Palermo leaves your senses in a daze. There’s the high-pitch chatter of the locals, car drivers honking, the buzz of scooters, the screeching pink of the oleanders that line the boulevards, the sky-blue of a Madonna’s robe in a roadside shrine, and bright colours of washing flapping from the balconies. There’s a surprise around every corner: the pungent aroma of strong coffee wafting from a bar in an alley, a chapel festooned with mosaics, street signs in mysterious Arabic lettering, or a towering marble statue over a fountain in the piazza – Palermo is truly somewhere where you’ll never be bored.
Main City Rome
Surface 158.9 km²
To get the full impact of the city’s culture, you must have a night at the opera in Palermo’s Teatro Massimo Vittorio Emanuele. It’s the largest opera house in Italy, designed like an Ancient Greek temple, and where the final scene of The Godfather III was filmed. A shrine to the glitz of Palermo, its mass of glittering chandeliers, gilt and sumptuous velvet create an auditorium that oozes grandeur - add in the blinged-up locals and ladies waving fans as if in the 19th century, and you can just imagine what Palermo was like at the height of its glory.
Located in an old palazzo overlooking the sea, Palermo’s Kursaal Kalhesa is a great place to hang out in the evenings. It’s an eclectic fusion of wine bar, restaurant, concert venue and bookshop, with an open-air terrace in the summer. You can grab a cocktail or sip on some grappa and enjoy the entertainment – it might be live jazz, rock, blues or rockabilly, or a photography show, some traditional theatre, or even a food tasting. And if you just want to kick back in elegant surroundings and enjoy some people-watching, it’s perfect for that too.
The Antica Focacceria San Francesco serves traditional Palermitano gastronomy such as sarde a beccafico - sardines stuffed with breadcrumbs, pine nuts and raisins. Since it opened in 1834, the restaurant’s tasty dishes, lively atmosphere and Liberty décor have attracted the rich and famous, including Giuseppe Garibaldi, Paul Newman, Hillary Clinton and Sofia Loren. Another reason to visit this charming locale is to support its brave owner, Vincenzo Conticello, who refused to pay the mafia protection money in 2005, and whose testimony against his would-be extortionists meant they went to jail. Conticello has had 24/7 police protection ever since.