Sicily’s unique history has molded its culture, cuisine, and even language to be worlds apart from mainland Italy. No city illustrates this better than Palermo, with its mix of Norman, Moorish, and baroque architecture; bazaar-like street markets; and Arab-influenced dialect and dishes. Here’s how to experience the city in just one day.
Morning: Culture and Cuisine
Begin exploring in Palermo’s old town and join a walking, bike, or Segway tour to marvel at the historic center’s architecture, much of it part of the Arab-Norman monuments dating from the 12th century and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Admire the Byzantine mosaics in the Royal Palace and Palatine Chapel, Palermo Cathedral, and La Martorana, as well as the baroque Four Corners (Quattro Canti) square, the Renaissance “fountain of shame” in Piazza Pretoria, and the neoclassical Teatro Massimo. Gourmands can opt for a food and market tour that leavens the city’s architecture with its street food, stopping at the outdoor markets for tastings.
Afternoon: Adventures in the Kitchen or Countryside
Food is a fundamental pillar of Palermo’s culture, so take a deep dive into its cuisine with a local cooking class. Shop for ingredients at a traditional open-air market, and then learn the secrets of preparing dishes that blend Spanish, Greek, and Arab elements before feasting on the food you’ve made, paired with Sicilian wines. Alternatively, set off from Palermo to take in the architectural treasures in the surrounding towns, namely the imposing UNESCO-listed Norman cathedrals of Monreale or Cefalù, both exquisitely decorated in Byzantine mosaics and considered among Sicily’s most important cultural treasures.
Night: City Life
Palermo is Sicily’s version of the “city that never sleeps,” with a lively nightlife that stretches from the outdoor markets and their popular street food stands to the trendy restaurants and clubs in neighborhoods like Lo Capo, Castellammare, and Albergaria. Stroll along the waterfront in La Marina to rub elbows with the locals during the evening “passeggiata” walk, relax over a sampling of Sicilian wine paired with artisan cheeses, or sit down to a traditional home-cooked meal with a local cook featuring classics like panzerotti, pasta alla norma, and crostata.