Discover Palermo: Say hello to the city that's got it all
With Palermo nominated as Italy’s 2018 City of Culture, it is no wonder this diverse city rich in history and surrounded by natural wonders is the new must-visit destination
Despite being devastated during the Second World War, this stunning city has been blessed with substantial redevelopment that pays tribute to its fascinating cultural and historical legacies. Nestled in the Gulf of Palermo, the city is conveniently located in northern Sicily overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea, where it is easy to swap the hustle and bustle for a cool drink on the beach. Palermo’s unique blend of old and new makes it the perfect location for travellers to immerse themselves in a curious city that has something for everyone. To help plan an unforgettable trip, Booking.com, the world-leader in connecting travellers with awesome accommodation and destinations, has put together a selection of tips, tricks and recommended places to stay.
Getting there: Return flights with Ryanair from London Stansted from approx. £81 in May 2017, with a flight time of 3 hours (please note: prices may vary)
Cattedrale di Palermo
The remarkable Palermo Cathedral erected in 1185 by the Archbishop of Palermo, Walter Ophamil, plays testimony to the city’s cultural diversity. Architecturally, the landmark serves as a melting pot for Moorish, Norman, Gothic and Baroque influences - which is reflected in the Cathedral’s long history of alternations. Explore this grand building and its beautiful grounds, or once you’re finished marvelling at its famous buried figures, pop across the road to the park at Villa Bonanno to put your feet up for the afternoon.
For a truly unique experience, take a trip to the Capuchin Catacombs where you can see the largest collection of mummies in the world. Along four, long limestone corridors, around 8,000 mummies are hung unnervingly, with many better preserved than others. Here you can view the body of two-year old Rosalia Lombardo who died in 1920 but whose body is so well embalmed they call her ‘Sleeping Beauty’ – she has been reported to eerily open and close her eyes, what some suggest is the spirit re-entering her body.
Open air markets
Palermo is renowned for its noisy street life and this is reflected in the city’s markets – satisfy your taste buds with all the finest fresh Sicilian street food or simply get lost in a maze of sights, smells and aromas. Whilst Vucciria is the most popular market with tourists, don’t miss out on the Ballaro and Capo alternatives and gorge on some traditional Arancine – luscious balls of rice infused with fillings such as rich pesto or simple ragu.
Dive in head first at Ustica Island
For the adventurers, take a boat to the volcanic island of Ustica known as the ‘The Black Pearl’ due to its black rock formations. Set up as a marine protected area of Sicily, the uncontaminated sea full of rare species makes it the perfect spot for sea lovers. Here you’ll find a host of diving experts ready to assist you in exploring the multitude of creeks, bays and caves.
Feel the heat hiking Monte Pellegrino
When you need a break from the metropolis of Palermo, take a hike on Monte Pellegrino for fresh air and scenery. The 600-metre mountain is located a short bus journey away. At the top you’ll not only be rewarded with sweeping panoramic views of Palermo and the Sicilian coast, but you’ll also get to take a glimpse inside the Sanctuary of Saint Rosalia – the resting place of Palermo’s patron saint.
Live the high life
For sophistication and refinement, head up to the luxurious Seven Restaurant with its breath-taking views of Palermo from its rooftop terrace. Enjoy some authentic Italian tipples during the lounge’s happy hour at 7pm, whilst you unwind and watch the sun go down. To liven up your evening, why not book ahead for an evening of decadence with a trip to one of Italy’s most prestigious opera houses, the six-tiered Teatro Massimo, featured in the film The Godfather. The venue offers a myriad of operas, ballets and concerts.
The easiest way to see the key sights in Palermo is by foot; this makes a great alternative to Palermo’s general bus services which are often overcrowded. This way you’ll be able to discover hidden churches and stumble upon the locals’ favourite hotspots. You could alternatively take a ride on the endearing horse and carriages that adorn Palermo’s roads – but be wary that many carriage and taxi drivers boost prices for tourists!
Where to stay
Porta di Castro
For the fun-seekers and young hearted, the Porta di Castro guesthouse is beautifully set in a restored townhouse dating back to the 1500s. These comfortable apartments offer well-equipped rooms each boasting quirky and unique features. Fresh fruit and warm croissants are served for breakfast on the balcony, perfect for travellers looking for an alfresco bite to eat.
Palco Rooms & Suites
This futuristic and exclusive boutique hotel is the heart of the city, rated 9.8/10 for location and some rooms enjoy views over the iconic Teatro Massimo. All rooms offer eye-catching city views and a peaceful oasis to relax in, filled with thoughtful touches such as iPhone/iPod docking stations and Nespresso Coffee systems.
For the conscious traveller, take a stay in the luxurious eco-friendly Aquarooms in the historic centre of Palermo, a particular favourite part of the city for travellers. Made with natural materials and bio-building techniques, each room is designed to let you fully unwind with a spa bath, sensory shower and Wi-Fi. Ideally located, Aquarooms is a mere 900m from the Palermo Cathedral and other key sights are on its doorstep.
Il Giardino di Ballara B&B
The historic Il Giardino di Ballaro boasts a spacious courtyard and garden, and interiors incorporating 18th Century stone arches, combined with modern furnishings and balconies with garden views. There is a traditional Sicilan breakfast served every morning, and the property is rated 9.2/10 for comfort by Booking.com reviewers.
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