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    Italy | Sicily Palermo

    Sicily: Palermo

    A mix of grandeur and grit, Palermo holds surprises at every turn. Keeping track of Palermo’s historic roots can be a dizzying process, suffice to say, today the city is spectacular in every way, a melting pot of different cultures and religions that has shaped the island.

    Founded by the Phoenicians in 8th century BC, later colonized by the Greeks along with fellow traders, the Carthaginians, then captured by the Romans, ruled by the Byzantines and later the Arabs, then along came Christianity thanks to the Normans… fast forward to today and Palermo is one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean, renowned for its history, culture, architecture, and southern Italian cuisine.

    It was Palermo’s architecture that had me at first sight. Middle Eastern, Norman and Baroque aesthetics converge to create a glorious jumble.  Renaissance palaces stand proudly next to dilapidated old buildings. Hundreds of churches range in style from Arab-Norman-Byzantine to Gothic and Baroque, as well as those with dome roofs which were onetime mosques – all reminders of countless invaders over the centuries. Walking the streets of this northern Sicilian city is like time travelling.

    Although it is Sicily’s capital city, unlike other metropolises, life embraces a slower pace in Palermo. It’s easy to get around on foot and just as easy to find your way around. Essentially, the old city’s layout is like a grid; two straight, perpendicular roads dividing everything into four quarters. The Quattro Canti – a rounded intersection of elaborate balconies and cornices – provides an effective landmark to return to when you need to regain your bearings.

    To really understand the beating heart of Palermo you need to get a feel for the city. Start with walking the full length of via Vittorio Emanuele to the marina and do stop frequently at the many bars and restaurants on the way to simply chill, chat with the locals and embrace being in the moment.

    To fully acquaint yourself with the city’s history, book a walking tour. The Agora Palermo Free Walking Tour takes in all the main sites as well as off the beaten track gems.

    Our guide, Paolo, was a middle school teacher and history specialist. Each stopping point was coloured with Paolo’s engaging story telling including intriguing snippets and conversation starters. Highlights included venturing inside some of the most glorious churches hidden in backstreets, learning the story of the Fountain of Shame, taking in the magnificence of Teatro Massimo opera house (the biggest in Italy) and Palermo Cathedral.

    Paolo was working as a guide as his teaching career was on hold due to the pandemic. As the guides are not paid by the tour organizers, they rely on tips from the walkers. Rule of thumb, tip the guide $10 to $20 per person based on how much you enjoyed their tour.

    Eat and Drink

    Obsessed with trying the local street food, we headed to the food markets. Pay attention to the opening hours. We had earmarked a specific food market, arrived that evening only to discover the food stall holders were packing away their provisions.

    Palermo boasts many markets, but the three main ones are Ballora (the oldest and largest market, Arabic in origin, great for everyday shopping), Capo (most atmospheric, it’s like a North African souk) and Vucciria night market for authentic street snacks. You’re guaranteed a visual food feast at anyone of these destinations.

    Everyone will tell you try the Arancini, and you must, because they are delicious. They come in many variations, but my favourite was Arancinette Tenerumi e Cacio – fried rice balls filled with vegetables and cacio cheese.  Equally irresistible was the Pani ca meusa – bread roll stuffed with beef spleen. Forget what it is, close your eyes and eat it. You’ll be surprised how good it is. Although I’m not a lover of Caponata (made with eggplant), it hit the spot for Monty. Other food options that you must try: Pane e panelle chickpea fritters. Cazzilli (also known as Crocche) potato croquettes. Sfincione – it’s like an oily pizza topped with onions and cacio cavello cheese. Brioche gelato. Fresh pomegranate juice (called punica granatum in Sicily; melograno in mainland Italy). Barbecued stigghiola – lamb or veal intestines wrapped around green spring onion, cheese and sprigs of parsley and grilled over a charcoal fire.

    After you’ve been hot footing it around the local streets, Maqueda Bistrot’s ice-cold Aperol Spritz are the perfect thirst quencher. The bistro is not far from Quattro Canti and the prices are good too.

    Tips: make a note of the times the markets are open. We arrived at Vucciria market on a Tuesday night. It was 7pm and it was closed. Also note many of the restaurants are closed on Mondays. The best spleen sandwich wasn’t found at the markets, it was at Porta Carbone opposite the marina.


    It was difficult to cull this list, but unmissable destinations while in Palermo are:

    Teatro Massimo – take a guided tour including the Royal Box and adjoining private foyer.

    Palermo Cathedral – walk the roof for a heart-stopping 360 degree view.

    Fountain of Shame – called so because the nuns thought the nude statues were ‘shameful’; because it cost the city a literal fortune to create; because apparently the nuns and the monks used to meet in the catacombs underneath the fountain to enjoy more than just convivial conversation. Which one is factual? Maybe all three.

    Quattro Canti – the centre of the old city’s quarters. featuring main buildings. The facades of the four buildings change at different levels: the first level represents the four seasons, the second Ionic statues of four kings, the top level the four patron saints of the Palermo’s respective districts.  

    Arab-Norman UNESCO Properties – pick up a map of the Arab-Norman monumental itinerary and check out some of the 23 monuments which includes centuries-old royal palaces, chapels, and churches such as San Cataldo Church (pictured below).  


    Our accommodation was a gem. Case Natoli Residenze d’Epoca. We booked the ‘superior studio’ room which could have happily accommodated a family of four. Although it was one room with a kitchenette and separate bathroom, the room’s footprint is huge. Our room afforded a secluded view of Chiesa de Santissimo Salvatore (church). Positioned 50m from the supermarket, 300m from Fontana Pretoria. If you need to do a spot of washing a laundromat is a few minutes’ walk away, located in the main street Via Vittorio Emanuele.


    Mercato di Ballarò, Via Balloro

    Mercato del Capo, Via Capuccinelle

    Vucciria market, Piazza Caracciolo, Castellammare quarter, central Palermo

    Maqueda Bistrot, Via Maqueda

    Pani ca meusa, Panica ‘Meusa Portacbarone

    Case Natoli Residenze d’Epoca, 14 via SS Salvatore, Albergaria, Palermo.

    Where is Palermo

    Sicily’s capital city, Palermo is located on the island’s north-western coast.

    Getting there

    Palermo is connected to mainland Italy via boat or plane. We travelled from Catania to Palermo by road in a comfortable airconditioned bus.

    Please note: Monty and Me is not affiliated with any companies. We do not earn or receive one-off payments from sponsors. All content is our own, unbiased opinion.  Any recommendations are based on our own experiences.

    “Want to see more see more photos of Palermo? Check out

    Vicki Montague is a freelance writer with a predilection for travel, European fashion, architecture that oozes history and charm, and objects that tell a story. She and her partner John are empty nesters - their three adult children have left the comforts of home to carve out their own paths in life. Vicki’s professional background is in marketing and public relations.

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