The vibrant culture of Palermo grabs hold of you the moment you arrive and doesn’t let go until long after you’ve returned home. City breaks in Palermo offer an exciting mix of breathtaking religious buildings, lavish monuments and bustling street markets.
When you visit Palermo you’ll want to feast your eyes on the stunning Cattedrale di Palermo, an impressive example of the area’s unique Arab-Norman style of architecture. The cathedral dates as far back as 1184 when construction was started by Palmero’s bishop, Gualtiero Offamiglio. The cathedral has been renovated and modified over the centuries, and there are several key areas to explore. The Monumental Area holds a number of Norman tombs containing the remains of King Roger II and King Frederick II of Hohenstaufen. Even more elaborately beautiful than the cathedral is Palermo’s celebrated Cappella Palatina. This 12th-century chapel features a sublime interior with glistening golden icons and Byzantine Greek mosaics, and is a definite must-see if you’re planning a city break to Palermo. Also worth visiting is the 12th-century La Martorana, set on the southern side of Piazza Bellini and home to some magnificent Byzantine mosaics.
A beautiful place for an afternoon amble is Piazza Pretoria, dominated by the Fontana Pretoria. The Fontana Pretoria features a cornucopia of marble sculptures encircling an ornate fountain. This was all installed in the piazza around 1573, and the nudity of the sculptures led the Sicilian churchgoers to dub the fountain ‘Fontana della Vergogna’, or Fountain of Shame. The 9th-century Palazzo dei Normanni is another key location to visit, home to Sicily's regional parliament as well as a number of intricate mosaics. Equally grand is the Teatro Massimo, the city’s neoclassical opera house, which also happens to be the third largest opera house in Europe. Even if you don’t see a performance here there are guided tours that will fill you in on the history of the building.
Dive into Palermo’s marketplaces and you’ll be surrounded by a thousand sounds, smells and tastes. The most famous market here is Mercato di Ballarò, full to the brim with stalls selling everything from fresh olives to cheap clothing. Also worth visiting is Mercato del Capo a sprawling street market located on Via Sant'Agostino and one of the best places to sample local delicacies and mouth-watering antipasto. For a more laid back market experience, the Mercato della Vucciria is a great place to discover. If you’re looking for bottles of gourmet sauce and olive oil to take home, Gusti di Sicilia is an excellent shop to visit. There are also plenty of excellent shops spread around the city centre, from the Il Laboratorio Teatrale puppet shop to the Feltrinelli bookshop.