Walking tour Palermo
The capital of Sicily is a city of many places to see. The long history of this city and its many civilizations and peoples has made Palermo a place of notable artistic and architectural heritage. There are the Arab-Norman sites of Palermo, as well as the cathedrals of Cefalù and Monreale, which are recognised as monuments of the city and declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2015. Many buildings, including churches and palaces, have become important national monuments.
So here’s our recommendations for enjoying the best of Palermo: what to see, what to eat, what to know, and much more.
To get to know the Arab-Norman aspects of the city, take a walking itinerary in Palermo and start with the Palazzo dei Normanni, with its stunning Palatine chapel and its royal apartments, then going on to church San Giovanni degli Eremiti nearby, famous for its red domes, and the impressive Cathedral, home to the gowns of Sicilian royalties and Saint Rosalia, the patron saint of the city. Moving towards the centre, in the area of the crossroads ‘Quattro Canti’, you’ll discover the stunning mosaics of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio, known as the Martorana, beside the church of San Cataldo. Further from the centre there are the civil buildings Zisa and Cuba, and the churches San Giovanni dei lebbrosi and Santo Spirito.
– Spanish domination has left its mark on Palermo, leaving the legacy of Baroque, such as in the San Guiseppe dei Teatini church in Piazza Pretoria, the church of Jesus and the adjacent Casa Professa in the Ballarò quarter, as well as the church San Salvatore, from the dome of which you get an absolutely magnificent view of the city. Also worth seeing are the churches in which you can find the stucco of Serpotta, a family of sculptors who created a type of clear stucco so refined it seems like marble.To see this, you need to visit the Oratories of Rosario di Santa Cita and San Lorenzo, or the San Francesco church (also for its Romanesque facade).
– Palermo also went through a period of Liberty art. The main protagonist of this style was Ernesto Basile and his works can be admired at the houses Florio, Ida and Favaloro, at the Hotel Villa Igiea, the kiosk Ribaudo, but above all else on the finishing touches of the Teatro Massimo.
-Amongst the many influences that cannot go forgotten are those of the Greek and Latin periods, most notably illustrated by Teatro Massimo, one of the most important monuments of Palermo, the largest opera house in Italy and the third largest in Europe (after Paris and Vienna).
All this a true reflection of a rich and incredibly eclectic Mediterranean culture and civilization, and this is why Palermo, with its diverse beauty, has retained the charm of ancient civilizations, brought to life also by local customs.
To live this wonderful city like a real ‘local’, we recommend you take part in guided Palermo walking tours.
Monuments, churches and palaces recount the history of the city, but to truly understand the spirit of the city you need something more. It’s the smells and the colours, the bellowing of street-sellers typical of the markets, the folklore and the narrow alleyways where you’ll find everything you need, these are the things that truly capture the traveller.
The famous traditional outdoor markets are la Vucciria, Ballarò and the Capo market, where you’ll find meat, fish, fruit and vegetables on stalls of every colour.
According to the magazine Forbes’ Top 10 cities for street food, Palermo comes in as Number 1 in Europe and Number 5 in the world for its rich and varied foods that bring together the influences of Arabic, Jewish, Spanish and Norman cultures, as well as many others who have touched down on Sicilian soil.
You can check out the ‘street delicacies’ at ‘friggitorie’ or at the numerous street sellers dotted around all over the city, selling from their ‘lape’ or carts. To find out more about a traditional street food walking tour Palermo click here.
– Saint Rosalia: the patron saint and protector of the city, Saint Rosalia is celebrated in a huge festa during the 14-15 July, including processions and incredible pyrotechnic displays.
– Saints Week: during this period consecutive spectacular processions recount the death of Christ. The most important are those of Cocchieri, Confraternita di Maria SS. Addolorata, Soledad and Cassari.
– Christmas markets: at this time some of the streets of the city centre become magical places of many colours and lights. You can pass an evening visiting different little markets with market stalls selling everything from pottery to homemade jams, as well as the unmissable street food village.
– No mafia walking tour Palermo: take a 1-day tour through the city centre looking from a different perspective; from those good honest citizens of the city that have risked their own lives in their fight against the mafia.
– Surf and windsurf: that rush of catching a wave and riding it to the shoreline is a feeling that everybody should experience. And if you do it at Isola delle Femmine, it’s even better!
– Boat tour: enjoy an unforgettable full day or night on a sail boat around Mondello bay and go snorkelling.
– Wine tasting: last but not least, for the wine-lovers, come and experience the beautiful landscapes of vineyards and ancient wine presses, where you can taste some of the finest Sicilian wines. There are a range of winecellars to visit for tastings accompanied with classic Sicilian foods, or a special lunch or dinner to enjoy and learn about Palermitan viticulture.
Tourists often have some concerns about what awaits them in Sicily and in particular in Palermo. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:
How safe is Palermo for tourists? Palermo is a safe city but we advise you to take all necessary safety precautions, as one would in any big city.
Is there still the mafia in Palermo? It is still a phenomenon present in the city, but not like it was in the 1980s, so don’t worry. Your walking tour Palermo will be amazing!
How accepting is Palermo to lesbians or gay people?
Palermo is a city moving with the times and it is generally a tolerant city with a significant gay and lesbian community. There are a number of bars in the city that have gay and lesbian nights.
‘Exit Drink’ for example organises regular evenings and events, and Butticè is known as a gay-friendly winebar.
The annual Gay Pride celebration is an important and very popular event for the gay community and not only.