In this Sicilian travel blog, I will give you tips, information and inspirations on the Palermo Region of Sicily. In this part of Sicily: you can see the treasures of the hillside town Monreale, explore the historical centre and markets of Palermo, and chill on the beach at the most popular beach close to Palermo; Mondello. See below my route and tips and information on my accommodations, restaurants and places to visit in vibrant Palermo, Sicily! Many travelers will arrive here in Palermo on their tour around Sicily; Catania was my start and end destination.
Treasures of Monreale
Plan for that day was to drive from San Vito Lo Cabo to Palermo, with a lunchbreak at Monreale to visit the World Heritage listed Cattedrale di Monreale. This Norman architecture is the greatest of its kind in Europe and has the most beautiful mosaic and medieval interior. Monreale is a hillside village, only 7 km from Palermo and has a perfect view over Palermo and the Tyrrhenian Sea.
I parked the car at Parcheggio Comunale; which was free during my visit. From here you walk up the stairs to Via Torres right into the historical centre Monreale; with the Cathedral on your right hand. The entrance of the cathedral is free, except for the chapel, terrace and cloister you must pay 10 EUR. I went only into the main area which was already stunning.
The cathedral was finished in 10 years in 1184 with Norman, Arab and Byzantine elements; considered one of the most impressive architectural legacies of the Italian Middle Ages. The bible tales are shown in 42 mosaic episodes; a must see for everyone, even for an atheist.
Tip: Walk to the right on Via B. d’Acquisto; from here you have a Panoramic View over Palermo and Tyrrhenian Sea.
Strolling through the streets of Monreale which are steep and downhill at times, it was time for a good plate of pasta. I sat outside at the Osteria Peper’s Pub at Via Cappuccini Palermo. My primi piatti, pistachio pasta with ricotta (12 EUR), was delicious and loved the vibe of this restaurant in the street next to the Monreale Cathedral.
Explore Fantastic Palermo
Time to head to Palermo the Capital of Sicily. I heard good stories about this vibrant city and was looking forward exploring. Palermo has a rich culture and historical buildings on one side and on the other side very modern shopping streets with trendy bars and restaurants. It is a good mix! Here my 7 tips and inspirations to do and see here in Palermo:
1. Visit one of the Local Markets
I love foreign markets; you get the real local feeling and see and smell the fresh ingredients. Palermo has two famous markets: Mercato del Capo in the Il Capo quarter and Mercato di Ballarò in the Albergheria quarter. I visited them both on my walk through the city. The later has more cloths and households’ stalls, but also a very nice lane with street food restaurants; perfect to eat the local dishes at one of the stalls. When strolling after my lunch you can see that they are already cleaning and closing the stalls. The markets are a great variety for the cultural buildings during your tour through Palermo.
Tip: Visit the markets in the morning for the most activity.
Tip: Try to eat some street food at one of the market stalls; local, fresh, divers and cheap food!
Be Aware: Keep an eye on your belongings while strolling the markets, you could get robbed here in the busy streets.
2. Pray in the Cattedrale di Palermo
One of the many highlights here in Palermo is the Cattedrale di Palermo in the Il Capo quarter. Sicily if full of beautiful historical churches and cathedrals but this is another piece of art. All is so beautiful, the piazza in front of the cathedral, the outside and the inside. I must admit, during my trip I lost counting how many stunning buildings I entered and at some point, I had seen too much; I must alternate it with other activities. But this Arab-Norman architectural is a must visit on your trip to Palermo. The view on top of the cathedral must be amazing too.
3. Shop till you Drop
Perfect to alternate your cultural visits; Palermo is great for shopping. They have modern shopping, car free, streets with high and lower end shops. In the evening I walked from Quattro Canti (my hotel was in this area) in one straight line to Via della Libertà, where the more high-end shops are. You will pass Via Maqueda which is a mix with shops and eateries and Via Ruggero Settimo has more common chain shops. Loved to stroll and watch the shopping windows and end up eating in one of the eateries.
4. Admire Capella Palatina
Very high on the must visit list here in Palermo is the Capella Palatina in the Palazzo dei Normanni; which is part of the Sicilian regional parliament. The entrance fee is 10 EUR to visit only the chapel and garden outside; the apartments were closed during my visit. One advantage of Covid-19 was, that there were no queues.
The Capella Palatina has glittering gold mosaics with inlaid marble floors and wooden ceilings. You can really see the Arabic influences here. I sat here a while on the benches on the side just to admire the breathtaking interior; what a work must this have been. Not only the mosaics are stunning, the muqarnas, wooden ceiling is unique too. I was still surprised by the beauty of this small chapel; after seeing already many other churches and cathedrals in Sicily.
5. Chill in the Harbor and Park
Time to rest and not wandering through the busy city; go to the Porticciolo della Cala. Here the smaller boats are located, and you get a nice harbor view with same nice restaurants around. I love being around the waterfront and I walked further to the attached park Parco della Salute Livia Morello; here you see the local people train, play football and exercise. You see a lot of people running around this park and the next Foro Italico; which is a promenade at the waterfront with a lawn, benches and some sculptures. Loved to chill here at the end of the day.
6. Tour through the Teatro Massimo
The build of the Teatro Massimo took 20 years; but then you have the largest opera house in Italy. You can get a 30 min tour around the Teatro, but was closed during my Covid-19 period. Better to get a ticket of a performance during your visit, hard to plan and find a ticket but for the lovers is this a must do.
7. Many Highlights around Quattro Canti
The Quattro Canti or the Four Corners; are the heart of the old city of Palermo. At this square you have a couple of highlights within 50 meters. First the Quattro Canti itself, this intersection has a perfect circle of facades. Each facade lights up by the sun turning throughout the day; Theatre of the Sun is the nickname. It’s a late-Renaissance style and constructed around 17th century. Around the corner you fill find the Chiesa di San Giuseppe dei Padri Teatini and Chiesa di Santa Caterina d’Alessandria.
All the historical monuments are built around the Fontana Pretoria. This fountain was built in Florence in 1554 and transferred to Palermo 20 years later. The fountain represents Greek mythological figures, animals and the rivers of Palermo. At the other side of the square the Municipio or Town Hall is located. And behind the Municipio you will find two other churches and Teatro Bellini. Like I said, many beautiful highlights very close to each other.
Where to Stay and Eat in Palermo
I booked my hotel B&B Hotel Palermo Quattro Canti in the historical centre of Palermo for two nights (69 EUR per night). The location is perfect next to the Quattro Canti highlights and shopping streets. The hotel is renovated but not all is fresh and newly done; the bathroom was still old and definitely not fresh and new. The fresh paint and decorations are doing just the trick, but not more than that. B&B hotels are part of a chain in Europe, I didn’t know that, thought it was more of a boutique style hotel. The main appealing of this hotel next to location, was the roof terrace; perfect to chill in the evening and look down on Fontana Pretoria.
Tip: Parking is difficult in the city centre. My hotel suggested to park it at San Matteo private parking 50 meters away, for 10 EUR per day with discount from the hotel.
After having a street food lunch at Mercato di Ballarò, dinner was a simple combo of Pizza slices and Aperol Spritz (7 EUR) at BIGA Genio e Farina on Via Maqueda. Perfect for a delicious, fresh pizza and you can choose from many variations and combinations. This is a trendy take-away and you can sit outside as well and watch the people walking by; perfect for a solo traveler like me!
Hic! La Folie du Vin: Top Pick in the Lonely Planet and is popular with 30- and 40-plus locals; perfect to spot some handsome Italian men. I was sitting at a wine barrel outside and the wine (5 EUR) comes with a lot of snacks like peanuts, crisps, olives and local pizza bread. Great hangout for the late afternoon to watch mainly local people; big recommendation. I saw more nice bars and fancy restaurants in this New City quarter in Palermo; check it out!
NonnAngé Bakery & Coffee Palermo: Great place for breakfast; something different that the standard sweet Italian breakfast. I had a combo with avocado on toast and yogurt with of course a cappuccino (10 EUR total). I loved the vibe and decoration of this place at Via Sant’Agostino, a side street of the main Via Maqueda. Perfect if you want something different!
Chill on the Beach of Mondello
Before heading to my next destination Cefalù, I drove 11 km up to the nearest beach of Palermo called Mondello. Even on a Wednesday in September is was packed with people from Palermo. Mondello is considered a high-class beach with mainly people who have money to spent. The precious pier is an eyecatcher at the seafront and luxurious summer villas all around the Mondello bay. The white sandy beach is gorgeous, if not full of private loungers and umbrella (20 EUR per day), and the crystal-clear turquoise waters are hard to resist. I had to search for a public beach, which were packed too, but nice to cool off in the shallow waters of Mondello.
Tip: Get your parking tickets at one of the stalls at the beach, for 1 EUR per hour. Don’t forget to scratch the time like me…