Vacation Rentals & Homes in Palermo
Palermo is Sicily's regional capital, a busy port city on the north-western coast of the island. In the Middle Ages, Palermo was one of Europe's leading cities, but nowadays the town is still trying to recover from twentieth-century years of blight. With some glorious historic buildings, vibrant, scruffy markets and a sunny climate, Palermo is doing a fairly good job of shaking off its reputation within Italy as a hotbed for both petty and organised crime. While areas of the centre are still run-down, and occasionally - along with the traffic - somewhat alarming, Palermo also has bohemian boutiques, famously-excellent street food, fine architecture (frequently crumbling) and a lively atmosphere. The city is not somewhere I'd spend a long holiday, but a short stay here, perhaps on flying into or out of Sicily, is a rich and rewarding experience. There are easily three or four days' worth of attractions in and around Palermo, though you can see the highlights in a day. The city has good transport connections and a number of marvellous excursion possibilities, including mosaics at Monreale, an island trip to Ustica, and the beach at Mondello.
Although at first sight Palermo isn't an obvious tourist city, it rewards the self-motivated tourist with some grand scenery, good cheap food and some fine art. Preparing yourself with a map and a spot of research before going out exploring really pays off here. For travellers exploring Sicily's history, this is an important stop on a tour of the island and there are several unmissable sights. It's worth noting that Palermo is a stopping-point for cruise ships, and so it's not uncommon to find crowds of inappropriately-clad tourists being led around by guides at central sites; you may encounter queues at the Palazzo dei Normanni and La Martorana in particular.
Central Palermo can be toured on foot, and the best place to start in the morning is with a walk through one of its lively street markets, followed by an overview of the city from the roof of the historic cathedral. Palermo's chaotic and bustling markets are famous and the range of products on offer - seafood, colourful fruit and vegetables, random junk - makes for a fascinating wander. Early morning is the best time to visit. The biggest markets are Ballarò, Capo and Vucciria. The latter, in the back streets around Piazza San Domenico, features heavily in Peter Robb's book Midnight in Sicily. The crowded, noisy lanes of the markets can be overwhelming; I'd recommend checking a map closely beforehand so you know where you're going, and keeping valuables secure and out of sight.
Palermo's Cattedrale has the most impressive, and the most confused, exterior of all the city's buildings. Much of the current cathedral was built in lavish Arab-Norman style under Sicily's Norman rule in the twelfth century, though the building has seen many modifications since, including the addition of a fifteenth-century portico and an eighteenth-century dome. Along with a handful of other Sicilian buildings, it is part of a UNESCO World Heritage listing: Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. The main part of the church's Neoclassical interior (c.1800) is free to visit, but there's a combined ticket for the far more interesting "Monumental areas": Crypt, Treasury, Royal Tombs and Roof (€7 at the time of writing). Here you'll see the royal tombs of medieval Sicily, including the porphyry sarcophagus of the remarkable Frederick II, known as Stupor Mundi, the Wonder of the World. The climb to the roof is up a steep and narrow spiral staircase with high steps; there are frequent escorted tours. The view from the roof is splendid, both of the details of the upper parts of the building itself (look for the carved faces and the shining tiled domes) and for the context, looking out over the city.
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