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  • Writer's pictureAmar Dhaliwal

Palermo, Sicily - June 2023

Updated: Oct 3, 2023

Palermo!! What a city!!


We arrived in Palermo by coach from Siracusa. The journey from the south east of Sicily to the north west took 3.15 hours by coach (we paid a very reasonable €15.20 per person for tickets with Interbus).


A part of Italy but also a place apart. Palermo is melting pot of Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Norman and Spanish history and also a melting pot of modern European, African, Middle Eastern and South Asian migration. I found it full of welcoming and warm people.


Palermo is known for its distinctive dialect, street food and markets, medieval churches and palazzos of many style, faded and often shabby Baroque buildings. Palermo is undergoing a transformation though. Modern restaurants, cocktail bars, natural wine emporiums and new museums and art galleries are adding a new kind of buzz.


Make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes. Like any major city there is petty street crime so look after your belongings and keep your eyes and ears open.


In the sections below, I have only listed places that I have personally visited.

 

Staying


Hotel Pontemare, (map)

  • Nice modern hotel in the marina district. Very nice and spacious rooms, helpful staff, good breakfast, etc. Only a 10-15 minute walk to the center.

  • We paid €125 per night before taxes.

 

Eating


Ristorante Ferro (map)

  • We found this restaurant on our first evening in Palermo at just the right moment.. meaning that we did not have a reservation and managed to nab the very last table they had!

  • It was a lovely June evening and all the diners were seated on the patio - a tidy space made private by hedges. We were welcomed with both warmth and a glass of prosecco on the house.

  • The menu is compact and gives the impression of being updated regularly. We shared a salmon carpaccio to start and then ordered a pasta and a steak as our main plates.


  • It must be said that food took a while to come out but it was delicious when it arrived. The service was very courteous and attentive. We enjoyed our meal here very much. Delightful food. Delightful staff.

  • Our meal, with a nice bottle of white wine, was €90. Highly recommended.

Planta (map)

  • We had walked by Planta on the way back to our hotel a couple of times and there was a nice buzz about the place. Discovering that it was small plates restaurant (a style we like) we decided to try it out one evening.

  • The space is modern and cool and the atmosphere was further enhanced on the evening we were there by a large party celebrating a birthday. They often have a DJ playing tunes and stay open still quite late.

  • On our visit they had just the one dinner option consisting of a platter of mixed hot and cold snacks and appetizers at €16 per person. We ordered for two and as soon as it arrived we knew we had a made a mistake - too much food and too much of it as carbs.


  • Overall all a lovely spot, in a interesting neighbourhood, with a cool vibe and lovely staff. We did not, however, enjoy the food very much but the online reviews are generally positive and that means that others do like the platters they serve. Including a bottle of white wine we paid €57. Recommended.


Cala Pollo & Co (map)

  • We had passed by this bustling joint as part of a food tour the night before and our guide was raving about the roast chicken they serve and we had to check it out for dinner.

  • The first really good sign, Cala Pollo & Co is mainly frequented by locals - picking up food to take away, picking up food to eat while sitting on the hood of their cars, or families waiting for one of the tables on the patio. The scene is chaotic, cars are not double but triple parked, long lines of people hanging about on the pavement, delivery drivers buzzing in and around on their scooters. When you arrive look for the host and give her/him your name and be prepared to wait. On a busy evening this could easily be 45 to 60 minutes.


  • When we got our table, we ordered a kebab, mezzo (half) roast chicken, and some beers. The food was delicious. The skin of the roast chicken, in particular, was amazing - crispy and lemony. Including 3 beers we paid €32. Highly recommended.


Trattoria Typical Siciliana Da Peppe e Franco (map)

  • We stumbled across this trattoria while looking for a lunch spot near Teatro Massimo. Situated in a side street lined with restaurants, Da Peppe e Franco stood out for being busy and welcoming.

  • The menu, as the name suggests, is traditional and we opted for a shared salad to start with spaghetti alla carrettiera (a Sicilian classic of garlic, oil, chilli and parsley) and spaghetti vongole to follow.

  • The food was excellent, as was the service. Including a bottle of white wine we paid €60. Recommended.


Nni Franco U Vastiddaru (map)

  • Panini and pigeons!!

  • This place is a bit of an institution for panini. Situated on the corner of a tree covered square close to the marina district, it was bustling for lunch service, however, we got seated quite quickly.

  • Nothing fancy here - think sandwiches wrapped in paper, plastic cutlery, fast food service,

  • If you want to eat like a local then order the panino con la milza (spleen sandwich) - not my cup of tea to be honest.

  • Expect to pay between €5 and €8 per panini. Recommended


Ristorante Al Covo dei Beati Paoli (map)

  • This restaurant has a beautiful setting on south side of Giardino Garibaldi - but that's about all there is to commend it from our lunch experience there.

  • The restaurant was empty (it's vast inside by the way) and yet the manager was turning away people - all was explained when a tour bus stopped and 50 people got out for a guided lunch!

  • We arrived well before the tour group and yet the service was slow and the food not very good - we ordered a spaghetti vongole and a spaghetti pomodoro.

  • Including two glasses of white wine we paid €45. Give it a miss.


Palermo Night Street Food Tour (map)

  • One of our favourite things to do in any new city we visit is to take a evening food tour. In Palermo one of the best reviewed food tour companies is Streatly.

  • Having paid €57 per person (including taxes and fees) we met our guide at 7.00pm at the main gates of the opera house

  • Over the next three hours Claudio led our group of 7 on a meander through Friday night Palermo. We tried various street food including croquettes, soft Sicilian pizza, crostino, and the somewhat challenging Spleen Sandwich. The tour also includes a couple of glasses of wine along the way.


  • The highlight for me was the walk through the Mercato della Vucciria - by 9.00pm it was jammed but Claudio reliably informed us that things were just getting started and by 2.00am would be really rocking!!

  • Our tour ended at Gelateria La Kala - delicious.

  • We gave a €20 tip to the guide at the end of the night but this is purely discretionary. Highly recommended.

 

Drinking


Sartoria Cocktail Bar (map)

  • This little cocktail bar (just north of Via Roma) had appeared on a list somewhere and so we made the pilgrimage to this interesting part of town. Sartoria seems to be frequented mostly by locals which is always a nice vibe.

  • This is a proper cocktail bar with the mixologists putting out the classics and also a nicely curated list of their own creations.


  • The are cocktails made with care, attention, and good ingredients so expect to pay between €7 and €12 per cocktail. Highly recommended


Mak Mixology (map)

  • We stumbled upon this bar on our first night in Palermo as we were walking along Via Maqueda and getting our bearings. Located in the covered court yard of a run down palazzo, Mak Mixology has the ultimate shabby chic vibe.

  • It was still early in the evening when we sat down and so it was quiet, but this place gets crazy later on.

  • We ordered a glass of wine and a classic gin martini and both cocktails were on point.

  • These are cocktails made with good ingredients and attention so expect to pay between €10 and €15 per cocktail. Recommended


Terzo Tempo Cocktail Lab (map)

  • This is a great cocktail bar in the shadow of the lovely Chiesa di Sant'Ignazio all'Olivella.

  • We stopped by one evening on our way to dinner and ordered a Sidecar and a Negroni, both of which were great.


  • The owner and staff are very welcoming and we really enjoyed the people watching - including a lovely wedding party that exited the church as we sat!

  • Expect to pay around €8 for a glass of wine and €10 to €12 for a cocktail per. Highly recommended

 

Doing


Cattedrale di Palermo (map)

  • There is no better first stop of the things to do in Palermo that the wonderful cathedral.

  • As you walk there go via the Quattro Canti (the unofficial cross roads of Palermo) and the grand Fontana Pretoria. Both spectacular.


  • The Cathedral dates back to 1185 and since that date has accumulated a variety of architectural styles including Islamic, Byzantine, and Norman. It's a beautiful place to visit - on the rainy day we went it was calm and welcoming.

  • Entrance is free. Recommended.


Palazzo dei Normanni (map)

  • If you are in Palermo you have to visit the Palazzo dei Normanni (the royal palace).

  • When there, head directly to the Cappella Palatina, the gilded chapel of the Norman Kings and be blown away by the golden Byzantine mosaics.


  • The refurbished palm-tree-shaded gardens of the neighboring Villa Bonanno now make the walk there more pleasant, as would a route past the city’s grandiose cathedral in all its Norman-Moorish-Gothic-neo-Classical glory.

  • The Palazzo dei Normanni also hosts temporary exhibitions on the first floor, on our visit there was a wonderful show by the artist Omar Hassan.

  • Entrance fee €19 per person. Highly recommended.


Oratorio del SS. Rosario in Santa Cita (map)

  • One of our favourite TV programs about the history, art, culture and food of Italy is "Italy Unpacked" presented by art historian, Andrew Graham-Dixon, and chef, Georgio Locatteli. It is fair to say that "Italy Unpacked" has informed so much of our travels this most wonderful country.

  • On their visit to Palermo, Graham-Dixon declared that the baroque-style church of Santa Cita is one of his most favourite anywhere. We had to visit and see it ourselves.


  • The church was a little hard to find, walked past it several times, but more than worth it for the moment of discovery.

  • Everywhere you look there are baroque sculptures made of stucco, not one or two but hundreds. This is truly an incredible, unique, must visit, place of worship.

  • Entrance fee €4 per person. Highly recommended.


Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri (map)

  • In the same episode of Italy Unpacked, Graham-Dixon, and Locatteli view the most famous modern painting of Palermo, Renato Guttuso’s “La Vucciria”. Their joy at this painting made it a must see and it is wonderful!!


  • The Palazzo Chiaramonte Steri, now a part of the University of Palermo, turned out to be an interesting visit in its own right. It was the location of the Spanish viceroys of Sicily and the home of the tribunal of the holy Inquisition. The rooms where the prisoners were housed (the walls covered with their proclamations to god, country, and king) are endlessly fascinating. Also look out for the painted wooden ceiling by Cecco di Naro on the second floor is what is now a lecture hall.

  • Entrance fee €5 per person - which includes a guided tour. Highly recommended.


Teatro Massimo (map)

  • The opera house of Palermo is truly grand, Italy's largest in fact. It's a beautiful ochre coloured building and a very popular meeting point.

  • I did not recall, but the opera house is maybe most famous for the fact that the final scenes of “The Godfather Part III” were played out on its steps!


  • You can take a guided tour for €12. Highly recommended.

  • There was, unfortunately, no opera productions when we were there. We did, however, get tickets to see a modern ballet of Carmen. Wonderful experience.


Chiesa di San Domenico (map)

  • Chiesa di San Domenico is a Baroque-style Roman Catholic church is the largest building of worship in Sicily.

  • The church is located on Piazza San Domenico on Via Roma and has seen better days - renovations are constantly underway.

  • A special reason to visit Chiesa di San Domenico is that the tomb of Giovanni Falcone, one of Palermo's most adored sons, lies there.

  • Falcone, was the anti-mafia judge, who was assassinated by the Corleonesi mafia on 23 May 1992. Falcone's murder followed by the assassination of magistrate Paolo Borsellino just a few weeks later led to public outrage and delivered the first cracks in the code of silence that had protected the mafia until then.

  • The messages left at the tomb of Falcone are the heartfelt thanks of ordinary people for the ultimately bravery and sacrifice.


  • The is no entrance fee but a donation is appreciated. Highly recommended.





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