Palermo is Sicily’s capital and largest city, located on the northern coast of the island and known for its historic, artistic and cultural attractions. As is the case with most historic cities, a modern city has grown up around the old center of Palermo; and for the most part, visitors can focus their attention on the historic center and pretend the modern city doesn’t exist. With a city as large as Palermo, this can be a very good way to avoid being overwhelmed.

Sicily was raided and conquered so many times over thousands of years that Sicilian culture is a unique blend of several different cultures - and Palermo is no different. The city’s sights include fine examples of Norman, Gothic and Baroque architecture - in fact, the cathedral alone shows features of a Byzantine basilica, Renaissance remodeling, a Gothic portal and Baroque cupolas. Walking through the historic center is a feast for the eyes, even if you’re not always sure what you’re looking at.

Palermo is a noted culinary destination, too, and the food is another area in which you can see the blend of cultures. Dining on Sicilian specialties like caponata and pasta alla Norma is recommended, as is a stroll through one (or more) of Palermo’s famous markets. Even if you’re not shopping for groceries, you can sometimes find interesting souvenirs to bring home and, at the very least, get an idea of what ingredients are local and fresh.

Worthwhile excursions outside Palermo’s historic center include Monreale, a village outside the city with a beautiful cathedral and gorgeous views overlooking Palermo, and the Capuchin Catacombs, which are located just outside the city center and contain 8,000 mummified bodies of one-time Palermo residents. There are also beaches within walking distance of the old center, although nicer beaches (reachable by train) can be found in either direction along the coast.

Since Palermo is Sicily’s major city, it’s easy to reach. Ferries arrive in Palermo from the Italian mainland and trains connect the city to other points along the Sicilian coast. If you plan to explore Sicily more completely, however, you’d be smart to rent a car as it’s hard to find good public transportation outside of the metropolitan centers.

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