Sicily’s capital is a treat. As with many of the island’s towns, it’s a patchwork of multiple cultures and traditions covering 3000 years. Greek, Roman, Norman, Arab and Spanish antiquities seem to appear around almost every corner, and the markets’ fresh produce make this one of the best places to eat in the whole of Italy.
Cultural highlights include the architecturally diverse Norman cathedral built between the twelfth and the eighteenth centuries. The gardens of Villa Bonanno are a great place to stroll, and the ancient ruins of the Paleopolis evoke Palermo’s earliest history. At the Palatine Chapel you can enjoy the combined artistic heritage of the Arabs, Byzantines and Normans, while the ninth-century Palazzo dei Normanni is an astounding confection of luxurious decoration.
As you wander the medieval streets and alleys, make your way to the tempting city markets of Vucciria, Ballarò and Capo to see the locals shopping for lunch or to pick up some unforgettable street food. Suitably emboldened, you’re now ready for the old Arab-Norman fortifications and the domed wonder of St John of the Hermits. If you don’t mind a dusty old skeleton or two, head down into the catacombs and say ‘hi’ to some of Palermo’s earlier visitors.
There are also plenty of excursions from the city. Piazza Armerina is a town in the center of the island where you can explore the UNESCO-listed Villa Romana del Casale: a well preserved example of a deluxe Roman villa with lavish mosaics, thermal baths, a basilica and courtyard. Sicilians have always known how to live well!