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Palermo Travel Guide

About Palermo

Invaded by Arabs, Normans and Byzantines, Palermo is a thrilling jumble of architectural styles – a city that seems to alter with every turn. Arab domes merge into Norman cathedrals while 19th-century theatres square up to imposing baroque churches. This is a city blessed with a rich past, but full of the bustle of the modern age, not to mention a terrific nightlife in glorious, crumbling piazzas.

Strolling the Sicilian capital, there’s treasure to be found on every street. Don’t miss the sumptuous Palazzo dei Normanni (Palace of the Normans), glittering with mosaics. In La Kalsa, the old medieval quarter, washing is still strung between the narrow streets. Elsewhere, elegant residential districts with palm trees and palatial villas can be found, and although motorcycles plague its busy streets, Palermo's noisy, chaotic atmosphere is part of its charm.

Aside from the quaint churches, grisly catacombs and lively markets, both beaches and hilly countryside are within easy reach of Palermo. Stunning architecture can be found in the little satellite towns of Monreale and Cefalù, both with their own Byzantine mosaics and churches. The island of Sicily is not huge, so it’s easy to make longer trips using Palermo as a base. It takes less than four hours to cross its length, from west to east.

Palermo’s rich multicultural past is evident in its gastronomy. Arab-influenced dishes include the zesty lemon granita drink, crumbly almond pastries and spicy fish couscous. Try panelle (fritters made from chickpea flour) or calzoni (deep-fried dough pockets with savoury fillings) at street stalls all over the city. Gastronomic adventurers may be tempted by the local delicacy known as babalucci – baby snails marinated in parsley, olive oil and garlic.

As has been dramatised in Hollywood and elsewhere, Sicily was long in the grip of the Mafia (Cosa Nostra). Although the city is full of beautiful monuments, many historic buildings were destroyed in the post-war years due to unregulated construction. Today, there are still problems with corruption and organised crime, but Palermo’s sun-drenched streets, glorious ruins and natural splendours are now the symbols of the city, not the mob.

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Featured Hotels


Grand Hotel Etes des Palmes

The sumptuous rooms of this historical, city centre hotel are decorated with antique furniture and fine fabrics. Founded in 1874, and renovated by one of the great masters of the art nouveau style, Ernesto Basile, in 1907, this has been the haunt of Italian socialites, writers, musicians and film stars for more than a century.

Hotel Garibaldi

In the heart of Palermo's shopping area, Hotel Garibaldi is a decent, moderately priced stay. Recently renovated, all rooms are now modern with funky fabrics and contemporary photographic prints bringing them to life. Wi-Fi, LCD TVs and tea and coffee making facilities are among the home comforts.

Centrale Palace Hotel

In the historic centre, near the Quattro Canti, this luxury hotel has 103 rooms and 11 suites, all tastefully decorated. Breakfast is served in a grand restaurant. There is a roof terrace for evening drinks and a grand red Sicilian marble staircase for those who like to make an entrance.

Hotel Principe di Villafranca

It may have just 34 rooms, but this stylish hotel makes up for size with an intimate restaurant and bar, and a cosy reading room with an intriguing collection of books. Located in the city centre, close to some top fashion boutiques, it is conveniently place for shopaholics. Expect a refined atmosphere and elegant furnishings.

Grand Hotel Villa Igiea

At Acquasanta, 3km (2 miles) north of the city, this 5-star hotel, restored by renowned 19th century architect Ernesto Basile at the end of the 19th century, is housed in a sumptuous art nouveau building. Seriously stylish accommodation, it offers original frescoes, decoration and furniture.

Grand Hotel Wagner

The luxury Grand Hotel Wagner is full of old-world charm. Recently restored, this early-20th century building boasts antique furniture, chandeliers, rare marble, rich carpets and old paintings. Rooms are exquisitely decorated and there's a laid-back piano bar and a fourth-floor terrace with stunning city views.