crumbly almond pastries and spicy fish couscous. For authentic cheap eats, snack on panelle (fritters made from chickpea flour) or calzoni (deep-fried dough pockets with savory fillings) at street stalls all over the city. The daring head to the medieval La Kalsa district to try local delicacy babalucci -- baby snails marinated in parsley, olive oil and garlic.