We arrived in Palermo during a late afternoon. The warm air caressed our faces as we were leaving the plane, and we saw the mountains surrounding the airport.
From Falcone-Borsellino airport there are two ways to get downtown: Trinacria Express train (the journey takes about 60 minutes, trains depart twice in both directions, it costs 5.80 Euro / person) or Prestia e Comande bus – it takes 40-50 minutes, the bus leaves every 30 minutes – the program is here for airport-Palermo or here for Palermo-airport, costs 6 Euro / person or 10 Euro / person return). We preferred the bus, got a ticket from the airport (you can also buy it from the driver) and we got down to the station – Stazione Centrale, at the end. There is also the option to take a taxi, but it is totally not recommended. It is very possible to pay more than it should cost, that is, at least 50 Euros per journey. If you do not have an alternative, try negotiating with the driver at the beginning of the trip, not in the car or at the destination.
We chose to stay in the center and walked around the old town, the harbor, the museums. I did not use any public transport, nor did I get a hop on-hop off bus. I recommend you to take care of your bags, as in any tourist city, especially in crowded areas.
The food is absolutely delicious, I’ve made some recommendations. I mentioned sights that have an entrance ticket, but most of them I have seen for free. For example, if you visit churches on Sunday morning, chances are of not paying for entrance. Here are 3 pedestrian tours and my comments:
- Royal Palace (Norman Palace) and Palatine Chapel.
At this place I felt a bit tricked, because I couldn’t see either the garden nor the Royal Apartments. We were unable to visit them because Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are the parliamentarians’ working days; so I visited only the Palatine Chapel (which is, indeed, gorgeous), the Santa Rosalia exhibition and the inner courtyards. Entry: 10 Euro or 12 Euro (including Royal Apartments). Program: 8: 15-17: 40, Monday-Saturday & 8: 15-13: 00 Sunday.
- Turning left as you leave the Palace, cross the park and reach Corso Vittorio Emanuele where you see Porta Nuova on your left. The Palermo Cathedral is located down the street and is worth visiting inside. Entrance is free, but to see the roof view costs 5 Euro.
- Walking along Vittorio Emanuele street you will reach the Piazza dei Quattro Canti – the 4-corner square with statues and fountains in every corner.
- Turn right from the market above on via Maqueda and you will see Piazza and the Pretoria Fountain called “The Shame Fountain”. Around the fountain there are medieval buildings.
- If you go further on via Maqueda you can see another square where there are no less than 3 churches. There are many churches in Palermo, some of them were mosques and they were adapted to Christianity. Before, there was no fee for visiting them, but nowadays the visit fee is around 2-3 Euro. Visit the Church of Santa Maria dell’Ammiraglio – Chiesa della Martorana built in Arabic-Norman style in 1140, the one with tower; entrance: 2 Euro. The Byzantine mosaic is exquisite, and the wooden door is an example of Islamic sculpture. Next to it is the Church of San Cataldo, an architectural jewel built in 1160. The Church of Santa Caterina d’Alessandria is located opposite these two.
- If you are hungry and want to explore the local lifestyle, I suggest the Ballaro market, on via del Ponticello. The atmosphere is lively, the merchandise is shouted by sellers, the people are shopping on the scooter, it smells like fresh fish and Sicilian lifestyle.
The market is quite long, there are plenty of goodies to see and taste. There are also bistros or restaurants which prepare food on the spot, and the local atmosphere is one that you should see and feel. Try carciofi (artichokes), it is a specific vegetable for southern Italy; ask how to eat it (e.g do not eat the puff inside). We bought ready-made food (octopus salad and shellfish soup) which we ate at our accommodation. Try seafood and taste the local pastry. Cannoli is a dessert made with a crispy shell filled with ricotta cream. I ate a good cannoli at a pastry shop on Via Vittorio Emanuele.
- Visit freely the historic city center at noon after lunch.
- Another day in this kissed-by-the-sun town can start with a walk in Villa Giulia‘s garden .
- In the garden of Chiaramonte Palace – Steri you can see the grandiose figurines and the statue of Nicolae Balcescu, a Romanian revolutionary.
- It is worth seeing Mirto Palace, the residence of the Filangers family for four centuries. A typical Sicilian architecture with sumptuous interiors, walls covered in silk and many artworks. Program: Tuesday to Saturday. Entrance: 6 Euros or 10 Euros, to see 3 museums: the Mirto Palace,
- Abatellis Palace and
- Oratorio dei Bianchi nearby.
- A guided tour of Comitini Palace can be done from Monday to Friday at 9.30, 10.30, 11.30, 12.30, 15.30 and 16.30. This baroque palace built in the 18th century was the residence for Prince of Gravina and today is the seat of the City Hall.
- On the way to Porta Felice you face the sea and the harbor. If you are hungry, stop at Franco u Vastiddaru to have a Vastiddaru panini or whatever you want. The sandwiches here were delicious and quite cheap. Usually there’s a queue, but it goes quickly. We packed them and had a picnic in the harbor.
- Zisa Palace is a UNESCO castle that is worth seeing at least outdoors. It was built in the 12th century in Moorish style by King William I and continued by his son, William II. The residence was designed for summer as part of a larger hunting ensemble called Genoardo (Jannat al-arḍ in Arabic means Paradise on Earth). The interior is lame, the walls are empty, but it is interesting that the building’s design included a water-flow system to cool the building, some sort of air conditioning. Entrance: 6 Euro.
- Close to Zisa Palace is the Villino Florio , one of the most appreciated Art Nouveau European buildings. It was built between 1899 and 1902 by the Florio family with the help of architect Ernesto Basile, in eclectic and romantic elements. After the family’s golden age, the house fell into disgrace and following an attack by the Sicilian mafia, the building was set on fire in 1962 which affected much of the interior. It can only be visited at events or on the first Sunday of the month.
- Villa Malfitano-Whitaker is built in neo-Renaissance style by Joseph Whitaker, a prominent figure of the nineteenth century, a bourgeois descendant of a British family; Joseph made a fortune producing and selling Marsala wine. Joseph and his wife, Tina, held sumptuous parties here, hosting even the kings of England, Edward VII in 1907 and George V in 1925. The garden is nice. Entrance: 6 Euro.
- The NoMafia Museum located in the center tells stories about mobsters and bandits, about their lives and their capture. It has free entrance.
- From Via Vittorio Emanuele, turn left onto Via Maqueda. You can eat relatively inexpensively at the Biso bistro just near the intersection. It was recommended to us by a resident of the city.
- Walk on via Maqueda until you get to Teatro Massimo . Online tickets for performances have decent prices, but even the outside of the theater is spectacular. The theater can be visited inside for 8 Euros. Details here.
- After Teatro Massimo, on Via Maqueda you walk to the Politeama area where you can admire the Politeama Garibaldi Theater .
May I suggest that before visiting Palermo, you read the novel The Leopard written by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, after which the film was made. The writer’s house can be admired in Palermo, you can even stay in the apartments inside. In a separate post I will tell you about the prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and his friend, Paolo Borsellino, who fought against the Sicilian mafia and whose story was made a movie.
What other beautiful places did you discover in Palermo?
Flight: Ryanair from Bucharest, 30 Euro.